How to Choose Quality Car Cleaning Products

There is a massive market in car cleaning preparations. It is often a false economy to buy cheap products because you need to use more of them and they can make the job harder. For example, cheap car shampoo often leaves a waxy bloom on the paint which must be polished off.

Essential products

  • Car shampoo
  • Car wax
  • Cleaner for plastic exterior trim
  • Glass cleaner
  • Interior shampoo

Useful products

  • Alloy wheel cleaner
  • Paint restorer
  • Engine degreaser (for older cars)


Car shampoo is worth buying because it is formulated for cars so is good at cleaning off road grime and shouldn’t harm the paint or bodywork. Washing up liquid, in contrast, is usually bulked out with salt which encourages corrosion and can even get into the paint, showing as white rings after raindrops have dried on it. Some shampoos also have wax in them to top up the effects of hand waxing, where strong detergents may strip wax off the paint.

Making a shine

There is a difference between car wax and car polish. Strictly speaking, car wax merely puts a protective film over the paint, giving it a shine. Traditionally, polish is slightly abrasive and is intended to bring back the shine on tired paintwork, though now some manufacturers use ‘polish’ to describe what are really waxes. So read the bottle to see what you are getting.

Paint renovators (the best known is T-Cut) are gently abrasive, more so than polishes, and intended to take off a thin layer to remove tiny scratches. They should only be used occasionally to hide scratches or bring the shine back to very dull paint, for example on a car that has been through too many car washes or where the paint surface has oxidised.

Several firms now make nano-technology paint treatments. You usually use these after cleaning and polishing the car and they are claimed to fill the microscopic irregularities in the paint making the surface too smooth for dirt to stick. They make the paint feel smoother and seem to work – things that normally stick, like bird droppings, are washed off by rain.

Black stuff

Many cars have black or grey plastic trim which is often textured. There are many products for cleaning this with, the best known being Back-to-Black and Armourall. These have a dual role in that they lift out dirt, or the white marks left by polish, from the textured surfaces and put a protective layer over the plastic to make it harder for new dirt to stick. But never use them on rubber floor mats or pedal rubbers because it makes them slippery.

Clearly better

A good car glass cleaner is a wise buy because it cleans glass, inside and out, without leaving deposits that might stop wipers clearing the glass.


Car interior cleaners that work with as little water as possible are useful to keep for coping with emergencies, like food getting ground into seats. The best ones use chemicals called surface reactants (surfactants), which get under the dirt and unstick it from the surface. One of the easiest to use is Autoglym’s Interior Shampoo which can be used on carpets, fabrics and plastics and will even lift chocolate crumbs out of seat fabrics. However, with any interior cleaner, follow the instructions carefully and test it on a hidden area of fabric or carpet first.

Related posts:

  1. How to Clean a Car’s Dashboard
  2. Car Polish vs. Glaze
  3. Basic Car Detailing Equipment and Tips
  4. How to Clean Car Windows and Mirrors
  5. How to Polish a Car – Car Polish Guide

Filed Under: Guides / DIY


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