Two Bucket Method vs. Foam Gun: Which to Use

A foam gun is a convenient way of washing a car as soap is sprayed straight onto it, but it’s simply not as effective as a hand wash, specifically the two bucket method. What happens if you combine the two, though?

Use a foam gun first and follow up with the two bucket method to clean the car thoroughly, which avoids swirls or scratches from appearing on the paint. Employing the foam gun in a pre-wash stage removes the worst of the dirt, and washing by hand with the two bucket method finishes the job off properly.

So it is clear, that both washing techniques should be used, to clean a car thoroughly and safely. But of course there are other factors that also need to be considered.

What is a Foam Gun, anyway?

A foam gun (also sometimes referred to as a “pistol”) consists of a spray nozzle, trigger, and canister. It attaches to an ordinary garden hose, so water passes through it, mixes with the car shampoo in the canister, and thick, soapy foam is sprayed quickly and easily all over the car.

Since the foam gun doesn’t come into direct contact with the car, no scratches or damage can arise in the paintwork from abrasive particles being accidentally rubbed across the surface. Just make sure to keep the nozzle a safe distance from the panels. While applying the foam and then rinsing it off afterwards is fine for a quick wash, a superior result can be achieved by allowing the foam to drip off and then washing the car by hand by the two bucket method.

I recommend not spraying the foam onto areas that might be easily damaged, for example, a convertible top. Although it’s well worth shooting extra suds onto the dirtiest parts of the bodywork to help free up any caked-on bugs or grime.

The Two Bucket Method

The basic concept of the two bucket method is to keep the wash mitt as clean as possible to stop unwanted scratches or swirls from appearing on the car. It calls for two large buckets, for instance 5 gallons in capacity. One of these is filled with clean water, while the other contains car shampoo diluted in warm water. It might be a good idea for them to be different colors or labeled somehow to differentiate between them easily.

After washing a couple of panels with the soapy water, the mitt is dunked into the bucket with the clean water and rung out before being put back into the soapy water bucket. This has two distinct advantages – it prevents dirt and debris accumulating in the soapy water bucket, and it limits the amount of such particles getting back onto the car, which might otherwise stick to the mitt and cause cosmetic damage as the mitt is passed over the bodywork. 

The perennial problem associated with doing a hand wash is how to mitigate the abrasion of body panels by particles through contact with a sponge or mitt. The two bucket method is a simple means of doing just that. Note that the soapier the water, the better the result, as it provides more lubrication on the surface and reduces the chances of any accidental damage to the paint by the action of the mitt. In fact, it’d be worth having more than one mitt available to swap over for a clean one when necessary, as this would further reduce the chance of such accidental abrasion.

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Foam Gun vs. Two Bucket Method

As I have stated above, it is best to perform a pre-wash with a foam gun before performing a contact wash with the two bucket method.

In order to show you the advantages and disadvantages of each method, I have compiled a very informative table below. I looked at different criteria and graded each washing method on a scale from A to F.

CriteriaFoam gunCommentTwo bucket methodComment
EffectivenessCDoesn’t wash the car 100%, some grime remainsACleans the car thoroughly
CostCReasonable, actually; prices vary but aren’t excessiveABuckets are cheap and last forever
Risk of scratchesACar is not touched by hand and cannot be scratchedEThe car is touched, so there is a slight risk of scratching it
Consumption of shampooBRelatively high, 1% – 6% (ratio to water)AVery little is required, less than 1%; see the given bottle for details
Fun factorAHigh! You’re blasting foam from a gun, after allDNot everyone loves washing their car by hand, but it does reap rewards

While the foam gun and the two bucket method have their advantages and disadvantages, it’s clear that using the foam gun isn’t enough in itself as the car won’t be completely clean. Following up with a proper wash in accordance with the two bucket method brings about far better results, even though the process takes a lot longer. Thankfully, the same car shampoo can be used in the foam gun and for the subsequent two bucket wash, keeping things nice and simple, although consumption of soap is quite high when employing a foam gun.

Note that using a foam gun is a great idea (and fun, to boot) as a relatively thick layer of soap is applied to the bodywork, so any subsequent cleaning action is more effective than simply rinsing the vehicle and doing a hand wash. Spraying with the foam gun first also means the panels are better lubricated by soap suds, which minimizes the possibility of cosmetic damage being caused by the mitt as it passes over the panels of the car.


  • Use a foam gun for a pre-wash
  • Perform a contact wash with the two bucket method
  • Combine both washing methods for the best result
  • Performing both washing techniques together minimizes the risk of scratches



Anything goes, pretty much. Some foam up more than others, so that might be a consideration to bear in mind. You can use the same shampoo in the foam gun and the two bucket wash afterward, which obviously simplifies matters and keeps costs down. Remember, it’s always a good idea to opt for a pH neutral shampoo because it doesn’t react in direct sunlight. 


The primary one is that a foam gun attaches to an ordinary garden hose, whereas a foam cannon (or “blaster”) is fixed to a high-pressure hose as it requires a far greater amount of pressure and water to operate.

The foam cannon has the advantage of creating a thicker layer of snow foam on the car, something like shaving foam in density.  Don’t forget, high-pressure hoses are noisy, though, so going with a cannon may be an issue for some, plus there’s the expense of buying the high-pressure hose itself.


Well, yes, if time is short but some grime from the road will be left behind. That’s why I suggest going with the two bucket wash as well, since then the job of washing the car is done properly. Although it is far more laborious, the end result is superior.

Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge