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

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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
Website Coming Soon
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12 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.

  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

  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.

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