Is It Ok To Use A Bucket While Washing Your Car?
You’ve probably seen those self-service washes on the roadside before. The ones that have stalls equipped with a power washer, brush, and soap. They’re actually terrible for your paint, and if you care at all about your car’s paint -- and keeping it swirl free -- you’ll want to start the old-fashioned way: with a bucket.
You’ve seen people do it before, perhaps that nice old man with the Mustang down the street. He’s always out there on a Sunday, washing his Mustang with a bucket. Turns out, the “two-bucket method” as it’s known, is arguably the best way for amateur detailers to keep their paint looking fresh. A massive percentage of swirls and scratches in a car’s paint come from improper washing. The car wash screws up your paint because the washing surfaces -- the brushes that touch our paint -- aren’t really clean, leaving debris to scratch your paint while it’s being cleaned. This is where the two-bucket method comes in.
You’ll need a pair of buckets, as the name suggests, and you’ll also want to make sure one comes with a grit guard in it. We have a few that we like, including the Chemical Guys Double Bucket Bundle, which is nice because both buckets have lids and grit guards. We’re also fans of Adam’s Polishes Collapsible Bucket if you’re tight on space- it also comes with a grit guard at a very reasonable price point. Another much cheaper method is to head to Home Depot, pick up a few of their iconic Orange Homer Buckets, and purchase the grit guard separately from somewhere like Autozone. More on grit guards in a moment.
Let’s focus on the “how” for now. First, one bucket will be your “clean” bucket, and the other your “dirty” one. Fill each with water, then fill your clean bucket with an automotive soap of choice (and water, lots of water). Do the same sans soap to the dirty bucket. Make sure both are clean inside first while you’re at it. Rinse your car, preferably with an electric power washer, then wipe the car with a microfiber mitt top to bottom, section by section. Wring out the mitt thoroughly, then rinse in your dirty bucket.
This is where grit guards come into play. Through a neat bit of fluid dynamics, the dirt from the mitt will sink to the bottom of the bucket. Rub the mitt on the bottom of the bucket against the dirt guard, loosening any remaining dirt. Then give it a final wring before returning the wash mitt to your clean bucket. From there, it’s literally rinse and repeat. However, for extra dirty cars, we’d recommend repeating the above steps a second time for your wheels- these are almost always the dirtiest parts of your car, especially in winter. Also make sure to get the door sills, as these will hide dirt and are easily forgotten while washing.
The key to this bucket method is lubrication. Paint is actually a lot like human skin, in that its topmost layers are usually rather fragile and porous. It needs to be lubricated properly -- scrubbing your dirty hands without proper soap and clean water doesn’t work, and the same principle applies here. Using two buckets provides adequate lubrication while also removing dirt from the paint. Because the water and soap lift the dirt from the paint, it won’t scratch as easily.
Chase is an automotive journalist with years of experience in the industry. When he's not writing reviews of the latest in cars or producing industry coverage, Chase is at home in the driver's seat of his own (usually German) sports cars.
More by Chase Bierenkoven