When you're cleaning and detailing a car or motorcycle, you want great results. But you could end up accidentally damaging the finish on your vehicle. And that's why you should always use the Three-Bucket Method for safer car washing.
It's probably the quickest, simplest, and cheapest way to improve the way you clean your car. A little extra effort will help to avoid the swirl marks and tiny surface scratches that can ruin a once-impressive paint job. And mean an expensive respray in the worst cases.
So how can the Three Bucket Method achieve a better finish without costing the earth?
What is the Three Bucket Car Washing Method?
When most people wash their car, they'll fill a bucket with soap and water, and then dunk a wash mitt in it. But every time that mitt gets full of dirt and needs rinsing, you'll be using the same bucket.
Unless you rinse and refill that your bucket every few minutes, you'll eventually be rinsing that wash mitt in a soup of grimey water. And by the end, it means you're scrubbing the dirt back onto your car. Which means you're actually damaging the paint finish, rather than cleaning it.
So the three-bucket wash system is simple. You use one bucket with clean water to rinse your mitt, and a second with the soap to use on your car. And then the third bucket for your wheels (normally black) That way, you're not simply transporting the dirt from your car to a bucket, and then reapplying it.
What do you need for the three bucket method?
The best thing about this method is that it's cheap and effective. All you need are:
- Three buckets: The five gallon Leaktite Grit Guard buckets are ideal as they give enough depth and volume even with grit guards installed. And as they come in different colours, you won't get the soap and clean water confused. So for instance we use red for soap, blue for clean water and Black for wheels.
- Grit Guards: Stick these in your buckets, or add a grit guard/washboard combo to your soap bucket, and they'll help to ensure all the dirt and grime particles come away from your mitt, and stay at the bottom of the buckets.
- Good quality wash mitts: Don't use the sponge covered in dirt and spiders webs at the back of the garage. Pick your preference from a Noodle Mitt, Micro Chenille Mitt, Lambs Wool or Heavy Duty Simulated Sheepskin Mitt.
And that's it, although we do also use a Grit Guard Bucket Dolly for the wash bucket to avoid constant lifting and carrying. It might seem like a luxury, but it can be a literal pain to be repositioning a bucket full of water around your car all day. Especially in cold weather.
How to use the Three-Bucket car washing method for safer and better results
It'll take slightly longer to prepare three buckets, and uses a little more water. But all you need to do is dampen your mitt in the rinse bucket before applying any car shampoo from the wash bucket.
Wash a couple of panels, and then rinse, clean and repeat. Try to use the grit guards to get as much dirt and grime out of your mitt each time. By doing this regularly throughout the process, you'll stop any tiny stones and other rubbish getting stuck in the mitt. So you don't end up scratching and damaging your paintwork.
It's generally best to start from the top of your car, working on small sections in straight lines. You'll find any vehicle will be dirtier towards the bottom, so it's important to leave these areas to the end.
The exception are the wheels, as they'll be the filthiest part of your car. And if you wash them last, you might end up spraying dirty water onto panels you've just cleaned. It's often a good idea to tackle them first, using your third bucket and a separate wheel washing mitt, along with a dedicated wheel cleaner. Just make sure you empty out your buckets and refill them before tackling the rest of your car or bike.
Try to be gentle and don't apply too much pressure when you're cleaning the car. Save that for when you're rinsing the grime from the wash mitt! And you can't rinse too often, especially when you're dealing with a particularly filthy vehicle.
And when you're happy with a completely clean car, don't be tempted to use the buckets for a final rinse-off. Either completely refill one with fresh water, or use your hose or pressure washer.
Taking your car washing to the next level doesn't have to be massively expensive or time-consuming. Just adding a few extra minutes can save you from the cost and heartache of a dull or ruined paint finish.