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Does Laundry Detergent Damage Car Paint?

Though your vehicle's paint will likely have a protective clear coat, it is not impervious to everything. Some substances can eat away at this layer, allowing the elements to fade or dissolve the color. If you are wondering if laundry detergent is one of these materials, we can help you with the answer.

We researched automotive paint from multiple professional sources so that you will know if it will cause damage.

Laundry detergent should not be used to wash your vehicle. It will eat away at the layers of wax on the paint, leaving it susceptible to the elements.

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Now that we know that laundry detergent shouldn't be used to wash your vehicle, we'll examine why this soap should be avoided for this chore. You might also wonder if dish soap is okay to wash a car with or if cold water should be used when washing a car at home.

For the answers to these questions and more, read ahead in this post to see what our research has discovered.

hand hold sponge over the car for washing, Does Laundry Detergent Damage Car Paint?

Why laundry detergent is bad for a car wash

You might have thought that soap is soap, and if it cleans, it should be okay to use for a car wash. But some soaps contain agents that, while they clean, will also eat away certain materials. Not every soap is formulated the same, as we're about to find out.

Laundry detergent will be made with various degreasers designed to clean soiled clothing. These do an excellent job on the stains your shirts and pants encounter, but they are not the greatest thing for your vehicle.

It's not that this soap won't make great suds and remove the dirt from your car or truck. But there are active ingredients in laundry detergent that will work against the layers of protective wax you've coated your car with to safeguard its paint job.

The degreasers can be diluted if you are in a bind, and laundry detergent is the only soap you have on hand. While this is not a perfect solution, with enough water, you can mitigate any damage that they will do to your wax. It's recommended, though, that you add another coat of wax the next time you wash your vehicle.

Is it okay to wash a car with dish soap?

You might think that dish soap would be a great alternative. It's cheap, effective on dishes, and you're almost certain to have some around the house. But, like laundry detergent, you will risk damaging the protective layers on the paint's surface if you use this soap.

The degreasers and other chemicals in dish soap are effective for your plates and glassware. But these same properties will not only eat through the wax job on your car but also into the layer of protective sealant that has been administered on the top of the paint. 

Additionally, this soap does not have a good lubricating ability. Without this attribute, it's much easier to scratch your paint while you wash your car or truck.

Worker washing red car with sponge on a car wash

Can I wash a car with cold water?

You might not have thought that the water temperature could be a consideration when washing your vehicle. But temperature does come into play when determining how hard you'll have to work at it.

Cold water is excellent for washing your car. While this can lead to some chapping of your hands in colder weather, the colder water will not hurt the process. 

Ideally, water at room temperature should be used. This will allow for great suds and is better for skin contact. It will also not eat away the wax.

It's advised to stay away from hot water. The higher temperatures might be better at removing dirt and grime, but hot water will strip off your layers of wax.

image of a young woman cleaning the tire of a blue car using a sponge and a spray while wearing blue rubber gloves

What will happen if I never wash my car?

Washing a car can be a bit of a time commitment. But you're about to find out just how important it is to extend the life of your vehicle. Though your car is a formidable machine, the elements will take their toll on your vehicle over time.

When you think of all your vehicle is exposed to, it's not hard to imagine the damage that can be done to the paint job. Pollutants in the rain, dust, and grit are harmful.

And road salt in the winter doesn't do your car any favors. Letting these things sit on your paint job for too long will lead to protective layers being eaten away.

Letting a car stay dirty will lead to some heavy rusting

Even if you've done a thorough wax job on your vehicle, it will get stripped as time passes. Underneath the wax is a clear coat that the manufacturer applies after the paint has dried. Though this will protect the paint, it is not impervious to the elements.

When this has eroded, your paint job is left vulnerable to whatever it comes into contact with. 

The paint will have nothing left to protect it from minor scratches. Over time, these scratches in the paint will harbor chemicals that will create oxidation.

The rust that follows will slowly begin to eat away at the metal. You'll have some holes to contend with when enough time has passed.

The undercarriage is very vulnerable to oxidation.

But you'll have more to worry about than just the paint job. The undercarriage of your vehicle needs to be washed regularly as well. This is where all the sludge from winter driving builds up.

The road salt will eat through the metal over time, rusting your muffler, tail pipe, gas tank, and other vital parts.

If you never wash your vehicle, you will let oxidation eat away useful years from its life. Washing your car should be a part of its routine maintenance.

Like other items on the checklist, it prolongs a car's lifespan. Make it a habit, and you'll save years for your vehicle.

Is it better to wash your car at home or at a car wash?

Many of us will take our vehicles to a car wash out of convenience. Automatic car washes, in particular, are quick, thorough, and will reach parts of your vehicle's exterior that hand washing will not.

Those who choose to take their cars to a self-serve car wash will spend more time cleaning their vehicles but will leave with them looking new.

Some folks prefer to hand wash their cars. After you've made the initial investment in the equipment and supplies that you need, this is a far less expensive way to do it.

If you aren't afraid of using some elbow grease, you'll be able to do a better job on the exterior than any car wash will, save for the undercarriage.

It's nearly impossible to hand wash the underside of your car the way an automatic car wash will. When deciding which method is better, weigh the overall out-of-pocket cost against the time saved and the level of overall thoroughness.

With those variables in mind, most will select a car wash as the best way to wash their vehicles.

Cleaning Car Using High Pressure Water

Final thoughts

hand hold sponge over the car for washing

The chemical agents in household laundry detergent will damage the protective wax on the paint job, giving plenty of reason to steer clear of this cleaning agent.

Washing your vehicle should be a part of its routine maintenance, as keeping it clean will stave off oxidation and allow the body of your car to last for many years.

Washing a car at home is less expensive, but most owners will not be able to be as thorough with the cleaning as an automatic car wash. Drive safe!

We hope this post on automotive paint answered all of your questions. For additional information, we recommend reading the following posts:

How To Remove Glue From Car Paint [Inc. Gorilla Glue And Superglue]

How To Remove Scratches From Matte Car Paint

Does Diesel Damage Car Paint?