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Updated: 29 Jun 2022

Is it worth paying more for the best car wash kit?

We pitted car washing kit worth £20 against pricier car shampoo, car sponges and wheel cleaner to see if it's worth paying more

My dad spends his weekends driving around, and generally fawning over, his old MG. He, like many others, swears it's worthwhile paying more to get the best car shampoo and accessories. I spend my weekends driving his grandkids to various clubs in a 2015 Kia Sportage, and I've always bought the cheapest car wash kit available. 

I've always wondered if it's worth the extra cost for the premium car shampoo, car sponges and wheel cleaner. Luckily, as I work for Which? and as our members told us they're also keen to find out more about what makes the best car wash, I had the chance to find out

We devised a simple comparison test. We put a piece of masking tape down the centre of my car, then spent £100 at Halfords (£75 on pricier car wash kit and £20 on cheaper kit). Then I washed one half with the most expensive car shampoo, car sponges and wheel cleaner, and the other half with the cheaper set of car wash products.

Below are my key conclusions from the test and the car wash kit I would, and would not, pay more for in the future. 


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£75 of car wash kit vs. £20 of car wash kit

Car wash kit we tested

Halfords has the car market well cornered, so it's to Halfords I headed to pick the products for testing. But all the pricier car wash products I purchased are also available to buy elsewhere. 

Premium car wash

I purchased an £8.99 bottle of Autoglym shampoo, a £16 Meguiar's lambswool wash mitt, a bottle of £19 Meguiar's ultimate wheel cleaner, and £20.49 on a Meguiar's drying towel. 

To top it off I chucked it all in a £12 Meguiar's bucket. I'd never spent this much on my Kia before and, given the ongoing rising cost of living, I wouldn't be again unless our tests could prove it was really worth it. 

In total I spent more than £75 on the most popular car wash cleaning accessories. 

Cheap car wash

Then I purchased the cheapest version of everything Halfords sells. 

A £4 bottle of Halfords Car Wash, £3.99 Halfords Wash Mitt, £5 bottle of Halfords Wheel Cleaner, and £7 Halfords Chamois Leather. I chucked in my own bucket (£1). 

The cheaper car wash kit cost me £20. A considerable difference in price. The expensive car shampoo, car sponges and wheel cleaner were going to have to go some in the cleaning stakes to justify the massive difference in price.  

Can you tell the difference?

A large collection of images displayed on this page are available at https://www.which.co.uk/news/article/is-it-worth-paying-more-for-the-best-car-wash-kit-aOjcs8Q0Z5hc

The results

  • I can't tell the difference, and neither can anyone else. Both halves of the car look very clean; there's no distinguishable difference by eye. I double-checked this with my wife, and several inquisitive neighbours who wanted to know what I was doing with a line of masking tape down the middle of my car. 
  • Expensive car wash kit didn't give better after care. Something I heard a lot was that the expensive shampoo would mean my car would attract less dirt the weeks after I washed it, and it would be easier to clean the next time I washed the car. But I inspected the car a week after the test after a week of normal local driving and there was no difference in how dirty each side was. There was also no difference in how easy it was to wash off the additional dirt on each side of the car a week later. 
  • Pricier car wash didn't help keep the rain off. On the advice of my neighbour (a car buff), I sprayed some water on my car after I washed it. Perhaps the expensive car wash would repel the water faster, or make it bead? Not the case. Again, there was no noticeable difference between either side of the car. 
  • It's less effort with the expensive kit. While there was no difference in cleanliness, or aftercare, it was noticeably less effort with the more expensive equipment. The car wash was foamier, the wash mitt lighter, the wheel cleaner slightly more aggressive, and the drying towel was a gamechanger compared to a traditional chamois.

See the best car scratch removers from our test


How the car wash kit compared

Car shampoo

Halfords Car Wash and Wax

Cheaper: Halfords Car Wash and Wash 1 Litre

Price: £4, only available in store at Halfords. 

Auto Glym Car Wash

Pricier: Autoglym Bodywork Shampoo 1 Litre

Cheapest price: £8.99 at Halfords and Amazon

The Autoglym shampoo was noticeably bubblier in the bucket and on the car while washing, but the differences with cheaper car shampoo ended there. The cleaning results after washing, and a week later, were identical. 

Can a car shampoo hide scratches?

A large collection of images displayed on this page are available at https://www.which.co.uk/news/article/is-it-worth-paying-more-for-the-best-car-wash-kit-aOjcs8Q0Z5hc

With the shampoos, I also paid close attention to some light scratches around the door handles of my car, and a deep scratch along the side (which I took care to wash with both shampoos). Both shampoos improved the appearance of the light scratches equally, but neither made an impression on the deep scratch.

Which would I buy again? The cheaper car shampoo. While the extra bubbles were nice, the expensive shampoo didn't make enough of a difference while cleaning, or afterwards, for me to consider it going forward. 

Drying

Halfords Chamois Leather

Cheaper: Halfords Leather Chamois (Medium)

Price: £7 exclusive to Halfords

Meguiar's Supreme Drying Towel

Pricier: Meguiar's Supreme Drying Towel

Cheapest price: £20.49 at Halfords and Amazon

The fancy drying towel is a real gamechanger when drying your car. Compared to the faff in prepping, constant wringing, and extra physical effort of a leather chamois, the drying towel is poles apart. 

Which would I buy again? While you can get similar drying results with each, the towel is just so much quicker and easier to use; I'd buy one tomorrow. Treat yourself, you won't regret it. The chamois is dead, long live the drying towel.

Wash mitt

Halfords Wash Mitt

Cheaper: Halfords Wash Mitt

Price: £4.79 exclusive to Halfords

Meguiar's Lambs Wool Wash Mitt

Pricier: Meguiar's Lambs Wool Wash Mitt

Cheapest price: £14.40 at Amazon. Also available at Halfords

The Halfords Wash Mitt was a real disappointment. It takes on so much water it felt like washing the car with a bowling ball on the end of my arm. It also got through my bucket of water really quickly, and I only washed half the car, remember. 

Over on the more expensive side of the car I was having a much easier time with the Meguiar's Lambswool Mitt, which felt noticeably softer on the bodywork and windows, and it wasn't nearly as heavy on the end of my arm. I can see the appeal of the expensive mitt if you're really trying to look after the paintwork on your car and it's already in pristine condition.  

Which would I buy again? Neither. I'll just stick with a standard sponge, thanks. I wouldn't buy the Halfords mitt. 

I can see the appeal of the lamb's-wool mitt, but my car already has some paint swirl and light scratches, so personally I wouldn't buy it myself. But it would be a great gift for a car lover in your life. 

Wheel cleaner

Halfords Alloy Wheel Cleaner

Cheaper: Halfords Alloy Wheel Cleaner 500ml

Price: £5 exclusive to Halfords

Meguiars Ultimate Wheel Cleaner

Pricier: Meguiar's Ultimate Wheel Cleaner

Cheapest price: £15.30 at Amazon. Also available at Halfords.

I was most intrigued about the wheel cleaner having never previously used it myself. 

Both wheel cleaners react with the brake dust on impact and turn purple (a deeper shade of purple for the expensive cleaner). You then wait a few minutes before jetting the purple cleaning fluid off with a powerful hose. 

I wasn't that impressed with either wheel cleaner on the first try, so I repeated the method twice before closely examining the results. 

How effective is wheel cleaner?

A large collection of images displayed on this page are available at https://www.which.co.uk/news/article/is-it-worth-paying-more-for-the-best-car-wash-kit-aOjcs8Q0Z5hc

While the more expensive wheel cleaner had done a better job of cleaning, particularly on the more heavily soiled front wheels, there were still patches that it had missed and still required some manual intervention with a sponge.

In both cases you have to use a lot of wheel cleaner for it to work, I washed four wheels with both wheel cleaners, and I estimate that I'd used a third of each bottle. 

Which would I buy again? Neither. I wasn't very impressed with either of them. 

The expensive wheel cleaner is better. It's obviously a bit more aggressive at dislodging break dust from the wheel. But is it more than £10 better than the cheap stuff? I don't think so. 

And is it even worth paying £5 for the cheap stuff when you can get similar results with a bit of elbow grease? For me, the answer is no. But for others, it might not be. 

Man washing car with a wash mitt

Conclusions

If I owned a brand-new car, with pristine paint work, then I'd probably be interested in both the pricier lamb's-wool mitt and the fancy drying towel that I had the privilege of trying out.

As it happens, my car, like the vast majority on the roads, has a few paint swirls and scratches on it. 

Personally I'm only sold on the drying towel, which is so much better than a chamois that I'm kicking myself I didn't make the switch years ago. 

The expensive shampoo and wheel cleaner? They aren't even close to tempting me to spend more.

Prices correct as of 16 May 2022.