July 4, 2022

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automotive

Yes, You Can Wash Your Car Clean Without Water. Here’s How

This story is part of Try This, CNET’s collection of simple tips to improve your life, fast.

Maybe you live in an area with water restrictions. (Most of the western states of the US are experiencing serious drought, and dry conditions have started to affect the South and Mid-Atlantic.)  Or maybe you park your car in a place where it’s a challenge to drag a bucket and hose. Either way, you can keep your car clean and shiny without water.

Waterless car wash products have been around for a while but didn’t get a lot of shelf space since traditional bucket-and-hose car washing was so accepted. Now, however, with attention on conserving water in many areas, you can swap out your usual car-washing technique with a cleaning trick that uses no water at all. 

Perhaps you have a good car wash nearby that uses recycled water. Would that be OK? I find a lot of car washes do a lousy job for a lot of money while lazily attacking my car with a pressure washer. No thanks. The answer, again, is a waterless car wash.

A hose-less and water-less cleaning product can remove the dirt from your car without all the suds or water waste, provided you use the right materials and proper technique. Read on to learn how it works and tips for success.

Waterless car wash technique

Using a good waterless car wash technique, you can pull the grim off your car with ease and leave a nice shiny wax coat. 


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First, pick the right waterless car wash product

Use a waterless car wash spray, not a general cleaning spray. You need something that loosens and lubricates dirt so you won’t harm your car’s finish or get frustrated trying to remove stubborn grime.

And you don’t want to use a spray detailer formulated for removing light dust. Pick a product that’s designed for cleaning, not dusting. I’m sure any brand of waterless car wash would tell you theirs is radically superior but sprays from Chemical Guys, Meguiar’sProlong and Rain-X all work well.

Next, use the right cloth for wiping

Use microfiber towels such as from the Rag Company with a deep nap, which are soft and excel at capturing particles. Kitchen towels or paper towels are going to do a poor job at evacuating dirt and tempt you to scrub harmfully at your car’s finish. And use a lot of microfiber towels: This is a process that penalizes stinginess with poor results. I would estimate that you need 12 to 15 towels for an average size car.

Master a good towel technique

After you spray on the waterless car wash, use a wiping pattern that doesn’t cross over itself because that tends to redistribute grime. Relentlessly flip or change the towel. The biggest single mistake people make when cleaning their car (or windows) is trying to get by using less towel surface.  

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Also, use light strokes: The goal is not to scrub the grime off but to let the spray product loosen it while the towel gently evacuates it.

To get going, take your cloth and fold it into quarters (fold it in half, then fold it again). Once one face of the cloth has been used, flip it and eventually refold it to keep exposing new clean quarters. When you’ve done a pass with all eight quarters of the cloth, utilizing both sides, replace it with a new one.

Clean one area of the car at a time

Don’t let the waterless car wash product dry on the car. Wet an area of about 2 square feet, give it a few seconds to hydrate the grime and then wipe it off. There’s no harm in repeating the process with good towel technique, but I seldom find I have to.

Just like you would when washing your car with soap and water, start at the top of a section of the car and work down. That way, the product won’t drip or spray onto already cleaned areas.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well waterless washing worked on my quite dirty car and how quickly the process moved. For more great life hacks, learn how to cut a cake with dental flosshow to travel the smart way with contacts and why you only need Doritos to light a fire.