Why You Should Wash Your Car in Winter

When it’s a frosty, cold Winter’s day, often the last thing people want to do is wash their car, and a lot think it’s actually a bad idea and may cause more harm than good.

In this article, I’ll be talking about why washing your car in cold temperatures is actually really important, plus I’ll go through some tips to make the process much more bearable! So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

It is fine to wash a car in winter unless the temperature is below freezing. This can cause water to settle in the seals, locks and door jambs, causing them to freeze shut. It is important to try and wash the car in winter to prevent dirt and road salt accumulating and leading to rusting and corrosion.

Washing in Winter is Very Important

Washing your car regularly is really important if you want the finish to look good now, and in the future. Washing your car helps to preserve the finish and prevents things like corrosion, oxidation and rusting over-time, leading to the paint simply wearing away.

Washing your car in winter is arguably more important than washing it in summer because the excess of rain, snow, grit salt and dirt makes the car dirtier. This needs to be removed to make sure the paint does not corrode over time.

Grit salt is a big cause of rusting, so if you have any existing stone chips or scratches, then you need to make sure you keep your car in good condition over the winter months.

Now let’s jump into some top tips to help keep your car cleaner in winter.

Don’t Wash In Freezing Temperatures

Washing your car properly involves using water. However, if the temperature is below freezing, then the water in the locks, and door jambs can freeze and cause them to stick, so it should be avoided if necessary.

It is possible to wash your car if the temperature is only just below freezing, as long as you work quickly to dry the car afterwards. Using compressed air in the form of a car dryer, or leaf blower will help to remove any remaining water from the door locks and jambs to avoid them from becoming frozen shut.

However, if the temperature is more than a few degrees below freezing, you should avoid washing the car.

Work at the Right Time of Day

The best thing to do if you live in a very cold area, is to try and wash the car in the early afternoon when the temperature will be higher. As opposed to in the early morning or evening where the temperature is more likely to be below freezing.

Be Careful Trying to Remove Ice

If your car already has ice or frost on it, then avoid washing the car until this has melted naturally. Ice can scratch the car if it’s dislodged using a wash mitt, or if blasted off with a power washer. So wait until the water melts as the temperature outside heats up, or if it’s almost melted, then you can accelerate the process using a low pressure cold hose.

Use a Waterless Wash Instead

If you really can’t avoid washing your car in freezing temperatures, then you can use a waterless wash product to help clean the car. These often come in spray or foam formats and are applied onto the car then wiped away with microfiber.

These should only be used when the car is lightly dirty though, because they don’t provide as much lubrication as normal car shampoo and water, which increases the risk of causing scratches.

Be Weary of Scratches and Swirls

Scratches and swirl marks in the car’s paintwork often occur due to a lack of lubrication when removing dirt from the panels. This creates friction which scratches the top layer of paint.

This is a bigger issue in winter because the car is dirtier, so there is more potential to cause scratches when removing the mud and dirt using a wash mitt.

Luckily, this can be avoided with a few simple tips.

  • Pre-wash the car using a snow foam to remove as much dirt as possible before touching the paint.
  • Use a soft microfiber wash mitt, never a sponge or brush (as they cause scratches).
  • Keep checking the mitt for dirt and rinse or replace with a new mitt if necessary.
  • Use a soft microfiber towel to dry the car instead of a water blade (squeegee), bath towel or chamois cloth (they all cause scratches).

Check out this complete guide to washing your car without causing scratches.

How to Keep Warm

Getting too cold, is probably the biggest reason why car owners avoid getting their hands dirty and washing their vehicles in the winter months. Sure, it’s not as enjoyably as cleaning your car on a warm summer’s day, but it’s important to get stuck in, especially if you car about your car’s paintwork.

Here’s how I keep myself warm when washing my car in the cold weather.

Use Warm Water

You shouldn’t use warm water to rinse the car, because it will end up costing a fortune, but you should use it to fill up your wash buckets in Winter.

This will actually help to remove some of the dirt on your car (which is an added bonus), but the main benefit, is that you won’t end up getting frost bite when trying to make your car look its best again.

Wear Waterproof Gloves (or disposables)

If you have some good quality waterproof gloves which are soft and won’t scratch the paintwork, then now is the time to get them out. But if you don’t have access to any at the moment, then you can try this trick that I used to before I invested in some nice gloves.

Put on a pair of reasonably thin gloves and then put nitrile (or latex/ rubber) over the top of them. It helps keep your hands nice and warm, because it’s effectively the same as having waterproof gloves.

Wear Soft Layers (Without Buttons or Zips)

A lot of car owners make the mistake of wearing the wrong clothes to wash their vehicles. You want to make sure you are well wrapped up and have multiple layers on when washing your car, but you need to make sure you don’t scratch it as well.

Zips, buttons and other plastic/ metal fastenings or details on clothing can cause scratches if you are leaning over the car when washing it.

So try and wear a soft, pullover hoodie or jumper as your top layer to make sure you’re nice and warm, and that your car doesn’t get scratched as well.

Dry the Car Properly

One of the biggest issues with washing a car in very cold weather, is the risk of frozen locks and doors. When you’re washing the car with water, it easily gets into areas like the fuel cap, door shuts and locks. When the temperature is below freezing, they will also get frozen shut.

If you work quickly though, and avoid water accumulating in these areas though, this risk can be reduced. Here’s how.

  • Use a car dryer or a leaf blower to push the air out of the doors shuts, seals, locks and fuel cap.
  • Dry the rest of the remaining water with a microfiber towel.
  • Open the doors and make sure all the door jambs are dry.
  • Make sure the car is thouroughly dried as soon as possible to prevent any water freezing. Do not drive the car to dry it, as it will not be as effective.

Take a look at this article I’ve written on how to use a leaf blower to dry your car to make sure you’re doing it safely and properly.

How Often?

I said earlier that it’s important to wash your car often in Winter to help protect the paintwork from corrosion, but how often should you actually do it?

Most cars should be washed every 2-3 weeks in winter to remove the road salt and dirt that will have accumulated.

The exact frequency depends on:

  • How often the car is driven
  • How bad the weather is
  • If the car is stored in a garage or outside

Take a look at this article I’ve written to help you decide how often you should wash your car in Winter.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the website to learn everything you need to know about washing and caring for your car.



Heather is a professional car detailer & valeter based in Cheshire and the owner of Auto Care HQ. A familiar face in the car detailing community, she has written over 200 car detailing guides on autocarehq.com and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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