There is an old saying in auto mechanics, plumbing, and the construction service industry - always use the right tool for the right job. For the professional detailer or weekend warrior enthusiast, using the right car soap to keep their ceramic coated car, truck, boat, or RV protected is a great example of this valuable life lesson.
But with more than 100 different brands and types of car wash soap on the market today – how can you determine what is the best car shampoo for a ceramic coated vehicle? Should you use one that is applied with a foam cannon - or stick with a good two-bucket wash? Are suds really that vital to washing ceramic coatings - or should you use products with added polymers or wax? The truth might surprise you. We’d wager that what you may have been told by your favorite YouTube.com certified detailer or read in a blog – might not be as accurate as you’d think.
So, let’s explore the truth about soaps that are designed to clean and enhance your ceramic coating. In the information below, we’ll provide some factual answers to some FAQs about car soap. We’ll identify a few of the critical qualities of a legitimate ceramic coating shampoo, how to best use them, and the process used by professional detailers, car detailing enthusiasts and auto spas to ensure your ceramic coated ride gets pampered.
Let’s dive right in.
There are multiple products online - sold on Amazon or detailing wholesalers. Companies like Chemical Guys, Adams, Optimum, Turtle Wax, and others claim to have a great product - but are they really that good for cars with coatings? Or is it just more marketing hype that is all too common with ceramic spray products?
The truth is - the best car wash soap is one that is formulated to maintain a specific substrate or protective solution. Today it seems as if there is a car wash shampoo for coatings, one for waxed cars, and even some chemical car care detailing companies that have designed one for Vinyl & Paint Protection Film.
But, with all the minor tweaks to formulations, there are generally three types of car soaps on the market today:
Decontamination Car Soap: These are generally acidic or alkaline-based soaps that fall outside of the pH neutral range. These products are designed to break down grime, old wax, bug guts, bird droppings, tree sap, and other hard-to-remove debris stuck on the clear coat. A great example of this type of soap would be your typical dishwashing detergent – which has a pH of 10 plus. Most decontamination car shampoos are applied with a foam gun, allowed to dwell on the surface, then sprayed off with a pressure washer. They are great at removing stuck on debris from the car surface, but can cause damage if not removed quickly.
Maintenance Soaps: The most popular car shampoo on the market is the one used for general maintenance washes. It's basically like using a shampoo for washing - and a conditioner to protect your hair. Some are engineered with wax or petroleum distillates – which are mainly added for extra lubrication to help reduce scratching and swirl marks. There are also soaps with added foaming agents – which not only improve lubricity but provide an added visual appeal.
Rinseless Car Wash: A rinseless wash utilizes an encapsulating technology that allows detailers and car owners to wash their vehicles without having to rinse them off. They are highly concentrated liquids that can be used for multiple detailing tasks including clay bar lubricants, window cleaner, or a quick detail spray.
These are also called waterless wash formulations - with some containing polymers that help improve water beading.
Among the three entrants above, the one that you can immediately disqualify as a contender for your ceramic-coated car is the decontamination soap. These are simply too aggressive to do a great job of maintaining your ceramic coating. Plus, the high or low pH level can slowly strip the top layers of many spray-on or DIY ceramic coatings.
That leaves us with maintenance soaps and rinseless car wash formulas as potential options. The problem is – within these two categories is a slew of specialty formulations – some good and others: not so much.
If you remember back in middle school science, all liquids and foods have a pH level or score. The scale itself starts at ZERO and rises to 14. The pH scale is designed to measure the number of hydrogen ions that are found in a substance. We were taught that a product with a pH from ZERO to 7 was acidic – and those from 7 to 14 were alkaline or a base. For purposes of pH levels in cleaning agents – it’s slightly more complex.
Mineral Acid Cleaners: These products are used to remove heavy oxidation and have a pH from ZERO to 2. Wheel acid – commonly used to remove serious contamination or water spots has a pH of 2 – and requires the use of gloves and PPE.
Mild Acids: You’ll find professional-grade decontamination products that remove inorganic salts, and water-soluble metal complexes that have a pH from 2 to 5.5. This is not commonly used on paintwork - but used to break down grease and grime in engine bays or suspension pieces.
Neutral: This is the part that surprises most detailers and DIYers. pH neutral chemical cleaning agents fall between 5.5 to 8.5. These detergents are designed to remove light oils, small particles, or toxins – such as bird droppings, tree sap, road salt, grime, and pollens. These are the items that will cling to a ceramic coating and can cause the coating to become less hydrophobic.
Mild Alkaline: Here is where your average dish soap and other detergents will be classified. Their pH ranges from 8.5 to 11. They are designed to remove heavy oils, films, and particulates (such as industrial fallout or smog that clings to the clear coating of a new car).
Alkaline: Heavy duty or commercial car wash locations often use alkaline-based soaps in their automatic or pressure washing systems. They range from pH 11.5 to 12.5. They are designed to dissolve heavy oils, grease, fats, and proteins – which is why they are great at removing bug guts stuck to your vehicle surface.
Highly Alkaline: The upper tier of the pH scale focuses on removing heavy grease and soils. The pH starts at 12.5 and ends at 14.
You won’t find too many acidic car shampoos in the market. Most of the degreasing or decontamination soaps are on the alkaline or base side of the scale (pH 10, 11, or 12 with some industrial car wash formulations).
So – why is pH neutral important for a coating?
First off, these soaps are designed to remove the contaminants that can stick to a ceramic coating once it’s cured. Small particles like pollen are extremely sticky – and will bond to the coating’s extremely flat surface. When the particles stick, it makes the surface ‘bumpy’ – or non-hydrophobic.
Second, the ceramic maintenance soaps themselves will contain surfactants that lift and remove this debris – which reduces the potential of scratching or causing swirl marks. However, pH neutrality ensures that the soap will not damage the coating itself.
The pH level of a car shampoo is simply the first element that you should verify. We’ve established that ceramic coating maintenance soaps should be pH neutral (not necessarily a pH of 7.0 – in fact, that’s extremely difficult to achieve).
If you’re looking for a great car soap for ceramic coated cars, it’s best to use one that is on the bottom or top end of that pH-neutral zone. For example, Americana Global’s Ceramic Aftercare Soap has a pH of 7.9 – which makes it slightly alkaline-based. This helps the soap break down contaminants on the vehicle’s paint, glass, bumpers, and chrome.
There are other attributes that you should verify with a ceramic shampoo before investing.
You might have heard the term ‘surfactant’ with regards to cleaning agents. But what exactly is a surfactant? Simply put, the term is a blend of three words – surface-active-agents. It’s a compound that is designed to lower the surface tension between a liquid and a solid, gas and a liquid, or two liquids.
A surfactant in ceramic aftercare soap would include ingredients such as a detergent, emulsifier, foaming agent, dispersants, and wetting agents. The best shampoos for ceramic coatings will be formulated with aggressive surfactants – that help to reduce the surface tension between the debris on the vehicle and the soap.
This helps to reduce the potential of scratching the coated surface, removes more debris, and leaves the coating crisp and clean. By using a ceramic coating soap with aggressive surfactants, you’ll remove the contaminants that can stick to the coating – which helps to restore the hydrophobic properties.
Carnauba wax (or natural car wax) has been used in automotive soaps for decades. Its primary purpose is to add lubrication for the soap, which can help to reduce those pesky swirl marks and minor scratches. However, if there is a negative of added wax with soap, it’s the fact that it also leaves a minor film of wax on the car’s paint. If you have a vehicle that has a paint sealant or spray wax – this could be beneficial – as it can help improve some extra protection against UV rays and other environmental factors. However, if you have a nano ceramic coating, it’s accomplishing the same task – with a major negative impact.
Nano-ceramic coatings are known for their hydrophobic properties. This is achieved by ensuring the coating is exceptionally flat. This produces less resistance on the coated surface, which allows water and debris to simply sheet off – without sticking.
However, when you use a wax-infused car soap, you’re leaving a layer of sticky wax on the coating. This causes water, dirt, pollen, and other debris to stick to that fine layer of wax – and virtually eliminates the hydrophobic properties of a ceramic coating.
That’s the leading cause of “coating failures”. It is not that the coating has vanished, it’s the reality that debris is stuck to the surface – which is ‘clogging’ the coating. It's the reason why most auto detailing experts who install ceramic coatings, use a product like Americana Global Ceramic Aftercare Soap to decontaminate their customers vehicles - if coating failures are reported.
So – here is the bottom line – if you’re looking for the best car shampoo for a ceramic coated vehicle, make sure it contains NO wax.
Consider this ingredient as a bonus. SiO2 is silica dioxide – or the ingredient in a ceramic coating that provides the flatness of the coat once it’s cured. Many high-quality ceramic aftercare shampoos contain a small number of SiO2 (less than 3%) – which serves to provide a microscopic layer of protection.
Essentially, it’s a positive benefit that wax-infused soaps don’t produce – made specifically for a ceramic coating. Soaps with added SiO2 will NOT have high suds attributes. The two ingredients (the foaming agents - and SiO2) simply don't blend well. So – when you’re shopping online for the best ceramic coating soap, purchase one that has added SiO2.
Hopefully, you’ve learned some real facts about what a good ceramic coating maintenance shampoo should possess. Americana Global has arguably the best aftercare shampoo that is designed specifically for vehicles with a professional-grade nano-ceramic coating.
It’s the reason why Ceramic Pro Americas recommends our Ceramic Aftercare Soap to customers who protect their vehicles with Ceramic Pro 9H or Ceramic Pro Sport coatings. It’s the only ceramic aftercare shampoo sold directly on the corporate website.
It’s a pH-neutral shampoo, with aggressive surfactants that help to break down the grime and natural elements that can clog up a coating. The soap is highly-concentrated – with a mix ratio of 1:256. This means, for a two-bucket car wash, you simply use two ounces of soap per car wash. Additionally, the SiO2 infusion helps to provide extra protection – which can extend the lifespan of your coating by protecting it from exposure.
If you’d like to try Americana Global Ceramic Aftercare Soap, click this link – and receive 20% off your first purchase.