Do you remember the movie Princess Bride – specifically the scene where the master planner Vizzini who would always say, “inconceivable”? Eventually, Indigo Montoya asked him, “You keep using that word, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Indigo was right – we often use terminology that seems practical – but in reality – is simple nonsense. Such is the case with trying to find the perfect all purpose cleaner for car detailing.
Let’s be honest for a second – there is no such thing as the ultimate all-purpose cleaner that is 100% safe for all vehicle surfaces. Some are good for 90% of car interior areas, like door panels, and exterior sections – others are sold as concentrates and can be diluted for unique substrates (like leather interior). If you’re thinking you can purchase one bottle of ready to use all-purpose detailer – that’s simply “inconceivable”.
However, there are many exceptional multiple-purpose degreasers or cleaners that you can purchase ready to use – or in a concentrated formula. So, let’s take a look at some of the best cleaning liquids for detailing – that will do a great job cleaning – and are safe for most surfaces.
We’ll also explain why it’s important to find a vehicle detailing cleaners that focus on that task – and not be swayed by trying an all-in-one cleaner, degreaser, and treatment product.
What is an APC or All-Purpose Cleaner?
Simply put – it’s an oxymoron – or a phrase that is a self-contradiction. In theory, an APC detail spray would have the magical power to remove every type of stain, dirt, wax, or debris – on any type of painted surfaces (or what professional detailers often refer to as a substrate.)
The problem is – not all surface materials are unique. As such, buying a stain remover that claims to penetrate the surface, gently lift dirt and stains, and easily wipe off is not practical. Let’s compare a car’s clear coat of paint vs fine-Italian leather seats. A clear coat is a very hard surface and is not exceptionally porous (meaning it doesn’t have huge ‘holes’ to absorb liquids or debris. It is porous – but those imperfections are microscopic.
Leather on the other hand is extremely absorbent – meaning it’s very porous. If you use the same spray (in the same concentration) on both surfaces – it simply wouldn’t work the same. The car interior cleaner would either be too harsh for the leather (and clean the car’s paint) – or it would be safe for leather, and not do a great job on the leather.
While there are many ready to use all-purpose cleaners and car wash formulas on the market (and we’ll highlight our top picks below) – but the best value comes in using a concentrated formulation – with easy-to-follow dilution ratios that will do a great job cleaning most surfaces found on a car. The trick is resisting the urge to develop your own blend that sways from the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Measure Your Expectations
Hopefully by now you’ll realize that there isn’t a ready to use interior and exterior cleaner (in a ready to use formulation) that will clean everything. And honestly, that’s OK. If you can buy a multiple-purpose cleaner and degreaser that can help you detail your engine bay, remove brake dust, clean the gunk under your suspension, and clean the interior with a little dilution, that really will do the job for most car enthusiasts.
Professional detailers on the other hand will benefit from buying a solid Concentrated Multi-Purpose Detailer. The main problem both types of consumers have is measuring their expectations for the product. I can’t tell you how often I read a review on a product that says, “oh, this spray sucks” or “it didn’t work as I thought it would.” The main reason the product didn’t is:
The user thought it was the perfect solution to fix all their problems – based on creative marketing and sales tactics by the manufacturer.
The over-dramatic positive reviews of a YouTuber or Influencer tell you how awesome it works.
The best advice we can offer when choosing any interior or exterior degreaser or cleaner is to measure your expectations. Understand that it’s probably not going to be perfect for every cleaning task.
Follow the Manufacturers Dilution Recommendations
Car lovers tend to be mechanically inclined – which is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that they can usually fix or ‘tweak’ (fabricate) a solution for their individual application. However, if you’re going to purchase a concentrated all-purpose cleaner, don’t fall into the trap of trying to mix the perfect blend of water to concentrate.
The manufacturers of the products listed below utilize a team of expert chemists and automotive professionals to formulate their concentrates – and recommend a good dilution ratio for specific type of cleaning tasks. FOLLOW THESE RECOMMENDATIONS for optimal results and to reduce the potential of damaging the surface.
How to Find the Right APC for Detailing a Car
OK – you’re ready to search online for the best all-purpose cleaner for detailing a vehicle, boat, off-road vehicle, and other toys. If you’re in this position, there are three important questions you should ask and answer.
What Should the APC Accomplish?
- First, a good all-purpose cleaner should work on interior and exterior substrates – including rubber, plastic, car paint, chrome, textiles, upholstery, act as a wheel cleaner, suspension parts, engine bays, and bare metal. The exception to this rule would be glass. An APC shouldn’t be used as a glass cleaner. For this task, always use a high-quality, ammonia free glass cleaner.
- Second, it should be great on RV’s, motorcycles, boats, or surfaces around your home.
- Third, it needs to be capable of removing grime and dirt from those different surfaces – without having to apply too much elbow grease.
- Fourth, it must NOT harm surfaces they claim to clean or leave a residue that’s going to require another cleaner to remove.
Ready to Use or Concentrate?
Not everyone feels comfortable with playing chemist in the garage. And there is nothing wrong with that. As we mentioned above, there are several great APC’s that are ready to use – that are safe to use on multiple surfaces and will do a great job cleaning. Before you shop, decide if you’re looking for an easy-to-use product, or one you can customize the blend or concentration for specific tasks.
*Pro TIP – The best APCs offer both a RTU and Concentrate version. Smart ones will make it VERY CLEAR of the differences – so you always buy the right product.
Understand the Process
Regardless of which type of all-purpose cleaner you buy, the most important thing to do is understand the process of using it for optimal results and reduced surface damage. Always make sure to test the product on a small and inconspicuous section of the material. This way, if the spray dilution is too strong, it won’t show up easily.
*Pro TIP – Whether you’re using the APC to detail an engine bay or remove a light stain on your cars floor mats, always use a microfiber cloth. You don’t have to use the ultra-plush buffing towels, but a good, general microfiber towel is optimal.
Safety Tips for Using an All-Purpose Cleaner
So – you’ve made the decision on a specific formulation, now what? Well, it’s critical to choose one that is safe to use, and you feel comfortable using it. Here are a few safety tips to consider.
- Always use eye protection. When you’re spraying a chemical, you don’t want to get it in your eyes. Wearing safety glass will help reduce this potential.
- Consider wearing protective gloves. An all-purpose degreaser is a lightly corrosive solution – especially the concentrates. If you’re using them or blending them with water to dilute in a spray bottle, wear some disposable gloves.
- RTU Sprays Shouldn’t be Diluted (unless instructed). The ready to use detailing cleaner shouldn’t be diluted – unless the manufacturer recommends this. It’s typically for using the spray cleaner on leather or very soft surfaces – and if so – it’s a 1 to 1 ratio.
- Don’t Let it Dry or Use on Hot Surfaces. The magic ingredient in an all-purpose cleaner are solvents. When a solvent is sprayed on a hot or warm surface, it activates and will stain. Always make sure any surface you use a cleaner is cool to the touch. It’s also a good idea not to use these products in direct sunlight. The most important thing though – don’t let it dry. Spray on – and wipe off.
- Work in Small Sections. To avoid the drying, work in small sections – like 2-feet by 2-feet.
The Top 3 Multipurpose Cleaners
Alright – now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. What are the best three all-purpose cleaners for professional detailers, mobile detailers, and the car enthusiast? Here are three products that most of the professional detailers who install Ceramic Pro products use in their detailing and prep-work.
Americana Global CHAOS-RTU
The leader in the clubhouse is Americana Global’s CHAOS-RTU (or ready to use) multi-surface cleaner. It’s formulated to work on virtually every surface type – vehicle, and substrate. You can clean your car, off-road vehicle, boat, airplane, or use it in the garage, at work, or at home.
So – what makes CHAOS our top pick? It basically breaks down to offering the best bang for your buck. The top all-purpose cleaners are sold as concentrates (typically in 1-gallon jugs for professional detailer), or ready to use sprays in a 16-oz bottle. Americana Global makes it easier for detailers, and car lovers to try out both – by offering both in a 16-oz bottle.
Plus – they have separated the two different formulas.
CHAOS-X is their concentrated solution. It’s sold in an affordable 16-oz bottle or a value-based 1-gallon container. This makes it a great option for detailers and car lovers to try it out – without having to buy a full gallon. Not just that, but Americana Global CHAOS is slightly lower priced than the two competitors listed below that made our top grade.
Again – it’s all about VALUE with Americana Global – high quality formulations at affordable pricing, quick order fulfillment, and great shipping rates. If you’d like to give Americana Global CHAOS RTU or CHAOS-X a test drive, click the link to buy some.
American Detailer Garage – F-Bomb
For several years, leading detailers swore by F-Bomb as their go-to APC. If your goal is to have an all-purpose cleaner that works well on clear coats, engine bays, and other dirty areas, it’s really hard to beat F-Bomb.
Let’s be clear – F-Bomb is the bomb. It’s a great product, with a creative name, and looks really pleasing (it’s red in color).
ADG’s products are designed to streamline the process of detailing a vehicle. The same thing applies to their APC – F-Bomb. Like Americana Global, they offer their APC in a ready to use or concentrated version.
When you compare F-Bomb to CHAOS, the main difference is the price. The cost for ADG’s F-Bomb RTU formulation is about a dollar more per bottle than CHAOS. The cost for their 1-gallon concentrate is about $3.00 more. As such, it really breaks down to your personal preference.
If you want to check them out or give this product a try, click the link.
Adam’s ECO All Purpose Cleaner
For those looking for the best eco-friendly all-purpose cleaner, Adam’s Polishes ECO APC is a solid choice. It’s tough on dirt, road grime, and oils, and is safe to use on tires, engine bays, exhaust, and most exterior surfaces. Plus – it’s friendly for the environment.
Now the bad part – it’s not the best product to use on interiors. Adam’s focuses on making substrate-specific formulations – allowing users to pick specific formulations for a more intense and detailed cleaning experience.
It makes our top three because of its Eco-friendly benefits and price-point. It’s not really a concentrate – as the only dilution ratio they recommend is 1 to 5 for softer materials. The cost is on par with Americana Global CHAOS – but you’ll get more bang for your buck with AG vs. Adams and F-Bomb.
If you’d like to try Adam’s ECO All Purpose Cleaner – click the link.
The Verdict on All Purpose Cleaners
At Ceramic Pro, our ultimate objective is to empower our network of more than 3,500 certified installers in North and South America to provide exceptional protection solutions for their customers. However, every detailing project or protective installation starts with a good decontamination and prep work. Using any of the three all-purpose cleaners listed above will give you a solid baseline for detailing any vehicle.
While these three are simple to use, not everybody is 100% comfortable with deep cleaning. If you’d prefer to have a professional detailer help you with cleaning your ride, prepping it for a ceramic coating or paint protection film, or any other detailing jobs – click the button below to find one near you.