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The Life-Changing Car-Washing Hack You Need Now — And Why You Should Use *Baby Shampoo* To Do It

The new viral car-washing videos get one part very right — and another very wrong

From pollen to dirt to road residue, our cars become caked with grime — fast. This gunk doesn’t just make our vehicles look unsightly, it also can cause long-term damage to the exterior if left undisturbed. Thankfully, there’s no need to spend lots of money or waste time at the car wash getting your car in tip-top shape! An around-the-house item can transform your car in under two minutes. And how you use it is the biggest surprise!

Why is it important to wash my car?

“The main benefit of keeping a vehicle’s exterior clean is to prevent the clear top coat of paint from peeling and fading over time, which protects the resale value of the car and keeps the car looking nicer for a lot longer,” says Nick Roshon, managing editor of “All four of my cars are 10-plus years old, several of which have over 100,000 miles, and people constantly tell me they’d never guess the cars are that old.” Basically, his rule of thumb is if you keep your car looking nice, you won’t feel the need to trade it in to get something newer looking, and you can enjoy your vehicle for many years to come.

Can I wash my car with dish soap?

blue dawn dish soap
Billy F Blume Jr/Shutterstock

There are several methods for getting your car sparkling clean right from the comfort of your driveway, saving you time and money. The old school method involves dipping a large soft sponge in a bucket filled with soapy water, scrubbing down the vehicle’s exterior using circular motions, then rinsing with a hose. That’s what most of us grew up doing.

But there’s a new car washing approach that’s gone viral on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube: Washing your car using Dawn dish soap.

And it’s not just the soap that has everyone talking, it’s the method, which entails unscrewing your garden hose, squirting blue Dawn dish soap inside, reconnecting the hose then washing your car with the soapy hose water. So easy! And the videos swear the soap won’t leave water marks on your car.

While Roshon is all for adding soap to your hose — it’s so much easier than scrubbing the car down with a sponge and does the work in mere minutes! — he advises against using dish soap, like Dawn, hand soap or laundry detergent, as its powerful surfactants (foaming agents) will remove any wax or polish from the car, which can lead to paint damage. And paint damage is exactly what we are trying to avoid!

What can I use to wash my car instead of dish soap?

baby shampoo bottles

Pros suggest swapping the Dawn for baby shampoo, since its gentle formula won’t strip the protective layers from your car, but will bind to dirt and grime and lift it away for a clean finish. and it is much cheaper than buying pricey soaps made specifically for car washing.

As far as preventing hard water spots and drips from forming? Just like your Grandpa taught you: drying off the car is key!

Simply wipe down the vehicle with an extra-large microfiber drying towel (Buy from Amazon, $8.99), which will absorb any remaining water droplets without having to wring out the towel constantly — and without scratching the car’s paint.

What should I use to wash a car with caked-on dirt?

If you have a pressure washer, Roshon recommends using it on your car, since it is more powerful at lifting away dirt and grime than a garden hose and doesn’t require any additional scrubbing. He suggests buying an attachment called a “foam cannon” (Buy from Lowe’s, $34.98) that shoots car shampoo (Buy from Amazon, $11.99) — and yes, you can add the baby shampoo instead — all over the car, then removing the attachment and using the pressure washer to get all the soapy debris off.

powerwasher aimed at a car
Lubo Ivanko/Shutterstock

“I keep the pressure washer in the garage anyway, so it’s just a matter of connecting the hose to the pressure washer, flipping it on and then letting the pressure washer do all of the work.”

How often should I wash my car?

A good rule of thumb in the car industry when it comes to cleaning frequency: Wash your vehicle about every two weeks.

Roshon notes that when you see vehicles where the paint has faded or been destroyed on the hood or roof, it is typically because the owner did not wash it very often. “What happens is road debris sat on the paint for a while, and then the sun baked it in and it eventually ‘ate’ the paint away.”

The damage can hurt the resale value of the vehicle, and once the paint starts to fail, there is no way to fix it other than having the panel re-sprayed with paint, which can be very expensive.

Related: Car Expert’s Easy DIY Spray Defrosts a Windshield Fast — No Scraping Required!

How do I keep my car clean so I have to wash it less?

Use this coating. In an ideal world, Roshon suggests getting your vehicle ceramic coated by a professional. The protective, water-repelling, liquid polymer coating lasts three to four years and allows you to wash the car less frequently, reduces the efforts needed to get the car clean each time you wash it and protects the paint on your car.

However, when done professionally, the service can cost over $1,000. The more cost-effective option? Try a store-bought spray-on ceramic coating like CERAKOTE® Rapid Ceramic Paint Sealant (Buy from Amazon, $19.95). Simply spray the product onto your vehicle according to package directions and use the included microfiber towel to wipe and spread the coating on the surface, then lightly buff the coating for a shiny finish.

Don’t park your car here: “A big mistake that I see people make is when they park their cars in their driveway near a lawn sprinkler,” notes Roshon. “If that sprinkler hits your car each morning, the vehicle will start to look dirty and develop hard water spots that are really hard to polish out.

Whenever possible, Roshon suggests parking your car somewhere that is shaded and out of harm’s way. Parking your car in covered port or garage can allow you to go two to three times longer between washes than when your car is parked outside and exposed to the elements.

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