Do you ever find yourself washing your car and begin to get annoyed by the dirt that sticks to the car?
This is because you’re not using a pre-wash.
Some of the best pre-washes will have your car 90% clean before you even do a hand wash.
The best pre-wash for cars will attack the dirt, softening it up and prevent you from scratching the paint.
My personal favorite is snow foam but they need a lot of equipment.
In this article, I’m going to explain every type of pre-wash product.
I’ll also recommend which products I believe to be the best. All while helping you find the best pre-wash solution for you.
Table of Contents
Why Pre-Wash Your Car?
When pre-washing a car you add another step into the wash process.
Instead of setting up your buckets and hand washing the car straight away, you’d pre-wash your car.
The main benefit of pre-washing is that it removes any surface dirt and dust without touching the car.
This in turn prevents you from dragging it across the paintwork and scratching your car.
Without doing a pre-wash all the dirt and dust would collect in your wash mitt or bucket.
Even though it might not seem like a big deal, this dirt can cause a lot of micro-scratches and swirls. This is more obvious on black cars.
Pay attention to cars on the road and you’ll see how many cars are victims of poor wash technique.
Just because you’re adding another step into the wash process doesn’t mean it’ll take longer.
While it may require extra setup it actually makes the wash stage much quicker and easier.
This is because your car is already much cleaner and the stubborn dirt is ready to come off.
Best Car Pre Wash Solutions
Almost any product can be diluted into a pre-wash solution.
The following 3 products are what I consider to be the best pre-wash products on the market.
Bilt Hamber Auto Foam
Bilt Hamber Auto Foam is the best snow foam on the market. No questions asked.
It’s the snow foam that I use every time I wash my car.
The problem with snow foam is that it requires a pressure washer and foam cannon to use. This could set you back over $100.
You can use a foam gun on a garden hose, but the results wont be anywhere near as good as having a proper setup.
What I love about BH Auto Foam is its cleaning power.
This can take 80-90% of dirt off your car in a matter of minutes.
The only area where it lacks is the amount of foam created. Foam thickness doesn’t mean anything, but, it’s more satisfying for sure.
If you’re looking for a no nonsense, high cleaning pre-wash solution this is it.
As long as you already have a pressure washer and foam cannon 5 Litres of this stuff will last forever and cost you very little.
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 among enthusiasts and professional detailers.
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. Despite this, it still outperforms most, if not all solvent-based cleaners.
Bilt Hamber offers this product in a 1L spray bottle, making this the best pre-wash spray on the market.
You can also buy it in much bigger quantities if you like with 5 & 25 Litre containers also on offer. This is great for businesses that want to use it in their pump sprayers or dilute it into a detailing spray.
Surfex HD is very competitively priced as are the other bilt hamber products.
I cannot recommend you try this product enough. It’s a super strong cleaner with a lot of versatility.
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 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 and will last for a long time.
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 for each solution, it works out to be fairly priced.
ONR should have a place in everyone’s detailing arsenal.
The different types of car pre-wash solution
There are many different types of pre-wash products.
“Pre-wash” isn’t the only pre-wash solution.
Products such as bug & tar remover, and fallout remover are also pre-wash solutions.
A lot of pre-washes have specific uses and range in effectiveness.
I use snow foam the most, but, I use film remover and bug & tar on occasion.
The truth is, almost any detailing product can be used as a “pre-wash solution”
A lot of detailing products are diluatable and can be used for different purposes.
Here’s a list of the main pre-wash solutions for cars:
- 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 use other things too I’m sure.
There are certainly homemade and DIY solutions on the internet.
I always recommend using the proper products when possible. This guarantees that they’re safe to use.
Remember dish soap was made for washing dishes not cars!
As I’ve already made abundantly clear, snow foam is by far my most used pre-wash.
I’m sure it’s the most used among professionals and enthusiasts too.
The main downside is the barrier to entry. Good pressure washers and foam cannons can cost a lot of money.
There’s nothing more satisfying than soaking your car in a thick snow foam and watching it do its work.
Bilt Hamber Auto Foam is my favorite snow foam but I also recommend Gyeon Q2M & CarPro Lift.
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 always adjust ratios 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.
If you’re in the market for a premium experience, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Car Pro Lift
CarPro are a brand that first caught my attention with Car Pro TarX.
TarX is an insanely strong tar remover that removes even the most stubborn tar.
As a result of TarX being so good, I thought I’d try CarPro Lift and I wasn’t disappointed.
CarPro Lift is a high pH snow foam that can be used to soften up bugs, tar, dirt and other contaminants.
As the snow foam dwells on your car, the snow foam soaks any hardened dirt.
This will then allow it to release easily when rinsing off the snow foam or during the hand wash stage.
Using the 1:10 dilution ratio recommended by CarPro will produce a moderately thick foam that clings really well to the car.
They do recommend using leaner ratios to make it more free flowing or richer ratios for more foam.
Overall this is a great snow foam that per litre is really competitively priced.
If you want to try it out there is a 500ML option. This will allow you to try it without committing to buying a huge container of product.
Traffic Film Remover
Traffic Film Remover or TFR for short is probably the most used pre-wash worldwide.
While it’s not used that much by enthusiasts, TFR is the go-to for commercial car washes.
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 personally recommend Trade Chemicals Non Caustic Traffic Film Remover. It’s super strong, non caustic and is 100% biodegradable.
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 and hot tar.
When bugs dry and start to solidify on the paint of your car they become very hard to remove.
If you act quickly, you don’t need bug and tar remover. You’d probably get away with using snow foam.
if you don’t they can become a big problem and require a lot of bug & tar remover and a lot of elbow grease too.
That said, 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 areas 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, all-purpose cleaner is a product that can do everything.
It’s in its name after all. “All-purpose” cleaner.
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 are concentrates and can be diluted to make different products.
The results will vary based on the dilution ratio that you use.
Depending on the products you buy, some manufacturers will have a ratio guide.
The other option is to experiment with the product yourself, or read reviews and ask around forums to find out which ratios are best.
A lot of pre-wash solutions are APC or degreaser with some additives and better marketing.
Save yourself the money, get some APC, detailing spray bottles and create your own.
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. However, they 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.
Using it on the areas where brake dust and iron fillings are most common will help you to save money.
I’d personally use it on the lower fenders, rocker panel, front doors and front bumper.
A simple spray or two of a fallout remover will help to release all of the iron fillings from your car.
Car Pre-Wash Degreaser
Most people believe that degreaser shouldn’t be used on car paint, but, it’s great for stubborn dirt and contamination.
I’m not a huge fan of degreaser myself but it’s definitely an option that works.
As long as you don’t let the degreaser dry on the car you’ll be fine. If you don’t you’ll have a greasy and streaky finish on your car.
Just like All-purpose cleaner, degreaser is a product that’s often used in very low dilutions to make other products. It’s completely safe to use on your car, it’s just not something I commonly use or recommend.
Basic Rinse With Water
Pre-washing your car doesn’t have to fancy snow foam or expensive detailing products.
It’s nice to have all of those options to pre-wash your car. After all they have much better cleaning power.
If you don’t want to invest in a power washer setup, pump sprayer or even another detailing product, you can simply rinse the car.
Rinsing the car with water will remove dirt and lubricate the car for a hand wash.
The best part about using water is the fact that its “free” in most countries.
All you need to do is setup your hose or pressure washer and rinse the car off.
After spending 5 minutes with a hose you’ll be surprised at how clean the car actually is.
Obviously the results will not be as good as if you were using a pre-wash solution, but they’re still good enough.
What pre-wash should I use then?
This is a rubbish answer, but, it depends on your circumstances.
It also depends on the goal you’re trying to achieve. Are you trying to remove bugs & tar or are you looking for a general clean.
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.
I use them a lot in the summer after hard driving, but they’re 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 and is a great pre-wash option.
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.
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, a pump sprayer or foam cannon.
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.