Waterless car washes make sense for various reasons - saving water, washing without hose access, or simplifying the cleaning process. This post will discuss the step-by-step process of waterless cleaning, its benefits, disadvantages, and considerations.
To conduct a waterless car wash: spray down wheels with a waterless detailer, apply a quick detailer, clean off the wheels, dry off the surface with a microfiber towel, and clean your glass with a glass cleaner.
That’s all it takes!
Here’s a list of tools and materials you’ll need for a waterless car wash:
Happily, there are few tools and materials required for a waterless car wash.
You will need the following:
- A bottle of waterless detailer
- Ten or more microfiber towels
- Glass Cleaner (optional but recommended)
- Wheel Cleaner (only necessary for stubborn brake dust)
A trusted waterless detailer is like magic in a bottle. Also known as a “dry” car wash, this detailer contains high lubricity chemicals that encase dirt and dust particles, making it easy to wipe them away while still preventing abrasion. Most of these products cost between $10 - $20 and last for an average of 5-6 cleanings.
10+ microfiber towels
You’ll cycle through multiple microfiber towels during your cleaning process, which is why we recommend having at least ten on hand. While any towel will technically work, we recommend soft, absorbent microfibers. These cloths clean effectively without requiring you to apply large amounts of pressure.
Now, onto the cleaning process:
Spray down wheels with a waterless detailer
Spray the wheels with your waterless cleaner. Wheels take the brunt of road damage, and these areas often become caked with brake dust and other debris. Add heat, and that road debris bakes on and becomes difficult to remove.
Spraying down the wheels early in the process provides ample time for the cleaner to begin breaking down contaminants. A waterless cleaner should clean most wheel debris, but if you’re dealing with stubborn, baked-on brake dust, check out our blog post for tips and tricks on removal. Stubborn brake dust requires a stronger solution: a combination of a wheel cleaner and water.
Pause to allow the chemicals to take effect. No scrubbing is necessary for this area yet, but we will return to it later.
Apply a quick detailer
Apply a liberal amount of quick detailer to your microfiber and wipe your vehicle with light pressure in one direction. Windy days shorten drying times, meaning you may have to work quickly depending on the weather. If working in heavy wind, consider wiping linearly to prevent water spots.
While wiping, frequently rotate through each face of your microfiber towel. Cloths pick up dirt quickly. A dirty microfiber may reapply dirt or even scratch your car.
Don’t forget to clean the roof of your vehicle, an often-neglected area that takes the brunt of the sun’s rays and readily gathers dust, dirt, and bird droppings. Work from the top to the bottom of your vehicle. Proceed from body panel to body panel, keeping track of your progress. Body panels are unique and may include side glass, hood, trunk, side doors, front bumper, rear bumper, etc. Wash, then dry each panel sequentially.
Quarter your microfiber
Shake out your microfiber towel and fold it in half, then in half again. This folding creates eight usable towel portions that you’ll use for wiping/drying. Keep track of the dirty and clean sections of you cloth; this will make the cleaning process more efficient and save you time in the laundry room.
Clean off the wheels
Now that you’ve given the waterless detailer time to take effect, return to the wheels. Clean each wheel with a fresh microfiber. A microfiber towel will easily pick up most of the surface debris. Be sure to clean in a top to bottom motion to avoid dirty runoff dripping down the wheel’s surface.
If you’re having issues cleaning wheels, consider using our Brake Dust Eraser. This pad features non-abrasive fibers that attract brake dust and other debris. It contains zero chemicals and works with water or any cleaner. It’s your best bet if you want a safe, quick option that won’t damage your wheels.
Dry off the surface with a microfiber towel
As you clean each body panel, use a dry, clean microfiber towel in parallel passes. This technique will prevent water spots. In addition to ensuring a spotless shine, drying removes any lingering chemicals that could potentially damage your exterior coat. Frequently swap out microfiber towels as you go and use wet microfiber towels to reapply the solution as necessary to remove any stubborn spots.
Clean glass with a glass cleaner
The cleaning solution has a way of dripping onto windows. To complete your detailing job, apply a glass cleaner and wipe dry in one direction. Avoid using a circular technique – this will lead to streaking.
Need a powerful glass cleaner? Consider Invisible Glass, which offers a streak-free finish and comes in a spray bottle or aerosol to suit your needs. It’s a safe, effective product for any detailing work.
A waterless car wash is a simple way to tackle any basic detailing job. But should you use this method?
Here are the benefits, drawbacks, and our recommendations for this speedy process:
The most obvious benefit of a waterless car wash is the ability to clean without the use of water. Studies show that the average water bill in America is over 70 dollars per month, and the Environmental Protection Agency EPA) estimates that the average family uses 300 gallons of water daily. Water prices climbed steadily over the past few years, and you pay for every drop.
Along with conserving your water and money, a waterless car wash also saves you time – there is a reason waterless washes are called quick detailers! The application requires very little prep or time spent, so a dry wash is an excellent alternative if you need a basic touch-up.
Furthermore, quick detailers safely clean various exterior surfaces, including paint, trim, metals, and plastics. If you are using a new product, we recommend conducting a small-scale spot test in an out-of-sight area first.
A waterless wash provides many of the same benefits as a regular wash. Both increase the depth of your paint and keep it free of damaging contaminants such as bird droppings, bug guts, and road tar.
A waterless car wash offers many benefits, but the lack of water could mean potential damage from light contaminants lingering on your vehicle’s surface. While tiny particles such as dirt or pollen may seem insignificant, they can scratch your vehicle’s exterior if wiped away without proper lubrication. Most waterless detailers offer lubrication to avoid damage, but you should still be cautious with the amount of pressure you apply while cleaning.
Waterless washes are not as thorough as a standardized wash, as regular washes are more intensive. Dry washes feature fewer steps and a simplified process that cannot remove the same dirt and grime as a standard wash would. While convenient, we do not recommend using this method alone or for detailing a particularly dirty vehicle. If you need to clean a heavily soiled car, check out our post on how to clean dirty exteriors.
Benefits of Waterless Washes
Drawbacks to Waterless Washes
What we recommend
A waterless wash is an excellent option if you’re looking for a quick fix, or if you want to keep up your vehicle clean between regular washes.
We recommend fluctuating between a standard and a waterless car wash process. Shoot for a basic car wash every two months supplemented by waterless washes every one to three weeks. Routine, regular washes ensure that you thoroughly remove contaminants from your entire exterior. A dry wash will care for your surfaces between full-scale washes.
So water you waiting for?
A waterless car wash is an excellent alternative for those looking to save water and time. Though dry car washes are not as effective as traditional ones, they are excellent for tackling lightly soiled cars or breaking up your typical wash routine. Follow these steps to conduct a waterless car wash: spray down wheels with a waterless detailer, apply a quick detailer, clean off the wheels, dry off the surfaces with a microfiber towel, and clean your glass with a glass cleaner. Keep your car shining, with or without water.