The two bucket car washing method is considered to be a safe way to hand wash your car. By using the two bucket car wash technique you significantly reduce the chances of scratching your paintwork. In this helpful how-to guide, we answer the question ‘why use two buckets to wash your car?’ Plus, we walk you through the two bucket wash process in 10 easy steps.
What is the two bucket car wash method?
What is the two bucket principle? Essentially the name says it all – you use two buckets to wash your car. This double bucket wash method helps to reduce the risk of inflicting damage, swirls and scratches during the contact wash.
The double bucket car wash method comprises one bucket filled with car shampoo and water – this is the ‘wash bucket’. The second bucket is simply filled with clean water – this is the ‘rinse bucket’.
Why use two buckets to wash car?
The ‘contact wash’ is a mechanical cleaning process. Your wash mitt, loaded with car shampoo and water, is in direct contact with your car’s body and paintwork. The mechanical action of wiping the wash mitt over the panels is what removes the dirt.
The wash mitt being in contact with the paint is where the problem arises. Your wash mitt picks up dirt from the panel, then you drag that dirty mitt all over the car. The car gets cleaner but the mitt gets dirtier.
Using the two bucket method helps to reduce the amount of dirt on your wash mitt. It virtually eliminates the risk of dirt being introduced into your clean wash bucket. The process is designed get the dirt off the car safely and to keep it away from the car once removed.
What are the benefits of the 2 bucket car wash method?
Using two buckets to clean your car dramatically reduces the transfer of dirt particles during the wash process. This lessens the risk of introducing swirls and scratches as you clean your car.
What you need for two bucket car cleaning method
To clean your dirty car tires safely and effectively, we recommend you use the following tools and products:
- Two Buckets
- Two Grit Guards
- Car Shampoo
- Microfiber Wash Mitts
- Microfiber Towels
- Pressure Washer or Garden Hose
- Clean Water Supply
Two Bucket Car Washing Method In 10 Easy Steps
STEP 1: When and where to wash
Ensure that the body panels, wheels and brakes are cool to the touch. Never wash a car that has just been driven. Always wait until the brakes and engine have cooled down.
If possible, avoid washing your car in strong, direct sunlight. Wash your car in the shade, early in the day, or later in the evening. Try to avoid the hottest time of the day.
For an in-depth guide on how to wash your car in the sun, check out our article The Best Way to Wash Your Car in the Sun. We give you our top 10 Essential PRO Detailer Tips for washing your car in strong, direct sunlight and high temperatures.
STEP 2: Assemble your equipment and products
Grab your 2 buckets with grit guards. Fill both five gallon buckets with warm water and add a splash of car shampoo to one. Using warm water will increase the cleaning power of the car shampoo.
Use your pressure washer to froth the mixture and create thick, lubricious soap suds. Place the nozzle of your pressure washer lance or garden hose below the water line in your bucket. Then spray a jet of water into the bucket to maximise the shampoo suds.
STEP 3: Wash the wheels and tires first
Your wheels are often the dirtiest part of the car. These should be tackled first, ideally using a separate bucket, using dedicated wheel brushes, wheel woollies and wash mitts. Why not check out our in-depth guide on How To Clean Wheels Like a PRO Detailer where we outline our ultimate 10 step process.
Don’t forget to scrub the tires clean too! Discover the best way to clean and protect your car tires with our PRO Detailer 8 Step Tire Cleaning Guide.
STEP 4: Pre-rinse the car
Pre-rinse the exterior of your car with your pressure washer. Larger, more visible particles of dirt and debris can be dislodged easily with a thorough rinse. Removing these larger dirt and grit fragments with water, in a contactless fashion, prevents them damaging the paintwork during the contact wash stage.
STEP 5: Pre-wash and Snow Foam
If your car is contaminated with traffic film, dirt and bug guts, you may want to apply a dedicated pre-wash first. Citrus pre-cleaners and TFR (Traffic Film Removers) are a good choice. Allow the citrus pre-cleaner or TFR to dwell for a couple of minutes, then rinse off.
Apply a thick layer of snow foam to the car and allow it to dwell for a few minutes. Snow foam emulsifies and lifts larger dirt particles, allowing gravity to slowly pull the dirt and foam off the car safely. Rinse off any remaining snow foam using your pressure washer.
STEP 6: The two bucket car wash method
Dunk your microfiber wash mitt in the wash bucket. Starting at the top of the vehicle, gently wash one panel at a time. Use straight lines, front to back, applying minimal pressure. Let the car shampoo, warm water and the weight of the soap laden wash mitt do the work.
Once you’ve washed a panel, dunk your wash mitt into the rinse bucket which contains clean water. Agitate the wash mitt in the water to help remove any dirt particles trapped in the fibers of the mitt.
As you withdraw the rinsed wash mitt from the rinse bucket, try to squeeze out as much water as possible. Plunge your wash mitt into your wash bucket, load it with shampoo solution, then carefully wash the next panel.
If you have a second wash mitt, use this on the lower panels of your car, where the dirt contamination is usually higher.
STEP 7: Final rinse
Following the 2 bucket car cleaning method it’s time to wash away any soap or car shampoo residue. Using your pressure washer, rinse the car from top to bottom. Pay particular attention to door shuts, panel gaps, door mirrors, grilles and intricate areas. Ensure that you rinse away all of the car shampoo from the paintwork.
STEP 8: Dry the vehicle
There are number of methods for drying your car, following the two bucket car wash method. Below are the most popular and safest methods for drying your car:
- Hot air car dryer or leaf blower
- Twisted loop microbfiber towel
If you have a car dryer, or leaf blower this is the best way to dry your car as it involves no contact. As you’re not making contact with the paint this helps to reduce swirl marks and marring.
The most common way to dry a car is with a high quality, twisted loop, microfiber drying towel. Providing you’re careful and use good quality towels, any swirl marks or marring will be minimal. You can reduce swirls and marring by spritzing each panel with a drying aid or Quick Detailer. The drying aid or QD will add a little lubrication and as you move the towel over the paintwork.
Be methodical, gentle and allow the towel time to soak up the water. Let the towel do the work for you. Remember that car bodywork is a lot more delicate than your own skin.
STEP 9: Add some protection
Now is the perfect time to add some extra protection to the car’s paintwork to both enhance the color and to protect the finish. Applying some form of paint protection now will also make the next wash easier, quicker and safer. There will be less dirt and contamination on the paint next time you wash the vehicle.
There are numerous options for LSP (Last Stage Protection) products. These range from traditional waxes to multi-stage ceramic coatings. Below are a few quick and easy options that offer great ‘bang for buck’ for your car.
- Paste/Liquid/Spray Wax
- Synthetic Spray Sealant
- Quick Detailer Spray (QDS)
- SiO2 or Graphene QDS
STEP 10: Clean your car washing equipment
Here are a few PRO Tips to help look after your products and equipment so they’re ready for the next two bucket car wash.
Microfiber wash mitts, chenille noodle mitts, microfiber cloths and vehicle drying towels can be laundered. Use a dedicated, specialist microfiber laundry liquid to clean these items.
Empty your two buckets and rinse both and the grit guards with clean running water. Clean and rinse any tools or brushes that you may have used. Flush your snow foam lance or soap dispenser with clean water to remove previously used chemicals.
Carefully coil your hoses and store your pressure washer, hoses, lances and foam cannon securely. Collect your car cleaning product bottles and trigger sprays. Ensure the bottle lids are secure and spray heads are locked in the ‘off’ position. Store these upright, out of direct sunlight, and out of the reach of small children.
Alternatives to the two bucket car washing method
The two bucket car cleaning method isn’t the only PRO Detailer approved way to wash your car safely. There are a number of other techniques which will help you to clean your car without scratching or marring your paintwork.
One bucket car washing method
Not everyone has two, maybe three buckets, or dozens of wash mitts and microfiber towels. If your car isn’t heavily soiled, then sometimes one bucket will suffice. If you’re going to use a single bucket to wash your car, we recommend the following PRO Detailer Tips:
- Use two microfiber wash mitts when washing your car using the one bucket method. Use one long pile microfiber wash mitt for the main body of the car. Use a Chenille or ‘Noodle’ style wash mitt for the heavily soiled, lower areas.
- Rinse your wash mitt with your garden hose or pressure washer (set to a low pressure). Rinse the mitt after washing each panel and always rinse it before dunking it back in the bucket.
- Always use a grit guard in your bucket. This will help to trap grit and larger particles of dirt at the bottom of your single bucket. Keeping harmful contaminants away from your wash mitts is the key to success with the one bucket wash method.
Three bucket car washing method
The three bucket car washing method is simply a development of the two bucket car wash technique. The additional bucket is dedicated to cleaning the wheels only. Wheels are often coated in more dirt, most of which is harmful brake dust. Brake dust is made up of brake pad material and tiny particles of iron which are shed from the brake discs under braking.
If abrasive brake dust contaminates your microfiber wash mitt, or primary wash bucket, you might rub it all over your paintwork. This would almost certainly result in scratches, swirls and marring to the clearcoat. Cleaning the wheels with a separate bucket and separate shampoo, wash mitts and brushes is best practice.
Multi-mitt car washing method
Another alternative approach is to use multiple wash mitts or microfiber towels, instead of multiple buckets. Simply fill one 5 gallon bucket with a mixture of car shampoo and warm water. Take your first wash mitt or towel, dunk it in the wash bucket and wash the roof of your car. Then set aside this mitt and don’t use it again. Take a fresh mitt or towel, load it with soap solution and wash one or two panels on one side of the car. Then set aside this towel and don’t use it again. Work around your car in this fashion, using a fresh clean mitt or towel for every area of the car.
The main benefit of the multi-mitt method is that the chance of dirt contamination is greatly reduced. Each mitt or towel only comes into contact with one or two panels before being replaced with a clean mitt. Dirty towels never go back in the bucket, so the wash bucket and car shampoo solution remains clean.
This alternative method is becoming more popular due to the low cost of good quality microfiber wash mitts and microfiber towels. You can launder Microfibers in your washing machine using pure soap flakes, conditioner free detergents or special microfiber detergents. You can also dry many microfiber items in automatic clothes dryers (tumble dryers) as they benefit from warm air re-fluffing their fibers.
If you’re serious about maintaining and protecting your car’s paintwork, then use the two bucket car washing method. The contact wash is the most effective and most frequent way to wash our cars. This proven two bucket technique helps to prevent swirls and scratches being introduced as you wash your car.
If you’ve gone to the efforts to machine polish and correct your paintwork, or have applied a ceramic coating, then the two bucket principle is a must! Ultimately, the two bucket car wash technique saves you time, money and produces better, safer results.
If you’re not sure which car shampoo to use, don’t worry, we have some car shampoo product reviews and recommendations for you to check out.