Hand Wash Black Car with Bucket and Mitt

What is The Two-Bucket Car Wash Method?

You might think to yourself that washing my car can’t be that hard.  And if your only goal is to get the dirt off then yes.  It’s not that difficult.

But did you know that you are almost certainly scratching your car every time you wash it?  I’m not talking about deep scratches.  I’m talking about microscopic scratches.  Millions of these microscopic scratches are called swirl marks.  If you love cars then you will hate swirl marks.

Understanding what swirls and scratches are and what causes them is probably the most important thing you can learn about car detailing.

Every time you wash and dry your car you create tiny scratches and cause the paint to fade.  The two bucket car hand washing method is one of the methods you can use to greatly reduce the number of scratches you create.

The Two-Bucket Method Explained

Two buckets with grid guards are used to wash your car.  One bucked is filled with soapy water.  The other is filled with clean rinse water.  Once your soapy wash mitt gets dirty you rinse it in the rinse bucket before dunking it back into the soapy bucket.  This is how the 2 bucket method reduces scratches and preservers shine when hand washing your car.

Why Use The Two-Bucket Method?

The two bucket method is an easy way to reduce the number of scratches you cause when you wash your car.

Any time you touch your car you risk scratching it.  And when you wash your car you need to do everything you can to minimize these nasty scratches.  

Brand new cars have a fantastic shine.  Improper washing techniques are what cause the natural shine to fade so quickly.  I have seen cars just a few months old that have extremely scratches and scuffed paint.  These are the dreaded swirl marks.

Swirls can be polished out but it takes time and money.  The best thing to do is to prevent those scratches in the first place.  And that’s where the two-bucket method shines.

Dirt causes scratches.  Dragging a dirty wash mitt around your car will scratch it.  A microfiber wash mitt is a lot better than a sponge or a brush though.  Those things are a definite no.  Get yourself a couple of premium microfiber wash mitts.

Using the two-bucket method means that your wash mitt will be a lot cleaner and the bigger particles of dirt will be trapped below the grit guards.

What Are The Steps in the Two-Bucket Method?

The two bucket method is an easy way to reduce the number of scratches you cause when you wash your car.  When washing your car, all you need to do is loosen the dirt enough so that you can rinse it off.  So all you do is lightly move the mitt across the car without too much pressure and without scrubbing.  

Remember that washing your wheels is not part of the two bucket method.  You should wash your wheels before you start the two-bucket wash.  Throw away any dirty water.

  1. Rinse the car down to soften dirt or use a pressure washer and foam cannon.
  2. Fill two buckets with clean water.
  3. Add some good quality car shampoo to one of the buckets.
  4. Agitate the water so you get some foam.
  5. Dunk clean microfiber wash mitt into soap bucket.
  6. Start with the roof of the car.
  7. Use gentle side-to-side motions.  Don’t scrub.
  8. Once the roof is done, rinse the mitt in the clean water bucket.
  9. Work your way down along your car, doing the lowest and dirtiest part of the car last.
  10. Rinse car.
  11. Dry with a microfiber drying towel.

Things You Need.

To wash your car with the two-bucket method you’ll need the items below.  A hose is required but there are other ways to wash your car without a hose

  • Access to a water hose.
  • Two buckets with grid guards.
  • Good quality car shampoo.
  • Microfiber wash mitts.
  • Microfiber drying towel.
  • Pressure Washer with Foam Cannon (optional)

I’ve been washing my car the wrong way for years, what can I do?

If you have been washing your car the wrong way for a while you probably already have faded paint.  You can restore the shine using compound and polish.  These are abrasive products that will smooth out your paint and restore shine.  Once restored, you should use the two-bucket method to keep your vehicle looking good for as long as possible.

Going one step further.

Bonus Tip 1: To be even more careful you can use a pressure washer with a foam cannon to wash away most of the dirt before you touch your car with the wash mitt.  Foam will soften dirt and the pressure washer will blast it away, leaving an almost clean car.  Getting rid of this dirt will result in less scrubbing and therefore less scratching.

Bonus Tip 2: Also, consider using multiple wash mitts to wash your car.  Instead of rinsing the wash mitt in the clean water, you simply grab a clean mitt each for each section.  This is called the multi-mitt method and is very popular among detailing enthusiasts.  Just stick them in the washing machine after each wash.

Bonus Tip 3: Dry your car with a large microfiber towel.  These things soak up lots of water which would otherwise cause water spots.  Letting your car dry naturally causes dust to stick to your car so try to dry it if you can.  You can use a detail spray to help as it acts as a lubricant to prevent ‘love marks’ and helps water to bead making it easier to dry.

Bonus Tip 4: Use a spray wax after you wash your car.  These things make your car look amazing in seconds.  No need to spend hours buffing.  Just wipe the wax in with a microfiber cloth and dry your car as normal.  You can apply to a wet or dry car but it’s quicker to do while your car is still wet.

Bonus Tip 5:  Use a wheel cleaner on your wheels before you start washing.  They dissolve brake dust on contact and make wheels look new.  You can get special wheel cleaning brushes to make it easier.  I have a special wash mitt that’s for wheel use only.  Remember that washing brake dust into your car causes scratches so wash wheels first.

Bonus Tip 6: Never scrub.  If you have some dirt or stains that just won’t come off don’t be tempted to scrub it with a brush or even with a wash mitt.  It will scuff your paint.  Instead, soak the dirt for a while to see if it gets softer.  You might need to use a light polish, clay bar, or a tar remover spray if it won’t budge.  


A new or recently polished car looks good.  But the shine will quickly fade if you don’t wash it using a safe washing technique such as the two bucket method.

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