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

Image via Shutterstock

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