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Rinseless Washing

Rinseless washing is popular for people who can’t access a hose or have very little space to wash their vehicle such as those in apartments or downtown cities.

What is a rinseless wash?

Compared to a traditional car wash shampoo, a rinseless wash uses a special blend of polymers that allow it to be wiped off, instead of rinsed off with water. The polymers encapsulate dirt, allowing them to be removed safely with a drying towel while reducing the risk of scratching the paint. Traditional shampoos emulsify, or break down and suspend dirt, and must be rinsed away with water before the paint is dried with a microfiber towel.

Why should I consider a rinseless wash?

If you do not have access to free flowing water, such as a hose or pressure washer, rinseless washes allow you to safely wash the car without the need to rinse after washing. If you live in an apartment with no access to water, or an area with water usage restrictions, this may apply to you.

If you struggle with water spots from not being able to dry the car quickly enough, such as washing in direct sun, a rinseless wash buys you more time. If the rinseless solution dries on the paint, you can re-wet it with more solution and it will reactivate, making it easy to remove. A “polymer spot” may be left on the paint if allowed to dry, but it will not cause damage to the paint like a traditional water spot can. Rinseless washes typically have a softening effect, neutralizing the negative effects of the minerals found in your tap water that can lead to water spots.

If you are looking to save time and / or reduce your water usage, a rinseless wash eliminates steps in the process to clean your car, and reduces the amount of water required.

How do I do a rinseless wash?


There are many rinseless wash products on the market. The most well-known is Optimum No Rinse Wash and Shine, colloquially known as ONR. The selection of products will vary from country to country, so shop around to see what is available to you. The debate over “which rinseless wash is the best?” has raged on for years. Don’t get too caught up in which is the best, choose one that is well established and see how you like it.

Wash media: The wash media is the product you use to apply the rinseless solution, be it a sponge, a microfiber mitt, or a microfiber towel. Each media has its own pros and cons, and provides a different user experience. Each will get the job done but your personal preferences will help inform you of the best choice.

Rinseless wash sponge: Special sponges have been developed specifically for rinseless washing, including the Big Red Sponge and Ultra Black Sponge. They use a unique type of foam and cross-cut surface to hold lots of solution, trap release dirt safely, and release easily in the bucket. They are NOT the same as the sponges commonly used years ago before the advent of microfiber products. If you want to use the sponge, make sure it is designed for rinseless washing.

Microfiber mitts and towels: The properties of microfiber make it well suited for rinseless washing. A high GSM plush towel works well for rinseless, as it can hold lots of solution. If you fold the towel twice it offers 8 different working sides that you can switch to as each side gets loaded with soiling.

Buckets and accessories: A rinseless solution can be put in a bucket just like you would with a traditional car shampoo. It is highly recommended to use a “grit guard” to keep dirt and contaminants safely at the bottom of the bucket. The Detail Guardz Dirt Lock is the best choice in this category, and if it is available in your area it is highly recommended over other “grit guard” type products.

Sprayers: It is helpful to have additional rinseless wash solution in a spray bottle or pump sprayer to use as a pre-wash solution. This will give the product more time to encapsulate the dirt on the paint before you touch it with your wash media.

Drying towels: Any drying towel you would use for a traditional wash can be used for a rinseless wash.

Drying aids: Due to the encapsulating and lubricating properties, a rinseless wash is essentially its own drying aid. The solution provides enough lubrication that you do not need an additional product when drying. If you want to add protection with a quick detailer or spray sealant, you can use that as an additional drying aid.


  1. Evaluate how dirty the car is. If there is heavy amounts of soiling, consider rinsing off the car first with a hose or pressure washer. A pre-wash can also be highly effective in removing soiling before starting your main wash. You can use your rinseless solution as a pre-wash to start the encapsulation process and make your main wash safer.
  2. Follow the manufacturer instructions for dilutions, and prepare your wash solution and wash media. Wash the car panel by panel, following the same good practices as a regular wash, such as washing from top to bottom in straight lines, cleaning your wash media frequently, and using plenty of wash solution.
  3. If you are using a rinseless sponge, you only need a single wash bucket. Periodically use the “grit guard” to release dirt from the sponge and refill the sponge with more solution. The encapsulating nature of the solution will pull the dirt to the bottom of the bucket.
  4. If you are using microfiber towels or mitts, use several of them for each vehicle. Many people use 6-8 mitts or towels per vehicle. With microfiber towels, this process is known as the “Garry Dean Method”. Fold the towel twice to give 8 working sides, and switch sides regularly to always give yourself a clean side to wash with. Once all 8 sides have been used, put the towel into a separate bucket and grab a fresh towel. In this process, dirty media is not reintroduced to the wash bucket.
  5. Once the paint is washed, it is ready to be dried. At this point you can spray on your preferred drying aid, or dry with only your drying towel. If you are working in high temperatures and direct sun where the solution is drying quickly, you can wash and dry one panel at a time. If the solution dries on the paint, go over it again with your wash media or your sprayer. This will reactivate the solution and make it easy to remove without leaving behind a mineral deposit water spot.

FAQ – Common Questions

Can I rinse the car before a rinseless wash?

Yes! Use common sense and your best judgement. Rinseless means you don’t need to rinse AFTER washing.

Can I do a pre-wash before a rinseless wash?

Yes! You just need to consider how your pre-wash products need to be removed. Some can be removed with your rinseless solution in a sprayer, others require a hose or pressure washer.

Can I apply a rinseless wash solution with a foam cannon?

Yes, but rinseless washes are typically designed not to foam like a traditional shampoo would. You may end up using an excessive amount of product this way. Typically it is not recommended to apply this way.

What is the deal with rinseless sponges?

Rinseless sponges were originally designed as a companion to the rinseless wash itself as a safe and effective way to wash the car. They are not required for rinseless washing, but many people enjoy using them.

Can I rinse off a rinseless wash solution if I want to?

Yes, but you don’t need to! Be mindful of the rinse water drying on the paint after rinsing to avoid water spots.

Do I need to use a drying aid?

No! The rinseless solution provides enough lubrication in order to safely dry the car without the need for an additional product to provide lubrication.

When should I not use a rinseless wash?

Provided the car has been pre-washed appropriately, there aren’t any obvious situations where rinseless washing is a bad idea. They do have their limits for cleaning power, so you may find them to be less effective for extra dirty jobs like engine bays and dirty wheels.

Should I avoid using a rinseless wash on certain surfaces?

Rinseless washes are typically very safe and mild on all automotive surfaces.

Is a rinseless wash the same as a waterless wash?

No! Waterless washes are meant for cases where you have no water available other than the water you use to create the waterless solution. Rinseless washes are considered to be safer as they use significantly more solution to encapsulate the soiling. Waterless is more of a last resort product.

Do I need to use distilled water?

No! Rinseless washes typically encapsulate the minerals in your tap water, providing a softening effect. This is a major advantage if you have hard water or have to wash in a situation where water spots are likely.

Can I use rinseless wash on a ceramic coated car?

Yes! They are a great choice for coated cars.

Can I use rinseless wash for other purposes?

Yes! Most rinseless washes can be used for many things. Some common uses are a glass cleaner, interior cleaner, clay lubricant, and quick detailer. If you use a steam cleaner, it can be added to your water to provide extra cleaning power.

Updated on 5 July 2023

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