How Many Buckets are Actually Needed to Wash Your Car?

How Many Buckets are Actually Needed to Wash Your Car?

A common question that I often get asked by email is “How many buckets should I be using when washing my car?” There seems to be a lot of confusion and conflicting opinions around this topic, so I thought that I would address it here.

Many detailing brands and companies will always advise you to use at least 2 wash buckets when cleaning your car. Some even suggest that you need 3 buckets to safely wash your vehicle.

2 bucket wash

Of course, these companies will always want to sell you as many products as they possibly can, so it is understandable as to why they would recommend more buckets!

So how many do you actually need?

In my opinion, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to this question. Before I give my personal opinion on this, let’s take a look at the various bucket wash methods you can use.

The “One Bucket Wash Method”

2 bucket wash

So what is the “One Bucket Wash Method?” – well it’s exactly as it sounds. You wash the entire car ( wheels included ), using only one bucket. The one bucket method is probably the most common way the “average joe” would wash their car.

Most die-hard detailers would probably cringe at the thought of using only one bucket while washing their car, due to the potential of inflicting some unwanted marring or scratches on the paintwork. The dirty wash mitt is then rinsed off in the bucket and re-used to wash the rest of the car. This means that the water will get dirty, and the sponge will get less clean as the water gets more soiled.

Bilt Hamber Auto Wash

So is this right or wrong?

Although it may not be ideal, you CAN wash your car with one bucket under certain circumstances. I would only suggest you use 1 wash bucket if :

  • You are doing a Snow Foam Pre Wash (This will make sure most of the dirt is removed from the car before you contact wash )
  • You are using a pressure washer to clean the car ( same idea as the point above )
  • You use a Grit Guard in the Bucket ( If you don’t know what a grit guard is you can read my post on them here )
  • You wash your wheels last. These can often be the dirtiest part of the car, so it is best not to contaminate your water at the beginning.
  • Rinsing Your wash mitt after each panel ( although this applies to all wash techniques! )

Pros & Cons Of One Bucket Wash

Pros + :

  • Cheaper as only 1 wash bucket required
  • Less water wasted
  • Generally quicker and easier

Cons – :

  • Higher Risk Of Swirls/Scratches if proper technique and precautions are not used
  • “Real” detailers won’t take you seriously 🙂

The “Two Bucket Wash Method”

So what is the “Two Bucket Wash Method?

two bucket wash

The Two Bucket wash method adds another bucket to the equation. But why? As I mentioned above, the issue with using only one bucket is that you are dipping your wash mitt into a bucket of potentially very dirty water.

If you know anything about looking after your paintwork, you should know that this is a bad idea. Little bits of dirt and debris on your wash mitt coming in contact with your paint will end up damaging the finish. ( Swirls and other imperfections )

The addition of a second bucket is to minimize this risk.

The main purpose of this second bucket is for cleaning your wash mitt before dipping it back into the bucket that holds the shampoo. This will hopefully result in your mitt being dirt-free before coming in contact with the paintwork.

Pros & Cons Of Two Bucket Wash

Pros + :

  • Much Safer On Cars Paintwork
  • Lessens the need for a grit guard ( but I recommend always using one )

Cons – :

  • Using more water ( which can be a problem in some locations )
  • Need to buy an extra bucket
  • Slightly longer prep/cleaning time

two bucket wash


The “Three Bucket Wash Method”

Yes, you read that right – three buckets!

three bucket wash

An extension of the two bucket method, using a third bucket dedicated to wheels. The problem with wheels is that they can get coated in grime, metal particles from braking etc.

A three-bucket wash can keep a lot of dirt safely away from your bodywork and you may opt for a stronger cleaning solution than what you have in the shampoo bucket.

Pros + :

  • You won’t contaminate the main buckets with dirt from wheels
  • Arguably the safest way to wash your car

Cons – :

  • 3 buckets needed ( can be expensive )
  • Lots of water needed
  • Longest setup time

What is the Best Car Wash Method?

In my personal opinion, there is no real right or wrong method,

As you get more experience with detailing you will learn that many people have different techniques and some may lecture about what the best way is. Some best practices may reduce the risk of swirls but at the end of the day, it is the actual technique that matters.

Personally, I use the two bucket method on my car ( with a grit guard ). I feel that this provides the best balance of practicality and wash safety.

Combined with this, I always perform a pre-wash snow foam step before the contact wash, which I feel gives the most bang for buck in terms of reducing wash inflicted swirl marks.

iron x snow soap

And it is also important to remember, you can be as safe as possible during the wash step – but you must practice safe drying techniques with the correct type of microfiber towel to even further reduce the risks to your car’s finish.

So what’s your opinion? How many buckets do you incorporate into your own wash technique?

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments below or even better, on the DriveDetailed forum!

Until Next time,

Happy Detailing!

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About the Author – Darren O Hara

Darren is the founder of the DriveDetailed blog and is a keen detailing enthusiast living in the rainy south of Ireland. When he is not cleaning his car he is always researching ways he can improve his techniques and enjoys testing out new products.

Darren currently drives an Audi TTRS and is a big fan of performance cars.

You can follow Darren on Instagram @darrenoharacork