Common Car Wash Chemicals You Need to Know About

Sea-Land Chemical Company |

The United States recently has witnessed a surge in car wash and auto detailing businesses, reaching a total of 64,490 establishments — a remarkable growth rate of 2.7%. These car wash owners rely on one crucial component: car wash chemicals used throughout the stages of a car wash.

But what makes an ideal car washing chemical?

The Science Behind Car Wash Cleaners

A cleaner is not always a simple car care product formulation; it’s a carefully balanced blend of different chemistries. Each component serves a specific purpose, tailored to meet the performance needs of each cleaner. These needs can vary based on factors such as the season, specific car wash requirements, regional regulatory restrictions, and car wash type.

Setting Performance Goals

When producing a car cleaning solution, formulators must keep their performance goals in mind. Consider the following questions:

  • Does it clean? The primary purpose of any car wash is to remove dirt, grime, and contaminants, leaving the vehicle spotless.
  • Does it shine? A car wash should leave the vehicle gleaming, enhancing its appearance and reflecting light.
  • Does it protect? Shielding the car’s surfaces from environmental hazards — such as dust, bird droppings, and UV rays — is essential for maintaining its longevity.

Exploring Car Wash Components

Car wash components come in an assortment of options from standard to specialty and even include car detailing solutions. Let’s look at each of their functions and recommend high-quality products to achieve the optimal results you’re looking to have your car wash achieve.

Standard Car Wash Chemicals

When creating professional car wash soaps and cleaners, several essential components come into play:

  • Surfactants/Detergents: The first step in any professional car wash, the presoak is formulated with a deep-penetrating surfactant. Its purpose? To lift and loosen dirt and grime from the vehicle’s surface before the actual wash begins. These powerful agents help break down and lift soil from the vehicle, ensuring an efficient wash and rinse process.
  • Foams: Adding foam to your car wash cleaner not only enhances visual appeal but also provides extra cleaning time for your detergents. A foamy wash feels more thorough and satisfying and is often preferred by the consumer.
  • Drying Agents/Rinse Aids: Drying agents speed up the drying process, leaving the car gleaming and water-spot-free. Without a good drying agent, the consumer may be left with water spots. This additive can also be particularly tricky to add into a formulation related to many rinse aid chemicals that make a formulation unstable or are sensitive variability in the formulation.
  • Protectants: Shielding the car’s paint from environmental hazards — such as dust, bird droppings, and UV rays — is crucial. Quality protectants preserve the vehicle’s appearance and longevity. In the car wash, these are often referred to as the “hot wax,” “rain guard,” or other protective finishes.

Specialty Car Wash Chemicals

In addition to the essential components of a professional car wash cleaner, there are specialty car wash chemicals that can be added to elevate the car wash experience.

  • Wheels & Tires: When adding a tire cleaner to your car wash, you want to ensure you are selecting specialty additives that will provide adequate shine and protection.
  • Underbody: Underbody wash is designed specifically to wash away soils from traffic film road treatments like salt that can cause corrosion. These would be a heavier duty/specialty detergent or surfactant. 
  • Bug Wash: Bugs will create protein films on the vehicle. It is essential that bug washes provide good wetting and penetration to properly lift the protein film from the vehicle. This is often a pretreatment in the car wash.

Detailing Chemicals

Automotive detailing products are manufactured to leave a car looking, feeling and smelling brand new. Detailing chemicals are often highly specialized to meet specific performance needs and bring the final touch to a quality car wash experience. Some of these professional detailing products can include:

  • Odor Absorbers – A primary problem when cleaning cars is removing the smells inside. This detailing chemical will help remove nasty odors in the vehicle.
  • Wax & Sealants – A wax or sealant will help to protect the paint from outside elements and keep the vehicle looking brand new longer.
  • Tire Shine – A tire shine will make the consumers’ tires look brand new.
  • Leather Cleaners – Leather can get dry and worn out over time, so another area to make the vehicle look and feel new again is to deep clean the leather interior.
  • Glass Cleaners – For a streak-free clean, glass cleaners are used on door windows and windshields.

Water’s Role in Car Wash Cleaner Formulations

Water quality affects the quality of your car wash.

 If you have hard water, it can cause instability in your car wash cleaner formulation. It also likely will clog your equipment/nozzles, which can impact your sprayer’s effectiveness.

In addition, poor water quality can cause water spots, even if using a quality rinse aid. Super hard water will make your formulations unstable, as well.

The most common hard-water solutions are DI/RO systems. Additionally adding chelants and dispersants may help prevent the buildup of hard water and limescale in your system.

Top 10 Car Wash Chemicals

Car care product formulation requires the review of many specialty additives on the marketplace. We have highlighted 10 car wash chemicals to meet the performance needs highlighted above.

Tomamine DA 17An ether amine surfactant that provides effective anti-corrosive properties with corrosion inhibition. This formulation makes it a great selection to act as specialty surfactant/detergent for underbody automotive soaps.

Rewoquat CQ 100 GA specialty surfactant blend that offers degreasing capabilities, enabling it to work well as a presoak and a bug wash. It offers broad application use and is suitable for low, neutral, and high pH.

Carspray 800 A readily biodegradable rinse aid that protects the finish, promotes gloss and offers superior beading-sheeting properties.

Tomadry E 30A rinse aid that can be used in many standard car wash cleaner formulations.

Tegopolish Additiv Q70Provides a high-gloss coating to vehicles in the end stages of a car wash. This formulation makes it a great specialty additive to provide protection at the end of a car wash.

Solagum USPI & Solagum SH 210Provide two benefits to a tire cleaner. They are thickeners that increase the dwell time on the tire for added cleanness, and they act as an emulsifier for the silicone into the solution to enhance shine.

Rewocare 755 – Added to provide spot and streak-free cleaning. Making it an optimal additive for glass cleaners. Additionally, the additive creates easier next-time cleaning.

Tego Sorb A 30 – An odor absorber that can be used to neutralize smells in vehicles. Ideal for car detailing formulations.

Solagum SH 210 – An ideal additive for leather cleaners. 

Tomadry DAB – Helps create a protective barrier and a long-lasting wax effect in your formula. 


While there are many options to formulate a professional car wash cleaner and auto detailing cleaner, understanding the essential components of each and your performance goals will help guide your decision. Additionally, understanding that not all car wash chemical distributors and manufacturers provide equal quality materials.

At Sea-Land Chemical Company, we specialize in providing a wide range of chemistries from some of the leading global chemical manufacturers.

Whether you are interested in purchasing wholesale quantities or a few drums a year, we’ve got the products to guide you to your optimal results. Interested in learning more about car wash chemicals? Contact us today to talk to an expert.

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