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Washing your car is an essential maintenance function that preserves your car’s finish and outward beauty to improve your enjoyment and the car’s resale value. While it’s simple to wash a car during the summer, washing it during the winter is often challenging, especially in colder climates. If you drive your vehicle on roads impacted by winter snow and ice, washing your car soon after the streets clear is critical to prevent corrosion caused by salt-based treatments meant to make driving safer. So, although washing your car in the winter won’t be fun, these tips should make the chore easier.

Don’t forget these tips for washing your car in winter

The following eight tips from J.D. Power aim to make an otherwise dreaded winter chore a little easier. Of course, in addition to washing the outside of your car, you should clean the inside, too, including vacuuming the carpet and wiping down interior surfaces like door sills, seats, and dash. But for now, we’ll focus on washing your car’s exterior when it’s cold outside.

1. Wear the proper clothing

We should all know by now to layer our clothing when going outdoors in the winter. Multiple layers of lightweight clothing allow you to add or remove a layer or two as conditions or your activity level warrant. In contrast, wearing only a sweater and a heavy coat leaves no room for flexibility in your attire. 

Wool clothing continues to provide warmth even if it gets wet. Merino wool base layers, socks, and glove liners keep you warm even when you sweat while washing your car. Waterproof clothing, such as a rain jacket, rain pants, gloves, and slip-resistant rubber boots, should round out your outfit. Oh, and don’t forget to wear a warm hat that covers your ears.

2. Think warm if you’re washing your car in winter

If the temperature where you’ll wash your car is below freezing, it’s a good idea to warm up your car before you start. Go for a drive with the heat on, or let it warm up outside. A warm interior will help prevent the water you’re about to put on your car from freezing, but if it’s in the single digits or below, you may need to wait for a warmer day. 

While thinking warm thoughts, fill your car-wash bucket with warm water and your manufacturer’s recommended car-wash detergent. The warm water will help loosen dirt and grime from your car, and your hands will thank you every time you wring out your sponge. 

3. Find shelter or a spot inside

A garage large enough to wash your car in winter
Garage | Damir Kopezhanov via Unsplash

If you have a garage with enough room to work around the outside of your car, why not use it? After letting your car warm up, pull it into your garage and shut the engine off. Then use the warm water in your bucket and carefully wash your car top to bottom before moving it outside to rinse it off. If you don’t have a garage, you may need to find a sheltered spot next to your house or use a coin-operated car wash bay that offers protection from the wind. 

4. Pay attention to the underside of your car

The underside of your car contains all sorts of places for caked-on mud, other dirt, debris, and harsh winter road treatment chemicals and salt to collect and eat away at your car’s metal foundation. Your car’s underside typically has little protection compared to the exterior’s painted and waxed surfaces. 

At the very least, you should use your garden hose sprayer or pressure washer to spray as much of your car’s underside as possible, paying particular attention to the wheel wells, suspension components, and the backsides of the wheels.

5. Apply a de-icing solution to windshield wipers

Hopefully, you’ve filled your windshield washer fluid reservoir with de-icing washer fluid. After washing your vehicle and rinsing the exterior and undercarriage, activate your windshield washer and let it spray for “10 seconds or more with the wipers in motion.” The goal is to ensure the windshield wiper arms get coated with washer fluid to help them remain free of ice buildup when the weather turns bad. 

6. Freeze-proof your doors and windows

A car covered in snow
Snow Covered Car | Oleg Bilyk via Unsplash

After all the waterworks, open your doors and windows, including the sunroof, hood, trunk, hatchback, and fuel door. Take some old towels or buy rags specifically for the purpose, and dry the rubber seals and mechanisms as much as possible. If the sun is shining, leave them open to air dry before closing everything up. 

7. Apply special winter wax 

While your seals are drying is an excellent time to apply wax to your car’s exterior. While any car wax is better than no wax, using a winter wax formula will help to withstand winter’s assault on your car’s exterior finish. As always, check the owner’s manual for specifics about washing and waxing your vehicle. 

8. Hire someone to wash your car in winter

There’s always the option of hiring someone to wash and detail your car for you, and finding a service that’ll come to your house and use their equipment, materials, and water is an internet (or Yellowpages) search away. 

Also, at least one automatic car wash in your area will likely stay open in all but the coldest temperatures. Finally, most automated car washes have the added benefit of providing a good undercarriage wash thanks to spray nozzles on the floor aimed explicitly for that purpose. 

What is the best way to wash your car in the winter?

There’s little doubt that hiring a professional to come to your house and wash your car is the best and easiest way to get the job done. However, that is also the most expensive option, often costing five times or more than the typical cost for an automated car wash, and it might not fit into your schedule. If you want to spend less, finding an automatic car wash open in your area is a good option too. 


Winter Car Maintenance 101: Is Your Car Ready for the Snow and Cold?