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Car Wash Buckets: Recommended 5 and 3 Gallon Setups


Imagine if we are playing golf.  It is a Par 5 hole.  You drive the ball perfectly for accuracy and distance.  Your second shot settles four feet from the pin.  You proceed to 4-put.  No one you play with seems surprised.  You are at the club house frustrated about your day inquiring about new clubs to help you strike the ball better.  This may seem ridiculous, but the irony of me seeing this on a regular basis in the detailing world is striking.

“But it is just a bucket.”  The words of someone who did not understand why his car was so scratched up.  Have you ever felt dehydrated and passed on the water because the soda tastes so good?  I like reading about new pressure washers out of my budget and spending too much time watching the results of people using the latest polishes and polishers.   There is NOTHING wrong with being excited about the latest and greatest gear.  But really what is the point if you use the same bucket for you car that you have to mop the floor.  If it has dawned on you (like many of us) that this is an area that deserves more attention, I have good news.  These are better habits to form and very affordable investments anyone can access.

If you are doing a traditional car wash, putting 1 or 2 car wash mitts in a mop bucket or a regular bucket without a grit guard, change your routine now!

First these buckets are not designed to prevent marring from dirt.  It is just designed to be a carrier of a chemical solution.  Some mop buckets have grooves in the corners to help prevent you putting an excessive amount of dirt back on floor.  But this is not enough to prevent you from marring the surface.

A wash bucket that holds a grit guard which is designed to more effectively keep dirt deposited from your dirty wash mitt at the bottom of your wash bucket, is ideally suited for washing cars. One that I use and I highly recommend is this kit, which includes two buckets and two Grit Guards.

Check out the below photo, which shows how the Grit Guard fits snug at the bottom of the bucket.


Here is a photo of the Grit Guard up close.

Grit Guard

This process is aided by scrubbing your mitt against the grit guard in the designated rinse (2 bucket method) bucket.

2 bucket method

The importance of two buckets, using the traditional method, is often dismissed here.  When you rub your wash mitt on a grit guard, it takes time for the dirt to settle all the way down to the bottom of the bucket.  The sudsy wash water also extends this window of time even more.  Hence it is in your best interest to clean the mitt while washing by scrubbing it against a grit guard in the rinse bucket prior to placing it back in the wash bucket.  Sometimes I will alternate wash mitts for this very reason, having one sit in the rinse bucket and one in the wash bucket.


I sometimes do not use the grit guard or a second bucket using what some would still call a traditional car wash method.  The reason being I will use several mitts, which is another method of taking the reintroduction of dirt out of play.

I have cracked a 5 gallon wash bucket before from years of use.  Which makes also having the 3 gallon utility bucket valuable for emergencies.

I believe realistically whatever your supply set up is, the addition of a 3-Gallon Bucket, Gamma Seal Lid, and grit guard insert will take your detailing work further.  The size of the 5 gallon bucket can be a limitation.  Packing for a car show or having smaller trunk space may make having a 3-Gallon Bucket a more convenient option.  Also having a smaller bucket can help distinguish the bucket for specialty use purposes.  One of the reasons why I view wash buckets as underrated tools, is it does not receive the more glamor of the latest SI02 Sealant, a do everything all-purpose cleaner, or the newest compound that leaves no dust.  All the cool stuff I am always asked about!  But I am confronted with complaints about how inconvenient properly caring for your car is.  I hear people rationalize scratching and swirling their car with quick detailers and spray on sealants.  There is nothing like spending 2 days polishing your car, shopping for the highest products,  performing the ultimate maintenance wash, and then scratching your with spray wax because you had to get the bird droppings and bug guts off in a panic.  People spend hours polishing a car for a show to scratch it with quick detailer because you want it to be perfect at a show.

The Gamma Seal Lid allows for carry on storage for a ready to use wash bucket.

Having a Optimum No Rinse (rinseless wash solution) with a stack of Eagle Edgeless microfiber towels for emergencies in your garage may be wise.

For those more comfortable with a traditional plan there is this alternative method.  We can get creative. 3-gallon bucket, grit guard, gamma seal lid, wash mitts, car soap, and bottle of distilled water.  Spot washing an area or bug riddled bumper on a road trip, can be followed up by rinsing with a bottle of distilled water.  I might blot or go over with Poorboy’s World Spray and Wipe (waterless wash).

Although Detailed Image has 3 (Red White Blue) color options, there are sticker options below (for bucket organization):

For even more creative options with the stickers, they come in grey and black.  If for example you have painted wheels that are sensitive to touch and what to use a two-bucket method for the wheels (technically 4 Bucket wash), this gives you the creative freedom to organize your wheel buckets as well.

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
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8 comments on Car Wash Buckets: Recommended 5 and 3 Gallon Setups

  1. Ron Ayotte says:

    I have multiple 3 and 5 gallon wash buckets with Grit Guards. I like the 3 gallon size for rinseless and for soaking pads prior to cleaning them.

    I bring a few gallons of distilled water, two 3 gallon buckets, rinseless wash concentrate and multiple mitts to clean my car when I arrive at car shows.

  2. Mike @ DI says:

    Great job highlighting the importance of your bucket setup for a proper wash!

  3. Pedro Gonzalez says:

    No need for this method it you can get several mitts, I use 5 small mitts, use 1 for each panel and don’t put it on the buquet after you use it, grab your second one and keep going that way 3 gallon buquet can do the job , my pains is flawless so that means my method works people!!!

  4. Phil Arnold says:

    Great article. Grossly underated topic of conversation these days with all the hoopla of the latest greatest sealant or SiO2 or graphene product coming out. No matter how careful you are most people don’t know how really scratched the surface of their car is until you look at it with the right light. If you want to learn the importance of being careful washing your car…buy a black one. It will teach you a lot…or at least it has me.

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