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Buckets 101 and the 2 Bucket Car Wash Method

Before you grab your bucket and car soap and start slapping on suds, do you know if you’re actually doing more harm than good? It’s not rocket science, but there are a few things to know about buckets and how many to use, and a few other things.

In this post, I’ll cover what buckets to use, what the 2-bucket method is, and give you some advice before your next car wash.

What type of bucket should you use to wash your vehicle?

It’s best to use a study 5-gallon bucket to wash your vehicle and here’s why: plastic buckets just don’t hold up well. I’ve cracked several of the cheap ones like the one below…but never a 5-gallon bucket.

You want something that can take a beating, something you can drag around and not worry about ir breaking.

How many buckets do you need to wash your vehicle?

It’s safe to use one bucket to wash if you rinse the wash mitt after every pass;  I recommend at least two buckets: one for the paint, and a dedicated wheels and tires bucket for your tire brushes…and don’t mix the two!

What is the 2-bucket wash method?

The 2-bucket method refers to washing your car using one bucket full of clean suds, and another bucket full of water to dip your mitt into. The idea is to avoid contaminating your suds bucket, but there are multiple ways to prevent this from happening:

  • Just rinse off your wash mitt before re-applying suds
  • Use a foam gun to apply soap (my go-to for larger vehicles)

Here’s the thing about cross-contamination: It’s going to happen to a degree, but it’s all about keeping your mitt clean. Your hose can do this, or you can use a bucket with clean water. However, over time your clean bucket will get dirtier and dirtier, which is why many people don’t prefer the 2-bucket method.

If you keep your car clean, both the one-bucket or the two-bucket method are perfectly fine for normal maintenance washing.

When to use a foam gun vs a bucket

If your vehicle is visibly dirty, it’s a good idea to apply snow foam with a foam gun or foam cannon to carry heavy dirt away; this reduces the risk of scratching before you hand wash with a bucket.

I recommend you check out my post on car soap vs. foam vs. shampoo to know what to use. Foam is great for pre-treatment, but each product is slightly different.

Buckets and grit guards

A plastic device called the Grid Guard is a common detailing accessory designed to keep grit and grime at the bottom of a bucket…not swirling at the top with your suds. Suds on top, grit and dirt on the bottom. I have the washboard attachment as well, which is handy for scrubbing the mitt from time to time to remove debris.

Bucket Grit Guard

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Grit guards can be used in your soap bucket and clean water bucket if using the 2-bucket method. They also make a device called The Dirt Lock, which is a more advanced (and expensive) device that acts more like a filter for your dirty water.

These devices are helpful, but you should always be mindful of how dirty your water is when using a bucket.

So there you have it. If you want more helpful tips like this sent to your inbox, subscribe to the Carwash Country email list to stay on top of your game!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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