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How to Properly Wash a Car

Man with rubber gloves and washcloth washing a dark car

There’s a right way and a wrong way to wash a car. If you know how to properly wash a car, you can transform your vehicle from a dusty hauler to a sparkling chariot. However, if this chore isn’t handled correctly, you may scratch your car’s paint.

If you want to protect your car’s paint job, it’s important to use the two-bucket method. When washing a car with just one bucket, you end up dipping the washcloth in dirty water over and over again. This can recirculate grime and grit, which makes the task longer than it needs to be. It could also cause you to scrub dirt into the car’s surface, potentially damaging the paint.

man washing a red car with a yellow washcloth

How to Wash Your Car With the Two-Bucket Method

Washing your car using the two-bucket method is an easy task to undertake, and it can be completed in under 30 minutes. You’ll need the following items:

  • Two 5-gallon buckets.
  • Microfiber washcloth.
  • Car shampoo.
  • Two grit guards.

The car’s undercarriage typically has the most dirt and grime. Save that section for last to avoid spreading that dirt to other parts of the vehicle. Begin at the roof and work your way down to the lowest parts of the car. Here’s the general method:

  • Step 1: Choose one bucket for rinsing and one for washing. Install a grit guard in the bucket used for rinsing, and add water. Install the second grit guard in the bucket used for washing, and add a mixture of water and car shampoo.
  • Step 2: Dip the microfiber washcloth in the bucket used for washing. Use it to gently scrub your car. You want to stick to using a microfiber cloth, because while other fabrics can damage your car’s paint, microfiber is softer and less abrasive.
  • Step 3: Keep an eye on the washcloth. You want to avoid scrubbing the car with a washcloth that’s caked with dirt. When you notice lots of dirt accumulating on the microfiber cloth, dip it in the rinse bucket.
  • Step 4: As you dip the cloth in the rinse bucket, use the grit guard to thoroughly remove grime. In addition to removing grime from the washcloth, the grit guard will trap dirt at the bottom of the bucket, preventing it from circulating with the rest of the water.
  • Step 5: Once you’ve removed the dirt, squeeze the washcloth to wring out dirty water.
  • Step 6: Dip the washcloth in the bucket filled with shampoo and water to add more soap and suds. If there is any dirt remaining on the cloth, the grit guard will help separate it from the rest of the water in the wash bucket.
  • Step 7: Resume scrubbing. You’ll probably need to rinse the cloth and add more soap every couple minutes or so, depending on how dirty your car is.
  • Step 8: Continue this process until you’ve worked your way from the roof of the car to the undercarriage.

You wash your car to improve its appearance and help it look its best. While certain methods of washing can cause cosmetic damage to your vehicle, using the simple two-bucket method can help protect your car’s paint from unsightly scratches and swirl marks.

Check out all the car wash supplies available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to properly wash a car, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.


Warren Clarke View All

I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.

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