Maintenance and gear

Elbow Grease: How to wash a car during a hosepipe ban

by Richard Tipper
12 August 2022 3 min read
Elbow Grease: How to wash a car during a hosepipe ban
Photo: Brad Starkey, Unsplash

With hosepipe bans in place across the UK, and half of the nation’s Environment Agency areas entering into drought status water is a precious resource and caring for our cars and motorbikes just got more challenging.

Putting up with dust is one thing, but leaving squashed insects and bird droppings, or sap from trees, on paintwork is a sure-fire way to blemish its appearance as these can damage the clearcoat that protects the paint.

However, there are still ways to wash a car without using a hosepipe.

In the decades I have spent detailing cars, often on location in areas where water isn’t simply available at the turn of a tap, I have had to improvise on countless occasions. Here are some of my straightforward tips to cleaning a car without a hose or pressure washer – worth putting into action early in the morning or later in the evening when it’s cooler and shade is abundant, so the paintwork is cool to the touch.

The real secret to keeping a car in good condition all the way through a hosepipe ban is to clean it regularly so it never becomes heavily soiled.

Improvise with a watering can or garden sprayer

Just as we’re allowed to continue to water garden plants using a watering can, so we can put watering cans to good use when washing a car. After all, most of us will have a watering can lying around, and even if we don’t a plastic can is cheap as chips.

First things first, make sure it’s well rinsed and not got residue from plant food mix or, worse still, weed kills. Next, give it a fill, then use it to wet the wheels, before tackling them with water and half a bucket of car shampoo, before rinsing.

With that done, refill the watering car and replace the soapy water with a fresh full bucket (and ideally, have a second bucket of water for rinsing the wash mitt) then set to work tackling the rest of the car. Then rinse and get drying.

You can adapt this simple technique to use a garden sprayer in place of a watering can, but again, be sure to rinse it well before use.

Use a rinseless product

You might be sceptical but look at the reviews for the various rinseless products out there – people who have used them seem to be pleased with the results. Brands include Meguiar’s, Optimum, Chemical Guys, P&S and more.

It’s still a good idea to use a watering can or garden sprayer to remove as much heavy dust or dirt – as well as moistening insect stains and bird droppings – before starting on a wash, but these heavily lubricated shampoos mean you can wash the car then dry it, without having to rinse it.

Needless to say, this approach saves a great deal of water, but if the car is heavily soiled you will be better to take it to local hand car wash station where pressure washers are still permitted to be used.

Try a waterless car wash spray

For light levels of dirt and soiling, a simple spray-on-and-buff solution may be all you need to keep your car clean during a hosepipe ban – plus you can do it from the shaded comfort of a cool garage.

But before you get stuck in, know this. In my experience, it’s best to take a bucket of clean water and a microbibre towel, and lightly wipe over the bodywork with a damp cloth, rinsing the cloth and folding repeatedly, before you set to using a waterless product. That water can then be used to wipe over the wheels, too.

These are applied to the paint and wiped using a microfibre towel. Actually, you’ll probably need several towels, as they should be folded over as dirt accumulates on the fibres so that you don’t leave swirl marks in the surface of the paint.

Waterless wash solutions can also be used on wheels, but remember to use a separate microfibre towel for those – don’t mix it with a bodywork cloth.

Meguiar’s, Shelby, Farécla, Auto Curators and Triplewaz are names to look out for when shopping online for the best waterless wash products.

And finally… does your car really need cleaning?

If it’s just dust that’s gathered on the paintworks and windows, simply give the windows a clean and keep on motoring. You could wash the wheels with water and soap occasionally, and tackling the paintwork just as soon as the hosepipe ban ends.

Read more

Washing a car isn’t always the best way to clean it | Beyond the Details – Ep 03
Elbow Grease: The secrets to removing bugs and flies from the front of a car
Elbow Grease: How to clean a convertible’s fabric roof and streak-free glass

You may also like

Elbow Grease Alcantara
Elbow Grease: Brushing new life into Alcantara
Elbow Grease
Wax on, wax off: Protecting your paintwork after cleaning and polishing
Elbow Grease: Want to know how to polish a car? Buy a rotary polisher_Richard Tipper
Elbow Grease: Want to know how to polish a car? Buy a rotary polisher
A story about

Your biweekly dose of car news from Hagerty in your inbox


  • Norman Burrell says:

    Actually a really heavily dust soiled bodywork on a car naturally repels bird droppings and other contaminants as long as you clean them off with a wet micro cloth as soon as you are able especially if the car is left in the sun. Re-dust cleaned area with flour or wood dust. Remember to clean off oily deposits though.

    During the drought and hose ban it will be a Badge of Honour to have a dirty car except when people write daft comments in the dust. If you get your car cleaned at a commercial cleaning site ask them not to point sprays at open vented areas, it can cause problems and carry a clean leather or micro cloth with you to finish the bits and drips they have missed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More on this topic
Hagerty Newsletter
Get your weekly dose of car news from Hagerty UK in your inbox

Thanks for signing up!

Your request will be handled as soon as possible