Washing: Two-bucket Method & Proper Drying

Did you know that almost all of the visible swirl marks on a carís painted surface are from improperly washing and drying your vehicle? That is indeed the truth; the main culprit of those unsightly swirl marks and light scratches is routine washings. The best way to stop developing new swirls (or avoid them altogether) is to adopt a safer washing regime. This guide, put together by Pzev (from the focaljet.com forums) will describe washing your vehicle using the two-bucket method. This method has been proven to reduce the amount of swirls left on your vehicles finish after each wash.

Time Required:
A few hours

Tools Needed:

  • Quality car wash soap (I recommend Meguiars Gold Class)
  • Two five gallon buckets
  • Lambs wool wash mitt (chenille is acceptable)
  • Long handled scrub brush with exploded (split) end bristles or boarís hair brush
  • Quality Micro fiber drying towel
  • Hose fitted to waterspout
    Recommended but optional:
  • Pressure Washer
  • Two MORE five gallon buckets
  • Even more quality micro fiber drying towels
  • Several wash mitts
  • Several multi-purpose micro fiber towels
  • California Dry Blade
  • Compressed air such as a leaf blower or other form of forced air


    Ok, if you have the required supplies you are ready to begin. The first thing you need to do when preparing to wash your car using the two-bucket method is to fill the buckets of course. When using two five gallon buckets you will need to fill one bucket with clean water, and the other with a mixture of car wash soap and water. Generally, itís one ounce of car wash soap to every gallon of water. You will want to fill the soap bucket with four gallons of soapy water. The second bucket filled with clean water is used as a rinse; we will discuss this later.

    Now that you have the buckets filled put them aside. Itís now time to rinse the car. You should use the highest amount of pressure possible (less than 1750 PSI if using a pressure washer) to clean as much of the dirt as possible from the surface to avoid marring the surface when washing. Take your time; this is a very important step. You should also be careful to avoid hitting the car with the hose nozzle, or the hose itself as this can scratch the surface.

    Now that the car is rinsed thoroughly its time to move onto the actual washing process and this is where you should pay extra special attention. You need to take the buckets you filled earlier and position them around the car. If you are using four buckets, position one on each corner of the car. If you are using two, position them at the corners on the side of the car that faces the hose. This is done to make sure the hose does not get caught under the wheels when moving to the other side of the vehicle. Once positioned its time to begin washing. Take one of the mitts and saturate it with soapy water, DO NOT RING IT OUT. Once saturated, proceed to wash from the highest point of the vehicle one panel at a time working your way down. If possible use forward and back motions, not circles. After you wash a panel, place the mitt in the rinse bucket and swish it around and ring it out. Start the process all over again until you wash two or three panels; you will then want to rinse the car again to keep the soap and water from drying on the surface. You will continue to do this until you are almost to the bottom of the car. Once you are almost at the bottom, go back and re-wash any spots that you missed or that need a second pass. When you are satisfied that the upper portion of the car is clean, proceed to wash the bottom most parts of the vehicle. The reason you want to wait to wash the lowest portions until the very end is because these areas are usually the dirtiest and the mitt will pose a higher risk of scratching if you wash other areas afterwards.

    If you are using four buckets the process is no different except that once you are finished with one side of the vehicle, you will move on to the next side and continue using the other set of buckets and wash mitts. The only advantage is not having to lug around two buckets when moving to the other side of the vehicle.

    If for some reason you feel the wash mitt is no longer clean, toss it aside and switch to a fresh mitt. Also, if for any reason you drop the mitt on the ground, switch to a fresh mitt. The objective here is to limit the amount of surface scratching and swirling caused by dirt impregnated in the wash mitt. This is why it is handy to have several mitts on hand when washing.

    Once the vehicle has been thoroughly washed, its time to rinse. The final rinse process is important, as it determines the final amount of water that will be left to dry. After all of the soap residue is removed with high pressure water, remove any hose attachments and let the water flow out of the hose with low pressure. With the low pressure water, start at the highest point of the vehicle and proceed to let the water flow over the surface. Follow the natural curves of the vehicle, and chase the water downward with the hose. The low-pressure water flow will cause it to sheet off of the cars surface leaving very little water to dry. If done properly, you can remove up to 90% of the standing water from the surface of the car before you even touch a towel!

    Most people are worn out after washing their vehicle, so they spend little time drying. Drying a car is often the most disliked chore of car detailing because it can take as long as actually washing the car. Unfortunately, if the surface is improperly dried it is possible to induce severe swirl marks or worse yet leave residual water that can dry and leave paint etching water spots.

    It is very important to properly dry your car each and EVERY time you washÖno exceptions.

    While time consuming, the drying process is actually very simple. The first step is to remove as much water as possible from the surface before using towels. This can be accomplished with forced air from a compressor/ leaf blower, or by using a California Water Blade. It is important to remember when using a CWB that it is vital that the surface be clean, otherwise you WILL scratch the surface when contaminants get caught between the blade and the paint.

    When you are ready to move on to towels, there is only one thing to rememberÖ.NO MOTION. Scratching is caused when a contaminant is scraped across the surface. If there is no sliding motion, there is no scratching. When using drying towels, lay them across the surface and apply pressure. Try not to move the towels. When that area is dry move onto the next, continuing until all the water has been absorbed into the towel. It is more than likely that you will need to use more than one drying towel, so be prepared with another one on hand.

    After the exterior surface is dried itís important to make sure the doorjambs are cleaned and dried. Using the all purpose micro fiber towels proceed to wipe the excess water from the door jambs, hatch opening, trunk seems, or any other area residual water rests. Donít forget the wheels.

    I hope this guide explained the benefits of using the two-bucket method for auto washing. If you use care when washing and drying your vehicle you will enjoy a like new finish for many years to come.

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