Best car shampoo 2019
Top formulas foam up to shift grime, and leave a dry finish. We test the best car shampoo to buy
Any car spring clean has to start with ridding the bodywork of the winter grime that builds up after even the shortest journey on a wet road.
Unless you have professional kit, you’ll have to touch the car at some point to remove the final layer of dirt, but you can make life easier for yourself and the car’s paintwork by using a pre-wash. These are usually snow foams that go on via a pressure washer, ideally through a lance designed to create a thick white coating.
Our current test winner is a Bilt-Hamber’s Surfex HD degreaser. Other top performers are Ultimate Finish Ultimate Snow Foam, Angelwax FastFoam and Auto Curators Essential Soak. Using a pre-wash and pressure washer or hose allows the bulk of the grit stuck to the bodywork to be removed without the risk of dragging it across a panel, damaging the paint.
With the car rinsed it’s time for the wash. Key here is to use a mitt – our test champ is Kent’s 2in1 microfibre noodle version – with lots of wash so grit is lifted into the strands and away from paint. The mitt also needs to be carefully rinsed with a grit guard at the bottom of the bucket or by using two: one containing wash and the other just rinse water.
How we tested them
All products make foam and clean, so we focused on those among our rivals that left the least water to be dried off with a chamois or microfibre cloth. We also looked at the cost of the products, because the price of a bucket of wash can vary significantly.
- 1. Halfords Car Wash & Wax
- 2. Autoglym Bodywork Shampoo Conditioner
- 3. Diamondbrite Shampoo
Halfords Car Wash & Wax
Price: £2Size: 1,000mlRating: 5/5
It would be easy to think that this no-frills Halfords own-brand wash earned its win here on price alone. Just look at the bottle cost; nothing we tested came within a fiver of that cracking price. No surprise, then, that even with a fairly hefty 60ml capful in the bucket, it still came in at a wallet-pleasing 12p per wash. Others were within a few pence, but most were two or three times the price – one a massive 10 times.
Easy on the pocket, yes, but the Halfords product certainly performs. It topped our beading tests, if a little slower than some. It doesn’t sheet away water like a wax, but progress is steady and it left the driest panel of our dozen contenders.
Autoglym Bodywork Shampoo Conditioner
Price: Around £8 Size: 500mlRating: 4.5/5
This veteran car wash has stuck around as long as we’ve been testing products. It’s always ranked near the top of this test’s results, and is a former winner. If you think a lot of foam is the secret to a good car wash, Autoglym Bodywork Shampoo Conditioner will prove you wrong, because it cleans as well as any rival. The low foam is down to the water-repellent in the formula, which makes it so effective in our tests. Autoglym may have new wash products but this is our favourite.
Price: Around £10Size: 1,000mlRating: 4/5
This fully biodegradeable shampoo made from vegetable oils gives off a sweet citrus smell. In much the same way as Autoglym’s Shampoo Conditioner, it adds a finish as it washes – which makes it ideal for our test’s emphasis on a dry panel after rinsing. Diamondbrite Shampoo was a touch behind our winner, but the panel had only a few drops left for a microfibre drying cloth to remove. The big pack keeps the cost per wash down to a reasonable 24p per bucket.
Bilt Hamber auto-wash
Price: Around £10 Size: 300mlRating: 4/5
It’s hard to believe that the tiny 5ml of auto-wash you need will have any effect on 10 litres of water, particularly compared with more generous rivals. But it does – and it was good enough to see auto-wash to multiple test wins. Bilt-Hamber has to settle for a commendation this time, though, because, while the beading was still there, it was not quite as rapid or comprehensive as we’ve seen before. It was close, however, and this remains a great product.
Power Maxed Shampoo & Ultra Wax
Price: Around £9Size: 1,000mlRating: 4/5
A great test debut from the British Touring Car Championship team and car-care producer. The pack claims a “deep, glossy shine” thanks to the carnauba wax in the cleaning formula. We can’t judge the shine, but the added wax does mean water is rapidly beaded away. It couldn’t match our winner, but it was close and left an almost dry panel after rinsing. The big one-litre bottle helps it to undercut our champion on price, costing around 22p a bucket.
Price: Around £8Size: 500mlRating: 4/5
There’s a pleasant fruitdrops perfume to this thick shampoo from Scottish detailing specialist Angelwax. We were still getting pleasing whiffs of it while we were washing. Unlike some rivals, you don’t need much of the concentrated formula to a bucket, bringing the cost in line with our winner. We were impressed with the foam, and it was next quickest to dry after the remarkable Autoglym.
Halfords Car Wash
Price: Around £6Size: 2,500mlRating: 4/5
Despite the big pack, Halfords’ own-brand car wash is not on our podium because of its cracking low price. You need to use around 50ml a bucket, so it works out only a few pence cheaper than our winner. Instead, it finishes as runner-up due to its impressive beading. It shifted water more rapidly than most of its rivals, if not quite as quickly as our winner.
Simoniz Protection Car Wash
Price: Around £8Size: 2,000mlRating: 4/5
If you’re after a cheap but effective car wash, look no further than this big pack from Simoniz. It’s a previous test winner, and while it can’t quite match our top two at shifting water, it does work – albeit a little more slowly. But it’s streets ahead on price: you need less than 20ml for a 10-litre bucket, so each wash costs a budget-friendly 7p.
Turtle Wax Wash & Wax
Price: Around £8Size: 1,000ml Rating: 3/5
Another shampoo that claims to leave “a high gloss, water repellent finish”, and it also delivers, clearly shifting water in our rinse test, if not with quite the same vigour as our Best Buy. Big litre pack helps keep costs down, but you need two large capfuls for a bucket, so each wash costs over 72p. When some rivals are under 20p, that’s going to hurt with our results so close.
Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax
Price: Around £17Size: 1,420ml Rating: 3/5
You need to take care when mixing this wash as we measured the recommended four capfuls per gallon as more than the 28ml alternative in the instructions. Even at the smaller measure, each bucket costs more than 70p. The good news is that the “just-waxed shine” is still present, as it beaded water to leave a few drops. It just takes a little longer than the best.
ValetPRO Advanced Poseidon Car Wash
Price: Around £6Size: 500ml Rating: 3/5
Usefully, ValetPRO claims this won’t remove any wax or paint sealants on the car and instead prolongs their life. We can certainly vouch for the fact it adds a water-repellent finish, to reduce drying time, although its progress was steady rather than spectacular. It just can’t match the keenest-priced here, at around 35p a wash.
CodeClean Premium Wash & Seal with Carnuba Wax
Price: Around £10Size: 500mlRating: 3/5
This product from CödeClean aims to add a protective coat of carnauba wax as it cleans. And judging by our results from the rinse test it works well, as water beaded away rapidly – it was a match for our winner in this respect. But then so it should be, as you need 100ml of the liquid wax-like formula for a 10-litre bucket – so each wash costs just a few pence shy of £2.
Mer High Shine Car Wash
Price: Around £7Size: 500ml Rating: 3/5
We’ve been impressed with some products from this revamped Mer range, but High Shine Car Wash had to give best to rivals in the water beading test. Although we liked the amount of foam created and could see it working on the panel, it worked very slowly. So while it matched Angelwax in the rinse test, it comes in a little more expensive at 35p a bucket, which holds it back overall.
CarPlan Demon Foam
Price: Around £12Size: 2,000mlRating: 3/5
If you want the snow foam look but can’t afford a pressure washer and lance, this achieves a similar all-white coating using just a hose. It delivers a good, thick, soapy layer through the supplied hose attachment, although there’s no water stop so you have to control the flow at the tap. It cleans easily for around 60p a wash, but we saw very little water shifting after rinsing.
Price: Around £10Size: 1,000mlRating: 3/5
Apple seems to be the car wash fragrance as this thick cleaner from Muc-Off is packed with it once mixed in the bucket. Ubershine’s biggest problem is cost as you need to use quite a bit, making each bucket £1 – although it does produce a big foam. While Muc-Off claims this contains softeners for a spot-free finish, its water beading was quite slow.