How to Wash a Car if You Live in an Apartment (3 Solutions)


Having good wash technique is vital if you want to keep your car scratch and swirl mark free, but living in an apartment without access to water presents a huge issue. However, there are a few options you have if you live in a flat and want to wash your car and get great results.

The Quick Answer

You can wash a car if you live in an apartment by either:

  • Using a waterless wash product
  • Using a cordless pressure washer
  • Taking the car to a self-service car wash station

1. Use a Waterless Wash System

Using a waterless wash product is the easiest option for car owners who want to clean their car but don’t have access to running water. There are many different brands offering a waterless wash product and most function the same way:

  • Spray the product liberally onto the panel.
  • Wipe away the product gently using a microfiber towel and straight-line motion.
  • Flip the towel after cleaning each section.

An example of this type of product is Meguiar’s Ultimate Washerless Wash & Wax which you can find here on Amazon.

Image links to Amazon

The whole process is really simple and it will take less than 30 minutes to clean most cars using this method. It will only cost a few dollars per wash as well, especially if you purchase the product in bulk.

The only other things to buy are microfiber towels. It’s best to choose 16×16″ towels for this method with a low-pile structure and 70:30 blend so they are soft and good quality. You’ll usually need at least 5 towels for mid-sized vehicles.

Advantages of Waterless Wash Products

  • No run-off of chemicals into the drains.
  • Works when space is limited and no water is available.
  • No need to carry heavy equipment.
  • Cost-effective and quick solution.

Disadvantages of Waterless Wash Products

  • It’s only safe on cars which are dusty or have a very thin layer of traffic film. Using them on dirtier cars will increase the risk of scratches and swirl marks.
  • There is still some scepticism as to whether these products are lubricated enough to prevent scratches and swirl marks, even on lightly soiled cars.
  • They work well on the paint, alloys and glass but you’ll need another product to properly clean areas like the tires and wheel arches.
  • It’s hard to get into tight areas such as rubber seals, grills and badges so grime will build up over time.

2. Use a Cordless Pressure Washer

If you’re trying to wash a very dirty car then you really need a pressure washer to clean the vehicle safely and effectively. However, in you live in an apartment you’re unlikely to have access to the two vital components needed to use a regular pressure washer: power and a water supply.

However, there are some cordless pressure washers on the market which are designed to solve this problem. They are battery powered and allow you to draw water from a bucket.

They take just a few minutes to set up which involves the following steps.

  • Fill up a bucket with water.
  • Place one end of the suction hose in the bucket.
  • Connect the suction hose to the cordless pressure washer.

Cordless Pressure Washer on Amazon

Most cordless pressure washers will have multiple pressure settings, but in general you’ll need to use the strongest one. In terms of how much water you need, it depends on how long you are using the pressure washer.

On the strongest setting you can expect most cordless pressure washers to use around 3-4 litres of water per minute of use. That means you’ll probably need around 15-20 litres of water to clean a car, if you’re quick! The battery on a decent cordless pressure washer will last around 20 minutes which should be more than enough to clean most cars.

Advantages of Cordless Pressure Washers

  • Allows you to clean your car using a pressure washer and traditional wash methods but without power or a tap (perfect for those living in apartments).
  • Great option for dirtier cars where a waterless wash would not be safe.
  • You can clean the car without having to take it to another location.

Disadvantages of Cordless Pressure Washers

  • Filling up buckets inside and transporting them outside can be very inconvenient.
  • Lower pressure compared to traditional pressure washers.
  • High initial cost for the equipment.

Check out this Cordless Pressure Washer on Amazon.

3. Use a Self-Service Car Wash Station

The final option for those wanting to clean their car properly who live in an apartment complex is to take the vehicle to a self-service car wash station. These give you access to a pressure washer and a space to wash your car properly using your own products in the same way you could if you lived in a house with a tap and power supply.

In the UK, the coin-operated wash stations cost around £1 for 3 minutes of use which means you’ll likely need to pay £2-3 per wash. In the USA, they cost roughly $2 per 3 minutes of use, meaning you’ll need to pay around $4-6 per wash.

Advantages of Self-Service Car Wash Stations

  • Works very well for dirty cars where a waterless wash product wouldn’t be a safe enough option.
  • Higher pressure washer is available compared to using a cordless pressure washer.

Disadvantages of Self-Service Car Wash Stations

  • Limited time is available to clean the car meaning you may need to rush in peak times.
  • Can get expensive if you want to clean your car frequently.
  • Requires the need to travel which can be inconvenient and time consuming.

Use a Hybrid Method

As we’ve been through the options for those who live in an apartment and want to clean their cars, you’ll notice that each method has several disadvantages and there isn’t really a “perfect solution” available.

The way you can overcome some of the disadvantages is to use a hybrid method to either make the process more effective or convenient.

In most cases, using high-pressure water to rinse the car initially is needed to remove most of the loose dirt and debris on the car. For this you can either use a cordless pressure washer or a self-service wash station to give the car a rinse. Then, you can go ahead and use a rinseless/ waterless wash product to remove the remaining dirt when you get home.

Using this approach means you’ll need less water for a cordless pressure washer, or less time/ money if using a self-service wash station.

You can also use either the cordless pressure washer or self-service station and an all-purpose-cleaner to clean the tires and wheel arches as well, since waterless wash products don’t work well on these areas.

More Ideas to Make the Process Easier or More Effective:

  • Use a pump sprayer to spray a pre-wash chemical on the car when parked outside the self-service wash station bay and then rinse off when in the bay to save time.
  • Make sure you use your own wash mitts instead of the communal brush at the self-serve station as this will cause scratches and swirl marks.
  • Use a contact-less wheel cleaner such as Bilt Hamber Auto Wheel to shift 95% of the dirt without spending time scrubbing. This can be sprayed onto a dry wheel which saves time as there is no need to rinse beforehand.

If you’re looking for a good quality rinseless wash product then check out my article on Optimum No Rinse.

Heather

I first became interested in car detailing around 3 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

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