Lost in a sea of products? When do I use detail spray, waterless wash or a 2-bucket wash?
If you’re a car care enthusiast, then chances are, you’re at least familiar with the three methods in question. Chances are, you’ve even used them or frequently use them to keep your car properly decontaminated and clean.
What I’ve found in my few years of detailing professionally, is that many well- meaning car care enthusiasts are still misinformed when it comes to using these three methods. While there is not a “one size fits all” approach to washing and drying your vehicle, I hope that this post will at least shed some light on three different detailing “procedures” that when used, (and used properly) can be great assets into your detailing arsenal!
One more thing before we begin: A vehicle that's been treated prior, (whether wax, paint sealant, or a ceramic coating) will benefit the most from the subsequent products, as the surface protection will be actively resisting environmental contamination.
Now, let’s begin.
1. Detail Spray:
AKA, quick detailer (QDs), this product is used on an already cleaned vehicle, to remove water streaks, light water spots and (very) light dust. Many detail sprays also include polymers that will offer minimal amounts of environmental protection as well, which can be evidenced by some level of water beading/sheeting, mimicking the effect of a wax/sealant.
Detail sprays have become very popular because of their user-friendliness, relative cost, and convenience. Detail sprays (IME) work best when paired with a high-quality medium nap edgeless (300ish GSM) microfiber towel.
Some of my favorite detail sprays include: IGL Enhancer, FEYNLAB Detailer and Kenotek showroom shine. Other popular offerings include: Wizards mist and shine, Lucas slick mist, and Adams detail spray. Typically, QDs also work well with coated, or non-coated vehicles.
When to use: Clean to very clean vehicle. Very light dust, fingerprints, water streaks after washing.
Limitations: Detail sprays do not possess cleaning agents, therefore their use should be minimized to only VERY clean surfaces (IE a just washed vehicle). Although the protective polymers in QDs can work as surfactants, they should not replace ACTUAL surface cleaners (like waterless wash solutions) for removing light to moderate debris.
2. Waterless Wash:
Contrary to its name, a waterless wash is still compromised of 90+% water. Waterless washes were intended to be used where water limitations (ie: California) are in effect, and excessive water usage is monitored. In such places, a traditional “water and bucket” washes are not always permitted, since the average traditional wash can use upward of 20 gallons of water.
Enthusiasts, however, shouldn’t need to be swayed by minimal water consumption to see the benefits of the WW technique. Using a waterless wash, an auto enthusiast is able to “wash” their vehicle with as little as two gallons of water. The benefits of this method (aside from less water usage) is also speed and convenience. Many enthusiasts that live in apartment complexes are able to perform an effective waterless wash in a carport, without the necessity of running water, 2 buckets and a wash mitt.
How it works: Waterless washes work by creating a polymer fluid “film” that simultaneously encapsulates debris and provides lubrication for the wash medium. When paired with high-pile microfiber towels, debris is safely lifted off the surface of the car and trapped in the wash medium. Once the debris is properly removed, the residual moisture is then buffed dry to a streak-free shine!
Waterless and rinseless washes (a derivative of the waterless wash technique) are not without limitations, however. One question is, “How do I know when the vehicle is “too dirty” for a waterless wash.” Obviously, best judgment must be used here. Typically, I suggest, if any harsh debris (such as sand, mud, grass clippings, tar, etc) is visible with the naked eye, then proceed to a traditional wash routine.
I find that a waterless wash suits the car show crowd exceptionally well. Many car show participants not only drive their cars to and from shows, but also enjoy the drive into town for dinner a couple times a week (weather permitting). That said, these cars are usually well kept, but not perfect. They’re too dirty for a detail spray wipe down, but may not merit a full 2-bucket traditional wash.
I highly recommend American Detailer Garage's “Wipeout.” At 32:1 or 64:1 it makes a versatile quick detailer- great for car show touch ups. At 64:1-128:1 it makes for a great waterless wash. Concentrations vary based on how much lubrication you deem is necessary. For darker vehicles, use lower dilutions which will provide more lubrication. On lighter cars (silvers, white, gold) a slightly higher dilution will work just fine! Feynlab Pure-Rinseless is also fantastic! One other readily available options is Optimum No-Rinse. I like to use WW solutions with a medium/high pile edgeless (450 GSM) microfiber towels!
When to use: Moderately dirty vehicle, light bug guts (especially on a ceramic coated vehicle), pollen, or dust.
3. Traditional 2-bucket wash
Do you have memories of washing the car with your dad on Sunday afternoon? Chances are, you’ve used the garden hose, sponge, some car wash soap and a 5 gallon bucket to perform a car wash at some point in your life!
The 2 bucket wash is not much different in theory to dad and grandpa’s method, but in implementation, it is a paradigm shift!
How does it work?
You have a filthy car that needs to be washed. After pre-rinsing the car to remove loose contamination, you grab 2 buckets, each fitted with a “grit guard” in the bottom. These grit guards effectively “trap” debris at the bottom of the bucket so it is not re-introduced into wash medium a second (or third and fourth) time. One bucket is filled with soapy solution. Usually 1-2oz per 3 gallons of water provides plenty of suds! The other bucket is filled with JUST WATER.
First, dip the clean wash mitt into the soapy bucket. Lightly wring out (80% fully saturated). Wash one panel at a time starting at the top of the car and work downward. Once panel is sufficiently soaped and agitated, dip wash mitt into the clean water bucket and thoroughly wring it out. I like to dip in in and out a few times, thus removing all of the contamination from the last panel. Then, proceed around the car in similar fashion until entire car is washed. Finally, rinse and dry.
What should be evident with the 2-bucket wash method is that the rinse bucket (depending on dirtiness of vehicle) will be quite filthy, whereas the soap bucket should remain quite clean. This is exactly what you are going for!
When to use: Moderately dirty vehicle to filthy vehicle.
Limitations: Traditional washing takes more time and materials than the previous two methods, since you also need to consider a drying towel, wash mitt, a water source, 2 buckets and 2 grit guards. It is highly effective in breaking down contamination and giving a “squeaky clean” surface to receive wax, clay treatment or detail-spray.
I suggest: 3D Pink soap is my favorite! IGL wash is also fantastic, but a little more expensive. Others include Meguiars gold class soap and Feynlab Pure Wash.
In conclusion, a versed car care enthusiast should recognize that proper vehicle care takes time, and the right products- and with the right arsenal, you're ready to tackle all the road throws at you!
If you ever have questions about how to properly use these techniques, or to purchase suggested products, please reach out to me via phone or social.
Thanks for reading!