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Washing your car can seem like a simple task but with the large selection of products and many different ways you can wash your car, this simple task can become overwhelming very quickly. Generally, there are three different methods of washing: the traditional 2-bucket method, the rinseless method, and the waterless method. This blog will outline the traditional 2-bucket method, which is still regarded by most people as the safest way to clean a vehicle, as it has been proven to minimize the chance of adding swirl marks and scratches to your paint’s finish.

This blog is focused on washing your car’s paint finish. Please note that wheel cleaning, exhaust tips, doorjambs will be covered in future blog posts.

What is the traditional 2-bucket method and what are its advantages?

There are many reasons why the 2-bucket method is preferred over the other two methods. One of its main advantages is that it allows you to pre-rinse the vehicle and remove as much dirt and grime as possible before physically touching the paint with a wash mitt

The traditional 2-bucket method, as the name suggests, relies on the use of two buckets to complete a wash. The first bucket is referred to as the wash bucket because shampoo is added to it. The second bucket is your rinse bucket, which contains only water. The water in the second bucket will get noticeably dirtier by the end of the wash because in this bucket you are rinsing the mitt after every section you wash. Using two buckets allows you to minimize cross contamination by releasing dirt into the rinse bucket and keeping both your wash mitt and wash bucket as clean as possible.

Step-by-Step Guide to the 2-Bucket Method

Prior to Washing: Park your car in a cool, shaded area. If you have the luxury of washing your vehicle indoors, that is always the best option. However, washing your car outside is also perfectly fine as long as you are not out in the open sun. By working in a cool, shaded area you will minimize the risk of shampoo and water drying on the surface, thus reducing water spotting and streaks.

Step 1: Pre-Wash Process and Rinse
Rinsing the paint is the first part of the wash process. If your vehicle is heavily soiled, we recommend using a Foam Cannon Attachment with Car Shampoo to provide extra cleaning power. Soak the entire car and allow the foam to sit on the paint for up to 5 minutes to loosen the majority of the dirt. If you have heavily embedded dirt in certain sections, we recommend spraying properly diluted All Purpose Cleaner (APC) to those sections. You can apply APC either before or after the foam cannon process. Spray APC on the front end of the vehicle to break down bug splatter as well as the lower sides and rear end of the vehicle to soften general road dirt, brake dust and similar contamination. Allow the APC to work for several minutes before rinsing.

Pay special attention to the “splash zone” areas behind the front and rear wheels, as these areas usually collect large amounts of dirt. If you have bird droppings anywhere on the car, you should spray properly diluted APC on those areas as well. If your vehicle is not overly dirty, you can skip the Foam Cannon and APC step and go straight to rinsing with a pressure washer or garden hose. We do not recommend using a pressure washer stronger than 2000 PSI as a more powerful machine, in the wrong hands, when used improperly will cause serious paint damage.

Step 2: Setting Up Soap and Rinse Buckets

First, we recommend installing Grit Guards on the bottom of each bucket to keep your wash mitts as clean and debris-free as possible. We like to use standard 5-gallon buckets with about 4 gallons of water. First, add the recommended amount of car shampoo to the bottom of the wash bucket then spray a pressurized stream of water to produce suds. Once the soap bucket is filled and suds are created, toss your wash mitt into the bucket so it can soak up the soap. We prefer to use sheepskin wash mitts for their superior ability to trap and release dirt and because they are generally softer than sponges.

Step 3: Washing the Car

Always wash your car top to bottom and use horizontal or vertical motions. Start with cleaning the top half of the vehicle and working your way down. We recommend first washing the roof, glass, mirrors, top of the trunk, pillars and quarter panels then rinsing the car shampoo off to avoid any streaks or product drying on the surface. Following this order, wash the hood next and work down the sides of the car finishing off with the bumpers and rocker panels. Try to apply just enough pressure with the wash mitt to clean the area; using too much pressure can result in swirl or scratch marks, while not enough pressure may not clean the paint all the way. If you have tar buildup and/or iron specs on the paint, DO NOT try to scrub them off with a mitt because this almost always adds unnecessary swirls and marring; wait until after the wash to tackle these areas with the appropriate chemicals and products.

Remember to rinse your wash mitt inside the rinse bucket after washing each section and getting it as clean as possible before placing it back into the wash bucket to get more soap. Also, try to make it a habit to inspect the mitt during the wash process to make sure no large dirt particles get trapped in the mitt.

Step 4: Drying

After the car is washed, it should be thoroughly rinsed off before starting the drying process. Just like the washing process, drying should be done top to bottom with vertical or horizontal motions. We recommend drying with either a waffle weave drying towel, forced air, or a combination of the two. We like to use forced air as it gets water out of every crevice, which will reduce water streaking after you start driving. Please note that if paint has no wax/sealant/coating, using forced air to dry is not the best option, as water will not easily bead off the paint.

Step 5: Applying Sealant or Detail Spray

To create a superior finish, we strongly recommend applying either a Spray Sealant or Detail Spray after the car is dried for maximum shine and complete streak removal.


The 2-bucket method allows you to utilize tools such as the Pressure Washer with Foam Cannon, Garden Hose with Foam Gun, sheepskin wash mitt and chemicals like APC and Car Shampoo to clean your paint in a way no other methods can. These tools and chemicals can be used to pre spray your paint to break down dirt and contamination, making it easier to wash off. The less you have to scrub your paint, the less chance there is of creating paint damage like swirls and scratches. When doing the 2-bucket method, remember to wash and dry top to bottom, rinse often to keep the paint wet at all times, avoid heavy scrubbing, and regularly inspect your wash mitt. By following this step-by-step guide, you will properly wash your vehicle, minimize swirling and have the shiniest car in the neighborhood. For more detailing tips subscribe to our blog or visit our detailing tips page.

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About the Author : Forma Car Care

Forma Car Care
Professional auto care for the enthusiast.
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