How Often Should You Wash Your Car in Winter?

If you live where winter brings snow, slush, sand and salt, it's nearly impossible to keep your car's exterior clean. You need to wash it, but how often? Here's what the experts recommend.

Between salt, sand and chunks of ice, keeping your car clean during the winter may seem like an impossible task. Once you wash it, it’s dirty again in no time. However, even though that salt is beneficial when it comes to melting snow and ice on roads, it can cause havoc on your vehicle. Salt, when it adheres to your vehicle, opens the door to oxidation, which can lead to rust. So, how often should you wash your car in the winter? Or, is it just a waste of time? Experts say it depends on a number of factors.

How Often You Wash Your Car in Winter Depends on Where You Live

If you live in a region where roads are salted during the winter, you should wash your car regularly—about every week or two—according to Morrie’s, a car dealership in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. If you live in an area that doesn’t salt and has mild winters, you can go a bit longer. (Here’s a handy checklist to help get your car ready for winter.)

“If the roads look white (because they’re covered with salt), every week would probably be a smart choice. It’s all dependent on conditions, but about every 10 to 14 days is a good rule of thumb,” the dealership notes on its website. Remember that removing salt from under the body of the car is important when it comes to preventing rust on your car’s components. (Don’t miss these tips on how to get rid of salt stains in your car.)

What Kind of Car Wash is Best?

You should be aware that it’s not just how often you wash your car in winter that counts. The way you wash it helps, too. Using a handheld pressure wand, start at the top of the vehicle and work your way down. Pay special attention to the car’s wheel wells and underside, as salt and grime tend to collect in the corners of the undercarriage. Rinse and dry as thoroughly as possible. If you opt for a drive-through car wash, be sure it includes an undercarriage wash (you may have to pay extra). Consider treating any potential problem areas with an inexpensive corrosion-inhibitor spray.

Our auto pros answer: Will an automatic car wash hurt your car’s finish?

Where Do You Park?

You may think that parking your car in a garage helps to keep your vehicle clean and protected from winter’s worst, but that’s not necessarily the case. When the frozen slush melts, the moisture will react with the salt and thereby speed up corrosion, according to Angie’s List. “Vehicles that are parked outside do have the disadvantage of being exposed to the elements, but the ice, snow and salty slush is more likely to stay frozen, which slows down the corrosive nature of the salt.” (Here’s the best car maintenance schedule to follow for good car health.)

The Bottom Line

The bottom line in keeping your car clean throughout the winter: Be sure to wash it regularly, taking special care to clean the undercarriage. Angie’s List notes it’s best to wash your car when the temperature is 4 degrees C or higher, during daylight hours, so the vehicle has enough time to dry before the temperature drops below freezing (and potentially freezes your doors shut!).

In addition, to help keep the interior clean, use rubber floor mats to avoid getting all that salty slush on the carpet.

Next, here’s how to prevent winter road salt from damaging your car.

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