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9 Winter Tips for Washing a Car in Cold or Freezing Weather

Tip 1: Dress in layers

When it’s cold outside, washing your car is just not fun, especially if you aren’t prepared. Whenever I wash my truck, I like to dress in layers, with as much waterproof material as possible.

Since your hands and your feet are the two parts of your body that are most likely to come into contact with cold water, I recommend wearing insulated driving gloves that aren’t too bulky, followed by a pair of waterproof gloves.

Many people use latex gloves they can throw away, but I really like the longer dishwashing gloves. Any waterproof gloves that will repel water (and keep it off your wrists) will do.

 Thermal waterproof boots

clothes for detailing in the cold

If you plan to wash your car throughout winter, having an old pair of waterproof boots is key. Rainboots will work as well, but anything lined with wool is ideal. As long as your boots are waterproof, you can always wear thicker socks. It’s also a good idea to find shoes that are slip-resistant.

You can find new waterproof boots on eBay right now for around $20 with free shipping. Always a great purchase just to use for winter chores involving snow or water.

Waterproof base layers

If you are dealing with water, make sure you wear a waterproof base layer to stay warm, followed by a middle layer and outer jacket. This post by outdoor company REI I found pretty helpful in explaining how to layer for maximum comfort.

It sounds simple enough, but getting wet while washing your car in 30-degree temps is usually what will make me want to go inside!

Tip 2: Use warm water, never hot!

Hot water + glass don’t mix, so never use hot water to melt snow, ice, or fog on your windshield when it’s cold outside. Especially if you have a small crack on your windshield, hot water can cause these cracks to expand, eventually causing the crack to spread, and just isn’t good practice.

You always want to be careful around glass, and never use hot or boiling water to melt snow.

That being said, it is okay to use warm water to wash wheels and paint, as long as the temperatures aren’t below freezing. Dipping a wash mitt in warm water makes things a lot less cold, and makes things more comfortable when washing wheels (instead of having numb fingers).

If you’re digging out from a snowstorm (or do this quite often), be sure to check out a post I wrote, Auto Detailing and Snow Removal: Best Practices for a couple tips and tricks.

Tip 3: Use a garage or wash bay if you can

LED Car Wash Bay Lighting Setups

If you can, probably the best thing to do is to wash your vehicle in an enclosed area like a garage if you can. While you don’t want to really use a pressure washer or sprayer if you don’t have drains and proper ventilation, a garage will just make this job a lot warmer.

If you live in an apartment and don’t have a garage, try finding a car wash bay at least to block the wind if you can. Anything to prevent suds and soap from drying in the wind is ideal.

Tip 4: consider using a handheld pump sprayer for applying suds quickly

handheld pump sprayer washing car

Removing dirt and even salt safely in the winter really comes down to lubrication for the most part. Soap really does all the work in terms of carrying dirt away, which is why you want to use plenty of it whenever applying any pressure with a microfiber towel or mitt. You want to be careful in the winter not to rub a mitt against road salt or sand to avoid scratching. Instead, let the soap break it down first.

If you have access to water, a foam gun is another device you can use that aerates special car wash snow foam concentrate in order to create a thick foam. This allows you to spray foam on your vehicle without using a bucket, or even touching the paint.

Check out my post Foam Guns vs Foam Cannons to learn more about the benefits of washing with foam. Since you probably don’t want to use a pressure washer when it’s cold, a handheld foam pump sprayer should do the trick like the one pictured above.

Tip 5: Use a thick wax or sealant to add winter protection

wax to prevent hard water spots

Preventing a super dirty car in the winter is really is all about prevention. Truth be told, the cleaner you can keep your vehicle in between washes (especially in the winter), the better, which is why I recommend a good wax or sealant.

A carnauba paste wax is a good choice since it typically is difficult to remove and repels water or snow quite well. It’s also more hydrophobic than many spray waxes that degrade easier in winter conditions.

Protect your wheels

To protect your wheels from pitting in the winter, you may want to consider using a separate set of wheels in the winter if you have a set.

If you don’t have that option, using a wheel sealant like this product by Chemical Guys I found on Amazon can offer a barrier of protection you need in winter driving conditions when the roads are pretty dirty.

Tip 6: Use a wash and wax car soap

Wash and wax car soap products I typically don’t use in warmer months since I like to apply wax separately, but these products aren’t a bad idea in the winter due to the fact that they just add another layer of protection and are convenient to apply.

Waxing (especially if you park outside) can be brutal, so using these wash-and-wax products can be more practical. You can either apply these with a wash mitt and bucket, or a foam gun (which is much less cold in the winter).

Wax can also help to prevent rust since after water evaporates there still remains a layer of wax inside of cracks and door jams, which can be prone to rust when exposed to water alone.

Tip 7: Consider rinseless product or spray

chemical guys swift wipe waterless car wash review

If you don’t have access to a hose, using a product like Optimum No Rinse (ONR) Wash and Wax, in combination with a two-bucket wash method can help wash and protect a dirty car in the winter when applied properly.

ONR is a pretty popular product you can use without a hose. Just fill a couple of buckets with warm water and grab a few microfiber towels. During the winter months you may also want to try out a waterless spray-on car wash product.

There are several of these on the market, with one of my favorite’s made by Chemical Guys that I recently reviewed here.

While I would not recommend using a spray-on waterless product with an extremely dirty car to avoid scratching, as long as you use plenty of product, most of the time you should be okay.

If you use ONR or spray wax, always use plenty of clean towels, and never rub a dirty section of the towel over your clear coat. Again, lubrication is key.

Tip 8: Remove salt promptly

washing salt from under car

Especially if you live in an area that experiences winter weather quite often (where salt on roads and interstates is a common occurrence), you want to be adamant about removing road salt from the underbody of your vehicle. Salt can easily corrode metal on the underbody of a car, causing it to rust.

I prefer to use a handheld sprayer (you can find at many self-service car bays) but a simple undercarriage car wash works as well depending on your preference. If you don’t have a basic high-pressure sprayer for removing that winter grime and salt, check out this blog post I wrote to check out a few of the best budget electric pressure washers on the market. 

These electric models I like because they are pretty quiet, lightweight, and perfect for spraying down a vehicle that is covered in road salt.

Tip 9: Find a mobile detailer or on-demand car wash service

car wash ordering mobilewash app

If you want a quick wash but just don’t feel like bracing the cold winter weather, you may want to consider using an on-demand car wash app or service. With a tap on the button, you can order a car wash usually for around $40 – $50 depending on the company, and is an option that I sometimes prefer in colder weather.

Keep in mind, some of these on-demand detailing companies don’t offer an undercarriage wash, so you will still want to hose things off if nothing else. In the winter, it’s worth calling around to see what mobile detailers actually use water tanks and can clean your entire vehicle.


While winter and cold weather simply don’t make washing your vehicle all that fun, hopefully, these tips can help you this season. Because of the weather, winter is usually when most people try to wash their vehicle (believe it or not), so it’s something you should never avoid because of the weather.

While car washes aren’t for everybody, sometimes they’re better than nothing when it comes to washing off dirty snow and salt.

Have any other tips that work for you when washing your car in the winter? Let me know.

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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