Waterless Auto Detailing:
Does it really work and will it scratch your paint


Whether you want to call this waterless auto detailing or waterless car washing doesn't matter. The concept behind the "waterless" is all about using little, to no water at all in the process of detailing or washing your car.

Any first-timer to this concept typically has a very difficult time trying to wrap their minds around how this is even possible to begin with, and further, how is the able to be done without scratching the hell out of your car!

And this is where advances in chemical engineering and formulating come into the picture.

What You Will Be Learning

  • Waterless auto detailing question and answers.
  • Preparing your car first, before you can use waterless detailing and washing products and methods.
  • A helpful tip to extend all your cosmetic surface car care efforts.
  • Darren's top picks for waterless washing and detailing products.
  • Darren's usual "disclaimer". (every area of life there are the rules and there are the exceptions to the rules. And often it's not about the exceptions, but merely the nuances of a topic)

Understanding Waterless Auto Detailing
Q. and A.

Q. What exactly is waterless auto detailing or waterless washing?

A. Compare your car to that of a fine piece of wooden furniture you have in your house. Waterless car washing products would be the equivalent of using a spray furniture dusting polish; you spray the dusty piece of furniture and then wipe clean. The same concept is used on your cars paint surface. ( or more precisely, not just the paint but your entire car)

Q. How does this process work?

A. Manufacturers claim to have ingredients within these products that dissolve, loosen, soften, and encapsulate the dirt and dust particles whereby you can simply wipe with a soft micro-fiber towel that leaves surface clean and beautiful.

Q. Will this process scratch my paint?


A. The exact operation of this process is done by encapsulating, or emulsifying the dirt and dust particles with these spray-on liquid products. Of course you could apply this same process through the use of simply spraying the dirty surface with water itself. Any form of liquid you spray onto a dirty surface would aid in breaking down and suspending the dirt and dust particles. It is simply through specific use of chemicals that allows this process to be more effective and resulting in better end results. The car care industry has simply applied the concept of furniture dusting by formulating the right chemicals to create these effective waterless auto detailing products.

Q. Why would you want to use one of these products?

A. These products have been created for numerous reasons. These products represent a very effective way to save time and effort by combining both car washing efforts with paint enhancing abilities. These products are now formulated to do both removing dirt and dust, while leaving a layer of protection and shine to a cars paint surface. It is also a way of water and environmental conservation. By not using water with traditional car washing and auto detailing methods, you are not only saving water, but there is no water run-off to contaminate the environment.

Q. Do I recommend this method professionally for use on my personal cars?

A. Yes, absolutely. I am always a big fan of getting better results with minimal efforts, and waterless auto detailing and washing is ideally suited for this. I don't recommend for excessively dirty cars that have been neglected of basic care and maintenance, but this method is ideal for brand new cars, or a car that is in excellent condition and a person is looking to save their time and energy.


Q. Darren, how would I go about this if I wanted to start using the waterless auto detailing and washing methods?

A. I am glad you asked. Once people adopt this method of car care, I have yet to see anyone go back to old school methods of car washing under normal conditions. There are many parts of the country during winter months where cars simply get too dirty for this waterless auto detailing method to be realistic, but during months of good weather, or here in California, it can be used all year long.

Preparing Your Car First

Regardless of the age of your car, you will have to prepare your car to be in the position to start employing these waterless methods. The good news is that these foundational steps are also the very steps every car needs regardless if you plan on adopting the waterless auto detailing and washing or not!

Step 1- Preparing Paint Surface
for waterless auto detailing

Floating around in the air is all forms of pollution. You can see this build up on your car as layers of dust. Many elements of this pollution have the ability to embed into your cars paint and become a permanent fixture of your paint until you remove it. Normal washing, waxing, and polishing will not remove these embedded pollutants. These pollutants are also what gives your cars paint a gritty or texture feel to it; this is not good!(want a disturbing rude awakening to how bad your paint really is: after you car has been washed, slip your hand into a plastic sandwich baggy and glide it across the surface of your paint. You will feel just how bad your paint is. When your paint is completely contaminate free, you will feel nothing when sliding your plastic baggy entombed hand)

It is only through the use of detailing clay, or the clay bar, that these embedded pollutants are removed. Just know that it is an important and critical step to preparing the paint surface and I recommend getting yourself a clay bar kit.

Step 2- Sealing and Protecting the Paint
for waterless auto detailing

Once you have prepared the car paint by removing any pollutants (decontaminating the paint), your car paint is now ready to be protected and enhanced visually through the use of car wax. The good news is that car waxing is easier than ever with recent developments in chemical engineering. See my top picks in choosing a top rated car wax.

waterless auto detailing tricks

Waterless Auto Detailing and Washing Products
A convoluted Topic

Darren's Disclaimer: With advances in chemical engineering, the topic of waterless auto detailing gets complicated very quickly. From the introduction to the fiurst spray wax to quick detailer, this topic becomes more nd more complex and convoluted. Now we have all kinds of different products, terms, and labels:

  • Waterless auto  detailing.
  • Waterless washing.
  • No-rinse washing.
  • Dry washing.
  • Rinseless washing.
  • Quick detailers.
  • Final touch detailers.
  • Spray wax/spray detailers.
  • Etc., etc., etc!!

See what I mean?!

Even myself as a professional have a difficult time keeping up with new terminology, as well as new products. My shelves are over-flowing with more and more products to test as the industry is exploding due to advances in chemistry, engineering, and formulating.

The reality is that you could literally use water to perform what is referred to as waterless auto detailing or waterless washing. ( I realize this is a direct contradiction, but waterless products in any form is not about deliberately removing water from the equation entirely, but to eliminate the traditional method of using obscene amounts of water to "make" your car clean.

"Darren I am so confused! How do I know which product is the best for me and my car?!"

Ultimately only you can answer that question and likely you will try multiple products before you settle on that "one product" that represents the winning balance of benefits and features that lay within the nuances that only you can decide.

But I am here to help!

My goal is not to add additional confusion, but offer my real world reviews and comments to guide you through a process that is already difficult at best.

waterless washing ferrari

Since this topic of waterless auto detailing blurs into so many additional products and terminology, I have decided to break this subject into specific categories based on the labeling of the manufacturer. Since you could literally use regular water and perform the "process" of waterless auto detailing or washing, the reality is that many products could then get you to your ultimate goal...

A Clean Car!

But if all you wanted was a clean car, then you likely would not be on this page or in search of a top rated waterless wash product. With these amazing products now you have choices based on the specifics of your world. And because your world is unique, no single person can decide for you what you will ultimately like and prefer best.

But with the products I have recommended below, now you can achieve more than just a clean car, you can also finish with a car that has been cleaned, and either looks like it has just been waxed (quick detailers, waterless wash products) or has been cleaned and waxed. (spray waxes)

Waterless Auto Detailing:
Dedicated waterless products

Aero Cosmetics

Wet or Waterless Car Wash Wax Kit 32oz Aircraft Quality for your Car RV Boat & Motorcycle. Guaranteed the Best Wash Wax Anywhere Anytime Home Office School Garage Parking Lots Parks

  • Amazing product that delivers performance as well as a great user experience.
  • Not just a waterless wash product, but a wax "enhancer" also. (I use the term enhancer as I would never rely on these products as a stand alone wax for my car. These products offer the ease of use to wash my cars, but also add a layer of wax to extend the base coat of a traditional wax)
  • Comes ready to use. (RTU for all you acronym junkies)
  • Can be used in direct sunlight on hot paint. (despite what the labeling recommends)
  • Non-staining formulation; will not stain black plastic trim.
  • If I had to live with a single product, I could live with this one.

Adam's Waterless Wash

Adam's Waterless Car Wash 16oz - Made With Advanced Emulsifiers and Special Lubricants - Eco-Friendly Waterless Car Washing With No Hoses, No Water, No Messes

  • I love this product! At the top of my favorites list.
  • As easy as easy can get.
  • can be used on hot paint in direct sunlight.
  • Safe for all materials (won't stain black trim)
  • This is strictly a safe waterless wash product that has no added waxes or silicone's for any added protection. (this is the only drawback to this product if you had to find one. The trade-off is that it is also easy to apply and use as there is virtually no residue that forms that requires buffing off to remove.)
  • Amazing smell that entices you to want to make a drink out of it!
  • I could and do live with this product as it truly is one of my favorites.

Chemical Guys Eco-Smart Waterless Wash and Wax

Chemical Guys WAC_707RU_16 EcoSmart-RU Ready to Use Waterless Car Wash and Wax (16 oz)

  • I love this product!
  • Super easy to use, super amazing results.
  • Can be used on hot paint in direct sunlight.
  • Safe for all materials (won't stain black trim)
  • A "thicker" consistency when applied. You actually feel like a true wax is being applied as it will haze up slightly creating a need to flip your cloth over and buff the perfection.
  • Doesn't necessarily produce a better end result, but you will feel like some wax is making it onto the surface of your paint.
  • I could definitely live with this single product.

Waterless Auto Detailing:
spray detailers

While many could argue that any of the wash and wax products that also have some form of "wax" to them is tenuous at best, these spray or quick detailers make no claims. They simply claim to have the ability to remove light dust/dirt (hence the ability to use for waterless auto detailing or washing) while creating an amazing shine. While not labeled as a true waterless product, they can in fact be used in the same manner as the products from above.

Adam's Detail Spray

Adam's Polishes Adam's Detail Spray, 16Oz

  • Welcome to the world of performance and wonderfully smelling spray detailers!
  • If you are looking for a top rated quick detailer and love the added pleasure of a "smell good" product; look no further!
  • Delivers amazing results with a great user experience.
  • Can be used in direct sun on hot paint. (despite what labeling recommends)
  • Non-staining; will not stain black trim.
  • One of my personal favorites.

Finish Kare body shine

31oz. Finish Kare 425 Extra Slick Final Body Shine

  • Another amazing quick detailer (despite the fact that it is labeled as a final body shine; semantics.)
  • Easy as easy gets to use.
  • Excellent results with excellent user experience.
  • Can be used in direct sunlight on hot paint. (despite what labeling recommends)
  • Non-staining formulation.
  • One of my favorites.

Waterless Auto Detailing:
spray waxes

Now we enter the world of dedicated spray waxes. And just like every other product on this page, these can aslo be used for waterless auto detailing and/or washing. You simply adjust how much product you use based on the level of dust/dirt you are dealing with, and the "personality" of the exact product you choose.

Turtle Wax ice spray wax

Turtle Wax T-477R ICE Spray Wax - 20 oz.

  • Who would have thought a Turtle Wax product would ever make one of my lists.
  • Yes, believe it or not this product really does perform and does so with an excellent user experience.
  • Can be used in direct sun on hot paint. (despite what labeling recommends)
  • Non-staining formulation.

Car Guys hybrid wax

CarGuys Hybrid Wax Sealant - Most Advanced Top Coat Polish and Sealer on the Market - Infused with Liquid Carnauba for a Deep Hydrophobic Shine on All Types of Surfaces - 18 Ounce Kit

  • Amazing product that delivers both excellent results along with an excellent user experience.
  • Don't just wash, but wax with this hybrid formulation.
  • Can be used in direct sun on hot paint. (despite what labeling recommends)
  • Non-staining formulation.

Meguiar's Ultimate quik wax

Meguiar's G17516 Ultimate Quik Wax

  • One of my all time favorites. (this is basically the same formulation as the Meguiar's Synthetic spray wax from their professional line)
  • Can be used in direct sun on hot paint.
  • Non-staining formulation.
  • Was my go-to spray wax for years until I discovered alternatives. (Which I have carefully laid out on this page)

Waterless Buffing Cloths

Likely you are familiar with the amazing textile known as micro-fiber cloths. This textile has changed the detailing industry forever! But not all micro-fibers are created equal and they are not all manufactured for the same purposes in mind.

When it comes to waterless detailing and/or washing, I prefer the thickest micro-fibers available to help trap the dirt you are removing.

Ultra Deluxe Micro-Fiber Cloths:

  • Perfect thickness for waterless detailing.
  • Perfect size that can be folded or use opened based on your hand size and preference.
  • Will be the winning balance of plushness and size.

Waterless Auto Detailing

I hope you have not only leaned a few things along the way here today, but come to the realization that car care and maintenance can be much more simple and basic than most realize. Waterless auto detailing and water car washing techniques are a great may to leverage your time and efforts to get you maximum results with minimal efforts!

waterless auto detailing

Darren's Personal Tips

After being in the business for over 25 years, you always end up with some personal favorites. It matters not to me which of the many products you pick for yourself, but I am often asked which products I specifically choose and prefer.

This is often a tough question for a couple reasons:

  • I continually test more and more products.
  • The industry has so many excellent products, I often have many "favorites".
  • Finding the winning balance for you will come down to the subtle nuances of a product. So don't over-think at the beginning and just try one of them. Trust me, you will end up trying more and more as you progress in your experience.

"Darren, just tell me which one you would choose!"

Keep this between you and me:

  • Chemical Guys EcoSmart if you want both a waterless wash and wax combo. (just accept that due to its thicker consistency, it will require slightly more effort to use)
  • Adam's Waterless Wash for a waterless wash product and/or a quick detailer. (this product could be labeled either way. I just know I absolutely love it and is the easiest of all the products to use)
  • Turtle Wax Ice for a spray wax. (this is assuming that you really believe labeling and then accept that this product is actually applying a trivial amount of wax to your car) But I do love it and is super easy to use!


darren priest signature

Show / Hide