Natural Ways to Clean Your Vehicle [Avoid Rust & Harmful Chemicals!]

Washing your car with your garden house can waste 6 gallons of water every minute. Switching to a simple bucket of water can reduce the water you use to only a few gallons! Read now for more natural ways to clean your vehicle without harmful chemicals that can reduce rust, reduce water use, and protect the environment and your car from further damage.

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Kristine Lee is a licensed insurance agent and one of The Zebra’s in-house content strategists. With a background in copywriting, she covers the ins and outs of the home and car insurance industries. She has been a contributor to numerous publications focused on the nuances of insurance, including on The Points Guy.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent Laura Walker

UPDATED: Apr 6, 2022

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Though it can be tempting to put off, washing your car has many benefits. It helps protect your car from contaminants like dust, pollen, tree sap and salt, which can deteriorate your vehicle’s paint and get into your car’s ventilation systems. But you should make sure you are cleaning your car naturally.

When your car’s paint starts to deteriorate, surface rust will develop which can turn into a big problem, not to mention it looks bad.

Letting rust form on your vehicle compromises its structural integrity, making your car unsafe to drive.

Having a clean, tidy car has also been proven to have a positive effect on your mental health. We naturally like to keep things organized but sometimes juggling other responsibilities can get in the way.

You may be inclined to put cleaning your car on the bottom of your priority list, but if you do, it can actually help you accomplish those everyday tasks more efficiently and happily.

Using eco-friendly products when cleaning your car is important to not harming the environment. The EPA names phosphorous, nitrogen, ammonia and chemicals known as “Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)” as the worst environmental hazards in household cleaners.

VOCs and many other chemicals are found in some of the most popular car cleaning products.

Whether you plan on driving through the local car wash or taking the kids out with buckets and sponges on a Saturday afternoon, cleaning a car is a pretty simple, eco-friendly lesson.

It certainly can be – but only if you know what to avoid, what to use, and how to do it right.

What Cleaners You Should Avoid

As a rule of thumb for deciding on whether or not a certain product uses “green” ingredients — read the labels!

Generally, if your car wash soap has one of these chemicals in it, they are NOT safe:

  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds – These are also known as QUATS. They’re found in most household cleaners and are labeled as “antibacterial.” They are a major skin irritant, especially for younger children. A great, safe, and green alternative is vinegar.
  • Phosphate, surfactants, triclosan – These are often labeled as “antibacterial” ingredients but are extremely harmful to aquatic life that may be affected if you allow the run-off from your car to go into a storm drain.
  • Ammonia – This is a truly detrimental chemical. Found most often in glass cleaners, ammonia is a lung irritant that can induce asthma and other long-lasting effects. You might want to consider using vodka or toothpaste to clean up your windows, especially if you enlist the kiddos to help.
  • Perchloroethylene or “PERC” – Found in carpet and upholstery cleaners, this one is especially dangerous. As a neurotoxin, perchloroethylene (PERC) can affect the brain and cause painful headaches if inhaled. Three cups of water, ¾ cup of a vegetable-based liquid soap, and 10 drops of peppermint essential oil will make your carpets look like new without any harmful side effects.

Even if you check the label and none of the above ingredients are mentioned, still take precautions.

If there’s a chemical in the list of ingredients you don’t recognize, look it up.

Basically, the only ingredient for a good, clean scrub is lye. Other things to avoid in soaps and cleaners are excessive fragrances, lard, tallow, and parfum.

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Small Changes You Can Make

Now that we’ve got the big dangerous stuff already covered, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to have an eco-friendly car wash.

If you use it to clean your car, we probably found a green, healthy, organic alternative.

Antibacterial Soap vs DIY Biodegradable Soap

Combine liquid dishwashing detergent, sustainable laundry detergent, and three gallons of water, and you’ve got yourself a green, clean, dirt-fighting machine!

Remember to always check that any ingredients you use for your mixture are chlorine and phosphate-free, as well as non-petroleum based.

Average Garden Hose vs Hose with a Shut-off Valve

This minor modification will reduce possible runoff from your lawn. Another great alternative to wasting tons of water with a hose (leaky or not) is to simply use a bucket and sponge.

A hose can waste 6 gallons every minute, but using a bucket and sponge only uses a few gallons!

yellow sponge, car wash, black car, washing car

Big Yellow Sponge vs Real Sea Sponge

The process to mold sea sponges into something we humans can use is very eco friendly; there are no harmful byproducts that result, and there is little waste since any excess is ground up and recycled back into the mix.

You can also go one water-saving step further. Instead of throwing dirty sponges in the washing machine, microwave them. Disinfect your natural sponge by soaking them in vinegar or boiling them with water.

If you’re still concerned about any environmental effects of collecting natural sponges for commercial use, rest assured because there are other alternatives.

You can use rags made from sustainable fibers like hemp and bamboo or sponges made from corn fibers, coconut husks, coconut coir fiber, plant-based cellulose, or a combination of agave and nylon fibers.

Tire Cleaners vs Water-Based Tire Dressings

Be careful though when applying these dressings.

While they seem like the perfect, eco-friendly option, they can dry and/or crack the surface of your tires if applied incorrectly.

Armor All vs DIY “Armor All”

We found a great DIY Armor All wipes recipe here that is environmentally friendly and ends up costing only $0.02 to make.

The basic ingredients are as follows:

  • Distilled water
  • Baby oil
  • Vinegar
  • Dawn soap
  • Melaleuca oil

Harsh Light Cleaner Chemicals vs DIY Light Cleaner

Having a murky headlight can diffuse the light from the perspective of the driver which reduces forward visibility. Conversely, headlights can project higher light levels toward oncoming vehicles which then blind an oncoming driver.

You can use soap, baking soda, and vinegar to clean your car’s headlights. You can also use toothpaste, water, and a toothbrush to bustle away that grime.

Windex vs DIY Window Cleaner

An unconventional window cleaner is Coke. Coca Cola can make your windows shine like new!

You can reduce your waste, eliminate toxins from your home, and save a ton of money each year by making your own window cleaner solution with lemon juice, white vinegar, and water.

That being said, always keep an eye out for DIY recipes that are actually harmful to the environment — if they use ammonia or dish soap, steer clear!

High-powered Laundry Mat vs DIY Carpet Cleaner

Mix equal parts vinegar and water into a spray bottle, then spray the stain. Allow the spot to soak for a few minutes, and then blot the stain with a damp rag.

If you have grease stains on the carpets, sprinkle the stains with cornstarch. Let it sit for 15-30 minutes and dab up.

Look here: Our comprehensive list of natural DIY cleaners you can make at home.

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Saving money by using natural household cleaning products isn’t the only easy way to help your wallet grow. Check out our car insurance guide to help you understand the various types of coverage and help you find the best policies in your area.

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