Unveiling the cities with the cleanest and grimiest cars in the UK

Date Posted 27th November 2023
Read Time 9 min read

As autumn and winter set in, car owners often find themselves grappling with the challenge of maintaining a clean vehicle amidst less-than-ideal weather conditions. Icy roads pose a threat to paintwork as grit can scratch your car, puddles leave behind a muddy residue, and melted snow can make your car appear dusty. 

In response to this, we are on the hunt for the UK cities with the cleanest cars. To do this, we delved into the car wash services available in the United Kingdom’s 50 most populous cities to uncover which has the most car washes per square mile meaning their cars don’t suffer as much in winter. We have also answered some of the most Googled questions surrounding winter car cleaning, highlighting how drivers could save £2,451.73 by simply keeping their cars clean.

The top 10 UK cities with the cleanest cars revealed

RankingCityTotal Car WashesCar Washes Per Square Mile
9Newcastle upon Tyne902.05

1. Salford drivers could escape hefty costs for dirty cars

Drivers in Salford, a city in Greater Manchester, could have the cleanest cars with almost five (4.72) car washes per square mile of the city. Therefore, drivers are more likely to pass a car wash and take their car in. On the other hand, drivers in Carlisle only have 0.03 car washes per square mile, meaning there could be some seriously dirty cars come winter.

Out of the 50 UK cities analysed, the only place with a higher total of car washes than Salford was London, boasting 250 car washes. However, it does have a whopping square mileage of 600 compared to Salford’s much smaller 37.53.

2. Wolverhampton has the second highest car washes per square mile

Securing the second position in the cleanliness hierarchy is Wolverhampton, a West Midlands city, with an impressive count of almost four (3.80) car washes per square mile. Wolverhampton clinches the second spot by a narrow 0.01% margin compared to Manchester, which is in third place.

Despite having a total of 102 car washes, which is less than Manchester or Leeds, Wolverhampton secured the second place spot due to its smaller square mileage, resulting in more car washes per square mile in comparison to Manchester and Leeds.

3. Manchester rounds off the top three

Northern powerhouse Manchester was named in third place by the study with a total of 161 car washes in the city. This equates to nearly four (3.79) car washes per square miles.

Manchester was one of the cities that woke up to their cars being covered in Saharan Dust earlier this year. This was caused by rainfall with particles of dust covering the city. Luckily, drivers in Manchester would not have been too far from a car wash when this happened, and if it were to happen again soon.

The top 10 UK cities with the grimiest cars revealed

RankingCityTotal Car WashesCar Washes Per Square Mile
2Derry (Londonderry)100.07

1. Carlisle drivers could be at the highest risk of dirty car fines

In a less flattering spotlight, Carlisle emerges as the UK city saddled with the dubious honour of having the least car washes per square mile, according to the study. A mere 14 car washes dot the cityscape, translating to a scant 0.03 car washes per square mile. This statistic implies that drivers in Carlisle might find themselves contending with queues, particularly during the autumn and winter months when cars are more prone to accumulating dirt.

2. Derry has the second fewest car washes per square mile

Securing the second position in the grimy car rankings is Derry, with a notable distinction – despite having four fewer car washes than Carlisle, Derry’s smaller size allows it to claim 0.07 car washes per square mile, surpassing Carlisle’s meagre 0.03.

The only other Northern Irish city included in the study of the top 50 most populous cities was Belfast, which ranked place 28 with 1.06 car washes per square mile.

3. Lancaster takes third place

Lancaster, a city nestled in the North West, clinches the third spot, registering 0.09 car washes per square mile. Fortunately for drivers in the North West, the region boasts two other cities – Salford and Manchester – that ranked first and third for having the highest density of car washes per square mile. This silver lining ensures that the region itself provides ample opportunities for drivers to keep their vehicles spick and span.

Drivers could save £2,451.73 by keeping their car clean

While the cost of professional car cleaning may be the immediate concern for many drivers, the potential expenses associated with neglecting regular cleaning can far outweigh the savings.

Drivers often underestimate the financial toll of damage caused by dirty cars, with hefty fines for obscured views, unreadable licence plates, and the risk of rust and scratches. Here’s a breakdown of potential costs and key winter car cleaning tips:

1. Drivers warned they could be fined £1,000 for not cleaning their windscreen in winter

As stated in Annex 6 Vehicle Maintenance, Safety and Security of the Highway Code, “windscreens and windows MUST be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision”. This is a more difficult task during the winter months as the weather is not in motorists’ favour. However, it’s important to keep on top of cleaning your windscreen or you could face a huge £1,000 fine for failure to have full view of the road or traffic ahead.

The easiest way for drivers to keep their windscreens clear in winter is to ensure their screenwash is topped up. However, drivers should be wary of how they’re diluting their screenwash in the colder months vs the warmer months, as diluting screenwash too heavily in winter can cause it to freeze. Therefore, it’s best to ensure the solution is more concentrated in the winter months to avoid this.

2. Is your licence plate visible? If you’re not sure, check, or you could get a £1,000 fine

Before getting behind the wheel in winter, drivers should always check that their number plate is visible. If not, you could face a £1,000 fine for the plate not being detectable by speed cameras or police checks. Driving on muddy, snowy, and icy roads can result in splashes of dirt covering licence plates, which can quickly build up over time.

3. Cars can develop rust if they’re not cleaned regularly – costing £361.73 in repairs

Rarely cleaning your car can leave it vulnerable to rust and corrosion due to dirt and grime on the vehicle being abrasive. This can deteriorate the car’s clear coat over time. Once the clear coat has been damaged, it can lead to rusting. On average, rust repair treatments cost around £361.73. However, this can be avoided if drivers keep on top of their car cleaning schedule.

4. Scratches from dust particles could cost £90 to rectify

Did you know that dust can cause scratches to your car? This is due to these tiny dust particles being abrasive, and once swept across the car’s paintwork, can leave small scratch marks over the car. If you clean your car regularly, some scratches will easily buff out. However, others may not be as easy to get rid of if you have a large amount of dust build up on your vehicle. On average, it costs £90 for a light surface scratch repair in the UK.

The most Googled winter car cleaning questions answered

1. What is the best temperature to wash your car in winter?

This question gets on average 90 Google searches per month. You should always check the weather forecast before washing your car in the winter as it is recommended to avoid washing your car if it is below 4°C outside. If temperatures are set to drop later in the day after you have washed your car, make sure the car has enough time to dry before the temperature drops.

2. What is the best way to wash a car in winter?

On average, this is Googled 70 times per month and whilst there is not one specific way to wash your car in winter, a trusted car cleaning technique is the two-bucket car cleaning method. One bucket should be filled with a car shampoo wash solution and the other with plain water. Both buckets should be fitted with grit guards, which can be bought for £7.15 from Amazon.

Soak the wash mitt in the shampoo solution first and then the plain water bucket to rinse it. The grit guards will trap any dirt lifted from the car when washing, to stop it from being transferred back to the vehicle.

3. Can you wash your car when it’s below freezing?

This is Googled on average 40 times per month and rightly so, as you should not wash your car when it is below freezing. This is because lower temperatures can result in the water freezing as it sits on your car, which could lead to frozen locks and door handles. Water could also freeze on the ground around it, which can become icy and dangerous.

4. What is the best time to wash your car in winter?

This question is Googled an average of 20 times per month. In winter, it is advised that you wash your car once every two weeks, as road salt and winter grime can not only cause damage to your car’s paint but also to the undercarriage. The best time of day to wash your car in winter is midday, when it’s usually warmest.

Tom Preston, CEO and Founder at Hippo Leasing adds, “Winter can be a testing time for drivers with adverse weather conditions making the roads more unpredictable and dangerous.

“The last thing drivers want adding to their plate is hefty costs to repair seasonal damage to their car or driving fines from not keeping up with their car cleaning schedule in the winter period.

“Drivers should clean their car every two weeks during the winter to avoid any long-lasting damage to their vehicles.”

If you lease your car, it’s important to clean it regularly to make sure it’s ready to be returned at the end of the lease. If it’s time for your upgrade or you want a brand new car, you can browse our car leasing deals and offers.


Hippo Leasing utilised the online business directory Yell to gather information on the total number of car washing services, (which also encompassed categories such as ‘Car & Vehicle Valeting’, ‘Valet Services’, ‘Mobile Car Valeting’, ‘Hand Car Wash’, ‘Car Detailing’, and ‘Pressure Washers’), in the top 50 most populous cities in the UK. We then calculated the number of these services per square mile to provide a more accurate data set for the most and least dirty cars.

Using SEO analytical tools, we then identified the most commonly searched questions by drivers when it came to cleaning a car in winter and provided answers prioritised based on their search volume.

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