How to Wash Your Car While Conserving Water: Tips from an Expert Car Detailer

Among much of the Western half of the United States, California suffers from severe drought every summer. Because of this, the government is asking everyone to conserve water as much as possible.

This includes restricting water usage when washing your car. If you’re from Lathrop where the average summer weather is 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you know full well that conserving water can be difficult.

There are many possible ways to solve this problem such as hiring professional mobile car cleaning services, going to a drive-through car wash, or perhaps washing the car yourself.

However, it remains our duty as responsible citizens to conserve water while washing our cars, especially when there is a drought making daily life difficult for everyone.

Allocating a certain amount of water for certain chores helps make sure you still have water to use in the coming days. The average car wash uses 65-80 gallons of water per car. However, with the right car washing method, you’ll be able to use less than 12 gallons of water.

In this blog, we’re going to share with you some tips and advice on how to wash your car while conserving water.

List of tips for conserving water while washing car

Tip #1: Use rinseless wash products

The best solution to conserve water is to use a rinse-less wash product. There are plenty of rinse-less wash products out there but the one product that is very popular among car detailers is Optimum No Rinse (aka ONR).

This product is a pH-neutral cleaning agent and safe on all car surfaces including car paint, leather seats, dashboard, door panels, plastics, glass, wheels, and many more.

Its main feature is that it doesn’t give suds and it has lubricating properties so you minimize the risk of scratching your car.

In short, it acts like a car soap without suds so you don’t need to rinse or hose it off. You can use this product as a car wash, clay lubricant, interior cleaner, and another minor touch-up cleaning.

The best part? You can save money by diluting this product according to your needs.

There are different ways to use a rinseless car wash to conserve water:

1. Using a pump sprayer and a spray bottle to wash the car.

We recommend using a 2-gallon pump sprayer and a spray bottle for car washing. You can dilute it 1:50 for the 2 gallons or 1/4 cup of ONR into a 3-gallon pump sprayer for maintenance wash.

The next thing you need to do is to fill a bucket with 3 gallons of distilled water and add 4 ounces of ONR with a grit guard attached to the bottom of the bucket.

The purpose of this bucket is to clean your microfiber wash mitt so you can re-use it again for the other panels of the car.  

In addition, you can also use a diluted bug remover and a diluted degreaser to increase the cleaning power. In case you don’t know, using a bug remover can help a lot when cleaning dried bug guts and other protein stains. These organic stains are difficult to remove if you only use ONR or other rinse-less wash products.

On the other hand, using a diluted degreaser can help a lot in removing other contaminants that have bonded on your paint such as brake dust, iron deposits and sap.

Make sure to get two separate spray bottles for the bug remover and degreaser. For bug remover, dilute it 1:8 with distilled water and 1:10 for degreaser. Using these two chemicals together with a rinse-less wash solution can make car washing a lot more effective in conserving water.

2. Using ONR for clay lubricant to get rid of paint blemishes

For those who don’t know, clay bars and clay lubes are used to pick up contaminants in the paint. When you run your fingers or the back of your hand and you feel the paint is still rough, that’s when you know you need to use a clay bar.

The roughness that you feel is caused by dried bug guts, embedded dirt, sap, and other particles that are trapped on the paint surface. 

Before claying, you need to apply or spray clay lube on the paint so that when you scrub the paint with a clay bar, you avoid the risk of scratching your car.

You can dilute it to 1:10 with distilled water in another spray bottle. Shake it up and spray it on the painted surface and you’re ready to clay.

3. Using ONR for interior cleaning

Aside from cleaning your car’s exterior, you can also use a rinse-less product to clean your car’s interior. Just dilute ONR with a 1:20 ratio and add 2-3 ounces of hand soap to make it a little sudsy and increase the cleaning power.

Then, get some clean microfiber towels, and a variety of interior brushes and you’re ready to clean your car interior.

Rinse less wash, combined with hand soap is effective in cleaning greasy surfaces. Not to mention, it’s also safe and budget friendly.

Tip #2: Use the towel method to avoid scratching your paint

Other than using a rinse-less wash solution, one of the best ways to avoid scratching your car’s paint when washing is by using the towel method. This method is most effective when used with a rinse-less wash solution.

You just need several towels (10-20 clean microfiber towels), a bucket of a rinse-less wash solution, and voila! You get a spotless clean car without a single scratch.

Here’s how you can use the towel method. You just fold each towel into 2 (or 4 parts depending on the size of the towel) and use each clean side to wipe in one direction of each panel of the car. After wiping each panel of the car in one direction, turn or fold the towel so that the clean side will touch the panel. Each towel with 8 clean sides can clean about half (or whole) of a panel.

Using this method, you’re not scrubbing back the dirt you’ve already picked up from the dirty side of the towel thus, avoiding scratching the paint.

Tip #3: Wash section by section

Most people wash their cars using the traditional rinsing, scrubbing, and drying method. This is the most common way to wash a car but unfortunately, it can be inefficient and a complete waste of water.

As a matter of fact, the more you rinse your entire car in order to get rid of embedded dirt, the more you are prone to over-rinsing.

What is meant by that is people tend to rinse over and over without knowing when to stop thus leading to wasting water.

The best solution is to wash your car section by section in order to conserve water and clean it efficiently. By doing this, your focus will be on that particular section alone. This will help you to minimize water usage and focus on removing the dirt on each panel.

Now that you already know about rinse less wash solution, bug remover, degreaser, and towel method, you can combine all these techniques and put them into practice.

The first thing to do is gather all the chemicals and bucket filled with rinse less solution and wash mitts (optional: several microfiber towels for towel method)

Next, spray each section with ONR, wipe down with your wash mitt, then dunk it in the bucket to rinse and clean. If you still see some dirt, you can spray it with a diluted degreaser and wipe it down again.

If the paint looks clean but it feels rough, then you can use the clay lube solution and use a clay bar or clay mitt to get rid of any contaminants. After you’re done playing, you can now wipe it off to dry.

Just repeat this process for each and every section and you’ve now washed your car with a lot less water. You’re welcome!

Tip #4: Use liquid spray wax to enhance protection and gloss while saving water

The most common type of car wax that people know comes in paste wax form. This type of wax is usually semi solid and it takes time to apply and buff off once you’re done.

With the advancement of research and chemistry, there’s a wide variety of car waxes available now in the market.

That being said, you can now buy different types of waxes: spray wax, liquid wax, ceramic spray wax, ceramic wax, and more. 

With so many options out there, it’s so easy to get confused. Since the purpose of this blog is to teach you how to conserve water, let’s talk about the importance of applying liquid spray wax.

Professional car detailers mainly use a liquid spray wax as a “drying aid.” Its primary purpose is to prevent your car from getting water spots. Once applied, it repels water and enhances gloss.

When you wash a section of a car, the tendency is that the water or the solution splashes onto the next area. When you apply spray wax onto the section that you just washed, it gives some kind of water-repellent protection as you start washing other areas of your car.

As you wash and spray wax into each section, you’re not only preventing water spots but also enhancing the gloss of the car. This saves you a lot of time and energy while making your car clean and shiny.

The Limitations of a Rinseless Wash

The invention of the rinse-less wash solution sure did help a lot of people and car detailers conserve water. However, this method has its limitations, particularly if the car is really dirty and not really well maintained.

For example, if the car hasn’t been washed for several months and the wheels are caked on with heavy brake dust, a rinse-less wash is not enough. If the car is covered with a lot of mud and bugs after a long road trip, a rinse-less wash is not enough.

In these circumstances, a rinse-less wash is not a good option. Why? It’s because a rinse-less wash is NOT meant to replace traditional soap and water when it comes to cleaning a very dirty car.

  • It is not meant for washing farms or work trucks.
  • It is not meant for washing long and frequent commuter cars
  • It is not meant for washing excessively dirty SUVs.
  • It is not meant for washing neglected vehicles.


Rinse-less wash is best for cars that are well maintained, preferably garage kept, and/or have an existing ceramic coating.

So, if you plan on using the rinse-less wash method when your car hasn’t been washed for 2 months and over, don’t do it. It can be quite difficult for the ONR (or any rinse-less wash solution to remove the excessive amount of dirt on the paint surface. In fact, using a rinse-less wash on an excessively dirty car is not ideal. Scrubbing the paint could lead to scratches and swirl marks.

Since there is a frequent drought in California, getting a pressure wash rinse for filthy cars is highly recommended. After rinsing with a pressure washer, look closely and observe if the paint is still dirty. This way, you can minimize the amount of water usage while cleaning your car.


To sum it all up, the rinse-less wash method is the best way to conserve water. With so many different use cases and dilution ratios, it helps you save time, money, and water.

Plus, when you combine it with other chemicals such as bug remover and degreaser, you can knock out 99% of the dirt and contaminants on the surface of your car. And for added peace of mind, you can apply the towel method. This greatly minimizes the risk of getting scratches or swirl marks. But if you’re using a clean wash mitt and a grit guard attached inside the bucket, you’ll be fine.

Applying spray wax after you wash each section is also important. This provides protection, slickness, and gloss.

Pay attention to the condition of your car and see if a rinse-less wash is right for your situation. If your car’s extremely dirty, use a pressure washer to remove most of the dirt and grime. Once it’s clean enough, finish off with the rinse-less wash method.

The best thing about professional mobile car detailers is that you don’t have to come to them because they can easily wash your car wherever you are. Plus, they consistently keep in mind how to conserve water and energy.

Whether it’s summer or spring, fall or winter, River Islands Car Salon always use less water and only utilize a pressure washer when necessary. If you’re too busy or just don’t have the energy to do all these, don’t worry, we got you!

You can contact us anytime and we can give your car the best wash of its life.

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