Waterless Car Wash Techniques – What to Look For?

Car Wash, Waterless, How to

There’s been a severe lack of rainfall and water shortages going on in California and other parts of the west coast. It’s become very apparent how much that’s impacting our industry. People are getting fined for washing their cars in their driveways and are urged to not wash their cars at all, even in recycled wash bays. Obviously we don’t want to start contributing to the water shortage.

And then this whole drought opened my eyes to all the people who don’t have access to water to wash their car. This includes people in metropolitan areas, apartment buildings, and other locations that limit their access to water or a hose.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that we like clean cars. So we’re stuck between a rock and hard place. The rock being the lack of water and the hard place being our concern with the safety of waterless car washes. We might as well do what we can with what we have and make the best of the situation.

How to Clean Your Car Conservatively:

The only time you really need to use a waterless/no rinse car wash product is when the car is particularly dirty. When I say that I mean actual dirt, sand, or heavy debris.

My recommendation is to stop waiting two weeks to go out in your driveway and do a once-over on your car. Instead, every couple of days take your favorite detail spray and spot clean the car. For those more heavily soiled areas like the lower third of the car, you can use a nice slippery waterless car wash spray.

When it comes to your wheels, you can usually get away with the same waterless product and a cloth. This will work if you’re staying up to date and cleaning your wheels without too much build up. In order to make cleaning even easier, use a nice wheel sealant that’ll be durable enough to provide a barrier from contaminants. Then your tires can be cleaned with a simple damp cloth. Once that’s done, condition your tires as you normally would.

Everything else in your car wash or detailing regime should be safe to do without requiring much water. You can seal and/or wax your car, condition the plastic, clean the windows, polish the metal, all without needing water. If you are considering doing some paintwork protection, you may want to reconsider or be extremely particular when cleaning the car to prep the paint before buffing.

How a Waterless Car Wash Product Works Best:

If you do have a particularly dirty car or take the car on dirt roads, you may need a good waterless car wash or no rinse product handy. A waterless car wash is a product in a spray bottle that provides much more lubrication than a normal detail spray. This lubrication will make removing contaminants much easier. A no rinse product is basically a normal car wash without rinsing the car. You still have a bucket of water and soap with grit guards and plush wash mitts. You can wash the car and then dry it with the suds.

When it comes to the safest technique for a waterless car wash I’d recommend a particular wiping method with the microfiber towel. Start by folding your towels a couple of times until it fits nicely in one hand. Then mentally divide the towel into thirds. With linear strokes, start with the towel flush on the paint, then every 12 inches or so, lift the towel up by a third so that a fresh part of the towel can take the grunt of the dirt on the paint. After another 12 inches, do it again. Then flip the towel over and continue. Once all the sides of the towel have been used, pick up a new towel and continue.

This may sound tedious and unnecessary, but rest assured it’s the safest way to clean your car without scratching it. If you don’t continue to use new sides of the towel, the towel will get overly saturated with dirt and will no longer absorb the particles and just drag/scratches them along the surface of the paint.

For vehicles are subject to the salt air, sand storms, or anywhere else where the car might get dirty, a no rinse product can much easier and safer. By adding that little bit of water and a mitt, the contaminants will be much easier to remove and be much more forgiving. Many of the same precautionary tactics are like a normal wash where you’re frequently rinsing the mitt and working from the top of car down to the bottom.


While this article is directed towards the drought issues happening on the United States west coast, this is also valid and helpful for those who live in big cities and don’t have access to washing their cars themselves. However,┬áit would be interesting to hear what some of you in California and big cities have been doing and how creative you may have gotten to keep your cars clean. Please feel free to leave some comments below and tell us about them!