5 Eco-Friendly Car-Care Products

Here's how to build a car-cleaning routine that's safer for both you and the environment.

A hand in a yellow glove sprays liquid onto a car from a green bottle.Getty Images


Our cars can be harmful to the environment. Despite this, we love them and need them to get around. So what's an eco-minded driver to do? Some people have bought an electric vehicle (EV) or low-emissions hybrid. Others have tried smarter driving techniques, such as reducing time spent idling.

But there's an even simpler way to reduce the impact our vehicles have on the environment: using eco-friendly car-care products. Here are five types of car-care products that can be reusable, reduce packaging and waste, and are intended to be safer for both you and the environment.

Opt for Organic Cotton and Bamboo Over Microfiber Washcloths

One way to make at-home washing and detailing more environmentally friendly is to use towels made from organic cotton or bamboo fiber. Such materials are durable, machine washable, and reusable — and they're generally soft enough to use on automotive paint and metal or plastic trim.

While many car-washing purists might insist on microfiber towels, those synthetic materials shed microplastics that can end up in the environment around us or even in our bodies. Natural fibers help eliminate that risk.

Also, organic cotton production is easier on the planet than traditional cotton production. It uses less water and no chemical-based fertilizer, and it doesn't require synthetic pesticides. These more sustainable farming practices yield products that are not only eco-friendly but also can be softer and longer lasting than conventional cotton products.

Bamboo cloth, meanwhile, is made by adding a natural enzyme to crushed bamboo wood, which is then spun into yarn with a silky texture. The process produces another strong and long-lasting alternative to polymer-sourced microfiber.

Use Refillable Spray Bottles Instead of Aerosol Spray Cans

Reusing goes right along with reducing and recycling as a core tenet of eco-friendliness. So ditching those old-fashioned, one-time-use aerosol cans in favor of products that can be dispensed from refillable spray bottles is a clear eco-improvement.

Consumers have long used aerosol cans for products such as window and tire cleaners, but those cans — like other consumer products in spray cans — have begun to fall out of favor, as they emit volatile organic compounds when used and are difficult to recycle when empty. They also carry the risk of exploding when heated, punctured, or crushed.

A spray bottle poses none of those hazards and can be refilled as often as needed. Companies such as the Clean Garage and Detail King offer a wide variety of spray bottles made specifically for car-care products. Buying car-cleaning products in bulk and using them with spray bottles can also save you money and reduce landfill waste.

Biodegradable Windshield Washer Fluid Is Usually a Safer Alternative

You may have a jug or two of standard windshield-washer fluid in your garage or trunk. Traditional windshield fluid is made of methanol and ethylene glycol, both of which are poisonous and pollute the environment when used.

Biodegradable versions made of nontoxic natural substances are a good alternative. Although they, too, can end up in the water and air after being sprayed during a drive, biodegradable fluids break down readily, creating less environmental impact than chemical-laced fluids.

Unfortunately, because they lack methanol, some of these products are prone to freezing and aren't a great choice for cold-weather months. If that's a concern, look for products that include naturally produced alcohol to inhibit freezing.

Biodegradable windshield fluids such as Qwik Mix can be purchased in a concentrated form that you mix with water before adding to your vehicle's reservoir, which reduces product packaging and waste.

Look for Earth-Friendly Biodegradable Soaps

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency encourages owners to wash their cars on a surface that absorbs water, such as grass or gravel, to help filter the soapy water before it flows into a drain or reaches any body of water. You can up your eco-friendly game by choosing biodegradable car-washing soap for those hand-wash projects.

Products such as Optimum Car Wash, Wizards Car Wash, and Simple Green Car Wash are also pH neutral, which means they are generally safe for your vehicle's clear coat and paint. Many are sold as concentrates, so you'll get far more mileage out of them than from pre-mixed, traditional car-wash soaps — while also cutting down on wasteful packaging.

Clean Carpets and Upholstery With Plant-Based Products

Traditional heavy-duty upholstery or carpet-cleaning formulations are likely to work on even the worst messes your family or pets might leave behind, but they're also potentially toxic, containing irritants such as naphthalene and perchloroethylene. Most also come in single-use spray cans.

Plant-based cleaning products specifically formulated for carpets or upholstery offer an alternative. Green do-it-yourselfers sometimes brew up their own carpet-cleaning solution by mixing distilled water, distilled white vinegar, and dishwashing liquid or a water and baking soda mix. Pre-mixed, natural cleaning products are available for purchase if you're short on time.

Some professional detailers rely on nontoxic natural cleaners such as Simple Green — which has been certified by Safer Choice, an EPA Pollution Prevention program — or phosphate-free products such as Nature's Miracle carpet shampoos. Other brands, such as Puracy carpet and upholstery shampoo, are plant based, made without parabens and sulfates, and are sold in concentrated strengths to minimize packaging.

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Andy Stonehouse
Andy Stonehouse literally fell into the world of auto writing while working as a ski-town journalist, and has not looked back since. A childhood spent dealing with the eccentricities of a 1976 MG Midget has made any subsequent auto experience a more safe and reliable drive. He has been blessed with nearby mountain trails and snowy roads in Colorado to do TV-adventure-styled test drives on a weekly basis.