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Old 06-19-2007
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Thumbs up The Two Bucket Wash & Pat Dry Method for Spiderweb-Free Paint

This "sticky" is for anyone who washes vehicles, but is especially for those with darker paint as they can require a fair amount of tender loving care to prevent those annoying paint defects or swirl-like marks commonly referred to as "spiderwebbing."

As supplementary reading, you might also read through the applicable sections of the Detail Guide at You are welcome to print out the Guide as a handy reference or to give to your friends.

One of the most important things an enthusiast can do is invest in quality washing and drying products: a quality car wash, a soft wash mitt, and scratch-free drying towels.
  • Wash Mitt (2) -- the first being either genuine lambs wool (sheepskin) or 100% cotton chenille or the "mop-head" microfiber. The most important aspect is that it have a deep nap to carry suds and to safely and effectively lift dirt away from your vehicle's finish. The second mitt is for dirtier areas such as below the beltline, especially wheels and wheel wells (an older mitt will usually do).
  • Car Wash -- not all are created equal; use a quality car wash for easy, trouble-free washing. The use of dish soaps is highly discouraged as while they cut dirt and grease, they also remove wax and trim protectants. A quality car wash will not remove wax, and will help provide a spot-free rinse.
  • Large Buckets (2) -- Two 4 U.S. gallon or larger; most 5 gallon size paint buckets are deep enough to hold a Grit Guard insert at the bottom; though not required, this gadget helps keep grit at the bottom of the bucket and away from your wash mitt. Make sure your rinse bucket is deep enough to enable you to give the mitt a twist of the wrist (or a shake) without hitting bottom.
  • Drying Towels -- while plush 100% U.S. cotton terry was a standard for years, an excellent replacement are the new waffle-weave microfiber drying towels. Because premium towels are not cheap, often you must resort to online shopping as many stores carry only low-end towels. An alternative would be plush microfiber drying towels, which are easier to find. Never use a natural chamois, as they are prone to introducing spiderwebbing and can strip the wax from your paint.
  • Instant Detailer or Spray Wax -- Products like our Showtime or FX or Reflections Spray Wax can not only help lubricate the surface as you dry (either as a final touch-up or in place of the pat dry method), but provide a fresh shine to the finish. All three products are easy to use by just lightly misting your drying towel (after you've dried the windows).
Once you have the right supplies, be sure you wash your vehicle when it's cool. Wash while in the shade, or early or late in the day -- and when you have time to clean the entire car and rinse before you might risk causing water spots. If you are washing your wheels, make sure they are cool as well -- or at least rinse with cool water before you use wheel cleaners.

In many areas around the world, water use is often restricted, but in some restricted areas the municipalities allow washing if done in the cool morning or evening hours and with a positive shut-off hose nozzle. If you have the ability to wash your vehicle parked on your lawn, that also allows the wash water to be utilized. But even if you use the two-bucket method, you're likely going to use less than 20 gallons for a thorough wash and rinse, which is a fraction of what is used in the average drive-through car wash.

Generally people find that whether the wheels need cleaning or not, washing the lower sections of the car first with a separate bucket of suds and a wash mitt designated for that purpose allows one to safely spend the necessary time on what commonly is the dirtiest part of the car. Depending on the vehicle, working below the beltline initially also works.

Wash a section at a time, and then before resudsing the mitt, dip it into the rinse bucket to clear any grit and the now dirty suds, and then place the now clean mitt back into the suds for the next section. This way the suds always stay clean, and any grit stays in the rinse bucket water. If you must pause, always hang your mitt over the edge of the bucket; never lay it on the ground.

Once the washing process is complete, rinsing with a gentle stream, working side-to-side from the top-down will help the water sheet down the surface and leave less behind for drying.

Dry from the top-down, using lay-and-pull method to only allow the weight of the towel "drag" along the surface. If you do have to wipe with pressure, such as on the sides of the vehicle, fold the towel appropriately and use as little pressure as possible. With a darker cars -- because they show those "spiderwebbing" marks more than lighter colors -- a large waffle-weave microfiber towel (such as the Mothers foam-core) is terrific for the "blot" or "pat dry" approach: lay it across the surface and pat with your hands, never moving the towel except by lifting to the next section. While the pat dry method takes more time, the results pay off immediately, as well as the next time you wax. A combination of a large waffle-weave and smaller waffle-weaves, such as the Mothers Wheel & Jamb towels are ideal. If you don't have waffle-weave towels, at least use a plush towel with light pressure, though unfortunately they don't generally work well using these "drag" or "blot/pat" methods.

Note: This document is intended as a work-in-progress, so please PM or Contact Us with any suggestions you have.

Credit goes to tireless educators Wizard of Iz for professing the "Two Bucket Method" and to Forrest T. for expounding the "Pat-Dry Method" and the many times they've helped new members learn good washing habits. And many thanks to Tony from Oz and others who numerous times have shared these techniques.

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