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Wash Mitts vs Sponges vs Brushes – What’s Best for Car Paint?

When washing the paint on your car, you have a couple of different choices. The two traditional options are a sponges and wash mitts, but there are some brushes safe for car paint that many people use. Each have their pros and cons, but the important thing to understand is you must use these tools properly to avoid scratches.

Check out my post: Foam Gun or Cannon? Advantages, Soaps, & Recommendations for an easy way to apply soap hands-free (instead of with a mitt or sponge).

Keep in mind that mitts and sponges should be used with care, and always used with plenty of soap to avoid swirls and scratches. The soap really does all the work in breaking down dirt, so your mitt’s job is only to release the soap and help guide the suds off the surface using very little pressure.

In this blog, I’ll break down the differences between wash mitts, sponges, and brushes and give you recommendations for what type may work best for you.

Sponges: Not recommended for paint

washing a car with a sponge

Sponges are by far the oldest material that has been used to wash cars, but they’re not great for clear coats. The reason sponges are usually a bad choice is the fact that they are flat, and can trap small rocks between this flat surface and your car’s clear coat.

Since sponges are flat (and your car’s surface is obviously flat), this tends to create a lot of friction between dirt, debris, and the surface of the sponge itself. Sponges also don’t hold suds as well, which is important because you need proper lubrication at all times.

Another negative of using a sponge is the fact that they’re obviously pretty easy to drop and get dirty. Dirt can get trapped in the pores of the sponge, leading to small scratches that cause swirl marks.

The best use case for a sponge: your wheels

There are use cases when you’re probably okay using a sponge, and one of them is on wheels. They make several sponge wheel brushes (with handles) that make it easier to maneuver in tight spaces where brushes have a hard time.

While there are dozens of wheel brushes, some of these sponge brushes conform to the shape of the cracks and crevices quite well.

Another rectangular type of sponge you may have seen is called a wheel sponge. These are smaller and slightly textured, which helps them remove stuck-on tar and other substances.

Why wash mitts are a solid choice to wash car paint

One of the advantages of using a wash mitt over a sponge to wash car paint is the pile. Since pile or fluffy wash mitts can hold a lot of soap AND pick up debris, you minimize the chance your clear coat will be damaged by debris.

Microfiber towels, chenille mitts, and even wool wash mitts can both apply soap and lift dirt particles, key for minimizing scratches. A sponge, on the other hand, releases much less soap and can only slide dirt around. That’s why sponges so commonly leave scratches and swirl marks.

Mitts do come in a variety of types and piles, and most are made of either microfiber or some sort of wool.

Selecting the best wash mitt – My recommendations

There are a couple of different types of wash mitts, some are better than others, some are higher quality than others. Here are a few different types.

A long-lasting favorite: chenille wash mitts

Chenille mitts are by far the most popular I’ve seen and for good reason. These caterpillar-like fabric fingers are ideal for holding suds, and also provide an uneven surface for removing bird droppings and other substances (that aren’t baked on). 

Chemical Guys Chenille Wash Mitt

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Even though you shouldn’t ever use pressure when using a mitt, the piles make it easier to remove bird droppings and other particles on contact.

They do make cuffless chenille mitts or wash pads (with no cuff). A bit less convenient, but ideal if you’re worried about the cuff potentially marring your paint. 

I tend to get clumsy at times washing, so I’d rather have something attached to my hand.

Great for frequent car washers: Wool wash mitts

If you keep a relatively clean car, lambswool wash mitts as pictured below (or Merino wool mitts) are preferred by some detailers because they are really soft and hold a ton of suds. They are usually more expensive and relatively difficult to keep clean, so it’s really a matter of personal preference.

Merino Wool Wash Wash Mitt

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The Merino wool mitts are a bit softer and have longer fibers (like hair) to sweep over smaller dirt particles.

Lambswool is typically a much tighter wool weave. If you want the best of both worlds they make a half sheepskin, half Merino wool wash mitt here on Autogeek that you can check out.

Many of these mitts are actually microfiber synthetic ‘lambswool’ mitts nowadays because they last a little bit longer. You really can’t go wrong with microfiber.

Great for paint, bugs, and everything: 4-in-1 mitt

microfiber 4 in 1 premium wash mitt

If you need a good multipurpose mitt for cleaning bug guts on bumpers, but also your entire vehicle, check out this 4-in-1 mitt by Chemical Guys on Amazon. For the average car owner, this is a pretty good multipurpose mitt to use as long as you keep it clean.

If you get tired of lugging around multiple wash mitts, bug sponges, and brushes, this just might be the product for you.

Top overall performer: Microfiber Madness Incredimit

best wash mitt incredimitt

This mitt is a favorite among many auto enthusiasts in the detailing community. It’s really a hybrid between a soft lamb’s wool mitt and a chenille microfiber mitt. Being microfiber, it washes up well but has the softness that you really want in a good car wash mitt.

This one is a bit more expensive than most, but a good investment if you really want the best wash mitt on the market.

Using a brush on car paint

boars hair brush on car paint

There are several brush types in the detailing world, like interior brushes and stiff tire brushes, and sometimes it makes sense to use one. On the market, you’ll usually find nylon (not great) and boar’s hair brushes that technically can be used to wash your car’s paint.

While I would not recommend using a brush for most people, they are nice to have if you have a larger vehicle, SUV, or camper.

Boar’s hair brushes

Detailers usually stay away from boar’s hair brushes on paint, which is understandable. 100% clean boar’s hair brushes (with softened bristles) that are well-lubricated with soap should be fine for any surface, the problem is that these brushes can be pretty difficult to keep clean.

High-quality mitts, on the other hand, are pretty foolproof (especially using a two-bucket system).Bruses are great for campers, simply because gel coats are a lot more resistant to scratching than a clear coat on a vehicle.

Caution: Never use a boar’s hair brush at a car wash, because they are left on the ground and never rinsed properly. If you have an expensive car, I definitely would just use a mitt since they are much easier to clean than brushes.

When to use a brush on car paint

While I don’t recommend using a brush on car paint, they can be convenient for reaching the roof and hard-to-reach areas for older vehicles. If it’s your winter beater or spare’s better to use a brush than nothing at all…but it’s certainly not a best practice.

However, you can use brushes to clean a toolbox or other non-painted area. Brushes serve a purpose (don’t get me wrong), they’re just not ideal to be used on paint due to scratching.

Detailing brushes

Detailing brushes (like those made of boar’s hair) come in a lot of different varieties; most are used to clean around lug nuts and wheels. You can use a simple towel to clean the surface of a wheel, but a small detailing brush can make it easier for crevices. 


Overall, any of these wash tools when used improperly can cause scratches or swirls. It really comes down to personal preference and how forgiving each tool is. For show car owners, lambswool mitts are probably the most forgiving and softest when cleaned well, but microfiber is really close.

If your goal is to wash a large vehicle, maybe opt for a jumbo wash mitt. If you have a winter beater or old truck you just want to clean quickly, it might make sense to use a brush.

It comes down to your dedication to minimizing scratches, how much time you want to spend, and what you are comfortable using. Hopefully you now have some ideas for what to use next time you wash your ride.

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