Should You Wash Your Car in the Winter?

A man washing his car in the winter time season

Once the first freezing day of the season hits, a lot of people retire their hoses, soap, and towels for the season. You’ve heard of Spring cleaning, but what about Winter washing?

Yes, you should wash your car in the winter. In fact, you should wash your car more frequently once the weather gets cold. Winter comes with snow, ice, and salt that can attack your car. With routine washes, you can ensure your car’s paint, wheels, and body stays safe.

In this piece, I’ll tell you whether or not you should wash your car in the winter. I also have 12 tips to help you wash your car better when outside temperatures drop.

The Purpose of a Carwash

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll notice that I mention carwashes… a lot. Why? They’re one of the best things for your vehicle that requires very little effort and money to perform.

Frequent carwashes can keep your car alive for longer, keep your paint fresh, and prevent rust on your vehicle.

A woman washing her car in the winter with warm water pressure jet

Although you can go to a drive-through carwash machine, I would always suggest washing your car by hand. You can exercise more care so you avoid accidentally chipping or damaging your car’s paint.

If you commute by a carwash business that offers monthly prices for unlimited washes, that’s probably the best option (as long as they’re handwashing the cars that come in).

Not to mention, washing a car makes your vehicle sparkle and look great. It becomes a head-turner as you drive down the road. A pretty quick way to impress your new date, don’t you think?

Why Does Weather Matter?

Some people might be confused about what weather has to do with this at all. If car washing is so great, why does it matter that it’s winter or summer?

There are two ways that the seasons come into play:

  • Season-related problems for your vehicle
  • Season-related temperatures and weather

Looking at Season-Related Problems for Your Vehicle

In winter, there are some added elements that might force you to clean your car more frequently. More specifically, salt on the roads.

In colder climates, salt is sprayed on major roads prior to inclement weather to prevent icing. This salt is actually corrosive and can do a lot of damage to vehicles.

Car with snow and salt on it

The salt is known to eat away at your car’s paint and can lead to rust damage.

If you’re driving behind a car on a salted road, the vehicle in front of you is flipping salt all over your car. If the salt just sits on your car for long enough, you’ll run into some big issues.

Looking at Winter Weather and Car Washing

A big deterrent to washing your car in the winter is the harsh outdoor temperatures. Life would be a lot easier if you could just wheel your car into your bathroom to wash it with the heater pumping.

Since car washing involves being outside and using water, a lot of people will avoid washing altogether until it’s warmer.

A man washing his car with a pressure jet washer in the winter

This is a big issue.

The colder weather also adds another element to washing your car: freezing. After washing your vehicle, it becomes more important to thoroughly dry it, so it doesn’t freeze over and lead to other issues.

Another element of winter weather is snow. This can attack your car with unwanted moisture in a number of locations. As you probably know, moisture leads to damage and rust on a vehicle.

Should You Wash Your Car in the Winter?

You definitely need to wash your car in the winter. It has all the benefits of washing it in summer, but it also prevents rust thanks to salted winter roads.

In fact, you should wash your car more often in the winter.

12 Tips for Winter Washing

Winter washing is definitely different than washing in the summertime. During the summer, you can just throw on a bathing suit and casually wash your car whenever you want. In the colder months, you’ll need to take some extra steps.

Here are my 12 tips for winter washing to make sure you stay safe, avoid damaging your car, and get the best possible clean.

1. Wait for the Right Day and Temperature

The best thing you can do is schedule your carwash for a warm day. I know this isn’t always possible depending on your work schedule and where you live, but it’s a good place to start.

Car being washed outdoors in the winter time

Ideally, you’ll be washing your car on a sunny day with outside temperatures over 40 degrees F. Trying to wash your car in below-freezing temperatures is not only super uncomfortable, but it could also lead to a frozen-solid car.

Believe me, trying to pry open a frozen door is not something you’ll want to sign up for. It’s almost as fun as troubleshooting a car that won’t start in the cold.

2. Wash in Direct Sunlight, During a Sunny Day

Once you have the right day picked out, you’ll need to pick the right spot to wash your car.

I’d highly suggest washing your car in direct sunlight. It will help keep your car warm and will be more comfortable for you, too.

During summer, direct sunlight during a carwash can lead to “spotting” after you’re done washing. In the winter, the temperature is more important than spotting, so the experts suggest washing in direct sunlight.

3. Park In Covered Parking (Whenever Possible)

I’m a big fan of preventative maintenance. Doing something ahead of time can prevent big problems.

In the case of washing your car, simply changing where you park could lead to less frequent car washes. If you have a garage, I’d highly suggest parking in it.

Car parked in the garage being protected from the elements of winter season

If you live in an area that has parking garages, you might consider biting the bullet and paying to park in it when a snowstorm is coming.

Starting with a snow-free and ice-free car makes the carwash that much easier.

For other people, this might mean installing a carport, using a car cover, or cleaning out the garage so you can park in it.

4. Use Warm Water

Another pro tip is to use warm water for your carwash. Do NOT use hot or boiling water — the water will flash-freeze and coat your entire vehicle in a thick layer of ice.

Warm is good, hot is not.

Warm water will help melt away some of the brine and ice that might be pestering your car. It’s also a lot better to get splashed with warm water on a cold day than cold water. It makes handling the washcloths easier, too.

VW Golf being washed with warm water

5. Drive Around to Warm Up Your Car

It’s normally a good idea to warm up your car before you start washing it. My personal method of doing this is by driving a few laps around the block or running a quick errand.

When your vehicle runs for enough time, it will warm up the interior of your vehicle. Subsequently, this heat will warm up the outside and make your car washing experience a little better.

6. Consider Using a Professional Car Washer

If you have the extra money, you will definitely benefit from using a professional car washer instead of doing it yourself.

I mentioned this earlier because this is my preferred go-to method when winter comes around. There’s a local carwash that has a “subscription” for unlimited monthly cleaning. As long as I take my car more than a few times a month, I’m actually saving a ton of money with the deal.

Car going through the car wash with water and brushes cleaning the car

Even if you just take your car weekly, using a professional wash will save you the discomfort of washing in the cold.

Your preference should be a shop that manually washes each car. Still, going through an automatic carwash will help you.

Certain carwashes actually close during winter, so you’ll need to do a little homework to find the right shop in your area.

7. Do a Deep Clean Before the Deep Freeze

The good thing about winter is that it’s super predictable and happens at the same time each year. Another bit of preventative maintenance that you can do is to perform a deep clean before it gets super cold outside.

A full detail, wash, wax, and interior cleaning during the fall will save your neck during the winter.

8. Get Rid of the Snow FIRST

When you’re ready to wash your car, you should start by getting rid of whatever snow is on your vehicle. Use the right snow brush to gently brush off your car.

Man cleaning his car from snow with a brush on a winter day

Using water to melt off the snow will just take too much time and it’s pretty inconvenient. A quick brush is easier to expose your car and let you start washing immediately.

After all, who wants to be outside any longer than they need to when it comes to washing a car in the winter.

9. Give Extra Love to the Wheels

Your wheels will get abused all throughout the winter. I recommend getting winter tires first and foremost, but you’ll still need to give your wheels extra love.

The wheels have the most contact with snow, ice, and salt on the road. Make sure you scrub them, use plenty of soap, and use a car wheel brush if you have it.

Keeping your wheels healthy will keep them alive for longer. This should save you a ton of money in the long term.

10. Dry Your Car After Washing it

Drying your car becomes a lot more important during the winter months. Failure to do so can result in frozen components and ice that you shouldn’t have to deal with.

Cleaning the car with a micro-fiber towel after a car wash

My advice is to always dry your car thoroughly after washing it. When water freezes, thaws, and refreezes on your car, cracks start to get bigger and lasting damage can occur.

The simple solution is to keep a few dry microfiber towels handy when you’re washing. After you’re done, use these towels to completely dry your vehicle.

11. Dress Properly

Another big part of washing your car in the winter is how you dress. There’s a difficult balance between comfort and carwash-friendly clothing.

You’ll want to wear a thick, comfortable jacket, but you can’t wear it if it’s not waterproof.

The solution? Wear clothes that can handle but also can handle getting wet.

Cleaning the car with a micro-fiber towel after a car wash

12.Don’t Forget Hard-to-Reach Areas

It’s common for salt and snow to pile up around your wheel well. Don’t forget to wash these areas thoroughly so you don’t run into issues in the future.

Another problem area is on the underside at the front of your car.

These are locations that you might ignore while washing your car in summer, but they should be areas of attention during colder months.

Conclusion

It’s really important to wash your car in the winter if you want your car to survive a long time. Remember my 12 tips for winter washing so you have the best possible experience. Take a look at the rest of my blog and be sure to check out my list of suggested products for car owners.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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