The best pre-wash for cars helps to prevent scratching and also makes it easier to remove stubborn dirt.
The best products are ones that remove as much dirt from the car without having to touch it. I base my recommendations on cleaning power first and then other features after.
My own personal favorite is snow foam. I have a whole article recommending the best snow foams here. However, snow foam comes with a list of cons, such as needing a pressure washer & foam cannon.
In this article, I’m going to help you find the most suitable pre-wash solution for you. I say this because the best pre-wash for me isn’t necessarily going to be the best in your situation.
Why Pre-Wash A Car?
Pre-washing your car comes with a lot of benefits. While it does take a little bit longer than doing an “all-in-one” wash.
The main benefit is removing dirt and dust without even having to touch the car. This prevents you from dragging the dirt across the car creating micro scratches or worse.
Without using a pre-wash all of the dirt building up on your wash mitt or in your bucket can accumulate and cause a surprising amount of “damage”. This is even more obvious on black cars.
If you take a walk around and really pay attention to the paintwork on cars, you’ll see just how many have fallen victim to poor wash techniques.
While the strength of a pre-wash may surprise you. It’s not uncommon for the best pre-wash products to take up to 90% of the dirt off your car.
Pre-wash is good for pre-washing your car and sometimes even quick “maintenance washes” but it isn’t a substitute for a proper wash.
Types Of Car Pre-Wash
There are many types of pre-wash products for pre-washing your car. They range in effectiveness and some are made for specific purposes such as Iron Remover or Bug & Tar.
The pre-wash I use most is snow foam. It’s the most popular option by far. But, I also have traffic film remover and a good bug & tar spray on hand.
The truth is you can use almost any product as a pre-wash solution. A lot of detailing products are flexible this way. For example, a lot of the all-purpose cleaners and even snow foams come with different dilution ratios for different purposes.
Anyway, here’s a list of every type of product you can use to pre-wash your vehicle.
- A Standard Rinse With Water
- Snow Foam
- Traffic Film Remover
- Iron Fallout Remover
- Bug & Tar Remover
- Pre Wash Degreaser
- Pre Wash Spray
- All-Purpose Cleaner
People probably use other things too. You can use “homemade” or “DIY” solutions found elsewhere on the internet but I recommend actual products that are made for car cleaning. That way you know they’re safe to use on your vehicle. Especially if they’re from well-known brands such as Meguiars or The Chemical Guys.
Best Car Pre Wash
As previously stated, almost any product can be a pre-wash solution with the right ratios. I believe that the next 3 products are the best for turning into pre-wash sprays with your own spray bottles or pump sprayers.
Bilt Hamber Surfex HD
When Bilt Hamber makes a product they don’t mess around, this is a company I’d trust with my life.
Bilt Hamber Surfex HD is widely used across the enthusiast and professional detailing scene. It comes highly recommended and is considered by most as the best pre-wash option.
I found Surfex HD to have the best cleaning power out of any of the products on this list. There’s nothing it won’t help to remove.
It’s completely safe to use and is non-toxic and biodegradable while outperforming many solvent-based cleaners.
Bilt Hamber offers this product in a 1L spray bottle, making this the best car pre-wash spray on the market. But you can also buy it in much bigger quantities if you like with 5 & 25 Litre containers also on offer.
Surfex HD is very competitively priced as are the other bilt hamber products. I seriously recommend you pick this product as soon as possible.
Optimum No Rinse
Optimum No Rinse or “ONR” as I’ll often refer to it as is another amazing product.
ONR was originally released as a product to reduce and even remove water from the wash process. This is particularly helpful in countries with water restrictions or bans. Because of this, the product has been designed in a way that also makes it a great pre-wash.
At a 1:16 ratio, Optimum No Rinse offers an insane amount of lubrication and protection to the paint. This is thanks to certain polymers that bond to the paint. Not only will this help to remove dirt from your car in the pre-wash stage, it also keeps your car lubricated for the main hand wash.
The flexibility of this product is another reason why it’s so great, as is the lack of water required.
Optimum No Rinse only comes in two quantities and it’s reasonably “expensive” to buy. Don’t be put off by the price tag though.
ONR is a highly concentrated product.
The dilutions recommended on the official Optimum No Rinse forum recommend 1:256 dilution for a wash, 1:64 for clay lube, and 1:16 for a quick detailer/pre-wash spray solution.
Considering the product quantity and the fact that you’re using so little product for each solution, it works out to be pretty reasonably priced.
ONR should have a place in everyone’s detailing arsenal.
Buy Optimum No Rinse From Amazon.
Personally, snow foam is my go-to pre-wash. It’s great if you have a pressure washer and foam cannon ready to go. If not, it requires quite a heavy investment.
You can apply snow foam with a pump sprayer or even a garden hose but it doesn’t achieve the same foam levels as a pressure washer would.
There are no greater pleasures than covering your car in foam and watching the dirt drip off with it.
Bilt Hamber Auto Foam
Auto Foam is what I consider to be the best snow foam on the market. It’s the snow foam that I use every time I go to wash my car and is great at all dilutions.
What I like most about Auto Foam is its cleaning power. This can take 80-90% of the dirt off your car without even touching it.
Unfortunately, it’s not the thickest of snow foams. Even with a high-end pressure washer and low dilution ratio you’ll find it’s not as thick as some of the competing products.
If you don’t care about foam thickness there’s no better option than Bilt Hamber Auto Foam. It’s incredibly well priced, comes in various different quantities, and is 100% safe to use.
Buy Bilt Hamber Auto Foam From Amazon or check out other snow foams I recommend.
GYEON Q2M Foam
GYEON as a brand is considered to be the premium detailing option. They offer a very nice product and even nicer packaging.
Just like any other snow foam, Q2M Foam is designed to be used with a pressure washer for best results. Yes, you can use a garden hose or pump sprayer but the results will vary massively.
At a 1:5 ratio, Q2M Foam has great cleaning power. You’re not always going to use this ratio though, you should adjust it based on the level of contamination on your car.
Admittedly this isn’t the thickest snow foam on the market but it does offer great cleaning power, protects your paint, and lubricates the car a lot!
If you’re in the market for a premium experience, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Buy GYEON Q2M Foam from Amazon.
Traffic Film Remover
Traffic Film Remover or TFR for short is probably the most used pre-wash worldwide. Not by enthusiast detailers but by commercial businesses.
Whenever you go to a car wash whether it’s a jet wash, machine wash or hand wash it’s likely that the pre-wash will be TFR. This is super obvious at hand washes when they walk around the car spraying product from a pump sprayer.
Traffic Film Remover is a great product and has immense cleaning power. The problem is that at higher ratios it’s often not LSP safe. This means it’ll strip your wax or start to eat away at an expensive ceramic coating.
There’s a reason why businesses use this product, it’s cheap, super strong, and can be diluted a lot if needed.
If you decide to go down this route just make sure the product is non-caustic and has plenty of positive reviews.
I’d personally recommend Trade Chemicals Non-Caustic TFR which you can buy from Amazon.
Bug & Tar Remover
The need for bug & tar remover is seasonal. During the summer when smashing back roads or doing road trips you’re going to hit a lot of bugs.
When bugs dry and start to solidify on the paint of your car they become very hard to remove. If you act quickly then you probably don’t even need bug and tar remover, but if you don’t they quickly become a problem.
You wouldn’t want to cover your car in bug & tar remover. It’s more of a targeted “pre-wash” which you spray on the heavily contaminated areas. The worst area for bugs and tar will be your front bumper, headlamps, windscreen, and wings.
Using this product all over your car would be a waste of money. Most are priced around $10-20 for 16oz but you can get much higher quantities as well.
I’d personally recommend the 3D Bug Remover. 3D is a very popular detailing brand and it has over 1000+ positive reviews on Amazon.
When it comes to detailing, an all-purpose cleaner is a product that can do anything and everything. It’s in its name “all-purpose” and can be used for everything.
There are lots of good-quality APCs on the market. You can trust any of the leading detailing brands but my favorite has to be Meguiars D10101.
All Purpose Cleaners and Degreasers are general cleaners that can be diluted to make different products. The results will vary based on the dilution ratio that you use. I’d recommend asking around on forums, Reddit or even Facebook groups to avoid having to mess around and find the best ratios.
Many pre-wash solutions are just APC or degreaser with some slight additives and better marketing.
Iron Fallout Remover
You’ve probably heard of Iron Fallout Removers before.
Products such as CarPro IronX are known for their ability to clean wheels, but can also be used on the paintwork of a car.
Because these products are pretty expensive, I wouldn’t cover your whole car in it. However, using it on the fenders, front bumper & lower doors will help to remove stubborn brake dust & iron filings.
Most people believe that degreaser shouldn’t be used on car paint, but, it’s great for stubborn dirt and contamination.
Whenever you buy a “pre-wash”, it’ll either be a low degreaser dilution, or an all-purpose cleaner-based solution. Read the product information to find out which one it is.
While it’s nice to have all of the latest and greatest detailing products, you don’t necessarily need them. You can still achieve a shiny car without.
Rinsing your car with water is the traditional “pre-wash”. It’ll still lubricate the car a little and wash off light dirt and dusting.
The best part about using water is that there’s no additional cost or equipment. All you need to do is set up your hose or pressure washer and spray down your car.
Obviously, the results aren’t going to be as great as using one of the best pre-wash solutions, but if you’re hand washing the car after, it’ll still get just as clean.
The Best Pre-Wash For Cars
This is going to sound like an answer that you get from a politician, but, it really depends on your circumstances.
If you have a good pressure washer and foam cannon, snow foam is the best option.
If you don’t, you probably want to consider Traffic Film Remover or a Pre-Wash degreaser.
Iron Fallout removers and Bug & Tar removers are great in specific situations, but not for every wash.
All-purpose cleaner is just a versatile product I’d recommend having at all times. It can be used for everything.
If you have the money, experiment with the products and find out what works best for you.
How To Pre-Wash A Car
Every product on this list has a different application method.
As I’ve already stated, the snow foam is best applied using a foam cannon.
However, most of the other products will come in their own bottles or as a concentrate.
Whenever you get a product that needs to be diluted, you can either dilute it into a spray bottle or use it in a pump sprayer or foam cannon.
Products such as Traffic Film Remover, Iron Fallout Remover, Bug & Tar Remover & Degreaser are better used in a spray bottle.
Whereas All-Purpose Cleaner and Snow Foam are relatively cheap and allow you to cover your car in a matter of seconds using a foam lance, foam gun, or pump sprayer.