Skipping this crucial maintenance when temperatures fall can be bad news. Learn how, when, and where to wash your car in the winter.

Best Tips for Car Washes in Winter

DIY carwash cleaning supplies
DIY carwash cleaning supplies

Buckets filled with soapy water, microfiber towels, and hoses are the last things most of us want to deal with when temperatures drop but maintaining a clean exterior through the winter is critical. Salt, soil, sand, and chemicals can not only be an eyesore but can cause extensive damage to many parts of the vehicle that are unseen like suspension components, heat shields, and the chassis.

When winter grime is left untouched, rust and corrosion can set in causing significant damage and costly repairs. Knowing how and when to wash your car in the winter can be a bit tricky, but with a little bit of planning and the right products you can ensure your car is clean and protected through the winter months.

Wax Your Car Before the Temperatures Drop

Person waxing their car
Person waxing their car

Exterior car maintenance should begin well before the temperatures drop. Preparing your car before winter will give your car the extra protection it needs to endure the harsh temperatures and prevent buildup from salt and other debris.

The ideal temperature for washing cars is between 50 and 89 degrees. Before temperatures drop below 49 degrees a thorough wash followed by wax will buy time and give your car much needed protection once the weather turns. It’s also important to note that getting a coat of wax on the car before temperatures drop is critical as waxes and polishes will not properly cure below 55 degrees.

Check out our extensive article on car washing and waxing to learn all you need to achieve a quality DIY wash and wax at home.

Exterior Car Washing During the Winter

Snow and road salt on a vehicle
Snow and road salt on a vehicle

Once winter is underway it’s important to stay on top of exterior car maintenance. We recommend washing your car after any snow or ice storm that leaves road salt and other ice-melting chemicals on the road. These will quickly accumulate on the car’s undercarriage and cause corrosion.

The weather conditions in your area will make a difference as to how, when and where you wash your car. Make sure to wash your car during the sunniest part of the day and avoid washing your car if the temperature is below freezing. This will ensure water from the wash doesn’t freeze on the car or, worst case, in the door jambs, handles and locks as this could freeze your door shut.

Automatic, Driveway, or Garage – A Solution for Every Situation

Automatic car wash
Automatic car wash

The easiest solution for winter washes is to take your car to an automatic wash. Whether it is a touchless or a soft touch tunnel wash, automatic washes are quick and convenient when you need to get off the grime between winter storms. We go in depth on these and other methods in our Best Types of Car Washes article.

You should still be mindful of the current weather and time of day even when you’re going to a car wash. If you go the automatic route, be sure to choose a wash that is equipped with blowers or dryers. These will speed up the drying process and help to prevent the water from freezing to your car.

A more economical solution is to invest in a car cleaning kit and wash your car at home. When the conditions are right, take some time to warm up your car by running it for 15 to 20 minutes. Thoroughly wash the exterior making sure to clean the undercarriage as well as the fenders, bumpers, wheels, and tires. Check out our DIY Car Detailing: Secrets From the Pros article to get even more tips for your at-home car wash.

Wiping down a car with microfiber cloth
Wiping down a car with microfiber cloth

If you live in an area where mild, sunny days are nonexistent during the winter months, washing your car in a heated garage could be a necessary solution. Be sure to follow the wash by thoroughly drying with microfiber towels.

If your car isn’t too dirty but could use a quick wash, waterless washes are also an option. Using special products, you can give your car a quick wash and avoid dealing with water in freezing temperatures. Make sure use lots of microfiber towels with waterless washes to avoid spreading dirt and contaminants on clean sections of the car.

Don’t Forget the Interior

Floor mats
Floor mats

It’s also important to not neglect the interior of your car when the temperatures drop. A set of all-weather floormats will prevent the carpet from being wet for long periods of time. If left wet day after day your carpet will stain and may even grow mold or mildew causing bad smells in your car.

With a little thought and planning your car can make it through the winter months damage-free and looking great. Whether you tackle washing the car yourself or visit an automatic wash, regular car washing when the temperatures drop will extend the life of your car and keep it in excellent condition.

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Ben Hill

Ben Hill grew up seeing his neighbor restore classic MG cars. Soon, Ben was building his own model cars. Then, in high school, he started restoring early model Ford Mustangs. The combination of art and science is what first drew Ben to the automotive industry. He appreciates the engineering and aesthetics of a well-designed vehicle. Ben earned writing recognition as a writer Kentucky Young Author of the Year. Today, he uses his bachelor of arts degree from Furman University, writing car reviews, comparisons, and about automotive financing.

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