You’ve probably heard of the 2 Bucket Wash Method many times by now. It’s one of those things that’s so commonly referred to in the detailing community that you might be too shy to ask what it actually means. Never fear, I’m going to explain the entire process as well as everything you need here.
The 2 Bucket Wash Method is a way to wash your car safely without creating scratches or swirl marks in your paint. It uses 2 separate buckets – one for soapy water and the other to rinse your wash mitt before dipping it back in.
Why should you use the 2 Bucket Method?
The 2 Bucket Wash Method has been considered the safest way to wash your vehicle for a long time. For years, people would use 1 bucket to wash their car – simply fill it with soapy water, throw your wash mitt in and go. As more and more detailers paid attention to what was going on, they realized that contamination is a big concern when washing your car.
Using 1 bucket alone causes you to pull dirt and grime off of your paint and introduce it right back into your wash bucket. Every time you wipe your paint, you are introducing friction (wiping) with abrasives (dirt). That is a very fast way to create swirl marks and scratches.
What is the 2 Bucket Wash Method?
The idea behind the 2 Bucket Method is to add an extra bucket of rinse water to your system. After wiping your car with soapy water, you simply dunk your mitt into a separate bucket filled with clean water. This rinses the contaminants that just came off your paint out of your wash mitt.
Using 2 buckets allows you to keep your soapy water much cleaner, which in turn reduces your chances of scratching your paint due to contamination. It’s an easy extra step that can go a long way when it comes to keeping your car clean and swirl-free.
So how do you use the 2 Bucket Wash Method properly? It’s pretty straight forward but it might take some effort to break your old washing habits.
- Fill 2 separate buckets up with water and put a Grit Guard in each one. I recommend using a different color Grit Guard for each bucket to make it easier to identify which is which.
- Add soap to your wash bucket and leave your rinse bucket with just clean water
- Pre-rinse your car with either your hose or a pressure washer. This will get the majority of dirt off before you even touch it
- Dip your mitt in your soap bucket and begin washing your car. Start from the top down.
- Before reaching back into your soap bucket, rinse your mitt in the fresh water bucket. Now you can head back into the soap with a clean mitt. Think of the rinse bucket as sort of a “reset” before continuing.
- Continue this process around the entire vehicle. The dirtier it is, the more often you’ll need to revisit the buckets.
- Do a final rinse and dry the vehicle with either compressed air or a towel
Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to remember to use the rinse bucket. If you’ve been washing cars the old fashioned way, this will be a hard habit to break. Sometimes it’s helpful to position the rinse bucket in a way that will remind you to use it before reaching your soap bucket. Eventually, it’ll become second nature.
The 3 Bucket Wash Method and why it’s what you should actually be using
So far, I’ve been talking about using 2 buckets this entire time. Why would I all of a sudden want to introduce a 3rd bucket? It’s actually crucial that you use 3 buckets when using the 2 Bucket Wash Method.
Unless you’re skipping the step of washing your wheels, you need to be using 3 separate buckets in order to wash your entire car safely. The 3rd bucket is for, you guessed it, your wheels.
Wheels have a ton of brake dust on them. Brake dust is made of sharp, metallic particles that can absolutely destroy the finish on your car’s paint. They need to be treated as a completely separate stage, using a different bucket and mitt/brushes. You can never cross-contaminate any of the items used on your wheels with the ones you use on your paint. This is really important.
So yes, technically the 2 Bucket Wash Method should use 3 buckets. You’ll also want to clean your wheels first before doing the rest of your car. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of water spots if the water on your paint dries while you’re busy washing your wheels at the end. You also don’t want any dirt and grime from your wheels getting splashed up onto your freshly washed body.
The best 2 Bucket Car Wash kit
You can buy 2 bucket car wash kits (like these from companies like Adam’s Polishes and Chemical Guys) if you’d like a complete set with everything you need. It isn’t required though and you can actually save some money by sourcing things yourself. If I had to put together a package myself, here’s what I’d use:
You can put together any products that you prefer. You’ll need 2 buckets, 2 Grit Guards, a good quality car soap, a wash mitt, drying towels, and a drying aid (optional).
2 Bucket Wash Method alternatives
There are other ways to wash your car that are also considered to be safe in terms of scratching. Believe it or not, you can do so while using just 1 bucket!
The key is to minimize contamination where the dirt from your car stays in your wash mitt or towel while you continue to wipe the whole car. The easiest way to do this without using the 2 Bucket Wash Method is to use multiple microfiber towels (or wash mitts if you’re Bill Gates).
As long as they never go back into your soap bucket after they’ve picked up dirt from the car, they won’t be likely to scratch your paint.
In general, it’ll take roughly 6-8 towels to wash a car, depending on how dirty it is. You’ll want to keep an eye on how many passes or swipes you do with a towel to see how dirty it’s getting. You can even fold the towel in 4’s if you want to get the most out of it.
Once you’ve decided it’s used up, toss it and grab a fresh one out of your wash bucket. This way you’re never putting dirt from the car back into your soapy water.
You can use this method with a single bucket of soapy water or with a rinseless wash. You can read more about rinseless washes here: It really comes down to your personal product preference and again, how dirty the vehicle is.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: