In this article, we are going to cover the two-bucket method of washing a car. Since we always wash more than just the paint, we are going to get into other cleaners and tools you might want to use. Some of our customers simply use car wash soap, a mitt, and two buckets. Others use it all. We cover interior detailing in other articles. We also cover the best interior detailing products and the best leather cleaners.
Table of contents
- Car Wash Soap & Supplies
- The Car Washing Setup
- Step 1: Clean the Engine
- Step 2: Bugs, Wheels & Tire Cleaning
- Step 3: The Car Wash
- FAQ about Washing Your Vehicle
- Which shampoo is best for car wash?
- Is it OK to use shampoo to wash a car?
- What is the best liquid to wash a car?
- What can I use to wash my car if I don’t have car shampoo?
- What is the best soap to use in a pressure washer for cars?
- Is it OK to wash the car in the garage?
- How do you use a garage car wash?
- How can I wash my car in the garage without a hose?
- What do car detailers use shampoo?
Car Wash Soap & Supplies
We offer several auto detailing kits at varying price levels and with different components. This is our favorite detailing kit. You can also buy detailing supplies locally. Here is a list of some of the things you will need:
- Microfiber towels
- Two buckets & Grit guards
- A miscellaneous bucket for tire brush
- Wash Mitt or Car Wash Sponge
- Car Wash Shampoo
- Engine Cleaner
- SONAX Plastic Care
- Insect remover
- Insect Sponge
- Glass Cleaner
- Glass cloth
- Multi-Purpose Cleaner
- Wheel Cleaner
- Drying towel(s)
- Wheel brush
- Tire Dressing & Applicator
Some people also like a drying squeegee and foam cannon. For taller vehicles, you may need a step ladder. You can find most of our exterior detailing products here.
The Car Washing Setup
Before you start make sure the vehicle, engine, and tires are cool. Do not work in direct sunlight. On hot days work in the early morning hours and do only a small section at a time. Do not allow water, soap or chemicals to dry on the vehicle. Always consider local laws and never let runoff go into storm drains. Take your tow buckets and insert the grit guards. Fill both buckets with water. Now add your car wash shampoo to one of the buckets and leave the other one for rinse water. If you are using a foam cannon, set that up accordingly. Add 1-2 ounces of insect remover to your wash bucket. Throw your insect sponge and wash mitt or wash the sponge in the bucket with the soap. Put water and a little multi-purpose cleaner in your true bucket and set it aside.
Step 1: Clean the Engine
Starting with the bottom of the hood and avoiding any exposed electrical or air intakes and filters, apply engine cleaner liberally. Allow it to sit for a minute or two, and then agitate with a brush. Rinse it off. For best results, apply SONAX plastic care while wet. and close the hood. Remember when you finish to come back and wipe everything down with a clean microfiber towel.
Step 2: Bugs, Wheels & Tire Cleaning
Apply your insect remover to the windshield, mirrors, bumper, grille, and any other location with insects. Allow it to sit while you apply a non-acidic wheel cleaner to all wheel faces (rims). We suggest SONAX Beast. Apply a multi-purpose cleaner to the tires.
Now go back and grab your insect sponge. Apply additional insect remover and wipe down all areas that you treated. Always use straight motions. Never circular. Repeat as necessary. Take your wheel brush and scrub each wheel. Rince in between and before scrubbing the tires. Now rinse the entire vehicle.
Step 3: The Car Wash
If you are using a foam cannon setup, foam the entire vehicle. The rest of the process remains the same.
Always start and finish your vehicle in the same place. We suggest starting with the roof, then the hood then working your way around the vehicle panel by panel.
Take your wash mitt out of the soapy bucket and go to the first panel or area to be washed. Using light to medium force, wash the vehicle and only allow the mitt to move in the same direction the wind blows. Never circles.
At minimum with each panel but often two or three times per panel, take your sponge and rub it on the grit guard on the bottom of the bucket with no soap. Then wring it out onto the ground (or if necessary other methods for disposal). Now rub it on the bottom of the grit guard in the soapy water and continue washing.
Once all areas have been washed, start rinsing the car. Remember, roof first. If you are not applying another sealer, we suggest a drying agent or spray and seal after the first rinse and rinse again.
If you have a drying squeegee, carefully remove most of the water — start at the roof first. Only work in the direction you wash. Then use your drying towel to dry the vehicle. On some vehicles and most larger trucks, water will continue to drain from mirrors and trims on the hood. When you finish the glass, put your hood up. Continue to check those areas.
The very last thing you should do is the glass. Use a good glass cleaner and a waffle weave microfiber. We use one to dry and another to remove streaks. We always finish in a left-to-right motion on the outside and up and down on the inside — so if there are streaks we know where they came from!
As you get more advanced there are other advanced cleaners and methods you might want to try. Using a clay bar is a great way to remove contaminants and sap. Fallout removers are great. You can try some spray ceramic coating and wax alternatives. Some people like tire dressings, and others do not.
FAQ about Washing Your Vehicle
Which shampoo is best for car wash?
We have never like calling one product the best car wash soap. In general, we prefer SONAX or Americana Global. If your vehicle has a ceramic coating or paint protection film, that should be able to suggest the best shampoo for that application.
Is it OK to use shampoo to wash a car?
Always use product designed for cars and trucks
What is the best liquid to wash a car?
A foaming car wash shampoo and multi-purpose cleaner
What can I use to wash my car if I don’t have car shampoo?
Wait, and go buy the correct product.
What is the best soap to use in a pressure washer for cars?
We prefer SONAX Acti Foam
Is it OK to wash the car in the garage?
If you have a drain in your garage and can avoid getting drywall and other items wet it is fine.
How do you use a garage car wash?
If you do not have a drain we suggest either a professional detailer or learning how to use a rinsless wash.
How can I wash my car in the garage without a hose?
Absolutely. Americana Global makes a great rinsless wash.
What do car detailers use shampoo?
Everyone has their own preference. We use a combination of a ceramic-safe shampoo with an all-purpose cleaner.