Waterless Car Wash – How to Wash Your Car Without Water

Take care of your vehicle and your vehicle will take care of you. It’s a phrase you’ve probably heard to the point of rolling your eyes, but it remains solid advice. Keeping your car’s exterior sparkling clean is very important – to keep your car looking good and, in some cases, more efficient. However, if you don’t have easily accessible water for something like this, whether because of your area’s climate or because your home doesn’t have a faucet for a hose, a proper car wash can be difficult.

Fortunately, the waterless car wash is not a contradiction in terms. While not a complete substitute for a thorough wash, there are specific sprays, waxes and cloths that you can use to keep your rig clean.

What is waterless car wash?

As the name suggests, waterless car washes remove light dirt from the vehicle paintwork without the power of water. Compared to a hose—or a pressure washer, if you’re lucky enough to have one—waterless cleaning emulsifies dirt, dust, and other contaminants so they can be easily wiped away with a microfiber cloth. And these sprays are highly lubricating to ensure the dirt and other debris doesn’t scratch your paintwork.

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Tortoise Wax Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Detailer

Trevor Rab

Turtle Wax’s waterless 3-in-1 washing solution proved to be the most effective throughout the tests. In addition to cleaning paint, it serves as a spray wax and hydrophobic coating that adds extra shine while allowing water to bead and roll off. These beads reduce the amount of dirt that sticks to your car, making it a lot easier to clean the next time you wash it properly. While the Turtle Wax is fairly pricey at around $17 a bottle, Adam’s Polishes makes a $10 waterless wash that has proven to be a great alternative with no waxing or coating ability.

The good

Depending on your priorities or situation, the biggest benefit of waterless car washing is just that: not having to use water, potentially saving money and resources. But the application of the products is also very simple. In particular, they are a huge time saver. Washing my Volkswagen GTI every two weeks generally takes about two hours – yeah, I’m pretty pissed when it comes to sprucing up my car.

However, a quick spray and wipe only took about 10 minutes. And all the time I didn’t have to use water. I’ve found the best results by spraying one panel at a time, leaving the product on for about 30 seconds, then wiping in straight lines. After wiping the whole car down, I used a clean towel to check for spots I might have missed – these still look wet. And that’s it.

Wipe the side of the car with a microfiber cloth

Trevor Rab

Another benefit is affordability. All you need to get great results from your waterless car wash is the product itself and a microfiber towel – we’ve found the Adam’s Polishes drying towel works best. Meanwhile, even the most basic car wash requires accessories like buckets, wash mitts, brushes, and towel dryers—before you buy more advanced items like pressure washers and polishers.

The bad

Unfortunately, the waterless car wash is not a real substitute for a full traditional exterior cleaning. It will not be able to rid your car of caked mud. In our testing, we couldn’t remove more than light dust or dirt that had built up on the paintwork. So if you go off-road regularly or live in a place where it rains frequently, this might not be of much use to you. It’s also no substitute for a spring car wash to scrub away winter’s accumulated snow and salt.

If you’re not careful, using waterless car wash incorrectly creates the potential for dirt to become embedded in your paintwork. Many of these types of products (especially cheaper versions) contain fillers that merely mask the dirt to make your car “look” clean, when in fact it isn’t. These stuck layers of dirt aren’t permanent, but they’re a hassle to remove—much better just doing things right. A quick look at the Safety Data Sheet (essentially a formulation) for these products showed that most of the more expensive versions do not contain any fillers.

Spraying 3-in-1 waterless turtlewax laundry detergent on the hood of a red truck

Trevor Rab

Truck hood with dirty left side and clean shiny right side

Trevor Rab

The conclusion

Ultimately, I see myself using these spray products more as an interim solution between my bi-weekly washes. Waterless car washes work as advertised on vehicles with only light dust on the paint. More than that and they didn’t cut it.

Then think of these as a great way to keep the shine indoor level without having to bust out the hose and a wash bucket. However, if your vehicle is heavily soiled, you will need to fire the heavy artillery.

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