We’ve all been there before. You’ve been waiting all week to do a thorough detail on your sweet ride. Saturday morning has finally arrived and you start getting your supplies ready and your pressure washer all set up. You’re just about to fill your wash buckets when you realize your car wash soap is completely empty!
You were sure you had a second bottle so you checked the supply closet – no car wash soap there. You happened to notice a full bottle of dish soap and think to yourself “It’s just this one time, surely using dish soap once won’t cause an issue. Will it?” After all, we’ve all seen that neighbor washing his Corvette with dish soap and scrub brush every weekend. How bad can it be?
Put the bottle down, back away slowly, and let me tell you why dish soap should NOT be used to wash your car.
It works too well (removes waxes and sealants)
All soap is not created equally. The soap we use to clean our dishes and silverware is designed to be tough on oils and grease from cooking and eating. If you don’t have a dishwasher you know how hard it can be to clean oils and things like egg yolk from cookware and plates.
Dish soap is a degreaser designed specifically to cut through those tough oils. This is great for the kitchen but it’s actually too aggressive to be used on your vehicle’s paintwork. Since it’s so tough on oil and grease it will remove wax or paint sealant, leaving your paint unprotected. It can also remove oils from the paint causing it to dry it out.
Think of your paint as human skin. What would your hands look like if you washed them with dish soap instead of the much more gentle hand soap you’re used to using? By the end of just one day, your hands would be dry and cracked, and your car’s paint isn’t much different.
Removing your wax or sealant might be desirable in certain scenarios however you don’t want to remove it at every wash, nor do you want to use dish soap as your strip wash. We’ll get into all the reasons why dish soap is the least effective solution and may even damage your vehicle in the process.
Dish soap lacks proper lubrication
Every detailer knows just how important it is to ensure the paint has enough lubrication when performing a contact wash. We use slick car wash soaps, we make sure to pre-rinse and pre-treat the paint, as well as foaming the paint before we physically touch it all in the name of preventing scratches during the washing process.
Going through all that work only to use dish soap on your vehicle is extremely counterproductive.
Since dish soap is a degreaser meant for cleaning stubborn oil and gunk from dishes without a delicate clearcoat, the manufacturers are not only unconcerned with lubricity, it would also make their product less effective. For this reason, dish soaps have an abrasive makeup. Abrasion, and automotive clear coat as I’m sure you’re aware, are archnemeses.
Now you might be thinking about your friend who used dish soap one time in a pinch and it didn’t seem to harm his car. While using it one time isn’t a guarantee that your paint will be damaged, I’d rather play it safe and not use it at all. Frequent use of dish soap will dull your clearcoat at the very minimum.
Check out this article to see how some of the popular car soaps stack up in a foam cannon:
It will damage your rubber and plastic trim
Until now we’ve only really talked about what dish soap will do to your paint. We haven’t touched on the damage it can cause to the other areas of your car. Some dish soaps contain denatured alcohol and salt.
I live in southwestern Ontario and I see firsthand the effect (corrosion) that salt has on our vehicles here. Denatured alcohol has a bit of a different impact on our vehicles. It dries out the black rubber and plastic that many different trim pieces are made of, leaving it looking faded and dry.
While a dull and faded paint job can be brought back to life in most cases, the same can’t always be said for plastic and rubber trim. It’s usually more difficult to revive and in many cases will have to be replaced altogether in order to restore the vehicle’s original appearance.
Cost-effective alternatives you can use to wash your car safely
I’m more than a little envious of people just getting into the detailing world. When I first got my start in detailing there was very little information on the internet and the info that was available wasn’t as well organized as it is today.
Not only that but you couldn’t just walk into your local Canadian Tire and find quality enthusiast-grade products. Back then you were dealing with greasy Armor All spray and few options for car wash soap and wax.
Now you can walk into the car care aisle and choose from a plethora of brands and products. With the arrival of brands like Adam’s and Chemical Guys with hours of video content showing how to use their specific products it’s never been easier to get into the detailing hobby.
If you’re just getting started you can even buy a starter bucket that includes everything you need for less than $150.
On a budget and looking to get car wash soap that will strip off wax and sealants? Avoid the dish soap and consider Clean Slate from Chemical Guys, or Strip Wash from Adam’s Polishes. If you’re looking to get into the professional grade products CarPro Reset is an excellent option and isn’t actually that much more expensive.
Simply looking for an inexpensive and easy-to-find car soap that won’t affect your paint protection? Meguiar’s Gold Class is a favorite that can be found at nearly any auto parts store, or even big box stores like Walmart. It’s ph-neutral so it won’t harm your wax, sealant, or ceramic coating.
Although you might be tempted to use dish soap in a pinch, you’re much better off taking a couple of extra minutes to run down to your local Canadian Tire and pick up some car wash soap. You’ll rest easy knowing you used the right tool for the job and your pride and joy will thank you with a lustrous finish that lets other motorists know how much you love it.
Jeremy got his start in the automotive industry in 2012 as a detailer. He also tried sales and a role in the service department at a Chrysler dealership before deciding to become an automotive technician for Volkswagen. Read more about Jeremy: