This story is part of Try This, CNET's collection of simple tips to improve your life, fast.
While water may seem like an important piece to making your car clean and shiny, it's not necessary. I'm not saying the tried-and-true bucket-and-sponge method isn't effective -- but if you live in a drought-ridden area with water restrictions or you're looking to cut back on water usage in general, a waterless car wash is the way to go.
Even if you have a good car wash nearby that uses recycled water, I find a lot of car washes do a lousy job for a lot of money while lazily attacking my car with a pressure washer. No thanks.
A hoseless and waterless cleaning product can remove the dirt from your car without all the suds or water waste, provided you use the right materials and proper technique. Read on to learn how it works and tips for success.
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First, pick the right waterless car wash product
Use a waterless car wash spray, not a general cleaning spray. You need something that loosens and lubricates dirt so you won't harm your car's finish or get frustrated trying to remove stubborn grime.
And you don't want to use a spray detailer formulated for removing light dust. Pick a product that's designed for cleaning, not dusting. I'm sure any brand of waterless car wash would tell you theirs is radically superior but sprays from Chemical Guys, Meguiar's, Prolong and Rain-X all work well.
Next, use the right cloth for wiping
Use microfiber towels such as from the Rag Company with a deep nap, which are soft and excel at capturing particles. Kitchen towels or paper towels are going to do a poor job at evacuating dirt and tempt you to scrub harmfully at your car's finish. And use a lot of microfiber towels: This is a process that penalizes stinginess with poor results. I would estimate that you need 12 to 15 towels for an average size car.
Master a good towel technique
After you spray on the waterless car wash, use a wiping pattern that doesn't cross over itself because that tends to redistribute grime. Relentlessly flip or change the towel. The biggest single mistake people make when cleaning their car (or windows) is trying to get by using less towel surface.
Also, use light strokes: The goal is not to scrub the grime off but to let the spray product loosen it while the towel gently evacuates it.
To get going, take your cloth and fold it into quarters (fold it in half, then fold it again). Once one face of the cloth has been used, flip it and eventually refold it to keep exposing new clean quarters. When you've done a pass with all eight quarters of the cloth, utilizing both sides, replace it with a new one.
Clean one area of the car at a time
Don't let the waterless car wash product dry on the car. Wet an area of about 2 square feet, give it a few seconds to hydrate the grime and then wipe it off. There's no harm in repeating the process with good towel technique, but I seldom find I have to.
Just like you would when washing your car with soap and water, start at the top of a section of the car and work down. That way, the product won't drip or spray onto already cleaned areas.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well waterless washing worked on my quite dirty car and how quickly the process moved. For more great life hacks, learn how to cut a cake with dental floss, how to travel the smart way with contacts and why you only need Doritos to light a fire.