Best car shampoo 2021

We discover the best solution for cleaning your car

Getting out the bucket and wellies is the start of spring cleaning for many car owners. But before you dip your mitt in the bucket and touch the car, there are steps you can take to remove as much grime as possible. The more muck you can take off the paint before you smear grit over the car, the less chance there is of marking the clearcoat.

• Auto Express best car care cleaning and car care tips

Snow foam is the most popular method, but you’ll need to use a pressure washer and a lance to lay on the thick white coating, which is left to loosen grime before being blasted off. Our current favourite product is Autoglym’s Polar Blast. 

No pressure washer? Citrus pre-wash, traffic-film remover (TFR) or fallout decontaminant can be applied through trigger bottles or pump-up sprayers.

TFR and pre-washes tend to be more aggressive than foams, so can be used on heavily soiled areas before covering the car in ‘snow’. Remove with a pressure washer after leaving to dwell.

Once the car is ready for the contact wash, which is the best one to use? If there’s a wax or coating on the car, look for pH-neutral products.

How we tested them

To find our pick of the shampoos we first calculated the cost of each wash, which can vary considerably. We then washed sections of a dirty car with each of the 18 rivals. Washes are extremely difficult to split on cleaning power, so we looked for how much water each left to dry off.

Verdict

  1. Bilt-Hamber auto-wash
  2. Turtle Wax Ceramic Wash & Wax
  3. Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax

Reviews 

Bilt Hamber auto-wash

Our former winner is back on top after slipping to a recommended spot last time around. It also has a new livery and a more conventional pack size. What hasn’t changed is its remarkable concentration: just 5ml of auto-wash in a 10-litre bucket. It can also be used neat as a pre-wash. There’s no pleasant perfume or massive foam, just a wash that beads away water rapidly at a very keen price.

Buy now from Amazon

Turtle Wax Ceramic Wash & Wax

Turtle Wax has been an enthusiastic adopter of ceramics, and this Wash & Wax can be used to leave a shine and protection, or as a pre-clean. We opted for the latter, and it worked out more than twice as dear as our winner. But it gave the standout performance on the car, swiftly beading away water, leaving a pretty much dry panel.

Buy now from Amazon

Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax

  • Price: £16.66 
  • Size: 1,420ml
  • Contact: N/A  
  • Rating: 4.5 stars

Meguiar’s yellow wash has hovered just outside our top four in the past, but now it has made it in – and by some margin. It matched our winner, clearly beading water and leaving few drops. Meguiar’s says its wash contains polymers and carnauba wax and delivers shine and suds. It clearly does, with a big foam that stayed for some time.

Buy now from Amazon

Halfords Car Wash & Wax

A former champ now takes a 'recommended' ratimg with another familiar wash. The price might suggest it’s for those on a tight budget, but not so. You need a big capful for each bucket. It does cost less than the Meguiar’s and Turtle Wax, at 24p, but it is still more than auto-wash. It couldn’t quite match the best here, but still only left a little water.

Buy now from Halfords

Autoglym Bodywork Shampoo Conditioner

If you have spent hours applying a coating or wax, then this is the one to go for, due to its pH-neutral formula. It smells pleasant, but rivals produce a bigger foam. More useful is an agent in the formula, which sheets away water after rinsing. We couldn’t split this from the Halfords wash and, with an identical cost per bucket, the pair share a rating.

Buy now from Amazon

 Diamondbrite Shampoo

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.

Buy now from Amazon

Power Maxed Shampoo & Ultra Wax

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. 

Buy now from Halfords

Angelwax Shampoo

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.

Buy now from Amazon

Halfords Car Wash

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.

Buy now from Halfords

Simoniz Protection Car Wash

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

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.

Buy now from Halfords

ValetPRO Advanced Poseidon Car Wash

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.

Buy now from ShopnShine

CodeClean Premium Wash & Seal with Carnuba Wax

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.

Buy now from CödeClean

Mer High Shine Car Wash

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.

Buy now from eBay

CarPlan Demon Foam

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.

Buy now from Amazon

Muc-Off Ubershine

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.

Buy now from Muc-Off

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