Between the Details: Waterless Washing

by: Patrick Horrigan

Owner and Lead Tech at We Care Car Care

Between the Details is a multi-part series on how to maintain your vehicle properly between details. This Chapter is on washing your vehicle without water.

In a previous post we discussed the importance of washing your vehicle regularly in between professional details and the problems with commercial car wash locations. If you have not had a chance to read it click here.

So now you know the best way to keep a clean car between detailing is to wash your own car at home. But what if you live in a condo or apartment building and have no access to outdoor running water? Or your city or town has a water ban or waste water restrictions in place? Or you just want to do your part to save water? The solution is doing a Waterless or Rinseless wash.

We Care Car Care has been using several different waterless system for years to detail about 95% of the vehicles we take care of. Last year alone, we saved over 60,000 gallons of water from being turned into waste water. At-home car wash consumes, on average, 110 gallons of water just to wash one vehicle! Other then the savings, waterless washing has other advantages. When you wash your car using one of these waterless methods no water hits the ground so you can wash your car right in the garage and not make a mess!  Ever wanted to wash your car in the dead of winter? Add one ingredient into your washing solution and you can wash your car in sub-freezing temps.

Steam Cleaning Vehicle Exterior

When We Care Car Care details a vehicle we use one of three diffrent wash methods to clean a car and varies based on the condition of the vehicle. Waterless/ Rinseless washes do have some limitations. When a vehicle is excessively dirty, such as someone who just went off-roading, waterless washes do not work. We use a commercial dry-vapor steamer to clean off those vehicles. Not a procedure we would recommend to the average weekend warrior/ driveway detailer invest in only due to the high cost of the equipment needed. If you are on a unlimited budget and want to explore that route here are a few machines we use in our own detailing business and highly recommend. These machines are workhorses when it comes to cleaning the inside of your vehicle too!
US Steam ES1900 Dry Vapor Steamer     Vapamore MR-1000 Dry Vapor Steamer
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For all other vehicles we use either a Rinseless wash or a Waterless wash. The ‘soap’ we use is the same for both methods.One question we get asked all the time from our detailing customers is “Will your waterless cleaning scratch my car?” The simple answer to that is yes, if it is not done properly. Just like the two bucket method, you need to make sure you are using a dirt free tool such as a microfiber cloth or wash mitt and secondly the proper solution to clean the car. The wash solution is an emulsifier so it lifts and encapsulates dirt off your car. If you use a clean microfiber towel or mitt, it picks up that dirt and keeps it from scratching your car. In the propper hands it is a safe, scratch free way of cleaning your car. Now lets explore the Rinseless wash first.

Rinseless Wash

What will you need:

Microfiber wash mitt such as Meguiar’s X3002

1 3-5 Gallon Bucket

Grit Guard

1 or 2 Microfiber Towels

Waterless Wash Concentrate such as Mequiar’s Rinse Free Express Wash

Distilled or Filtered Water

Performing a rinseless wash is best for any vehicle that is dirty to mildly dirty and can be completed in direct sunlight unlike a conventional wash.  There are a lot of waterless wash solutions now on the market and they are starting to find their way into local auto parts stores in  diluted, ready to use form or as a concentrate.  Some solutions also come in a wash and wax formula eliminating the need to wax when you are done. We Care Car Care uses Meguairs Express wash exclusively. It is a concentrated formula that only is available in gallon sizes part of their Professional Line and is not carried in standard retailers. To clean using the Rinseless method you will need an undiluted concentrate. The ready to use solutions are perfect for Waterless wash we will cover next.

To start you need to make up your wash solution. Using a single 3 to 5 gallon bucket, drop in a grit guard and add one gallon of water. Most vehicles can be cleaned using less but 1 gallon makes mixing easy. Following the dilution instructions on your product, add the correct amount to your bucket and mix the solution.  You may use tap water but I have found using distilled water produces better results and have not had any issues with mineral deposits if a panel starts to dry before you can wipe it. If you are a fan of the Two Bucket standard cleaning method you can use a separate rinse for your mitt if you are worried about scratching your car from a dirty mitt. It is not as critial as a standard wash but does help if you are new to waterless washing. The next, soak your microfiber wash mitt or towel into the solution.

Time to start washing! Start by ringing out your wash mitt into the bucket until it is almost dry. Start with the roof of the vehicle, clean one small section at a time cleaning down to the bottom. Don’t forget the windows!  The size of the section or panel depends on how dirty the car is. Once you have washed one section or panel, dry immediately with an absorbent microfiber drying towel. Continue on until you have washed the entire vehicle. If the microfiber towel starts to get dirty rotate it to a new side or replace with a clean towel.  Once you have completed your wash you can use a light maintenance spray wax such as WAXWAXWax to add extra shine!

If your vehicle is only mildly dirty to just dusty you can use a Waterless wash.

Waterless Wash

What you will need:

4 Microfiber Towels

Ready to Use Wash   Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash & Wax Anywhere


Waterless Wash Concentrate Mequiar’s Rinse Free Express Wash

Sprayer or Pressure Sprayer Autogeek Chemical Resistant Pressure Sprayer


Waterless wash comes in two different forms, ready to use or concentrate. If you are using a concentrate formula you will need to mix it according to instructions and add that to either a clean spray bottle or pressurized pump sprayer.  We Care Car Care uses a simple 64oz pump sprayer to apply the solution with since it saves your hands from having to constantly pump a trigger sprayer. The size of the bottle allows us to wash several cars with having to refill.  Any spray bottle will work just fine.   Take one of your microfiber towels and fold twice. This creates 8 different cleaning surfaces to the towel. Take your sprayer and lightly spray one panel. You want to get it wet but not to the point where it is dripping. Now with your cloth in hand, wipe slowly in one direction down the length of the panel making one pass. If your towel is dirty flip to a clean side and repeat wiping the panel the next section down. The towel will clean and dry at the same time so it’s a single wipe and your done procedure. Repeat the procedure until you have cleaned your entire car. You should need 3 to 4 towels to clean the entire vehicle.  Once cleaned if you used a wash only solution you can apply spray maintenance wax to add extra shine between waxing.

Lastly, Step back and Enjoy!

Pro Tip: When rain water dries on a clean car it can leave waterspots and deposits from environmental fall-out. Next time if rains and you have some free time, why not take advantage of the rain giving your car a free rinse. Just use the Waterless wash method and spray the cleaner on the already wet car. Then simply dry the entire car with a microfiber towel and your done!



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