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The No Bucket Method: Are Wash Buckets a Thing of the Past?


A few months ago, I had posted on my Instagram story something about my wash buckets and as I went back to work on washing the vehicle I was working on, I received quite a few replies about my story. I was surprised that each of them had to do with the fact that these detailers told me that they no longer use wash buckets in their process. I was bewildered by the notion that buckets were being seen as passé. So are wash buckets a thing of the past? Is there a new trend starting among some professionals in the industry? I decided to go down this no bucket rabbit hole to see if this new wash technique holds any water.

are wash buckets a thing of the past

The Wash Bucket Argument 

It’s been theorized by those who prefer this method, that using a wash bucket with a dirt separator gives no benefits to keeping dirt contained or aiding in a safer wash process. Essentially rinsing the wash mitt in dirty contaminated water, only to further contaminate the paint and create additional swirls onto paint. The use of 2 or more buckets is viewed as pointless and a waste of time. The other argument made is that foam cannons are also not beneficial to the wash process. The argument against foam cannons is that it adds an additional step, time, and expense for something that causes more harm than good. By now, I’m sure that many of you are thinking this is nothing short of detailing heresy. So with an open mind, I decided to give this method a try for myself.

Step 1: Washing Wheels No Bucket

I rinsed each wheel, spending time to remove as much dirt and debris from the wheels and wheel wells. This was not out of the norm, as I typically always rinse heavy dirt before applying a wheel cleaner and scrubbing. Since I wasn’t using my usual wheel bucket, I had to continually rinse each of the tools I used to clean the wheels. I could already tell that not having a bucket was feeling awkward and gave me the feeling of doing something wrong. After cleaning the wheels and wells, it was on to the next step.

Step 2: High-Pressure Rinse

pressure washer

Washing with a high pressure washer system is highly recommended for this method. Like most wash processes, the initial rinse removes heavy dirt and debris from the paintwork, glass, and other surfaces. This method strongly encourages a long rinse to thoroughly remove as much dirt and debris as possible. Once I was finished thoroughly rinsing the vehicle, the wash mitt makes its first appearance. I placed my wash mitt onto the lower part of the windshield to give the mitt a good rinse to get it ready for the next step.

Step 3: Using the Wash Mitt

wash mitt

This is where things really felt weird. Not using a wash bucket, I applied car shampoo directly onto the wet wash mitt. I then proceeded to wipe by starting at the top of the vehicle.

cleaning wash mitt with pressure washer

After wiping each panel, I placed the mitt back onto the windshield area to rinse the mitt on each side. The theory here is that the rinse washes away the dirt and debris from the mitt, arguably giving a cleaner wash mitt than using a conventional bucket with a dirt separator. After each rinse, I then applied more soap directly to the mitt as needed. I repeated this procedure until I cleaned the entire vehicle. I washed the vehicle in my detail studio, so I did not have an issue with direct sunlight. As with any wash process, this technique does not recommend washing in direct sunlight.

washing the paint

Step 4: Final Rinse

rinsing with pressure washer

With all of the body panels wiped down, It was on to the final rinse. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was relieved to feel a sense of “normal” again. For me, the final rinse is a pretty long process as I always want to make sure that I properly rinse the soap off and any dirt or debris that may be coming up from various surfaces or crevices.

Step 5: Drying Process

Finally, I used my favorite microfiber drying towel to blot dry the vehicle. As I was drying the vehicle, I noticed that the paintwork seemed cleaner to me than usual. Perhaps there is something to be said about using a foam cannon and “mucking up” the paint as several that use this approach had argued.

final results

Closing Thoughts

This wash process is pretty different from what we in the detailing world consider a proper wash technique. I’m pretty open-minded and simply tried to understand and experience first hand this wash technique. I do have to say, that there are things about this technique that I did like. In terms of efficiency, it definitely saves a lot of time. I felt that I washed the vehicle in about half the time. Not having to fill buckets, rinse and clean them afterwards, fill a foam cannon, dwell time, connect, disconnect, etc. It really made the wash process a lot more efficient.

Arguably, not using a dirt separator is something that I would have to compare/test more in depth. Taking the no bucket method at face value, I did not see any additional swirls or damage by using this technique. I had gone over the vehicle pretty thoroughly to compare the swirls on the paint before washing and after, only to find that the swirls were pretty much the same after washing.

I can recall about a decade ago, that for some time it was popular in detailing to have a 3 bucket or even a 4 bucket method for washing a vehicle. Soon after, foam cannons came along and a 2 bucket method became the standard practice. Detailing is an ever constant changing world and the techniques are always evolving and changing as well. Perhaps, this approach to washing may not catch on or becomes the norm in order to keep things simple. I for one will be keeping an open mind, but I don’t feel ready to ditch my foam cannon and buckets just yet. All I can say is, try it and experience it for yourself and leave me a comment with your thoughts and findings.

Mike Cardenas
Forza Detailing
Northeast Indiana
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30 comments on The No Bucket Method: Are Wash Buckets a Thing of the Past?

  1. Soggy says:

    If you want to further reduce the chance of swirls/scratches, use multiple wash mitts instead of rinsing/reusing the same one.
    What is the argument against foam cannons?

    • The argument has been that foam cannons adds an additional step to the process that adds more time, cost and labor. The other argument towards foam cannons is due to the ingredients in the foaming soap that can potentially age plastics, ceramic coatings, paint, etc. I personally do not prescribe to this belief.

    • Karim says:

      I use one bucket with 8 wash mitts. Fill bucket with warm water and carwash soap.
      I use a high pressure rinse cycle to get all the dirt and wash wheel wells.
      Then I take the wash mitts and use one mitt per section. The used mitt is set aside (not in the wash bucket) . Then do a final water rinse. This method is fast and I am happy with the results.

  2. Seems like a huge waste of water and soap. 2 bucket method has worked well for years. If you have fragile paint use multiple wash mitts

    • Gil says:

      Agree. While it may save time, it’s appears to be an inefficient use of shampoo product and water. The shampoo doesn’t appear to be diluted in which most products are concentrated. And someone probably needs to measure how much water is used for a rinse bucket versus rinsing the mitt every time on the windshield. Additionally using multiple mitts, isn’t this one of the reasons for the rinseless wash?

  3. Joey says:

    As a Pro detailer, I’ve used this technique for over 20 years, but I do it with several plush microfibers, I was called out in it once and when the detailer inspected my 5 year old truck,
    He found very little defects and was amazed! It’s a great way to wash!

  4. Kim D Newling says:

    I’m gonna try it. Why not?

  5. Mistah Vega says:

    I am with Soggy, 1 bucket, no grit guard with 4 or 5 wash mitts. I use a 2nd bucket with some clean water to throw the used mitts until I wash them .

  6. Todd says:

    Just tried that method today like you said it was different at first but once I got going it was a lot easier than using the 2 bucket method and much faster and my car came out really good. I used 4 wash mitts it felt that it was a very safe method of washing your car as long as you rinse your mitts really good I think it works great. Great article enjoyed it Thanks again

  7. Buffman Detailing says:

    I did away with buckets a few r tyears ago and switched to plusher microfiber towels like TRC Pluffle. But I use in conjunction with the foam cannon. I work in sections and each section either gets a few towel or I flip the towel, and the section gets fresh foam. Along with a pre-rinse foam of the car this all but eliminates the propensity for wash induced swirls or RIDS. It’s all but impossible to introduce swirls or RIDS in the real world, but using multiple clean, plush towels, and a good lubricating foam, you’re doing more to reduce swirls all while saving a hell of a lot water.

  8. Terry Cornelius says:

    If Mike says “it’s good”, it is!
    Will give it a try.

  9. Masta Mo says:

    I wash my car using one bucket of soapy water. I dunk the wash mitt in and scrub a dub dub. Then I rinse off the mit and repeat. I don’t see any additional swirls either.

    • Erik says:

      I use this method too. One bucket for the soap and the wash mitt is dunked in there. I use a regular hose with the flat setting on the nozzle, spraying from wrist to fingers, to clean it off after each panel.

      The idea of continuously dunking a mitt into the 2nd bucket to rinse in the “dirty” water never sat well, so this works for me. My detailer sees the car once a year and always says ‘the paint is in great condition. Keep doing what you’re doing’.

  10. Jeffrey Juneau says:

    Will have to give this new method a try, several wash mitts I understand right? No bucket system,? Rinse after each panel cleaned? I don’t use any pressure washer, just a high out put nozzle when needed.

  11. Coatings says:

    Interesting. Tried something similar and yes seem to use a lot of soap but still take you a year to go through a gallon of hyper wash. $30 dollars a year to minimize swirls is fine.

    I now wash with 2 buckets one with soap and 8-9 mitts and second for dirties.

    I will either foam cannon each panel before washing or if i need a quick wash I use a process I learned from Ammo NYC and a couple of other guys from a detail forum. Especially if i want a quick wash w/o PW.

    Use a foam gun and rinse panel down and then as your wiping with mitt from soapy bucket, spray foam gun at mitts point of forward contact. A little messy but tons of lubrication. Tried with foam cannon but too much fluid.

    If trying to do an ultimate wash i would PW and foam cannon first.

  12. Pedro Gonzalez says:

    Foam cannons are the most helpful tool at all the times!! And have fun at the same time, I use 4 wash mitts attached in the wipers, rinse the car, get them wet then foam the car use 1 for the roof 1 for the hood and the other ones dor the reatof the car and You’re ready to go my car has no scratches my technique is safe no matter what the audience says, I can prove it period!!!!

  13. Michael Hull says:

    I can see a few reasons why I would not wash the vehicle this way. One being a non-measured amount of soap. Slight tip of the hand and you spill too much soap. Yes I guess you can fill a squeeze bottle but again another step. If the goal is to reduce the chances of adding swirls then I will stick with the foam cannon, two buckets, and multiple mitts. This method never introduces contaminants into the soap bucket. As for foam cannon usage. I feel the foam helps loosen heavier contaminants thus allowing shorter rinse tome with pressure washer as well as using less water.

  14. Charly says:

    What type of wash mitt do you suggest. Also why can’t you use a micro fiber towel instead of a mitt

    • Soggy says:

      Depends on your technique! If you fill the bucket with soapy water and use the mitt to transfer the soapy water to the car, you need a larger mitt (which will be heavier!) If you apply the soap to the vehicle with a foam cannon, you can use a smaller mitt that holds less water but is lighter. You can use microfiber towels instead of a mitt, but they hold even less water. The soap, in addition to breaking down dirt, also acts as a lubricant to protect your paint, so it is important to have enough solution on the vehicle–no dry rubs!!!

  15. Christopher Driggett says:

    I only use the rinse-less/waterless method unless it is heavy soiled. Frankly I find the soap method always leaves a film behind especially when I only have outdoors to work in. The foam and two bucket method is a huge waste of time compared to the rinse-less method. I have used this method for the last 7 years on my cars with no problems. Many high end detailers in my area only use this method especially on coated cars.

  16. Adam Gillen says:

    And now half a decade after it was discontinued, everyone is starting to wash cars the way that Meguiar’s wanted us to when they released Wash Plus.

    • Larry says:

      Yes Wash Plus is my go to when I wash a vehicle for the first time. It is great at stripping off any waxes or sealants for that squeaky clean paint.

  17. Phil (PA) Arnold says:

    Great article Mike.
    I normally use 1 bucket and multiple wash mitts. But this may be even better. For those that are concerned about the price of soap consider which is more expensive. Car soap or your time. The one bucket method does alllow me to get the wheels done a little quicker than this method I think. Also, if you really want to be safe with your paint use a blower to dry your car off. Best to have a heated blower made specifically for drying cars. Thanks again Mike.

  18. Mark says:

    Great point of view!

    I really do find that the 2-bucket method and foam cannon are just a waste of time BUT Great for marketing…. Ever since I started detailing and polishing, I never used the 2-bucket method or foam cannon. These methods may apply depending on the dirt on the vehicle.

    What I would do and think it’s easier to cut your time without sacrificing quality. I always do rinseless/waterless method. If the car is super dirty, I would rinse it with pressure washer and start doing the rinseless/waterless method. Having more mf towels are key. It’s not a waste of product cuz they’re washable. Doing one swipe at a time and seeing what you’re wiping makes a lot of sense by not creating scratches or swirls whereas foaming or 2-bucket makes you blind by wiping back and worth and not seeing what you’re wiping.

    Some people still don’t believe in this method. But I do, and I didn’t damage anything on the paint finish as long as you know what you’re doing. It’s all common sense. This method cuts your time shorter and be more efficient in other things rather than spending so much time washing especially if you’re gonna polish the car anyway. People need to stop overdoing things. Use common sense.

    Hope that helps a bit!

  19. Chris N says:

    Agree on the comments here and I normally use 5 wash mitts rinse and foam the car using a foam cannon and depending if the car is really dirty or just dusty I will proceed with the wash mitts and if the car is dirty I’ll rinse and refoam the car again on which the car should be clean enough that when I use the wash mitts they won’t be able to catch and scratch the surface, the wash buckets main use for me is to haul out my gear inside these days lol. I find it funny that with all the new stuff and technology that came out in the past years that car paint and panel doesn’t get dirty as much that I miss polishing and washing our cars and at times I’m guilty I do just cause detailing is very therapeutic to me like yoga or meditation to some.

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