What To Wash a Car With: Complete Equipment Guide

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By knowing what to wash car with, you’ll reduce risks of making any damage to the car paint, and you’ll also get better cleaning results. There are thousands of different products, but you don’t need all of them. That’s why I’m writing you this complete list of needed tools and products for washing your car at home.

People often ask me questions such as:

  • “Should I dry the car with a chamois or microfiber drying towel?”
  • “Can I use home glass cleaner, or it must be an automotive one?”
  • “Do I need a pre-wash when washing my car?”
  • and many other questions

To clear all doubts, I decided to show you all the equipment needed to properly wash your car, without causing any streaks and swirl marks, and with excellent finish results.

I think that every car owner should have and use all the tools and equipment in this list.

Don’t forget to read the whole article. There’s also some additional equipment I’m going to be mentioning that your car may need (depending on its paint condition).

13 Essential Tools and Product For Car Washing

Here are 13 essential tools and products that you should have in your garage if you wash your car by yourself.

1. Water Source: Hose or Pressure Washer

pressure washer for cars

First thing first, you need a water source to wash your car. For spraying the water onto the vehicle, you can use either a:

  • hose
  • pressure washer (recommended)

As you can see, my recommendation is always to have a pressure washer since it’s beneficial for various reasons:

  • It’s quicker than washing with a hose
  • You’ll remove all the dirt and grime easier
  • You can use it to spray a snow foam

If you don’t know which pressure washer to choose, here’s my list of best high-pressure washers for car detailing in 2021 for under $200.

2. Car Wash Buckets With Grit Guards

car wash buckets

Car wash buckets (check my recommendations) are an essential piece of equipment. You’ll use them for three different purposes:

  • washing
  • rinsing
  • wheel washing

As you can see, I mentioned three purposes, and that’s the reason why I’m recommending you use a 3 bucket method for washing the car.

Also, your wash buckets must have grit guards inside. A grit guard is a plastic grill that you put at the bottom of the wash bucket. It will trap all the dirt from rinsing your wash mitt, so you don’t reapply it back to the car. 

Having grit guards in your buckets is one of the ways to prevent your car from getting swirl marks when you wash it.

3. Wheel Brushes

car wash wheel brush

It’s hard to wash wheels by just using a pressure washer and a wheel cleaning solution. If you want to clean them as thoroughly as possible and remove all the dirt, grime, and brake dust, you’ll need some high-quality wheel brushes.

High-quality wheel brushes will be strong enough to clean your wheels, but at the same time, gently enough not to scratch them.

If you don’t know which brushes to use, check my recommendation for car cleaning brushes every detailer should have. There you can find wheel brushes too.

4. Wheel Cleaner

wheel cleaner

Wheels always have the toughest dirt stuck on them, and using car wash soap isn’t enough to break all the dirt and brake dust from them. 

Related: Cleaning Extremely Dirty Wheels and Tires: COMPLETE GUIDE

To properly clean your wheels, together with wheel brushes, you also need a high-quality wheel cleaner that’ll successfully loosen the dirt so that you can wash and rinse it.

I recommend you use Sonax Wheel Cleaner since it’s fantastic and removes brake dust with ease.

5. Pre-Wash

pre wash, snow foam

After the initial pre-rinsing, you should use pre-wash to loosen all the dirt and make the car ready for the contact wash.

Pre-wash loosens most of the dirt from your vehicle, and after you rinse it, it’s already almost clean, so the contact wash process is much easier.

The best pre-wash you can use is snow foam. Check my recommended snow foams for you here.

For that, you’ll also need a snow foam lance so that you can spray it on your car.

Related: Why It’s Important To Pre-Wash Your Car With Snow Foam?

If you’re not a fan of snow foam or don’t want to spend extra bucks on snow foam lance, you can also use a Citrus pre-wash. It’s also a fantastic product, and you just mix it in a spray bottle and spray it on your car.

By using any of these two products, you’ll do a great job. So, choose any you like more.

6. Detailing Brushes

detailing brushes, car exterior cleaning

Everyone is familiar with detailing brushes for cleaning the car’s interior. However, not everyone uses detailing brushes when washing their vehicle, which is a big mistake.

You should use detailing brushes when you apply pre-wash to your car. With them, you’ll agitate window edges, gas tank cap, emblems, front bumper grill, and other hard-to-reach spots for wash mitt.

To find high-quality detailing brushes, make sure to check this page here, where I recommended the best brushes for auto detailers.

7. Car Wash Soap

car wash soap in the bucket

A high-quality pH-neutral car wash soap is needed to completely clean all the left dirt, dust, and grime after the pre-wash stage.

Also, high-quality car wash soaps will lubricate the area to reduce the chance of causing swirl marks on your car while cleaning it with a wash mitt.

Avoid using unproved and low-quality car soaps since they aren’t great lubricants, and they also don’t have such excellent cleaning properties. Also, make sure not to use dish soaps to wash your car.

I recommend you use a Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash Soap and Conditioner.

8. Microfiber Wash Mitt

microfiber wash mitt

The days of sponges are way behind us, and you should never use a sponge to wash your car. Instead, use a dedicated microfiber wash mitt.

Sponges tend to keep the dirt on the surface, while microfiber wash mitts soak them inside so you don’t brag it around the surface. That way, you’ll prevent causing swirl marks and scratches on your vehicle.

Also, a microfiber wash mitt can soak much more soap to it, so you don’t have to re-soak it every 5 seconds.

Check my short guide on all the microfiber products you need for cleaning your vehicle. You can find the recommended wash mitt at the end of the list.

9. Microfiber Drying Towel

microfiber drying towel

For drying the car, you should get a microfiber drying towel. It’s one of the safest ways to dry your car after washing it. 

Microfiber drying towels are plush and very thick. That way, they’re gentle and can soak up a lot of water inside. 

When you use a high-quality drying towel, you’ll be able to dry the whole car without squeezing the towel.

Avoid using chamois and other products that may scratch the paint, invest some money, and buy a drying towel that’ll work for 200-300 washes (with proper maintenance).

10. Microfiber Glass Cloth

microfiber glass cloth

Another microfiber cloth you’ll need is a microfiber glass cloth. 

By using a microfiber glass cloth, you’ll be able to clean car windows without leaving streaks behind. 

I tried cleaning windows with all-purpose microfiber towels, and I didn’t get the same results. I only use all-purpose MF towels to buff the windows after cleaning them with dedicated glass cloth. With that said, you might want to purchase a few all-purpose microfiber towels too.

11. Automotive Glass Cleaner

automotive glass cleaner, car glass cleaner

Standard “home” glass cleaners contain ammonia, which destroys tinted windows and often leaves streaks. That’s the reason why you should get a dedicated automotive glass cleaner.

Related: How To Clean Car Windows Like a Pro: Perfect Clarity Without Any Streaks

I recommend using a Meguiar’s Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner or GYEON Quartz Q²M Glass for the best results. 

12. Paint Protectant and Tire Dressing

tire dressing

I put those two together since they’re both protectants. After washing and drying the whole car, you should apply paint protectant to the car and tire dressing to the tires. Recently, I wrote an article 10 Reasons To Apply Paint Protection on Your Vehicle, so make sure to check it out.

For protecting the paint, I suggest you use either:

  • a natural carnauba wax
  • or a paint sealant (synthetic)

Related Articles: 

The most durable ones are in paste form, but you can use liquid or spray ones since they’re easier to apply.

For the tire dressing, I recommend using Sonax Tire Gel or GYEON Quartz Q² Tire (check my review). I’m trying out GYEON at the moment, and it’s a fantastic dressing that lasts long.

13. Applicator Pads

applicator pad

To apply paint protection and tire dressing to your car, you’ll need applicator pads. 

Inside some product packages, they’ll provide you an applicator pad. However, if the product doesn’t come with it, make sure to buy some on Amazon. They’re very cheap and will last long.

Additional Equipment You May Need

I decided to show you some additional tools and products you may need. It’s optional, and most people don’t use it every time they wash the car.

However, if your car has been neglected for a long time, washing it with essential equipment may not be enough. You may need some additional tools and products such as:

  • Clay Bar: you should use a clay bar if your car paint is contaminated and it’s not smooth when you drag your finger along it.
  • Clay Lubricant: together with a clay bar, you’ll also need some clay bar lubricant to prevent scratching the paint
  • Iron Remover: before using a clay bar, you should use some iron remover and spray on the vehicle if your car needs decontamination. Iron remover will loosen all the iron particles from your car, so the surface is contamination-free.
  • Bug and Tar Remover: if your car is full of bugs and tar that sits there for a long time, washing it with soap only won’t be enough. After the initial pre-rinse, make sure to spray bug and tar remover on the affected surfaces (mostly hood and front bumpers).
  • Wax Cleaner: if your car had a wax before, and you want to strip it, you should also get a wax cleaner. The wax cleaner will strip waxes from your car’s paint so that you can apply new paint protection to it.


Even though it seems a lot of equipment, actually, it’s not. The pressure washer is the only tool that’ll take some space. The rest will fit inside those buckets that you buy. I hope that now you know exactly what you need to wash your car.

Some people use tens of different products, but I don’t think that necessary. Those 13 essential products shall be enough for your car. I have written additional products too, just in case your car requires them because of its condition.

By investing in your equipment and washing your car by yourself, you can save a lot of money and get better cleaning results.

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