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Can I Use Shampoo to Wash My Car? | Read Before Lathering

My dad was a car dealer, and I don’t think he ever bought “car soap” for washing the vehicles on the lot. We always used something cheap, like dish soap or shampoo. And even though we employed alternatives to all of these, I have often wondered if we should have.

Using shampoo to remove built-up dirt and grime from your vehicle is an effective and safe way to wash your car on a budget. If diluted correctly, shampoo is an excellent replacement for store-bought chemicals. However, do not let the soap dry onto your vehicle’s paint, as it may cause damage.

Well, I guess my dad knew what he was doing. Of course, there’s more to it than just a simple explanation. Please read on to learn more detail on the subject before you go lather up your car.

Red Car Being Cleaned with Suds all over

Why Is It Ok to Use Shampoo to Wash a Car?

Although meant to be used on hair, shampoo has properties that align with your vehicle’s cleaning needs. Shampoo is intended to break down accumulated dirt while still being gentle to your scalp. In our case, it will perform the same way when being applied to your car’s paint. With the right amount of soap to water ratio, you can achieve a thorough cleaning of your vehicle’s outer shell.

However, simply covering your vehicle with the mixture will not remove dirt. Just as you would with a regular shampoo wash, you must lather and rub the soapy mixture to your car–this will ensure maximum removal of particles and remove dirt and dust.

If left unattended under the sun, however, this homemade shampoo and water mixture may eat through your vehicle’s clear coat, causing permanent damage. Rinse thoroughly after using, ensuring all soap is removed.

Related The Average Cost To Detail a Car or Truck (Partial vs. Full).

Which Hair Shampoo Is Best for Car Wash?

Choosing a shampoo for your vehicle can be a daunting task as the market is saturated with options. If you are in a pinch or don’t want to spend the extra cash on specific vehicle-detailing products, baby shampoo is a great option. When diluted correctly, baby shampoo can break down accumulated dirt without scratching your paint or clear coat. This is an easy alternative that will produce great results.

Do I Need to Add Anything to the Shampoo?

A commonly found item in your home is baking soda. Add about a cup of baking soda to your shampoo and water mixture to create an even better cleaning solution for your vehicle. It will be especially useful for your tires and rims. Simply lather a generous amount of the mixture to your tires and rims as you usually would with a rag or sponge. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes and spray off with water.

If the dirt is being persistent, add a touch of white vinegar to the solution for an additional cleaning kick.

Avoid using bleach or other harsh chemicals. These will surely eat through your paint’s protective coating and leave permanent damage. Stick with the basics, and they will do just fine.

How Much Should I Dilute the Shampoo?

Instead of manually mixing your shampoo cleaning solution, start by placing a 1/2 cup of shampoo into your bucket. With a hose nozzle on straight stream (or use your thumb over the mouth of your hose to create a similar stream effect), fill the bucket 3/4 of the way. The solution should be diluted enough to begin the cleaning process. If too soapy, simply add more water to the mixture.

If still weary, start off with cleaning a small area of the car. Get a feel for how to homemade cleaning mixture performs and adjust your ratios accordingly.

What Other Soaps Are Safe for Washing Cars?

Although most household soaps will do the job, the most critical aspect of using these in replacement of certified vehicle shampoo is to ensure you are diluting them correctly.

These soaps include hand soap, liquid dish soap (Also great for cleaning siding), and laundry detergent. Beware, however, as some of these will leave some residue needed to be buffed out in exchange for the removal of dirt and grime. Simply take a microfiber cloth (when dry) and in circular motions, remove any leftover marks.

Can I Use Hair Conditioner to Wash My Car?

Most hair conditioners contain lanolin, which is a moisturizing agent to protect our hair. Vehicle paint may also benefit from this oil, giving it a shiny look. If you need a quick shine, after you wash and rinse your vehicle, take a clean bucket full of water and add about 1/2 cup of your conditioner. Mix and apply generously. Rinse thoroughly and remember to use a microfiber cloth for additional shine. Just make sure you get one specifically designed to be used on paint, like this one found on Amazon.


This just goes to show that manufacturers just like to swap the label out on a product, double the price, and then sell it as a “specialty item,” in this case, shampoo for pricey car washing soap. Luckily, we know better and are smart enough to use an inexpensive alternative. Looks like you just saved a lot of money over your lifetime.

Thanks for reading!