How to Wash Your Car in the Winter

Washing your car in the winter isn’t the most enjoyable of tasks, but it isn't necessary to maximize your car’s life. Follow these tips to make your winter car washing easier!

HOME GUIDES How to Wash Your Car in the Winter

Sean C. Resident Copy Writer/Executive Editor

While road salt is useful in the wintertime for melting the ice off of roads and driveways, it can also destroy our vehicles. Most cars are made up of steel parts, and unfortunately, salt can cause rust to accumulate faster on bare steel. This destroys important components and lowers the resale value of a used car.

One simple solution to this is to wash your car more frequently. But in the winter, when the temperature can drop below zero, washing your car at home can be quite the challenge. In this guide, we offer up some techniques to make washing a car in winter a more tolerable experience.

Why you should wash your car in the winter

The harsh weather of winter affects drivers in a multitude of ways. Snow and ice make roads more slippery, making drivers more prone to accidents. As such, it’s important for everyone to keep a winter driving emergency kit in their trunks at all times. 

Prolonged exposure to moisture also affects the integrity of a car, particularly in the form of rust. Rust can get everywhere, from a car’s chassis to its engine to its brakes. It can cause the body to corrode and brake lines to malfunction, putting drivers at risk of injury.

Thankfully, thoroughly washing your car will remove any road salt that has accumulated, preventing rust from forming.

How often should you wash your car in the winter?

It’s recommended to wash your car every two weeks during the winter. If you drive through a snowstorm, you’ll also want to get all of the accumulated snow, mud, and grime off as soon as possible. 

How to wash your car in the winter

When washing a car in winter, one of the biggest challenges is dealing with ice buildup. You need water to get all the dirt and salt off your car, but when you’re working in sub-zero temperatures, you run the risk of having it freeze up all over your windows, mirrors, and doors. Worse, you could freeze your doors shut if you’re not careful! 

Before you get started, you’ll need:

  • Buckets of warm water. Avoid using hot water, as this can cause cracks in your windshield to expand in the cold.
  • Insulated driving gloves and waterproof gloves to protect your hands from the cold water.
  • Waterproof boots to keep your feet dry and warm.
  • A foam gun or pump sprayer for applying soap. 
  • Wax sealant to repel water off your vehicle. You’ll have to apply wax in a heated garage, as wax doesn’t stick very well in low temperatures.
  • Disposable gloves for applying wax.
  • Wheel sealant to protect non-winter tires from rough conditions.
  • A winter-specific windshield washer fluid that won’t freeze in the reservoir.

Tip 1: Get your vehicle nice and toasty

First thing’s first, check the temperature. If it’s below freezing outside, take a rain check as your water will likely freeze before you can dry it off. If you have a heated garage, do your washing there instead. But if not, it’s best to just bring your car to a car wash.

If the temperature will allow you to wash at home, make sure to prep your vehicle first. Turn up your heat and turn on your defrosters before getting to work on the outside of your car. This will prevent any water that gets onto the sides and insides of your windows from freezing over.

Note: If you absolutely must wash your car at home and the temperature is less than ideal, you can warm up your car by driving it around for a few minutes. This will warm the hood and the interior. You can also opt to wash your car at noon or in the early afternoon when the sun is at its highest and brightest.

Tip 2: Pump, don’t rub

Don’t rub your towel directly over your car when it’s covered with road salt, as this can leave scratches. Instead, hose off any dirt, debris, ice, and salt off your car with warm water. This will loosen up the chunks of salt that have stuck to your car. Then, using a foam gun or pump sprayer, cover the car in a generous amount of suds. 

Note: Do NOT use dishwashing soap or soaps that aren’t made specifically for car washing. These can strip off any wax or protective coating you had previously applied, leaving your car even more vulnerable to the elements.

Tip 3: Wax on, wax off

Once you’ve rinsed all that soap off and properly dried your car with a microfiber cloth, consider applying a layer of thick wax. You’ll need to do this inside your garage or any place you can control the temperature, as wax can easily melt when it’s too hot or take forever to cure if it’s too cold.

Make sure the car is completely dry before you get started, especially in areas where water tends to pool: the side mirrors, the grille, and under the window trim. When waxing, work piece by piece or panel by panel, moving your hands in a consistent direction.

Tip 4: Replace your windshield wiper fluid

If you haven’t yet, drain your regular wiper fluid and replace it with a product that is made specifically for withstanding low temperatures, such as Rain-X or Prestone. This will prevent your washer fluid from freezing up in the reservoir.

Tip 5: Switch to rubber mats

During the winter, you’ll constantly be tracking snow and ice inside your car. Cloth floor mats can take forever to dry, plus they stink up if left damp and inside for too long. Instead, replace your floor mats with rubber, all-weather mats that you can easily wipe down once a week. 

Tip 6: Don’t forget the details

Door handles and locks are particularly susceptible to icing up, so be sure to go over each one with some WD40 or de-icing spray. Aside from these, pay attention to hinges, latches, and other small moving parts. 

Your wheels need protecting too. They’re the parts of your car that come into contact with ice, salt, and dirt the most yet can often go ignored. With every wash, spray your tires with sealant for an added layer of protection.

Tip 7: Don’t keep the water running

It’s easy to just let your hose run off in the summer as the water will just run off your driveway. But in the winter, all that water can build up into a thin and slippery layer of ice on your driveway. If you don’t want to cause any accidents, keep water use to a minimum.

The bottom line

Washing your car in the winter is not a particularly pleasant experience. However, it can be made bearable if you follow these simple tips. Remember, if you don’t wash off those winter contaminants, you could leave your car exposed to rust and corrosion.

For more tips on surviving winter, feel free to keep browsing our blog. We provide all the answers you need to questions like, “How long can you leave your car without starting it?” and “What should I pack in my emergency winter driving kit?”

And if you’re looking for the best winter-ready vehicles, head over to our listing to find thousands of new and used cars!