good wash technique

Safe Car Washing and Drying Guide

Car Washing is the simple process of removing loose grime from the exterior surfaces of your car but in a way to minimise the risk of creating swirl marks. In general, if your car is used daily, then washing it once or twice a week should be sufficient to enable you to stay on top of most dirt and grime. If you do wash your car more frequently than this, you increase the risk of creating paint defects as the majority of swirl marks and fine scratches occur during the wash process.

In the following guide, you will find out the 'Two Bucket Car Washing Process', how you can use it to wash your car properly and how you can keep your car perfectly scratch-free. You will learn the benefits of using microfibre wash mitts, how to rinse the exteriors of your car and how to dry your car without any scratches.

Before we explain the process of washing the car safely, let us look into the equipment that you need for the same. We recommend that you have the following:

  • 1 Wash Bucket – You need a wash bucket to wash the dirt off your car. This is essentially filled with water and additional car wash shampoo, so you can load your wash mitt with clean soapy water for another pass on your cars paint work.
  • 1 Rinse Bucket – You need a rinse bucket with clean water to rinse your wash mitt. This water is essentially used to wash your mitts so you can use them again on your car.
  • 2 Grit Guards – You must put grit guards in both buckets so the dirt and grime can settle at the bottom of the bucket and does not get attached to your mitts while you are cleaning your mitts in either bucket. The grit guards also have fins to stop water from swirling and swishing around the bottom of the bucket keeping heavy sediment settled at the bottom of the bucket. You are also advised to scrub your wash mitts against the guard when cleaning it.
  • 1 Snow Foam Gun – This is an important device needed to spray foam evenly on all sections of the car during the pre-wash phase. Remember a foam gun will remove far more dirt and grime than just water alone; this is because the foam breaks down dirt and grime.
  • 2 Lambswool Wash Mitts – We recommend that you have 2 wash mitts. One for the upper body of the car and one for the lower body. This is because the lower body accumulates far more dirt and grime than the upper parts and you don’t want to cross contaminate your wash mitts.
  • 1 Microfibre Wash Mitt – As lambswool wash mitts are too fine to use on dirty wheels we recommend using a microfibre wash mitt to thoroughly clean wheels.
  • Mild Car Wash Shampoo – this should be a quality car shampoo that provides high lubricity on a paints surface.
  • Pressure washer – This helps in quickly washing down areas of the car and needs to be used with the foam gun.

In order to minimize damage to your car paint, you must use appropriate equipment and technique to wash your car. The 2-Bucket Wash Technique is the proven to be the best way to remove dirt without causing damage to the car paint.

Step 1 - Initial Car Rinse

Once a car gets a film of dirt and grime over it, it is risky to wash the car as it may inflict sub-surface paint defects during the wash process. This is because when trying to remove the contaminants, you may inadvertently end of scrubbing the underlying surface which causes swirls and scratches in the paint.

clean car

Therefore, the first thing you need to do is – give your car a preliminary rinse from top to down using a pressure washer. Knock off as much big dirt as possible with the first rinse. You need to use a good hose with a strong stream to give a gentle shower and completely soak your car in water. Use an adjustable water hose to remove all dirt from the wheels and tyres. Make sure you observe a safe working distance and don't be too aggressive with the power setting as high pressure jets can knock sticky balancing weights off alloy rims.

Finally, try not to apply a pressurised water jet stream at a direct angle to a car surface as this can embed dirt and grime. You should always attack car surfaces at a deflected angle and never let a pressure washing rest on one area for a long period of time.

An initial car rinse is the best way to loosen the grime and get rid of the heavy dirt particles that can make washing your car hard and leave scratches on your car's finish. About 10 minutes spent on carefully rinsing is time well spent as it can gently lift away dirt and grime without damaging underlying surfaces or stripping away existing sealant or wax protection layers.

Take the time to thoroughly rinse all 4 wheels and the insides of the wheel arches as it makes later work with the wash mitt much easier. If possible, use a swivel nozzle to reach into the inside of wheel arches so you can thoroughly rinse off all the dirt on the wheel.

Step 2 - Pre-Wash Foaming

Once you have rinsed your car, use a foam gun to apply thick clinging foam to your car. Start from the top (roof, bonnet, and boot) and then go to the bottom and the sides.

A foam gun comes in very handy in pre-washing. It is the most important equipment and the device that is responsible for saving paint jobs for years. A foam gun produces foam based on the amount of air being drawn into a foaming solution as it passes through an injector head into the main stream of water. It takes care of the dirt that does not usually come out when you rinse the car and you will not find any swirls once the wash is complete.

The Role of Pre-Washing in Car Care

Pre-wash foaming is the most important step in the 2 bucket wash process. How it works is – your foam gun lays a rich, thick clinging layer of soapy foam all over the car. The soapy foam will lubricate all the dirt that is married to the car’s surface. It will raise all the dirt on the exterior surface of your car so that you can safely come across using the wash pad or wash mitt without grinding that dirt into the paint.

In addition, when you apply a generous coating of suds to dirty surfaces, the cleaning agents get longer time to work and they can dissolve and suspend a lot more dirt and grime. By the time the foam is eventually rinsed off much of the dirt and grime is simply washed away, leaving relatively clean surfaces behind ready for a careful wash by hand.

The best part of foaming is that the bulk of dirt on a car is removed before a wash mitt is placed on the car. This greatly reduces the risk of inflicting marring and fine scratches during the hand-washing process in the next step.

Snow Foams and Car Shampoos

There are a range of pre-wash foams and car shampoos available in the market. You can choose any car shampoo that produces foam with a reasonable degree of success. Usually the product labels mention the dilution ratio and your foam gun will also have instructions on how to use the diluted car shampoo for pre-wash foaming. Many manufacturers offer specialized pre-wash foaming solutions called snow foams; these are specialised to the task at hand and have higher dilution ratios than normal car shampoos.

If you wash and protect your car regularly, you can choose a mild car shampoo as any dirt and grime will be loosely bonded and fairly easy to remove. Many good quality car shampoos contain natural or synthetic oils to encapsulate the particles of dirt, which further reduces the risk of inflicting swirl marks.

NOTE: Picking the right car shampoo is important as you want to ensure that the product not only gives high dilution ratio but also leaves an amazingly slick finish on your car.

TIP: It has been found that using warm water will produce thicker and more effective foam with greater cleaning power.

Step 3 - Car Washing

The most important thing to remember about the car wash process is that you are always working on dirty surfaces so you need to use the wash pads very carefully. For hand washing your car, you need to be cautious and pick the right cleaning tools that can gently lift away dirt and grime without damaging underlying surfaces or stripping away existing sealant or wax protection.

We recommend the use of a high quality wash mitt or a Dodo Juice Microfibre Wash Sponge in place of a traditional yellow sponge, and the use of a mild shampoo in conjunction with the two bucket wash method to clean the surface of the car safely. Lambswool wash mitts and Microfibre wash sponges trap dirt drawing it safely away from the paints surface, instead of just scraping it along your cars finish.

Traditional yellow car sponges provides no means of lifting particles of dirt safely away from the surfaces being washed. Instead, when dirt particles trapped in the sponge is moved around over underlying surfaces, it creates fine scratches and swirl marks inflicting damage to the car paint. The potential damage is even greater during the winter months, when coarser particles of grit and road salt tend to accumulate on the exterior surfaces of your car in between washes.

car washing

Before you use your wash bucket make sure it is clean and put a grit guard with thick flaps in the form of 4 quadrants into the bottom. A grit guard is specifically designed to capture the grit without disturbing the water at the bottom of the bucket. When placed at the bottom of your rinse water bucket, it will prevent the dirt from getting back on your wash pads. This is very important because it prevents the dirty water from getting in contact with your clean wash mitt which will otherwise lead to scratching of the car paint.

Start with soaking your wash mitt into soapy water and then start cleaning from your cars roof first and then rinsing it in the rinse bucket after a small area has been cleaned. Clean the mitt completely in the rinse bucket, scrubbing it against the grit guard before dipping it back in the wash bucket. The idea is that you load the mitt with suds, wash one section of the car and then rinse the mitt thoroughly in the second bucket to release any trapped particles of dirt, before reloading the mitt with suds and moving on to the next section.

You can start with washing from the roof, and then work down towards the windows, the bonnet, the boot, the upper halves of the sides. At this point you should swap to your second wash mitt to do the dirtier the lower halves of the cars sides and finally the front and rear bumpers and the sills. Remember to rinse your wash mitt thoroughly after every panel or section.

When using the wash mitt, try to follow the lines of the car and use only back and forth or side to side motions. Do NOT use circular motions as it will only make swirl marks more pronounced. It is better to wash your car in the shade if you can, so as to prevent the suds from drying out before rinsing off. If this is not possible, you should begin rinsing off sooner, panel by panel on really hot days.

Use a microfibre wash mitt for wheels and tyres. This is important because wheels have very high levels of road dirt, grime and brake dust and using your lambswool wash mitts here will wear them out quicker and risk scratching your paint work.

Step 4 - Final Car Rinse

The next step is to rinse the car again. After hand washing all the parts of your car, you need to remove the soap from all the sections by spraying the car down completely. However, you need to be careful while giving your car a final rinse. Keep the car entirely wet while washing your car so that it does not dry and spot up.

We recommend using a hose with all of the end attachments removed; this encourages the rinse water to sheet off the panels and makes drying off easier.

Step 5 - Drying Your Car

safe car drying

If you let your car dry naturally it is more likely to create water spots undoing all your hard work thus far. Equally, using a water blade as used in car parking hand washes is not recommended either. These do a lot of damage to your cars paintwork.

Our recommended method is to use a high quality plush microfibre drying towel. Microfibre drying towels are very absorbent; generally one drying towel is enough to do the whole car with.

Dry your car in the same order that you washed it with your wash mitt. This means starting from the roof, working to the windscreen, boot and then the sides. There is no need to use actual pressure when drying your car or patting the surface of the paint with the drying towel. Instead, place the towel down on the surface and simply drag it from one end to the other. Let the drying towel do the work of absorbing up the water on your cars surface.


If you are looking for your first basic wash kit, then we at Detailed Clean have put together a ideal kit with products that compliment each other with a fantastic price. This is our Basic Car Wash kit.