To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.  Learn more


Best car shampoo 2023: Make your car sparkle

Dominic Tobin Caroline Preece
24 May 2023

We've tested all the major car shampoos to find the ones that will keep your car's paintwork looking showroom-perfect for years to come

Washing your own car might have seemed pointless when you could get it professionally valeted for less than a tenner, but the Sunday-morning car-wash is a great British tradition that has suddenly had to make a comeback. A good wash takes less than half an hour and can cost as little as 20p. Those savings can quickly add up – especially if you’re washing off mud and dust on a regular basis.

Doing your own wash also means you know the job’s being done thoroughly and carefully, using the most suitable cleaning products. That starts with buying a decent car shampoo, designed to cut through layers of road grime and leave your paintwork gleaming.

Here are the best car shampoos, any of which will give you an effortless shine, along with our buying guide to help you get the best from your shampoo.

Best car shampoo: At a glance

  • Best overall car shampoo: Autoglym Bodywork | Buy now
  • Best budget car shampoo: Halfords Car Wash | Buy now
  • Best for a shiny finish: Meguiar's Ultimate Wash & Wax | Buy now
  • Best for protection: ValetPRO Advanced Poseidon Car Wash | Buy now

How to pick the best car shampoo

Why do I need a special car shampoo?

Car shampoo is engineered to leave your car with a shiny, water-repellent finish, so it’s easy to rinse – but also more resistant to rain and dirt. A nice scent is a bonus, as is a reassuringly thick layer of foam in the bucket.

What ingredients should I look out for in a car shampoo?

Carnauba wax is a key ingredient in the best car shampoos and is crucial in getting a showroom-style finish. It’s extracted from palm leaves and helps give your paintwork a shiny, ‘just-off-the-forecourt’ look. However, even if your shampoo contains carnauba wax, it’s still worth waxing your car after washing to provide optimum protection from the elements.

Is it worth paying a premium for expensive shampoo?

It depends. When you compare prices, don’t simply look at the cost of the bottle: check how much you’ll need to use per wash. Some extremely concentrated shampoos require just 5ml to be added to a bucket of water, while others need ten times the quantity, so they work out much more expensive in the long run.

READ NEXT: The best dash cams you can buy right now

What’s the best way to use car shampoo?

Start by rinsing your car thoroughly, to remove as much dust and grit as possible. This will reduce the risk of scratching your car when you apply the shampoo. Next, dilute the shampoo - making sure to follow the instructions, since (as we’ve mentioned above) the recommended quantities can vary significantly.

Now use a quality sponge or microfibre mitt to apply the shampoo from top to bottom of the car. Leave the wheels until last, to ensure you don’t accidentally end up picking up grit with your sponge and scratching the paintwork. Wring the sponge out into a separate bucket, so the collected grime doesn’t get transferred back onto the car.

Once your vehicle is fully lathered, rinse it thoroughly with clean water and then dry it with a chamois leather. Finally, a layer of car wax will protect the newly-washed sheen and make it easier to clean. Buy an aqua wax that’s applied to the car once it’s rinsed and you can cover both jobs at once.

If you have sensitive skin, consider wearing latex gloves or Marigolds. Car shampoos contain tough degreasing agents, designed to shift caked-on dirt: they aren’t kind to skin.

How often should I wash my car?

During winter, it’s worth doing once a week, as the salt that’s laid down to prevent icy roads can build up and damage your paintwork. In the summer, you can happily stretch it to a fortnight, particularly if it’s regularly waxed.

However, don’t wait until your next wash to remove the bird’s mess: clear it off as soon as you can. This substance is not only unsightly, but it’s also extremely corrosive, and just a few days baking in the summer sun can be enough to damage your paintwork, potentially necessitating a costly respray.

READ NEXT: The best car wax to keep your car in sparkling condition

The best car shampoo to buy in 2023

1. Autoglym Bodywork Shampoo Conditioner: Best overall car shampoo

Price: £7.50 (1 litre) | Buy now from Amazon

Autoglym’s green goo left our car positively gleaming. It’s superbly effective at cutting through dirt, and it also contains an extremely effective water repellent, which doesn’t allow liquid to settle: after we’d rinsed off the suds, just a few drops of water remained to wipe away. The price might seem on the high side, but you only need to add two small capfuls to ten litres of water, so the bottle should last you for a year or more, at a very reasonable 20p per wash. Combined with its exceptional cleaning performance, it’s a winner.

2. Power Maxed Shampoo & Ultra Wax: A good-value shampoo for a shiny finish

Price: £9.50 (1 litre) | Buy now from Amazon

With excellent performance and a cost per bucket that’s even lower than the Autoglym shampoo, this Power Maxed product is another strong choice. It wasn’t quite as effective at clearing off grime as the Autoglym, but again it provided a water-repellent finish that dispersed water effectively, leaving just small beads on the bodywork. That’s partly thanks to the carnauba wax that’s included in the formula, so if your priority is a deep, glossy shine, this is definitely one to try.

3. Bilt Hamber auto-wash: A super-concentrated option, but not the most effective

Price: £18 (300ml) | Buy now from Amazon

The bottle looks like something you might pick up from a pharmacy, and the contents are extremely concentrated: even though you only get a small quantity of auto-wash, it goes a very long way, working out to a cost of just 17p per bucket. Unfortunately, while Bilt Hamber is a respected name, the potency of its formula seems to have been reduced in recent years. Even though it was effective, the product left the surface of our test car slightly less water-repellent than the best-performing car shampoos.

4. Halfords Car Wash: Best cheap and cheerful car shampoo

Price: £6 (2.5l) | Buy now from Halfords

There’s no fancy design or gimmicky name here. Even the bottle is a no-nonsense affair, with a built-in handle, chunky cap and not a nod to aesthetics. But don’t be put off: this is a very effective shampoo. After use, water ran straight off our paintwork, leaving just a few neat beads dotted across the surface, and the speed of drying was close to the best on test. You do need to slosh it about, with 50ml needed per bucket, but even so, it works out to a very economical 10p per wash.

Buy now from Halfords

5. Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax: Good for shine, but not the fastest to dry

Price: £16 (1.42l) | Buy now from Amazon

It’s not cheap, but Meguiar’s bottle is larger than average. You don’t need to use a great deal either - the recommended dose is 28ml, although confusingly the label also talks about mixing four capfuls into your bucket, which would be a larger measure. Stick to the 28ml dosage and you’ll be spending about 27p per wash for a lovely shiny finish - although it takes a bit longer for the water to assemble into beads than the best, increasing the drying time.

6. ValetPRO Advanced Poseidon Car Wash: An upmarket shampoo that claims to protect your investment

Price: £8.75 (500ml) | Buy now from Amazon

The name certainly makes a statement, and this shampoo did a reasonable job of cleaning our test car, with neat water beading on the surface, even if the water-repellent surface wasn’t as effective as the best. The price of 38p per wash is on the high side, but the shampoo is claimed to be gentle to protective wax and sealants on the car - even prolonging their life. You’d have to use it for years, versus other shampoos, to test the veracity of that claim, though.

7. Angelwax Shampoo: Gentle on paint and skin, tough on grime

Price: £12 (500ml) | Buy now from Amazon

Angelwax might not have the fancy packaging of some other products on this list, but it makes up for it with a highly effective shampoo that gets results. It’s highly concentrated, so you’ll get more washes than you think per bottle, and its rich lather gets rid of road gunk and leaves your car gleaming.

What’s more, it’s gentle on both skin and bodywork; a neutral pH of 7 means it shouldn’t cause any rashes or discomfort – and it won’t damage your car’s paint either.

8. Meguiars All Purpose Cleaner: The best for cleaning inside and out

Price: £24 (3.79 litres) | Buy now from Amazon

Meguiar’s products are almost always found in the arsenal of every car cleaner or detailer, and this All Purpose Cleaner partly explains why. Although not strictly a shampoo, it’s incredibly versatile and can be used to clean mud and dirt – as well as leather seats and dashboards. All you need to do is change the amount of water you mix it with.

It might seem expensive, but it comes in a generous 3.79 litre container – and it’s important to remember that it’s both highly concentrated and can do the work of several other products. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular products on Amazon’s car care section.

9. Diamondbrite Max Foam Shampoo: Best for the environmentally conscious

Price: £10 (1 litre) | Buy now from Amazon

Fragrance isn’t a key concern when it comes to car shampoos, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t commend Diamondbrite’s Max Foam shampoo for smelling great. In addition to its refreshing citrus scent, it’s also a very competent cleaner – and at under £10 for 1 litre bottle, it’s relatively cheap too.

Like some other products on this list, Max Foam also leaves a water-repellent finish after you’re done shampooing – so it’ll keep your car cleaner for longer. Those interested in avoiding harmful detergents will also be glad to know that the shampoo’s formula is fully biodegradable.

Read more

Best Buys