Can I Wash My Car With Just Water? (No Soap)

Image Credit: olegbreslavtsev via Envato Elements

Image Credit: olegbreslavtsev via Envato Elements

Can I Wash My Car With Just Water? (No Soap)


Washing your car without soap isn’t a very good idea. You may be in a position where you want to wash your car or truck but don’t have soap. Or maybe you live in an area that prohibits you from using soaps so they don’t enter the storm drain.

It’s possible but there are serious downsides and potential problems to be aware of before you try to do so.

Let’s go over the details of how to safely wash your car without using any car washing soap.

Can I Wash My Car With Just Water?

It’s possible to wash a car with just water, but you need to know how to do so safely and keep your expectations low.

Water only car washing will only remove loose dirt particles and light dust. You may be able to pressure wash off some less adhered contaminants as well.

You should not physically touch your car’s paint job when washing it without a car wash soap. You will also need to avoid letting the car air dry but you can’t use a microfiber towel or any other product to physically come into contact with the finish.

How To Safely Wash Your Car With Just Water

The most important thing to understand if you need to wash your car with just water is knowing to not physically touch the car paint.

Car shampoo provides lubricant between your wash mitt and the clear coat to help minimize the chance of causing swirl marks and light scratches in your finish.

Even when a proper car shampoo is involved, car detailers go to great lengths to use proper detailing products to minimize the chance of causing scratches.

The two primary methods of washing your car at home (Touchless Method & 2 Bucket Method) both focus on minimal physical touching of the car’s exterior and methods to lubricate and protect paint to reduce the opportunities that can cause a scratch.

Tools You’ll Need

  • Pressure Washer
  • Car Dryer or Leaf Blower

Step By Step Instructions

  • Find a place to wash your car or truck out of direct sunlight
  • Using your pressure washer, rinse all the dirt off your car’s finish that you can
  • Be sure to keep the entire car wet and avoid letting any portion air dry until you are finished
  • Using either a car dryer or leaf blower, thoroughly dry the vehicle exterior
  • Be sure to blow out around wing mirrors, door jambs, deck lids, and other places water can hide

This process of water only car washing can only do just so much. It isn’t like to remove stubborn dirt and more difficult environmental contaminants such as tree sap, bird droppings, brake dust, road grime, and more.

Washing your car with just water will get your car cleaner than it was, but it can’t replace a proper car washing session.

Restored Paint (Left) / Neglected Paint (Right)
Car Wash Scratched My Car! What To Do Now?
Image Credit: DetailDIY

When Should You Wash Your Car With Just Water

Some car owners may live in municipalities where it is prohibited to allow soaps and harsh chemicals from running off into storm drains. This means you can’t wash your car and can use only water if you want to do any exterior cleaning at home.

Your local car wash likely has facilities designed to capture car wash solution run off which makes them your only practical choice for regular car washing with a proper car shampoo.

When Shouldn't You Wash Your Car With Just Water

Washing your car with just water isn’t a problem if you can prevent water spots and don’t touch the surface of your paint.

You shouldn’t wash your car with just water if you intend to use a wash mitt to wash or a towel to dry it. Yes, even a microfiber towel. You will cause significant scratches in the clear coat if you do so without a car shampoo as a lubricant.

You also shouldn’t wash your car with just water if you don’t have a way to dry it without touching the paint. A leaf blower will work fine if that’s all you have handy. A car blower is preferred since it has heated air to help dry the finish more quickly.

Problems With Washing Your Car With Just Water

Not using a car shampoo means that there isn’t anything to help wash away dirt and road grime. Using only water will only remove dust and light dirt.

Also, a car wash without soap provides no lubrication between your wash mitt and your clear coat. The lack of lubrication will cause light scratches and swirl marks in your paint.

Using just water and no car shampoo means that there will still be a significant amount of dirt and grit on the paintwork after a water only car wash.

If the paintwork isn’t thoroughly cleaned, a microfiber drying towel will drag grit and dirt across the clear coat and cause scratches.


Benefits Of Car Washing Soaps

A pH neutral car wash shampoo is designed to be gentle on paint sealants and waxes while being hard on dirt.

Using a pressure washer with a foam cannon allows you to coat your entire vehicle with a thick lather of car shampoo suds that can work on breaking down the bond grit and grime have with the finish.

Dish soap can do the same thing, but it will be harsher on your wax or paint sealant. Dish soap is far more aggressive. It’s not harsh enough to strip wax or paint sealant but it will wear it down and shorten it’s life and reduce its effectiveness.

The other benefit that a car shampoo provides is lubrication when washing your car or truck.

Car Wash Soap Alternatives

If you don’t happen to have a proper car shampoo, there are alternatives you can use in a pinch. I don’t condone their use if you live in an area that has a ban on using soaps and other cleaning agents that could run oof and enter a storm drain, but if that isn’t your situation, here are some car soap alternatives:


Hair shampoo is a great alternative that is gentle like car soap, but something you likely have on hand. It is expensive as an alternative but it’s convenient and just as effective.

Baby shampoo is often recommended to car owners as a good choice for washing your car, but it’s less likely to be a product you have available and not something I’d recommend buying specifically for car washing since it’s cheaper and better to purchase a proper car washing soap.

Laundry Detergent

Laundry detergent is more aggressive but also a great alternative that you likely have at home. The detergents will more effectively work at loosening dirt and contaminants but may also be a little harsh on wax and sealants.

Dish Soap

Dish soap is very good at breaking down grease and oily films. It will also provide the lubrication that’s needed to prevent scratches and swirls in your clear coat.

Dish soap is sometimes suggested for stripping wax, but it actually won’t do that. It will wear it down some and may strip it from areas that are already beginning to fail.

Hand Soap

Hand soaps are another great alternative that will allow you to use a wash mitt when doing a hand wash. Hand soaps can be harsh and even abrasive if you use a more aggressive formula designed for cleaning especially dirty hands.

Make sure you use a gentle formula to avoid making a bad situation even worse.

Waterless Wash

Waterless wash is a completely different type of product for washing your car. It’s meant to be used to clean your car when there is light dirt and dust in-between regular washes.

You simply spray it on a microfiber cloth and wipe the dust and dirt away. Don’t use it on a very dirty car or truck. But it’s good for light touchup washes to get your car clean when you can’t do a proper hand wash.


Conclusion: Can I Wash My Car With Just Water

Yes, you can wash your car with water and no soap, but you use do it the right way to avoid causing scratches in your clear coat.

Pressure washers are indispensable tools to force water to blast off dirt. They are the most effective way to use only water to help get your car clean without any cleaning solution.

Not having a soap of some kind to act as a lubricant makes using any sort of sponge, mitt, or rag to wipe down your finish while washing your car, a bad idea.

Preventing your vehicle from air drying is also very important to avoid water spots. You shouldn’t use a microfiber drying towel or any other method of physically drying your car or truck to avoid causing scratches.

A car dryer or leaf blower will allow you to blow dry your car’s exterior without having to physically touch and risk causing any damage.

Now that you know how to properly wash your car with plain water, I hope you don’t have a need to do so. But at least you know how to do so safely.

Good luck and happy detailing.

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