When Is It Too Cold to Wash Your Car? Avoid Frozen Windows and Doors

If you live in a very cold climate, you may wonder whether or not you need to wash your car in winter – or whether it’s safe and practical to do so in the first place.

In general circumstances, it’s essential that you wash your car at least one time every ten days or – at most – once every two weeks.

However, what happens when temperatures are really low? You most likely won’t have much to worry about when there’s only mild wind chills, but if it’s really cold, then any water left on your automobile after cleaning it will turn into ice.

This could mean that you’ll end up with frozen locks, windows and doors. Not to mention the entire surface of your car will be frozen, too. So, what to do?

White car with frozen ice water on its exterior due to cold weather

In this article, we discuss some helpful tips to prepare your vehicle for the winter washing process.

Even if you don’t wash your car on your own, but you’re used to taking your ride to gas stations for routine washes, there’s still some very valuable tips in here for you to know about.

There’s some special methods you’ll need to use whenever you’re attempting to wash the car in winter seasons. After reading this article, you’ll know exactly how to care of your ride in even in the coldest weather.

Why Is It Important to Wash Your Car in Winter?

These are the main reasons why you would want to keep your car clean even in freezing weather:

  • Rust prevention.
  • Protection from humidity.
  • Visibility issues.
  • Tire grip.

Rust Prevention

The salt and grime that sticks from de-icing the roads will create rust and other issues. In such weather conditions, your vehicle is more prone to rust than ever. So, if left untreated, this permanently damages metal parts, finish and paint.

When washing your car in cold weather, make sure to get in all the small and tight places, especially underneath and in the front. These are the spots where rust forms the most, and once it takes hold, it’s hard to stop.

Speaking of rust prevention, it’s also a good idea to keep a can (or a few cans) of rust prevention spray handy in the garage for whenever you might need it. If you don;t have any, pick one from our roundup of the best rust prevention sprays on the market.

Protection From Humidity

When there’s heavy snow, humidity is high.

Parking outside means moisture from the humidity, as well as all the possible snow, may ruin your paint job. It also speeds up the formation of rust.

Visibility Issues

In winter, your vehicle will get dirty very fast.

If your windshield and windows are not clean, visibility when driving will be poor, and you’ll end up putting your own safety (as well as that of your passengers and anyone else who might be around you on the road at the time) at risk.

Make sure to keep all glass parts of your vehicle as clean as possible. Use a defogging product as well after cleaning.

Tire Grip

With a lot of snow and ice on the roads, tire grip is essential for safety.

Check your tire tread wear, and scrub winter grime and salt off. The chemicals in these decrease the lifespan of your wheels and tires.

What Could Go Wrong When Washing a Car in Cold Temperatures?

When temperatures are really low, there are some serious risks involved in washing your car if you’re not well prepared for it:

  • Frozen doors and locks.
  • Slipping and hurting yourself.
  • Getting frostbite.
  • Water freezing on the car.

Frozen Doors and Locks

This is the number one problem you’ll face if there’s any water left on your vehicle in cold conditions. Your doors and locks might freeze shut.

This is why you have to be extra careful and dry off any excess water immediately and very thoroughly.

Never force your doors and locks open if they freeze. Spray a de-icing product inside and wait for it to take effect.

Slipping and Hurting Yourself

If you’re outside on a frozen driveway, be extra careful. Wear snow boots and watch your steps during the entire process. Your safety always comes first!

Getting Frostbite

Wear very warm protective clothing to avoid frostbite. It’s even better if the clothing you have on at the time is waterproof.

Don’t forget to shield your hands with waterproof, warm gloves. Your hands and feet are most susceptible to getting frostbite!

Water Freezing on Car

If temperatures are below freezing, your entire vehicle may become a frozen Popsicle. (Well, not really, but you get the picture!).

Only clean it when the temperatures are in the high 30s or 40s (Fahrenheit) to avoid this situation.

You’ll want to do whatever it is in your disposal to prevent water from freezing on your car’s exterior!

Can The Weather Be Too Cold to Wash Your Car?

The answer is yes, it can sometimes be too cold for you to wash your car effectively. Unlike what some people believe, it’s not a myth.

So, the question is: how cold is too cold, exactly?

When temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, take extra precaution. Waxes and polishes should be avoided unless the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The main risk in very cold weather is that your locks, windows and doors will freeze shut. This happens if any water left is not dried perfectly. If this does occur, never try to force them open.

Also, find out if your car’s insurance covers these types of situations. If not, think about getting additional coverage – you might need it!

The Right Kind of Winter Car Wash

In winter season, there is such a thing as the right place to take your vehicle to get cleaned.

Here are the different options you can make use of:

  • Touchless car washes.
  • Soft touch car washes.
  • DIY method.

Touchless Car Wash

High pressure is used in touchless car washes (such as with a pressure washer), which means they’re not so ideal in very cold temperatures. The high-pressure sprays can force water droplets to get trapped in the locks and doors.

At the end of the wash, the drying process is automated.

The risk here is having your car’s doors and windows freeze shut. If this happens, never force them open. Wait until they warm up, or you may cause serious damage.

At most, spray a de-icing product and wait for it to act.

Soft Touch Car Washes

It’s safer to use a soft touch car wash in winter, but it’s still not the best option to go with.

Oftentimes, the chemicals they use will take off the protective wax coating on your car’s exterior. Also, if the excess water doesn’t dry fast enough afterwards, you’ll be faced with having frozen locks.

DIY Method

Only use a trusted professional who you know won’t remove your car’s protective wax coating. They should also dry any excess water at the end.

If not, you’re better off doing this yourself if you have the time to.

How To Wash Your Car In In Cold Weather

If you do wish to go down this route, we have the step by step process laid out for you below. Make sure you collect all the required tools first, though!

Tools and Products

  • Two large buckets of very hot water.
  • Car wash soap or baby shampoo.
  • Baking soda.
  • Clean sponges.
  • Microfiber towels.
  • Pressurized sprayer (optional).
  • Warm clothing.
  • Waterproof gloves.

Precautions to Take

A few precautions should be taken in very cold weather, even if you decide to do this yourself:

  • Wash outside only if the temperature is at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Choose to do so during the warmest hours of the day.
  • Dry your vehicle thoroughly when you’re finished.

Step by Step Washing Procedure

  1. Warm up your vehicle.
  2. Protect yourself.
  3. Prepare soap and baking soda mixture.
  4. Take off salt and grime.
  5. Wash a small area.
  6. Open all doors.
  7. Dry carefully.
  8. Drive for at least 30 minutes.
  9. Be careful of ice forming.
  10.  (Optional) Reapply wax protection.

Step1: Warm Up Your Vehicle

Drive for at least 30 minutes before cleaning it. The warmer it is, the lower the chance that any part of your car will freeze.

Turn your heater on too if needed.

Step 2: Protect Yourself

Make sure you’re wearing very warm clothing and waterproof gloves. You don’t want to get frostbite!

Step 3: Prepare Soap and Baking Soda Mixture

Pour soap and baking soda into one of the buckets with hot water.

The water should be as hot as possible, as it will clean faster and is less likely to freeze onto your car bodywork. Baking soda will help dissolve salt and grime.

The other bucket should be used to rinse.

Step 4: Take Off Salt and Grime

Start by taking off the salt and grime from the underneath, front and the tires. If you have a pressurized sprayer, this is where it will come in handy.

Clean thoroughly to avoid rust damage to your vehicle.

Step 5: Wash a Small Area

After cleaning the salt and grime away, start washing the top of your automobile.

The best method to use in very cold weather is to scrub one small area at a time. Start by applying soapy water with a clean sponge.

Rinse the part you’ve scrubbed, and wash it a second time. Then, rinse again.

Keep washing in this manner until your whole vehicle is clean. Cleaning only a small part separately will minimize the risk of freezing.

Step 6: Open All Doors

As soon as you’re done rinsing, open all doors and the fuel tank cover.

Step 7: Dry Carefully

Use the microfiber towels to dry any excess water carefully.

Then, open and close all windows to make sure they are working properly.

Step 8: Drive for at Least 30 Minutes

Drive your vehicle for at least 30 minutes to warm it up again. This minimizes the chance of any part freezing due to residual water droplets.

Step 9: Be Aware of Ice Forming

Depending on where you decide to wash your car, be careful of ice forming under the vehicle after you’re done.

You don’t want anyone slipping and getting hurt on your driveway, that’s for sure!

Step 10: (Optional) Reapply Wax Protection

If you’re careful enough, the protective wax layer of your vehicle should still be in place.

In case you notice it needs another coat, make sure the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not apply wax otherwise.

Cleaning the Interior

In winter, keeping the outside of your vehicle free from grime and salt is essential. However, this is not an excuse to neglect the interior.

Humidity, as well as road salt and grime residue, can damage the interior too. If you have a heated garage, it’s the optimal place to detail the interior. Make sure to vacuum and thoroughly clean every part you can get to.

Dry and protect floor mats and upholstery, especially if the interior contains leather, which is very susceptible to water stains.

It’s ideal to replace carpeted mats with rubber ones and use waterproof seat covers. This will prevent damage caused by humidity in the long winter months.

Tips to Prepare Your Car for Winter

Here are some top tips to prepare your car for the harsh winter months:

  • Apply protective wax.
  • Use rubber mats.
  • Waterproof seat covers are brilliant.
  • Anti-fogging products for windows.
  • Consider de-icing fluid.

Protective Wax

Applying a coat of protective wax to your car before winter helps minimize damages caused by winter grime and salt.

Rubber Mats

It’s a good idea to replace carpeted mats with rubber ones.

This way, the snow and road salt left on your shoes when you hop in the vehicle will not ruin them. Also, damp and carpeted mats can assist in the car’s undercarriage to develop rust.

Waterproof Seat Covers

The same is true for your car’s seats and upholstery.

If your jacket is wet when you step inside your car, waterproof seat covers will protect the upholstery from water damage.

Anti-Fogging Product for Windows

Protect your windshield and windows before winter arrives.

Clean all glass thoroughly, then apply a protective anti-fogging product. This will help stop your windows and windshield from fogging up and reducing your visibility on the road.

De-Icing Fluid

If the weather is really cold, consider replacing your normal windshield washer fluid with de-icing fluid. This will ensure it doesn’t freeze.

Final Thoughts

Now you know that there indeed is such a thing as weather being too cold to wash your vehicle, and that it’s not all made up excuses just to avoid going through a task almost no one enjoys doing.

The type of car you drive doesn’t really make a difference in all of this, though.

The rule remains that if the temperature is below freezing, it’s too cold to wash your car. Nonetheless, it’s essential to scrub the salt and grime off your car’s exterior in winter to avoid damage.

It’s best to resort to a professional only if they can ensure manual and thorough drying of your vehicle at the end of the procedure. Otherwise, you’ll likely be better off doing it yourself.

Just follow the steps laid out in this article and keep in mind the tips we’ve shared, and there’s no reason for you to risk finding your locks and windows frozen shut!

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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