Can I Use Shampoo to Wash My Car?

washing a car with shampoo

A dust-covered and mud-splattered vehicle is never a good thing and not just from a perspective of pure aesthetics. You see the dirtier the body of your vehicle the more the paint on it is exposed to harsh particles which can negatively affect its integrity. 

This is why washing your vehicle regularly can help you to not just keep a good-looking vehicle but also a long-lasting one. This is the case as long as you use proper washing products as well as techniques.

So, can I use shampoo to wash my car? –Using regular shampoo to wash your vehicle may not be a clever long-term solution but it can be a great temporary one as it can help make washing your car easier.

Does Hair Shampoo Damage Car Paint?

It is because of this that a lot of people, including myself, don’t recommend washing your car with hair shampoo. 

While this won’t happen overnight, If I were to wash my car with hair shampoo over the course of several months it can end up damaging my car’s paint. 

Which Hair Shampoo Is Best for Car Wash?

Since hair shampoo can cause long-term damage to your car’s paint when used for a long period of time there aren’t certain hair shampoos that are going to be better than others. 

It’s best that you stay clear of any hair shampoos when it comes to using products for long-term car washing.

Washing Your Car With Shampoo

1. Now, when it comes to washing your car with shampoo, (remember this shouldn’t be overdone), you just start the same way you do when washing your car with regular products

Start by giving your car a good wash with a water hose and then get half a cup of shampoo and pour it in a bucket full of water and mix it in well.

2. After you apply the bubbly shampoo and water mix foam add some baking soda to it and touch up chrome parts if any. 

Don’t let the latter stay on for too long, make sure to rinse it off as soon as you can and do so thoroughly. After you’re done with the rinsing give your car a good wipe down and you’re all good.

car washing with shampoo
Washing a car at home with a shampoo alternative to regular products.

What Products Should You Use Instead

Dedicated Car-Wash Product

For 95% of the time when you’ll be washing your car you should use a proper product made for car washing. 

These types of products are not as harsh as shampoo or any other household cleaning agents such as soap or dishwashing detergent. 

With dedicated car-wash products, you can easily remove grease, rubber, and even road-tar deposits without causing any damage to your car’s paint like hair shampoo. 

You can use these products as much as you want without worrying about the integrity of the body.

Separate Sponge

When cleaning your car make sure to use a separate sponge for the wheels and tires. Since both of these components are in contact with the road, mixing road debris with your car’s paint will result in small scratches into it which you won’t be able to see. 

This is the bad thing here as these small scratches will let the water run deeper through the protective layer sitting on top of the paint which can then end up causing rust and corrosion.

General Do’s & Don’ts When Washing Your Car


When using any car-washing solution you must first work it into a lather. This needs to be done with plenty of suds so that they can provide a lot of lubrication to the surface of the paint. 

Make sure you always use two buckets, one to wash your car and the other to rinse the sponge in. This way dirt is kept from getting mixed into the wash water. 

Ensure that you rinse all the surfaces you wash thoroughly as this way you will remove stubborn dirt and grime which can otherwise end up causing scratches.


One of the things that you should never do when it comes to washing your car is to wash it when the body is hot. Never wash your car after driving especially for a long period of time. 

You might be thinking – why shouldn’t I wash my car while it’s hot? Well, because the heat, that’s coming either from the engine or the hot sun can speed up the drying of the soap and water.

This can make washing your car more difficult and it will increase the chances for any deposits and spots to occur. Also, avoid moving the sponge in circles because this is known to create noticeable swirl marks. 

These are going to be light but they will still make your vehicle look unwashed. If you happen to drop the sponge to the ground, never start using it back again until you’ve rinsed it well.

How to Properly Dry Your Car

Just like washing your car, there are certain things you should and shouldn’t do when drying your vehicle. Never just let your car air dry or dry it by driving it around the block. 

This can leave watermarks that are caused by the minerals left from the solution or water and soap mix. Also, avoid using an abrasive towel which can leave what are known as hairline scratches in the paint.

On the other hand, you should definitely use either a soft terry cloth or a chamois one, no matter if it’s natural or synthetic. 

You may need several towels too and it’s going to be best if you just blot up the water with them instead of dragging the towels over the paint. While not essential, it’s always a good idea to speed up the drying process by using a soft squeegee to get rid of the majority of the water. 

Just make sure that the rubber of the squeegee is pliable so it doesn’t pick up bits of dirt as this can cause scratches.

Car Washing Tips

Bottom to Top

The most important thing to remember when washing your car is to always start from the wheels and work your way up to the roof. 

Washing your car from bottom to top will allow you to avoid splashing washed-up dirt and grime onto clean surfaces. This way all your hard work is for nothing. Also, washing your car from the bottom up gives you a better view of the stains higher up.

Washing a car with pressure-washer
Washing a car properly from the bottom to the top to avoid splashing dirt onto the cleaned areas.

Avoid Scratching

To avoid scratching the paint you should use the sponge carefully. You should always apply the soap on the surface without too much force as this can easily scratch up the paint from all the sand and soil. 

Once applied, let the soap sit for a moment and then wipe off the dust with a sponge.


Water is a crucial factor when washing your car and you should always ensure that you use the right amount of it. If you use less water than you need you will end up with dried-up soap on the surface of the body. 

On the other hand, if you use more water than needed you will reduce the effect of the soap and you won’t be able to clean your car properly. 

There will still be some dust left which will solidify once you’re done drying your car.

The Right Sponge

Using the correct sponge for the job can also help your washing session to be a more effective one. 

A dishwashing sponge is a big no-no for your car. First of all, they are made to scratch dishes and your car is not something you want to get scratched. Also, dishwashing sponges are too small, you’ll have to spend quite a lot of time washing your car with one. 

Not once did I try to wash my car with a kitchen sponge. So, always go for a sponge that is made for car washing as not only will you be able to wash your car more easily but you will also keep its protective layer in good shape.


Trying to wash your car with shampoo is not a great idea unless you don’t do it too much. But even if you are in a situation where a proper car washing product is not handy, you should try to avoid using hair shampoo. 

Only in the most urgent of cases should you use hair shampoo and even then you shouldn’t let it sit on your car for too long. 

So, one thing you should take away from this is that you shouldn’t go full DIY when washing your car – yes even if you’re a DIY fanatic. Believe me, it’s for the best.

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