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Here’s (almost) everything you need to clean your car’s exterior

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So you’ve finally bought a car––and now you have to take care of it. You probably know that washing your car isn’t just a soap-and-water job, but do you know your way around the different tools and products you’ll need to give your car all the love it deserves?

We’ve put together a handy guide for all the things you’ll need for your regular car wash, including links to some of our favourite products on the market. Don’t let the length of the list overwhelm you: once you’ve gathered what you need, your bi-weekly car wash will be that much easier––and you’ll get such a kick out of your shiny car!

Yeah don’t use this. Photo by Mike Mozart

First, here’s what NOT to use

Dishwashing liquid or hand soap

Do NOT, under any circumstances, use dishwashing liquid. It’s designed to destroy grease from your dinner plates, which means it’ll strip the wax off your car and dry out all the rubber seals. To keep your car in tip-top condition, use a shampoo specially formulated for washing cars and not some random soap from around the house.

Here’s a shopping list for your car wash

  • Two buckets

  • Grit guards

  • Step stool

  • Hose with variable nozzle/pressure washer

  • Car wash shampoo

  • Wheel cleaner

  • Wheel brushes

  • Window cleaner

  • Wash mitt

  • Towels

  • Wax/polymer coating

Maybe don’t put the baby in the bucket? Photo by Henry Burrows

A full guide to tools for cleaning the outside of your car


In our guide to washing your car, we recommend using the Two-Bucket Method––one for clean water, and one for soapy water. These buckets should be large enough to hold plenty of water, but not so large that you can’t carry them, especially if your car is further away from the tap. About 5 gallons (18L) per bucket is ideal.

Of course, you can eliminate the problem of carrying them by picking up a cleaning bucket with wheels. While you won’t get the bicep workout, it’ll make replacing the water in your buckets so much easier.

Meguiar Grit Guard via Amazon

Grit guards

Do grit guards really work? Yes! This raised radial insert slots into the bottom of any 5-gallon bucket bucket. Drag your sponge or wash mitt across its surface to scrape off any accumulated grit and dirt, which will then sink and settle at the bottom. That way, you won’t be rubbing the same dirt onto your car as you’re washing. Try this fancy (and more expensive) model from Auto Maxima, or a cheap and cheerful one from Shopee.

(If you’re feeling enthusiastic, try using four grit guards, as per this pro-detailer…)

Gilmour Swivel Connect Front Trigger Nozzle

Hose with variable nozzle/pressure washer

For most people, this will be a nice-to-have rather than a must-have. But if your hose nozzle is leaky or just not up to the task, you’ll want something durable with a wide range of spray patterns (plus a nice open flow for rinsing your car) and most importantly, no leaks. Something like the Gilmour Swivel Connect Heavy Duty Water Nozzle or the Skytree Hose Nozzle would work beautifully.

#shortpeopleproblems. Photo by Rubbermaid Products

Step ladder/step stool

If you’re tall enough to comfortably clean the roof of your car, this ain’t for you. But if you’re a short driver (like some of us here, sob) then you’re going to need a little extra help to clean the bird crap off the top. Get yourself a nice step stool––preferably one that won’t suffer from plenty of water and soap around––the top of your car will thank you for it.

Car wash shampoo

There are as many brands of car wash shampoo on the market as there are corrupt politicians in the world, and finding the right one for your car can be incredibly confusing. However, it pays to spend a little time on research. A few factors to take into account: a shampoo’s foaming ability, pH balance, concentration, gloss-enhancing ability, lubricity, and gentleness.

Even when more expensive than generic car wash shampoos, high-quality shampoos do more than just clean your car’s surface: it enhances the gloss and lubricates without damaging the car wax or sealant. They’re also more concentrated and are therefore more cost-effective than the cheap stuff (and who doesn’t love a good bargain?)

A great all-rounder is the pH neutral Autoglym Bodywork Shampoo Conditioner; for something a little more eco-friendly, try the fully biodegradable Diamondbrite Shampoo, which comes in a big 1L bottle, has a sweet citrus scent, and only needs a tiny capful of liquid in a big bucket to get your wash started. Great stuff.

Autofinesse Deluxe Wash Mitt

Wash mitt or sponge

Is it necessary to invest in a wash mitt or sponge just for your car? We think so. Old towels or T-shirts might do the job, but they’re also way more likely to scratch the finish or leave swirl marks on your car. Why take that risk? Also, using separate mitts or sponges for your wheels and the car body is key: using the same ones will leave scratches on the body. You may also want to consider ones with grips to help in reaching hard-to-clean areas (hi fellow short drivers) while keeping your hands clean and not-soapy.

A few to consider: the Zwipes 3-in-1 Professional Car Wash Mitt, Zwipes Car Wash Sponge 3-in-1, Lake Country Foam Car Wash Sponge, or Autofinesse’s Deluxe Wash Mitt.

Captain Crevice mitt

Wheel brush/wheel mitt

The only parts of your car that come into contact with the ground are the tyres (and wheels), and naturally they’re the filthiest part of the car! Not only should you not use the same mitt as the one for your car body, you’ll want more specific tools for getting into all the spokes and crevices without damaging the wheel’s surface. You might even need two different brushes.

Some great wheel brushes on the market are the Halfords Large Alloy Wheel Brush (good all-rounder and inexpensive), Halfords Barrel Wheel Brush (great for the inner rim but a little expensive), Automaxima’s Wheel Woolie Wheel Brush, and Autoglym’s Hi-Tech Wheel Brush (gets into all the corners).

If you don’t really do complete wheel-detailing regimes and don’t need a wheel brush, you could try the fully-fingered Captain Crevice, which is basically a mitt in glove form covered in microfibers––this lets you get your hands right into the wheel so it’s clean inside and out. It’s pretty, haha, handy.

Wheel/tyre cleaner

The wheel cleaner you use will depend on how dirty your wheels are, and what finish they are. For steel and light alloy wheels, the Sonax Xtreme Wheel Cleaner Plus is a great product. There’s also Autofinesse’s Imperial Wheel Cleaner (acid-free, good for everyday use, suitable for all modern coated wheel finishes, and even for tyres), Autofinesse Iron Out (for very dirty wheels––don’t leave it on too long), and Revolution Wheel Soap (for shiny wheels, e.g. chrome or diamond-cut; gentle yet strong).

Tyre cleaners are designed for cleaning rubber, while wheel cleaners are designed for hard surfaces like chrome or aluminium. Definitely get separate products if you can afford it! There aren’t that many tyre cleaners on the market, but we like Meguiar’s Hot Shine Tire Foam (foam-based, clings to tyre walls, super-effective cleaning).

Glass cleaner

Sure, they’re not part of the car body but you need to keep your windows clean and streak-free! (Nobody wants to drive around while looking through smudged glass.) Normal Windex won’t help; you want a car glass cleaner that won’t damage the tint on the windows. We love Invisible Glass (basically perfect), Meguiar’s Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner (cheap and effective), and 3M Glass Cleaner.

Drying equipment: towels or car dryers

Why can’t we just let tropical sunshine dry the car off afterwards? Well, leaving it to dry naturally means minerals in the water will leave spots and streaks on the paint so it looks like you didn’t even bother washing your car in the first place.

Many car owners favour soft, high-quality microfiber towels for drying, which absorb many times more water than regular towels and they can be laundered (low maintenance baby!), unlike high-maintenance chamois leather cloth. The most common weaves are: waffle-weave (soft, lightweight, durable, absorbent, great for cars with less than perfect paintwork) and twist-weave (super-absorbent, heavyweight, best for cars with perfect finishes). Car enthusiasts in particular love drying towels with heavier weight and longer fibres for greater absorbency.

A few we like are the Autofiber Dreadnought, Big Thirsty, Kent Extra Large Microfiber Drying Towel, and the Mad Detailer Sucker Pro Premium (what a mouthful of a name). This is also a great post on choosing microfiber towels. Whichever towel you use, make sure it’s absolutely clean, as any dirt trapped on them risks damaging the paintwork.

Another method that requires less elbow grease is using a leaf blower or air compressor, like this nice Bosch model or the Blackfire Car Dryer. This is a small-scale version of the huge jet-dryers that the automated car washes use! These tools provide a constant stream of air with force and pressure behind it, literally pushing the water off your vehicle before it has a chance to leave spots and streaks.

While it’s certainly less time-consuming than manually wiping your car down, there’s the risk of blowing ambient dust and particles right onto your car, so take that into consideration. Whatever you do, don’t use your regular hair dryer––the added heat isn’t going to do your car any favours.

If you’re thinking, why invest in specific drying equipment when an old towel or rag would do just as well? Unfortunately, these are too abrasive for the car panels or windows, and the rough surfaces of these towels and rags are more likely to scratch your car.

What about waxes? Well, we could talk about them forever––stay tuned for another post from us in future…

We like our used cars shiny and in great condition. Head on over to ST Auto for a chat and test drive with our friendly sales staff! Call +65 6464 9098 or email us at

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