How Many Buckets Do You Need To Wash a Car?

How Many Buckets Do You Need To Wash a Car? - How many buckets do you need to wash a car


  • Learn exactly why you'll always need three buckets for the finest swirl-free wash. 
  • Discover why detailing buckets will always be far superior to standard buckets. 
  • See the products, accessories and processes guaranteed to give you a safer, more effective detail.
How Many Buckets Do You Need To Wash a Car? - How many buckets do you need to wash a car


  • Learning the correct processes can stop swirl-mark infliction dead in its tracks. 
  • A safe wash stage is the fundamental base of all detailing and maintenance.
  • Get the correct accessories and you've already won half the battle.

Detailers always talk about the two bucket wash - but what they really mean is that you should always have three…

Since the beginning of time - or the beginning of proper car detailing anyway - the classic two bucket wash has been a staple in keeping paintwork as swirl-free as possible. But that said, one huge detailing mistake we see time and time again is only having two buckets for an entire wash stage. The reality of course, is that for the perfect swirl-free wet work you actually need three… and here's why…

How Many Buckets Do You Need To Wash a Car? - How many buckets do you need to wash a car

First, what's a two bucket wash?

For the uninitiated, using two Detailing Buckets when you contact wash your car is an absolute must for keeping the swirl marks at bay. The simple idea is to stop the grime you've just removed from the vehicle being transferred back onto the paintwork as you wash.

Contact washing with two buckets remains the most effective precautionary measure and involves having a bucket for your car shampoo solution and a separate bucket filled with plain water for rinsing your mitt in between passes. As you wash, you load up the shampoo in your "wash' bucket, make contact with the vehicle (starting with the cleaner areas first and washing in straight lines - more precautionary measures), and fully rinse out your mitt in your "rinse' bucket, before going back for more shampoo and repeating the process. Good quality wash mitts - like the ones in our Wash Mitt Collection - are designed to trap sharp particles deep within their fibres, holding them away from paintwork as you wash. These particles are only released when you rinse out your mitt, where they drop down to the bottom of the rinse bucket, this is one of the reasons why you never put them at the bottom of a bucket with no grit guard fitted. These simple measures are how you get a perfect swirl-free contact wash.

Of course, all this said, just bear in mind that there's no substitute for a proper pre-wash using Citrus Power Bug & Grime Remover (or Dynamite Traffic Film Remover) and Avalanche Snow Foam, before you start your contact wash. These pre-wash stages remove the worst of the grit and grime, eliminating the risk of picking up the big heavy particles with your mitt and dragging them across your paint. But, that's not to say that the smaller particles that may be left behind for your contact wash can't inflict swirl marks, and that's exactly where your two buckets come in.

How Many Buckets Do You Need To Wash a Car? - Top Drops For Spring '22

Why do you need three buckets then?

In a word - wheels. We always start our details and maintenance by cleaning the wheels and tyres, because these are likely to be the dirtiest part of the whole vehicle. The object of the exercise here is to avoid spreading the harshest grime to the rest of the surfaces, especially the paintwork, and this is why we always have a third "wheel' bucket on hand, just for cleaning the four mucky corners.

Wheels have to stand up to the most extreme contamination on the road, here we're talking about corrosive salt, the heaviest grime and, crucially, hot brake dust. While these contaminants will inevitably be found on areas of the lower paintwork (one of the reasons we always pre-wash), the highest concentration will always be on your wheels. This means that using a completely separate bucket and wash media (mitts and brushes) that are solely for your wheels is the only way of preventing these contaminants from polluting your other wash and rinse buckets, and inevitably ending up on your paintwork inflicting defects as they go.

We always use brake dust as a key example here, it's largely made up of sharp metal partials, basically tiny lumps of iron shrapnel that can embed themselves into surfaces. The vast majority of wheels are finished in tough powdercoat or lacquer, designed to stand up to these particles as much as possible. But, as you can imagine, spreading these harmful contaminants all over your relatively soft paintwork, and then grinding them in with your mitt, is a recipe for swirly disaster.

The other thing that all these contaminants have in common is that they tend to stick around in your bucket and on your wash media. Sharp metal can embed itself in the sides of buckets, and some of the salt can dissolve into your water. Now, while wheels are designed to handle all this with relative ease, so you can happily brush in your Wheel Cleaner with a bucket of Revolution Wheel Shampoo without inflicting any damage, the same can't be said for the rest of your car. This is why we not only use a dedicated bucket for each different task but for mobile jobs we tend to label them up with Rinse, Wash and Wheel Bucket Stickers, too. Just so there's no confusion the next time we drag them all out to clean a vehicle. Again, this is one of the best precautions you can use to get yourself a swirl-free wash - it's all about damage limitation.

How Many Buckets Do You Need To Wash a Car? - How many buckets do you need to wash a car

Why use proper detailing buckets?

So, what's the difference between the sort of bucket that a builder would use for slinging cement and one of our Detailing Buckets? It comes down to two key considerations - design and capacity.

Again, an extremely simple design can offer the most effective damage limitation. Our detailing buckets contain a removable, washable grit guard which is designed to prevent your wash media from touching the bottom of the bucket where largest and heaviest particles of grit and grime will always sink to. It also helps that our buckets have lids, which aren't just to keep your solutions safe on the go, or a handy seat for when you're taking a well-deserved break. Having a lid on your bucket simply helps to keep it clean in between details, something that shouldn't be underestimated.

As for capacity? Well, our 20-litre detailing buckets can hold double the amount of water or cleaning solution as a standard bucket. This means that there's half the chance of any particulate being recirculated around in the water and back onto your mitt. In reality, it's far less chance than that with a detailing bucket, the grime will be in the bottom, and it's unlikely you're going to go down there swishing around with your mitt, or leaving it at the bottom of your bucket. In this way, it's surprising just how effective a simple change in fluid capacity can be.

How Many Buckets Do You Need To Wash a Car? - How many buckets do you need to wash a car

So no leaving my mitts in the bucket, then?

It's best not to, even with a grit guard in place, but definitely don't put your wash media on the floor, that's an even bigger no, no. One final accessory that can prove to be a huge aid in your swirl-free wash is our Bucket Buddy (no longer available), simply because keeping your brushes and other wash media off the floor, and completely out of your bucket, is the best way to prevent grit and grime from impregnating those too. Simple, stylish and effective.

How Many Buckets Do You Need To Wash a Car? - How many buckets do you need to wash a car
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