Two Bucket Wash Method Guide

Last Updated 5th July 2020

The two-bucket method is the most common wash technique, used by professional detailers around the world. It truly is the bread & butter of car cleaning. However, whilst it’s a well-known technique amongst car detailing communities, most people still use a single bucket of soapy water.

Whilst the two-bucket method is a simple concept – this article aims to give you a deeper insight into what makes this method so popular. I’ll explain my view on the two-bucket method, what makes it so good, what are its limitation, and how you can get the most out of it.

What is the Two Bucket Wash Method?

When washing your car, the primary aim is to remove any bonded dirt and contamination from the car’s paintwork. This helps to enhance the finish of the car and true gloss, as there’s no contamination to disrupt the light.

However, when you remove the contamination from the car with a wash mitt, there is a risk that the contamination remains in the wash mitt. This means that as you use the wash mitt around the car, you’re potentially reintroducing the dirt to the paintwork via the wash mitt. This can increase the risk of swirling, scratching and marring the paint.

Cue the two-bucket wash method, which aims to reduce the effect of wash mitt inflicted damage the paintwork. Put simply, the two-bucket wash method provides a process of rinsing and cleaning the wash mitt after cleaning each section of the car to prevent the dirt from being reintroduced to the paintwork.

How to Use the Two Bucket Wash Method

Essential Equipment:

Optional Equipment:

  • 1 or 2 Grit Guards

The two-bucket method is a simple process and will become second nature for most avid car cleaners. However, the purpose of this article is to explore the process in detail so I’ll be breaking each step down.

0. Setup

Fill both buckets with water from a tap or hose. Add shampoo to one of the buckets and foam with a hose or pressure washer.

At this point, you should have a bucket containing shampoo & water (your wash bucket), and a bucket containing just water (your rinse bucket).

1. Pick Up Soap From Wash Bucket

Dunk your wash mitt into the wash bucket. Squeeze it and move it around to ensure you’ve picked up a good amount of soapy water.

2. Clean a Section of Car

Use the saturated wash mitt to clean a section of the car.  Clean a section of a car at a time or until you run out of shampoo – whichever comes first. Larger panels like the roof or bonnet (hood) may require two dunks to top the shampoo. 

Move onto step 3 once you have cleaned a section or feel that you need to top up on shampoo.

3. Wring Out the Wash Mitt

Wring out the wash mitt over the ground (not into the rinse bucket). Just a quick squeeze will suffice, the aim is simply to remove excess dirty water.

This will reduce the amount of dirt which ends up in the rinse bucket, preventing dirt from being carried into the wash bucket and ultimately back onto the car.

4. Rinse Mitt in Rinse Bucket

Dunk your wash mitt into the rinse bucket. Assist in removing contaminants from the mitt by rubbing against the grit guard or by combing the mitt with your hand.

If you don’t rinse the wash mitt properly then the two-bucket method won’t be effective. Many detailers will simply dip the wash mitt into the rinse bucket before dunking straight into wash bucket.

This is bad practice for two reasons:

  • You’re not spending time removing contamination from the mitt
  • You’re carrying too much water from the rinse bucket to the wash bucket – diluting the shampoo with every dunk

5. Repeat

Wring out the wash mitt again before repeating the process until you’ve cleaned the entire car. Rinse the vehicle and continue with your car cleaning process.

Is the Two Bucket Method Effective?

As previously mentioned, the two-bucket method will not be effective if you don’t make an effort to remove dirt from the wash mitt every time you rinse the car.

It’s all too common for people to get into the habit of immediately dunking the mitt into the rinse bucket before immediately dunking it into the wash bucket. The are 3 key things to remember to make this method effective.

  1. Always give the wash mitt a quick inspection after cleaning a section of the panel – this will give you chance to pick out any large contaminants like stone and leaves from the wash mitt before introducing them to your buckets.
  2. Always wring the wash mitt before rinsing in the rinse bucket – this simply avoids adding dirty water to your rinse bucket.
  3. Take time to agitate your wash mitt in the rinse bucket to dislodge as much dirt as possibly – simply dunking the mitt in the rinse bucket is not effective at removing dirt.

Two Bucket Method Tips & Tricks

Grit Guards

Grit guards are plastic inserts which are placed at the bottom of your bucket which essentially serves as a giant sieve. The aim of a grit guard is to allow dirt and contaminants to float to the bottom of the bucket, but not be allowed to rise upwards back onto your wash mitt.

Every time you dunk your wash mitt back into the bucket, this will stir up any dirt – a grit guard aims to keep the contaminants at the bottom of the bucket. You can also use the grit guard as a “grater” to rub the wash mitt against to dislodge any stubborn dirt.

Grit Guards aren’t a silver bullet to preventing cross-contamination when cleaning your car – however, they can be effective, especially when stacked onto the top of one another.

Don’t Over Dilute Your Shampoo

Buckets come in various sizes – with standard 10-litre buckets and 22-litre detailing buckets.

However, just because a bucket has a given capacity doesn’t mean that you have to use it all. Most manufacturers base their dilution ratios on 5 or 10-litre volumes. So be mindful of exactly how much water you’re diluting your shampoo with. Over diluting a shampoo will drastically degrade its performance against dirt on the car.

Shampoo Last, Then Blast

If you add your shampoo to the wash bucket before adding water – you’ll likely generate a lot of suds very quickly. This makes it very difficult to see exactly how much water you’ve used – leading to the over dilution discussed in the previous point.

To avoid this, fill both buckets with water prior to adding any shampoo. Once you’re happy with the level of water used, add the correct amount of shampoo. To produce the foam needed for the shampoo to be effective, blast the wash bucket with a hose or pressure washer. Pressure washers are very effective at creating thick, foamy suds.

Keep Moving Your Buckets

Your buckets should follow you around the vehicle – not the other way around. For years I would leave my buckets in one place, as if they were glued to the floor. This is an issue when working next to the buckets, but as soon as you need to move around the vehicle you have to travel much further. It might not seem much but you’d be surprised at how far you have travelled after you cleaned the entire car.

To help to speed thing up, I recommended moving the buckets to whichever side of the car you’re working on. If you cleaning the front, the bucket should be at the front. If you’re cleaning the left side, then the bucket should be at the left side – you get the idea.

Buckets can be very heavy, especially if you’re using the larger 22 litre detailing buckets. If you don’t want to be lifting buckets around then we recommended using a bucket dolly with each bucket. It’s essential a plastic tray with wheels that allows you to move the buckets around with ease.