Can I Use Shampoo to Wash My Car?

Keeping your vehicle clean and looking nice is a fairly easy job. Some people just take their car through a car wash every few weeks, and others like to do the job themselves at home. Well, if you take care of your car, you can make it look great for a long time. But, using the proper equipment for cleaning will make a big difference in the results that you end up with. 

If you use soap and water, then washing the car with the right kind of soap is important. Most dish soaps or hand washes have ingredients in them that can strip the paint off of your car. However, there are other household items that may be a good alternative!

Can I use shampoo to wash my car?

Regular cleansing shampoos can be used to wash your car if needed but they should not replace car-specific soap on a long-term basis. These products contain mild ingredients that won’t dull your point job or strip off the wax given that you don’t leave them on your car too long and are thoroughly rinsed off afterward.

But just because it can be used doesn’t mean that you don’t want to take some precautions when using it.

Why Is Shampoo Safe For Cars? 

Using a product for something other than its intended purpose is not that unusual, but it can’t be done with just any product.

So, why is a product that was created to wash your hair and scalp safe to use on a vehicle…? 

The reason that this type of cleaning product is all right for use on a car is that it is not that different from car washing soaps.

Unlike hand and dish soaps, there are no chemical ingredients that will strip the paint off the vehicle. These harmful ingredients are why certain options should not be used at all. 

Your hair and scalp are sensitive and fragile, so shampoos also only contain ingredients that are safe to use on your skin and hair.

This makes them safe for use on other materials because they won’t take off the wax layer or dull the paint job. 

What Precautions To Take 

Although shampoo can be used to wash your vehicle, you will want to make sure that you take the proper precautions to prevent any damage to your car.

Using shampoo is relatively safe, but you don’t want to leave the shampoo suds on the paint for too long. If you allow it to sit for a long time, the product can begin to dull the look of the paint job. 

This is something that should not be a problem with normal washing practices, but you don’t want to walk away from your vehicle and let it dry with the shampoo on it.

Washing it within a few minutes is just fine and will keep the shampoo from causing any damage at all.

Also, you need to make sure to get the right kind of shampoo. There are a very large number of shampoo brands on the market, and with some offering more aggressive uses like stripping hair dye, some of these bottles will not be good to use.

It is important to find a mild shampoo that doesn’t contain any harsh ingredients that will likely dull or strip the paint.

So, look for baby shampoos, mild options, and those made for sensitive skin. These options will be mild enough to use on your vehicle without any issues. 

How To Clean Your Car With Shampoo 

If you want to begin washing your car with shampoo, it is pretty simple. However, you want to make sure that you do it right to avoid damaging your vehicle’s exterior. So, here are the steps to take to properly wash your car with shampoo. 

Step 1 – Get the right shampoo for the job 

As I mentioned before, there are some types of shampoos that you do not want to use. These can be ones made for colored hair or those that tone and adjust the hair color.

These contain chemical ingredients that could cause major damage. Use mild shampoos with few ingredients, like baby shampoo, which is delicate and won’t burn if you get it in your eyes.

This kind of shampoo is gentle enough to use on a baby, so it will be safe enough to clean your car without damage. 

Step 2 – Purchase separate sponges for the wheels and the tires 

You do not want to use the same sponge on your vehicle door or hood that you have used to scrub your wheels. Once you use the sponge on the tire, there can be small particles or pieces of dirt on it that can cause scratches in the vehicle’s paint. 

Instead, purchase a set of sponges so that you can use one for the tires and for the vehicle’s body.

This classic set of sponges from Airpro comes in an affordable 4-pack so that you’ve got backups for the future as well. They’re fantastic at working up a soapy lathy and covering big areas.

However, if you prefer a car washing mitt over sponges for economic reasons, I’d recommend taking a look at this one.

You also don’t want to use a sponge that has just fallen on the ground. You need to wash it thoroughly after its fallen to get rid of any dirt and particles that may have been collected.

If you use it right away, a small rock could scratch your paint. 

Step 3 – Lather the shampoo before use 

When you have your bucket of water, you want to squeeze the shampoo into the bucket. Mix the contents with a rag or sponge and make sure they are plenty of suds forming.

This will make the formula better for cleaning and getting rid of dirt and give you lots of lubrication to move the sponge around the surface. 

Also, you will want to keep a bucket of water for washing the sponge off too. This can be used after you finish washing a specific section of the car to prevent getting dirt missed into the cleaning bucket. 

Step 4 – Scrub in a lengthwise motion 

Most people believe that the best way to wash your vehicle is to makes circles with the sponge to scrub off all dirt. This can actually be bad for your paint because the circular motion can cause really small swirled scratches.

Scrubbing in a lengthwise motion will keep this from occurring and makes pushing any dirt and dust away from the body of the vehicle for a better clean. 

Step 5 – Clean one section at a time 

Because hair shampoo should not be left to dry on your vehicle’s paint, you want to work in small sections and rinse off the suds and water before moving on to another area.

This will keep you from letting the shampoo dry and dulling the paint. 

You will want to start with one section and scrub it clean, then rinse it off completely. You should have a hose that you hold up so the stream starts at the top of the vehicle and lets the water flow down naturally.

This will help stop any water from pooling. 

Step 6 – Rinse thoroughly 

After you are finished scrubbing and rinsing each section separately, you will want to do another round of rinsing over the entire vehicle.

This will get rid of anything left on the vehicle that was missed and ensure that all shampoo is completely gone. 

You may also find a few spots that were missed and can circle back to touch these up!

Step 7 – Dry the vehicle 

Although many drivers may like to opt for a drive around town to dry off their vehicle after a wash, you will want to dry it yourself.

Hard water can cause deposits of minerals to be left on your car, which happens when you rinse the vehicle. So, you need to dry it to prevent the spots from forming. 

You can use a squeegee to do a large portion of the work to cut down on the amount of time that it will take you. We like this all-purpose squeegee for making quick work of it!

Also, if you are going to use towels, you will want to make sure that they are soft terry cloths and that you have many of them on hand. Instead of carrying multiple towels, you can also opt for a super absorbent towel like this one.

It will take a while to get all the water dried up, but you don’t want to skimp on the time it takes on this step. A half job on this step could leave marks and spots, which could defeat the purpose of washing the vehicle in the first place.

Car Washing Tips 

When washing your vehicle, you want to ensure that you don’t leave any shampoo on the vehicle after you’re done. This will leave spots and marks, or potentially dull or ruin the paint.

To avoid this, you want to clean your car after it has cooled off. 

Washing it right after a long drive when the vehicle is warm will make the water and shampoo dry faster. This will make it harder to rinse off and may dry before you get a chance to rinse it properly, which will leave spots.

Waiting until the car is cooled off, or doing it in the evening can help you get a better end result. 

Also, when you are drying your car, you don’t want to use a towel that has decorations or embroidery on it. Towels with fancy designs can have hard pieces that could scratch the vehicle, even if you don’t see it right away.

You want to stick with soft, plain towels. 


Washing your car with dedicated vehicle cleaners is also the best option, but if you don’t have any on hand, then hair shampoo can be used to do the job.

Just follow the steps and tips in this article to ensure your paint job is safe, and you can have your car sparkling like new!

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Hi, I'm the founder of! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!