The ultimate introduction to paint correction and polishing

Let me start with the most important thing that you have to know and realise if you are new to detailing and, more importantly, new to paint correction and polishing: of everything you can do within the whole car care routine, paint correction and polishing is the highest level of detailing there is.

It takes professional detailers years (!) to become really good and efficient at paint correction and polishing. The main reason for this is that no matter what you have heard from others, no matter what you think and know already, and no matter how good you already are: there is no and there never will be a “standard procedure” in polishing. Every polishing job is different!

That’s why professional detailers will have several different machines of various sizes, dozens of pads for every size and step, as well as an expensive and impressive collection of polishing liquids. They know that there isn’t one combination of machine, pad and liquid that will work just as well on every paint and car. And ultimately, that’s why you also have to realise that polishing is not something that is possible quick and/or cheap.

We are not talking about “just” cleaning your car anymore, nor are we talking about throwing some sort of wax on top of it. With paint correction and polishing, you are not protecting your car’s paint, you are improving its finish, and you do that by removing paint – and that’s the main aspect you always need to remember when you think about polishing, so let me repeat it: polishing means removing paint!

Because of all these reasons, paint correction and polishing is not something you should get yourself into as a pure beginner. That doesn’t mean that you will never be able to do it and that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start with it at some point, as it really isn’t rocket science, but it definitely isn’t something you just do without proper preparation and the respective knowledge. And this is exactly why we wrote this article for you, so you get a head start and all the knowledge you need to start polishing yourself. So let’s get started.


  1. Paint correction and polishing: what is it all about?

Before we start talking about how paint correction and polishing is actually done and what you need to know about it as an activity, we first need to establish a baseline of knowledge about why paint correction and polishing is done in the first place.

You see, most people think polishing is about making cars look better. And fundamentally, that’s right. But what a lot of people don’t get or understand is what actually happens when you are polishing your car and why polishing makes car paints look better. And in order for you to understand you first have to know what makes car paints look bad: paint defects.

Paint defects are basically imperfections in an otherwise (more or less) perfect paint surface. There are several different kinds of paint defects and (professional) detailers created a lot of funny names for them:

  • Scratches are paint defects caused by mechanical influences. Paint defect, in this respect, means that there is a thin line of your car’s paint that’s missing. Depending on the depth of a scratch, it’s either just a part of the clear coat that’s missing, or the scratch is deep enough to have penetrated through the clear coat and into the base layer (the color). In the worst case, a scratch went all the way through the clear coat and the base layer and into the primer or even the bare metal underneath it.
  • Swirls are scratches which follow a circular pattern, whereas holograms and haze are paint defects which are usually introduced by correcting and/or polishing the paint, i.e. by untrained persons, quick and dirty polishing methods, or improper use of tools and material. The Ultimate Finish did a very good and comprehensive article on all of this if you want to dive deeper into it.
  • Holograms (also referred to as buffer trails) are paint defects within the clear coat which are caused by polishing it. In essence, holograms are “burn marks” caused by poor or aggressive polishing techniques which momentarily introduced too much heat, pressure, or abrasion in a small area of the clear coat in too little of a time frame – meaning that the abrasives in your choice polish or compound had not enough time to actually work the way they are supposed to do and just quickly “grazed” the paint and therefore left holograms. That’s why holograms typically occur if someone is using a rotary polisher with (very) high arm speeds.
  • Haze is referred to clear coat that has been polished and possibly even corrected, but does not look clear, but milky and hazy instead. This phenomenon normally occurs if you apply too much heat to the clear coat, which will correct scratches and swirls, but will not allow the clear coat to finish perfectly. Hazing became a wide-spread issue with the introduction of large throw dual action polishers (Rupes BigFoot) which were used in conjunction with microfiber and/or wool pads.
  • Waterspots and etchings are paint defects that occurred because something had enough time (and the thermal support of the sun) to chemically and mechanically work itself into your car’s paint. Those things can e.g. be bird poo, insect bodies, tar, glue, tree sap or mineral deposits from water spots. In the best case scenario, these etchings are just within the clear coat, in the worst case they “burn” through the base layer itself.
  • Stone chips are paint defects that are caused by stones (or other debris) that were thrown at your car’s paint with enough velocity so that they could damage your car’s paint. Again, stone chips can range from just small “dips” within the clear coat all the way to actual chips of paint that’s missing so that the bare metal of your car’s body is visible.
  • Clear coat failure looks like your car’s paint is skinning itself like a snake, meaning the top layer (the clear coat) is slowly but steadily coming off and leaving the base layer (the color) unprotected behind.
  • Orange peel is not a type of paint defect as such, but – microscopically speaking – a rough paint surface that is not perfectly flat or leveled, but resembles the skin of an orange, hence the name. Technically, it reduces gloss, but only by the smallest of margins and is generally only visible under strong light sources. Most people won’t even recognise it.

There are even more types of paint damage, but that would take things too far for now. For an in depth look into that topic, see this video:

If you are talking with an experienced weekend warrior or professional detailer or ask questions about polishing in Facebook groups / forums, you need to be able to understand the differences between those different kinds of paint defects so that others can actually understand what your issues are and can help you.

No matter which paint defect we are talking about, it’s also important to understand that they can be of different depth. In order to understand why this is an important aspect in paint correction and polishing, you need to know that every car’s paint today and generally speaking consists of three layers:

  • The primer which sits on your car’s body
  • The base coat which usually gives a car its colour
  • The clear coat which is transparent and protects the base coat

On older (and/or cheaper) cars, the base coat and clear coat sometimes are just one mixed up layer. Because of evolving painting techniques as well as cost savings by car manufacturers, the total amount or thickness of paint jobs gets thinner and thinner. Normally, your car will be delivered to you with anything between 100 and 200 microns of thickness (sometimes more, sometimes less). One micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter. So, the total amount of “paint” on your car is thinner than a human’s hair!

What follows now is one to the single most important lessons from this article: only defects which are in the clear coat of your car’s paint can be removed by polishing. The important bit to understand here is that by polishing you are permanently removing clear coat. So, you are not removing paint defects, you are removing the area around them, meaning you are levelling the clear coat to the deepest part of a scratch or swirls. 

Defects or scratches which reach into the base coat (the actual color) can still be polished out, but you have to keep in mind that you then polish away all of the clear coat on that spot – which means you will have to protect the base coat at this spot so that it doesn’t get dull over time. 

Paint defects which reach into the primer cannot be polished out, as you will always see the white-greyish color of the primer. Paint defects which reach as far as this need a respray or some sort of touch-up paint repair job to be removed. Stone chips normally reach at least into the primer if not even down to the bare metal of your car’s body.

 

  1. How paint defects are created

So, after you know what paint defects are, we think you should also know how they occur in the first place – so that you know how to prevent them or at least reduce their occurrence in the future.

The answer to the question of how paint defects occur will be shocking or at least surprising to some: pretty much by anything and everything, so even if you just drive your car as well as wash it. Everything that touches your car’s paint with enough force, speed, or abrasion will scratch it. Some paint finishes are quite hard (in general found on a lot of German premium and luxury cars) and some are very soft (usually found on Japanese cars), meaning that some cars will scratch up easier and quicker than others.

Even using the softest and gentlest of washing methods can and will induce fine scratches and swirls to your car’s paint, which is why we said before that car care and detailing is also always about reducing paint defects – as we know that you can’t really prevent them forever. However, proper car wash techniques and tools and washing your car by hand will induce far, far fewer paint defects than regularly going through an automated car wash. However, the important thing to realise is that if you wash a very, very dirty car, then even if you use a high-quality car shampoo and a soft wash mitt, you will still scratch it up pretty bad! You should always try and remove as much dirt as possible before washing your car. This may sound counter intuitive but refers to the so-called “prewash” stage in car care. During this stage, you use products such as (alkaline) pre-cleaners, traffic film removers (TFRs), or a snow foam in a snow foam lance in order to soak your car’s dirty paint, loosen and soften up dirt and debris, and then rinse it away with a hose or high-pressure washer. After that, you then only have to deal with light and “stickier” dirt on your ride’s paint during the main washing stage.

This is why microfiber towels or wash mitts are so popular in car care, as microfiber is a very absorbent material on the one hand that not only picks up dirt from your car’s paint but also encapsulates it together with a proper car shampoo. On the other hand, microfiber is also very gentle and far less aggressive or abrasive than e.g. cotton towels. To be absolutely clear and fair: ultimately, microfiber will also scratch you car’s paint if you wash it often enough and/or if you use it wrong (e.g. by applying too much pressure), but may less so than your old terry cloths. 

 

  1. What is gloss and how does polishing create it?

At this point, it is important to talk about “gloss” as it is a concept that is all-encompassing in car care and often treated incorrect and unfair by manufacturers of car care products. Gloss, and I mean real gloss, from a scientific viewpoint, is defined by how well light rays that hit a surface are projected off that surface. “Perfect” gloss is created when a light ray hits a surface and then is bounced off this surface in the same angle that it hit it. A mirror in that respect has perfect gloss. Everything that leads light rays to not bounce off your car’s paint in the same angle as they hit it reduces gloss – and this can be a lot of things: dirt, dust, scratches, swirls, and so on.

This is why all those photographs and videos in which people show you how mirror-like the paints of their cars look are just plain silly. You can make every car’s paint look shiny without touching it. All you have to do is take a picture from the right angle and in the right light conditions and you can make a totally scratched up paint look glossy, shiny, and reflective. So don’t let anyone fool you. The best way to check for the condition of your car’s paint is by looking straight at it in a dark surrounding (garage) and then shine a very bright light (like a very strong illumination) at it as this will allow you to see scratches and swirls.

The same accounts for promises by car care products and their manufacturers. If your car’s paint is e.g. covered in a layer of light dirt, dust, road and traffic film, then this reduces the perceived gloss. If you remove this layer of dirt by just washing it, then, of course, your car will look shiny and glossier again. So yes, in this respect, all car shampoos create “gloss” by helping you clean your car. But a shampoo itself and by itself, if used on an already clean car, will not be able to add gloss – as you only use something like 5-100ml in a wash bucket with 10-20l of water in it). The same accounts for any product that you apply to your car (quick detailers, waxes, sealants, ceramic coatings): none of them will really create gloss. Again, real gloss is defined by the angle with which light rays are bouncing off your car’s paint. What reduces gloss are paint defects as they change the angle in which light rays bounce off your paint. On absolutely perfect, completely levelled, 100% defect-free paint, any product that you apply on top of your car’s paint will add a layer of something that – if it is not completely and totally translucent – will by definition decrease gloss as it will intervene with the light rays.

The problem is that, in reality, no car’s paint is realistically ever absolutely perfect, completely levelled, and 100% defect-free. In fact, most paint jobs from most cars today come from the factory with a certain degree of orange peel, as paint defects are less visible (i.e. on dark paints) on paint with orange peel and therefore look glossier for longer. Add scratches, swirls, holograms etc. that are introduced to a car’s paint by just driving and washing it and you are confronted with even less perfect paint conditions.

So, in simple terms, polishing and paint correction does create gloss by removing paint defects and leveling the paint. The more leveled, the flatter a paint surface is, the more gloss will be created. However, in this respect, we have to mention that orange peel, in general, can not be removed by polishing and needs sanding – which is a totally different beast!

All of this is why polishing and paint correction are the only activities and tasks that actually and semi-permanently create true gloss because they remove the one thing that decreases it: paint defects. We will talk about the difference between removing paint defects and just filling them in the next paragraph.

 

  1. How polishing and paint correction technically works

This is probably the part you waited for and the one that most other articles and guides on how to polish would start with. So, how does polishing and paint correction actually work, meaning what happens when you hit your car’s paint with a machine, pad, and polish?

In general, and in simplified terms, polishing and paint correction is pretty much the same as what you did in school when you were introduced to working with wood, i.e. treating it with sand paper. I say that because the basic principle of polishing paint is exactly the same. Let me walk you through it.

As said above, polishing and paint correction means removing paint. Polishing does achieve that by abrasion. And exactly as when you work with wood, you can choose different strengths of abrasion which leads to different results:

  • Strong abrasives create the most cut (remove the most material), but leave the roughest surface (finish the worst)
  • Medium abrasives create a middle-of-the lane cut and leave a somewhat acceptable surface (good finish)
  • Fine abrasives remove very, very little material (don’t have much cut), but leave a very refined surface (a very good finish)

In general, the more cut or abrasion a polish (and pad, for that matter) offers, the better and quicker it will be at removing paint defects, but the worse it will finish. On the other hand, the less abrasive a polish (and pad) is, the worse it will be at removing paint defects, but the better the finish will be. By better, I mean the clearer the clear coat will look, leaving behind the gloss we all aim for. The following matrix summarizes this visually:

In this respect, it is important to notice that regarding the above mentioned paint defects, there are paint defects which are there before you start correcting or polishing your paint (like e.g. scratches or swirls) and there are types of paint defects which can be introduced during or caused by polishing (e.g. haze or holograms). And that’s what I mean when I say that the more aggressive and abrasive a polish and/or pad is, the larger a risk you run that they create paint defects by itself. Those paint defects can be corrected and removed by following polishing steps and less aggressive pad and polishing combinations, but it’s still something to be aware of.

So, polishing and paint correction on a simplified level works like this:

  1. You choose a pad
  2. You apply polish on it
  3. You put it to the paint and start working it (either by hand or machine).

Something a lot of people confuse and get wrong is thinking that only the chosen polishing liquid does the work. In fact, it’s always both, the pad and the chosen polish, which does the polishing work, as both are more or less abrasive. And this is where polishing starts to get complicated – because it not only means that you can combine different pads with different polishes, it also means that the abrasion level of polishes will vary and differ depending on which pad you combine them with.

This is where paint polishing differs from working with sand paper and wood. With the latter, you use sand papers with differing abrasion levels, so you work with just one variable that determines the outcome. With paint polishing, you work with two variables, pads and polishes, which both determine and change the outcome – and that’s before we talk about additional factors like polishing by hand or machine, the influence of different machines, as well as factors such as the pressure you apply or the arm speed you use. Gosh, it’s complicated… which is why we will have a closer look at these factors in the next paragraph.

 

  1. An introduction to polishing liquids and pads

To make life a tad easier for you, I generally propose to stay within the systems that the respective manufacturers provide you with, meaning that you should combine compounding / cutting pads with compounding / cutting polishes, medium pads with medium polishes, and finishing pads with finishing polishes. If you want to start experimenting – which is perfectly fine – you can do so, but there are certain combinations which don’t really make any sense at all. I tried to summarize this in the following table:

Combining a very abrasive pad with a finishing polish or an aggressive polish with a finishing pad is the equivalent of putting off road tires on a F1 car or slicks on a Trophy truck. It doesn’t make sense as you try to combine two things that were not meant to work with each other.

In general, the type of pad you use will have an influence on the finish and/or cut you get, but the chosen compound / polish will have a significantly larger effect. A compound will never be able to finish as well as a finishing polish, no matter which pad you use. Also, the type of pad you use will have an effect on how good the chosen polish / compound works. Cutting pads are e.g. harder because you want to achieve more cut and therefore want to have more pressure transferred to the paint, whereas with a soft finishing pad you don‘t want that. In the same way, cutting pads usually have a more open cell structure so they can soak up all the paint you remove during compounding / cutting.

And at this point, I need to tell you about one of the single most important lessons when it comes to paint polishing: every polishing job is different, as every paint is different. There are different paint types when you look at different time periods in automotive production. There are different paint systems (single stage vs. multi-layer). There are different paint appearances (solid vs. metallic vs. pearl vs. candy vs. matte…). There are different paint hardness levels (soft vs. hard). And if you talk with guys working in the automotive industry, you find that even if you have two cars from the same manufacturer, which are the same model, with the same paint, rolling from the same production line at the same day, they can be different because manufacturers can stretch the paint they have and are working with to reach the production numbers they have to.

I know, I know, this sounds horrible. It sounds like that there simply is no standard recipe in polishing – and that’s essentially true. What works for one guy does not necessarily have to work for you. Which is why questions like “what’s the best polish and pad combination” or “I have a 2010 3 Series BMW in blue, which pad and polish works best” are stupid and will never lead to usable answers. Again: every polishing job is different!

However, and despite the fact that every pad and polish combination works differently on different paint types, we are only talking about minor differences here. This means that a combination of pads and polishes that create a huge amount of cut on one paint will not suddenly have no cut at all on another paint type. Normally, if you experience that a pad and polish combination that worked well on one car but doesn’t on the next one, you just need to change one aspect of your system – the pad or the polish – in order to achieve the results you want.

In the following, things will only get worse, meaning more complicated. Because whereas the basic principles I just told you about will always hold true, technology has moved on. In the olden days, polishing liquids really were just “one hit wonders”, meaning they were just good at one thing: cutting or finishing. Which is why you pretty much had to use an aggressive cutting compound to remove paint defects, then you would need to use a medium strength polish to remove the holograms or haze you created by using the aggressive compound, and then you would need to use a finishing polish to make the paint shine.

However, times have changed. Especially the introduction of “diminishing abrasives” has created a whole battery of new and improved polishing liquids which can do so much more than before. In layman terms, this means that when you use such a polish, it starts off with comparably big and harsh polishing particles in it which then brake down during the polishing process (due to pressure and heat), become smaller and less aggressive, and are therefore able to finish nicely.

What this new technology means, in essence, is that manufacturers are able to create cutting compounds which are able to finish much nicer, as well as bringing finishing polishes to the market which offer quite a decent amount of cut. Prime examples of such polishes are Menzerna 300, Sonax Perfect Finish (or Sonax Ex 04-06) as well as Sonax Cut&Finish (or ExCut 05-05). What this also means is that today, the “old school”, traditional three step polishing system really isn’t necessary anymore. All you need is an aggressive cutting compound that is able to finish as well as possible (depending on your pad choice) and then a finishing polish that is able to remove any defects left over by the cutting stage and create the best possible finish. So, the matrix I introduced above today looks like this:

This especially holds true if you start to combine these liquids with different pads – which is why, with those liquids, the above table starts to slightly fall apart as it indeed can make sense to combine something like Sonax Perfect Finish with an aggressive cutting pad.

With pads, technology developed into a different direction. You see, the job of polishing pads within the polishing system mainly is to support the chosen polishing liquid the best way possible. That’s why cutting or compounding pads are usually rather hard to that more of the pressure you and/or your machine apply can be transferred to the paint and therefore support the cutting process. They usually also comes with comparably open foam cell structures, making them feel rough to the touch, so that they themselves induce cut to the paint, but it also means that they can transport away the paint you remove in this stage.

The development of pads mainly saw the introduction of new materials, especially microfiber as well as synthetic or hybrid wool, and even combinations of the two (e.g. CarPro Cool Wool pads). Microfiber pads come in cutting, finishing as well as one step configurations, but are mainly used during the cutting stage as microfiber has the advantage of creating more heat during the polishing process and therefore creating more abrasion. Microfiber pads (and lately more often synthetic or hybrid wool pads) saw a rise with the introduction of more powerful, more capable, large throw dual action polishers which became very popular when Rupes introduced their “Big Foot” machines. Because more and more people started to use them, they also realised that their cutting abilities compared to more traditional rotary machines are somewhat limited, demanding more aggressive polishes and especially pads – which is where microfiber and wool pads come into play.

So, microfiber and (hybrid) wool pads are a very good way of getting more cutting power and defect removal, especially out of a dual action polisher (more on the different types of polishing machines later). However, as always, everything in detailing is about compromises: because those pads create more heat and therefore more cut, you usually end up with more haze after using them, meaning that whilst you were able to remove a lot of the paint defects such as swirls and light scratches, you also induced a new kind of paint defect, namely a hazy, milky layer of clear coat that doesn’t look as clear, crisp and glossy as it could and should. This issue has become less and less prominent with the introduction of more modern polishing liquids (based on diminishing abrasives technology) and it is not something that couldn’t be solved by going for a second stage with a finishing polish and pad, but it’s something to be aware of. Plus, i.e. microfiber pads demand more of you in regards to residue control (see below).

You see, the world of polishing liquids and pads can be very complicated. Hell, let’s skip that: it is! And to some extent, it always will be which is why I told you above that polishing and paint correction is the highest form of detailing. You need to have at least a basic understanding of automotive paint and what it actually is that you are doing when it comes to polishing in order to comprehend how different polishing liquids and pads (could) work. On the other hand, even professionals who are doing it for years will sometimes experience difficulties when they e.g. face very finicky paint. So to some degree, polishing will also always be an experimental and incremental process. Yes, the basics will stay the same, meaning more aggressive materials will induce more abrasion and leave a less desirable finish behind. But at some point you’ll have to accept that polishing always means to just stick any pad on a machine, apply any polish on it, start polishing, check the results and go from there. Once again: there is no standard recipe in polishing!

To make things worse, in the next paragraph, I will introduce you to the term of “non-correctional polishing”, the concept of filling paint defects and how this differs from correcting them.

 

  1. The concept of “residue control”

What you should have realized by now – heck, I said it more than once – is that polishing and paint correction means paint removal. And something that you remove needs to go somewhere, right?

That’s why we now have to talk about a concept that is vital in polishing and paint correction: residue control. In short, this term refers to techniques which help you to manage the removed paint in your polishing pads. In this respect, and if you are new to polishing, then the following sentence may come as a surprise to you: you need more than one pad to polish a whole car!

The paint you remove during polishing is “captured” within the polishing liquid (which partly also acts as a lubricant for that) as well as within your polishing pad. And there’s a limit to what pads can take in terms of old polish and removed paint. This limit will arrive sooner with cutting pads than with finishing pads (as you remove more paint during the cutting stage), but it basically means you need more than one or two pads per aggression level, especially with cutting / compounding pads.

To learn more about this concept, see the following videos:

 

This concept is especially important if you work with microfiber pads. These pads create more cut because they create more heat whilst polishing. However, as they create more cut, they remove more paint. However, the issue with microfiber is that it is a material that “sucks up” things. It clings to anything it comes in contact with and doesn’t so easily let it go again. That’s why it is vital for those pads to work properly and therefore you should regularly clean them whilst polishing – and not just after you’re done! You can use a brush (e.g. an old tooth brush), something like the Rupes Claw Pad Tool, or – even better – compressed air to blow them out after each pass. Yes, cleaning them after each pass will also mean that you will have to keep adding more polishing liquid to them as you would to a foam pad. You see, as I always say, everything in detailing is compromised and there are no shortcuts of superior products in every respect. If you want the superior cut of microfiber pads, you need to keep them clean and keep adding polishing liquids in order for them to properly work. If you don’t do that, they won’t be better than a foam pad after a few passes and you are wasting time, effort, and money.

 

  1. The difference between polishing and sanding

In the grand scheme of things, sanding and polishing is pretty much the same. Both technically describes the same process: you flatten a surface by removing high spots on it. However, when it comes to automotive paint, sanding is a completely different story than polishing. You see, with polishing and even if you use the most aggressive pads and polishing liquids you can get your hands on, as long as you don’t use them in conjunction with a rotary polisher, you don’t actually and really remove that much paint. Those polishing liquids and pads are made in a way that they remove as much paint defects as possible, but also remove as less paint as possible. Also, all those materials still aim at providing you with a nice finish.

However, with sanding, you completely leave the avenue of a safe way to remove paint defects and a nice finish. Yes, sanding can be an effective and quick way to remove very (!) deep scratches, to restore badly (!) swirled up paint on a car that has been neglected for years, or cope with orange peel. And yes, sanding marks can then be polished out if you know what you do. But, if you don’t know what you do, I definitely recommend that you don’t even think about sanding! Or in other words: before you start looking into sanding, you should have mastered paint polishing (at least to some extent).

 

  1. The difference between polishing and filling / waxing

Products like quick detailers / spray waxes / spray sealants, waxes, sealants, ceramic coatings and i.e. glazes can, in fact, create gloss by temporarily filling up light (!) paint defects. By filling them up, you will create more „gloss“ as a flatter paint is glossier than a scratched up one. But this will only ever be a temporary fix as fillers in general only last a couple of days, maybe weeks, and for about one to three washes. That’s why I personally think that the term “non-correctional polish” that was introduced by some valeters / detailers is a joke. It tries to hide the fact that what they do is not removing paint defects, but just temporarily filling them. It is borderline lying to potential customers and therefore a bad business habit. So, stop it!

However, be careful and skeptical about promises of added gloss or extreme gloss by manufacturers of such products because most of the times they don’t really mean and talk about “gloss”, but about visible changes to the perceived light reflections on a car’s paint. It’s the same as when you look at a tasty cake or doughnut with chocolate on top of it: they look shiny by nature. Add a more or less transparent layer of sugar coat on it and it will look even glossier, but that’s not because you suddenly added “gloss” by that sugar coat layer, but because the light now reflects differently.

The important thing to take away from all of this is that real gloss will always be achieved by removing paint defects and this means correcting or polishing your car’s paint. On corrected and polished paint, no product on earth will make a huge, absolutely obvious and visible (for the human eye) difference in gloss. In fact, most products designed to add “gloss” will do so better on unpolished paint with defects in it. But then again, these products will not be able to fulfill another important function as good as on well maintained, prepared and/or polished paint, and that is “protection”.

That’s why polishing and filling are two completely different things. Light paint defects like scratches and swirls can either be temporarily filled with glazes or waxes (to some extent), or they can be permanently removed by polishing – permanently meaning as long as there are no new paint defects inflicted to the paint.

In that respect, it’s important to note that every protective product, be it a wax, sealant, or coating benefits from being applied to polished, clear, degreased and bare paint. As soon as you use something like a glaze, primer, AIO or 3in1 product that polishes and leaves something behind on your paint, will potentially hinder protective products from properly bonding or sticking to your car’s paint. Some people will tell you that grabbing a panel wipe or IPA wipedown after using such products will remove what they leave behind, but there’s no guarantee for that. Chemistry rarely ever is as simple as that.

Also, some will tell you that you can somewhat „lock in“ the temporary fix you create with something like a glaze. This is based on the theory of „topping“ or „layering“ different products on top of each other. In the short term, topping and layering can work. However, there‘s one major factor that speaks against this theory: a glaze contains „stuff“ that fills in light scratches and swirls. This stuff will always be between your paint and the product (like a wax or coating) you apply on the paint. So, a glaze will most likely hinder a wax from properly bonding to your paint. There are more reasons that speak against the theory that topping works, but that would take things too far and is a topic for a separate article.

The important thing to remember from this paragraph is that products like glazes are a shortcut to polishing your paint. By polishing, you get gloss and perfectly prepare the paint for a protective product. A glaze is a shortcut to gloss that won’t be there for long, and you pay the price of protective products then not being able to properly bond to your paint. This is why as soon as you are thinking of applying a dedicated protective product after the „polishing“ stage, then I strongly propose to not use something like an AIO, 3in1, glaze or prewax cleaner, as they will most likely hinder the respective product from properly bonding to the paint which means you lose performance and durability. 

Those products exist because people are looking for shortcuts. Because the ideal way of doing things is: correct / polish, degrease, protect. If you are not doing the correction/ polishing part correctly and only fill paint defects, then you apply something that will be between the paint and the chosen protective product. Short-cuts always lead to lesser results compared to the optimum, and this is a fact you have to accept when you work with such products.

The one exception to this rule I‘m willing to accept is if you stay within a manufacturer‘s system, so if you e.g. use CarPro Essence before a CarPro coating, Dodo’s Lime Prime before a Dodo wax, AutoFinesse Tripple before an AutoFinesse Wax, Swissvax Cleaner Fluid before a Swissvax, or Angelwax Enigma AIO before Angelwax Enigma wax. As soon as you try to use products from different manufacturers, you are experimenting. And that‘s fine if you accept the potential consequences.

In regards to the term “polish & wax” we have to be careful and precise. In today’s world, polishing and waxing are two completely different things. A polish is an abrasive that is able to remove clear coat, a wax is a protective product that lays over your clear coat. From time to time, you will come across someone who asks a question like “what wax do you recommend to remove swirls” which hints that he or she confuses polishing with waxing. That’s because in the olden days of detailing, polishing and/or waxing sometimes really was the same thing as a lot of polishing liquids did contain some sort of waxes. Plus, until today, there are things like cleaner waxes which are a combination of a protective product and a light (!) polish that maybe also contains fillers. Meguiar’s, Mother’s, Turtle Wax and also Soft99, amongst other brands, for example offer such cleaner waxes. Such cleaner waxes are less  effective at removing paint defects than pure polishing liquids and therefore really only suitable for people who can’t or don’t want to put in the effort of the necessary prep work before polishing.

In this respect, I think it is now time to talk about a few terms that often pop up in regards to polishing which are important to know.

  1. AIO, 3in1, one step, glaze and prewax cleaners

Polishing liquids are, comparably, quite simple: they contain more or less aggressive abrasives (“swimming” in oils or emulsions which are there to lubricate the choice pad) which take off more or less of your car’s clear coat to correct paint defects. They don’t leave something behind on your paint that can’t be wiped away with or without the help of a panel wipe or IPA – although I always recommend to use one after polishing.

However, there are some products that are not that simple because they are supposed to do more than just polishing. With these kinds of products I personally think it is extremely important that we actually talk about the same things:

One step“ polishes are labelled as products which cut / compound / correct to some extent, but are also capable to finish up nicely based on a technology called “diminishing abrasives”. There are polishing liquids which are actually labelled as „one steps“, but in fact, you could pretty much call any polish with diminishing abrasives a „one step“. In this respect, the term really only describes that you achieve a decent amount of paint correction or defect removal, as well as a nice finish, in just one step instead of several ones. Sometimes, these modern polishing liquids are also referred to as “hybrid polishes”. In regards to these products, there is a huge (!) variety in their abilities. Some of those products really are incredible in respect to the amount of cutting power they offer whilst still being able to finish nicely (e.g. Sonax ExCut 05-05, Sonax Cut&Finish, 3D One, Turtle Wax One & Done). On the other hand, some are more tailored towards cut, others more towards a nice finish. Some of those modern “hybrid polishes” are so good that they offer more cut and a better finish than some dedicated cutting compounds and a better finish, especially compared to old and outdated polishing liquids. What all of those products have in common is that you as a user can also determine the results you get by the choice of polishing pad you combine them with: combine them with a finishing pad and get a nicer finish, combine them with a compounding pad to get more cut. There’s no way around the fact that all of this makes it very difficult to comprehend this category of products, especially since polishing technology moves forward on a daily basis. There’s no other way: accept and embrace it and do your own research, as well as try those products. Some examples for such products:

  • 3D One
  • AutoFinesse One Step
  • CarPro Fixer
  • Koch Chemie F6.01
  • Koch Chemie M3.02
  • Menzerna 300
  • Menzerna 400
  • Menzerna 2500
  • Sonax Perfect Finish
  • Sonax Ex04-06
  • Somax Cut&Finish
  • Sonax ExCut 05-05
  • Scholl S20 Black
  • Turtle Wax Hybrid Solutions Pro One & Done

AIOs“ or „all in one“ type of products, sometimes also called 3in1, are referred to as products which polish or correct to some extent, but at the same time fill light paint defects, as well as leave some (basic) form of protection behind at the same time. So, you could also call them “one step plus” products as, if you have a look at the matrix above, they would basically open up a third dimension and build on top of one steps by adding some form of protection to their array of abilities, whereas pure polishes or one step polishes don’t add any form of protection. Some (more or less) well-known examples for AIO products are:

  • Angelwax Enigma AIO
  • AutoBrite Cherry / Chocolate Glaze
  • AutoGlym Super Resin Polish
  • Koch Chemie P6.01
  • Koch CheMie P3.01
  • Koch Chemie P2.02 / P2.01
  • Koch Chemie P1.02 / P1.01
  • Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish 
  • Menzerna 3in1
  • Nanolex One Polish & Protect
  • Nanolex SiOne
  • Polytop Rapid One Step (Plus)
  • Prima Amigo
  • Rupes Uno Protect

 

Glazes are products which just fill and don‘t polish or correct, so they temporarily mask light paint defects and imperfections. Some popular examples are:

  • AutoGlanz Supernova
  • Alchemy Dark Matter
  • Alchemy Light Matter
  • Infinity Wax Dark Glaze
  • Infinity Wax Light Glaze
  • Poorboy‘s Black Hole
  • Poorboy’s White Diamond
  • Waxplanet Nuba Glaze

 

Precleaners” or “prewax cleaners” are products which are meant to prepare the paint for the application of a wax. Some of them do contain polishing abrasives (and therefore could also be categorized as AIOs), some of them don‘t, but contain fillers (and therefore work more like glazes), and some don‘t have abrasives or fillers in them and are therefore chemical paint cleaners. Some popular examples:

  • Dodo Juice Lime Prime (Light)
  • Dodo Juice Supernatural Micro Prime
  • Prima Amigo
  • Swissvax Cleaner Fluid
  • Zymöl HD Cleanse

 

And then there are “primers” (sometimes also referred to as “AIOs with SiO2”) which are technically also AIOs, but contain some sort of „ceramic“ ingredients or resins which are supposed to prepare the paint in the last finishing step for a (ceramic) coating. Some manufacturers even claim that they act as an intermediary which increases the bond of a coating with the paint. Some examples:

  • Angelwax Enigma AIO
  • CarPro Essence
  • Gyeon Primer
  • Labocosmetica Fiero
  • Labocosmetica Venere

 

Now, what‘s important to understand is that those terms are not constantly used. AutoBrite Direct for example has something called „Chocolate Glaze“ which, if you read the product description, actually is an AIO. Also, you for sure realised that I placed some of the examples above under several „categories“ of products as they in fact fall under several of them. That‘s how confusing this whole field of products is.

What makes all of this even more confusing is that some AIOs are more tailored towards cutting / compounding, some more towards filling, and some have better protective properties than others. So you can’t assume that every product labelled or categorized as an AIO (or 3in1) works the same way. In fact, they are all different. Much like every “quick detailer” works differently.

Same with „one step“ polishes: some „polishes“ actually are AIOs but don’t say that they are (e.g. Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish). Some polishes are marketed as „one steps“ when they actually are an AIO (e.g. Menzerna 3in1). In fact, the terms AIO and „one step“ are often used as synonyms. And then there are liquid waxes which (can) also act a lot like glazes – like e.g. Infinity Wax Turbo6. It‘s all very complicated, to be honest.

With all those products I personally think the most important thing to understand is that they are inherently compromised, as such products try to do several things at once - even if some of those things really contradict each other. 

Take an AIO for example: Every aspect of an AIO would be done better with a dedicated product: every finishing polish will be better at removing paint defects, every glaze will be better at filling, and every protective product will be better at protecting. That‘s because an AIO tries to remove stuff with abrasives but at the same time tries to leave something behind. How exactly that is supposed to work I have never really understood. It defies logic and is witchcraft in my opinion...

If we are completely honest with each other, then the only reason those products exist is that people try to save time and are looking for shortcuts. And that‘s fine. However, it is important that we are honest about what those products are and can do - especially if you do detailing work for others. That‘s why terms like „non-correctional polish jobs“ are, in my opinion, an attempt to fool and deceive customers. If you use an AIO, glaze, or prewax-cleaner and don‘t actually remove paint defects, then just be honest about it and don‘t try to make it sound more than it is.

As said above, those products are short-cuts. The one and only way to remove paint defects is to actually remove them, and this means you correct / compound, polish and finish as long as it takes to perfectly level the paint - or at least level it to the amount you are happy with (as polishing is and should not always be about a 100% correction because you then remove too much paint / clear coat).

Same with the protective properties of such products: they will never be as good as dedicated waxes, sealants or coatings. 

All of this is why some call those things „cheater“ products as they try to fake results which are otherwise more time-consuming to achieve and take more effort. I personally completely get and understand that those products have their place. And I don‘t say that those products don‘t work. Some of them do. Rather well, actually. They got their bad name from people who use them and are not open about it or just plain lie to their customers.

 

  1. Steps before polishing: the prep work

Polishing and paint correction, unlike many other activities in car detailing, is not something you just do. It needs careful preparation, meaning you (ideally) should go through the whole detailing routine from A to Z: prewash, wash, and decontamination.

In this respect, I often see, hear and read questions which all boil down to the same thing: laziness and shortcuts. Those questions sound like “do I really need to go through a prewash or can I go directly to the contact wash, as all the swirls I induce I will polish out anyway”. And indeed, light (!) paint defects will most likely be just polished out afterwards. But then again: why would you want to create more work for yourself if you can perfectly prevent it by investing just a few more minutes and pennies worth in chemicals?

Regarding the question whether you should clay your car before polishing, there seem to be two differing opinions. There are people who will tell you that you don’t need to do it as you will remove the contamination's in your paint during the paint correction stage. And that statement is perfectly true. However, what those people forget is that those contamination's don’t just magically disappear. Because here‘s a thought: imagine your paint under a microscope. Image hundreds of contaminants. Now imagine you break those contaminants loose with your pad and polish. Where do they go? Right, you scrub them along your paint together with the polish which means you scratch and polish your paint at the same time. Does that make sense? If you know the answer to this then you answered the question whether you should clay before polishing, or not.

 

  1. Polishing equipment – what do you need?

This probably is the main question why most of you started to read this article in the first place. And this is exactly the main mistake most people do when they think about starting polishing and paint correction. Because everything I just told you about until now is indeed more important than the question of what you need to start doing it – as this is rather quickly answered:

  • Polishing liquids
  • Polishing pads

That’s it. Strictly speaking, that’s all you need. Because it is, technically, perfectly possible to polish your car by hand. I would not recommend it, but it’s possible. But we will talk about that in the Q&A section of this article later on. 

Here’s the thing: whereas it is perfectly possible to polish with just that, I would not only not recommend it, I also strictly advise against it. As mentioned above, polishing and paint correction chases perfection. But in order for perfection to be possible, you not only need to know everything I wrote above, but you will also need more than just polishing liquids and pads. So, let’s go through what you need for polishing and paint correction step by step.

 

11a. Polishing equipment: polishing machine(s)

As I said above and will go into further detail below, polishing by hand is possible. But you will never be able to achieve the same results as with dedicated polishing machines. Why? Because you can’t consistently scrub a polishing pad along the paint of your car at up to 5’000 rounds per minute, can you? That’s why you need polishing machines. However, now we just opened a completely new can of worms because polishing machines are somewhat complicated and probably the most confusing items of them all if you are a beginner to polishing and paint correction. And the single most frequently asked question in that respect is “which is the best polishing machine for a beginner”. And my answer to that question has always been and will always be: none! Let me explain why.

The issue with this question is almost always that it comes with the addition of “which is the best cheap polishing machine for a beginner / for a beginner on a budget”. And even if I’m running the risk of repeating myself too often, I have to tell you once again: polishing and paint correction isn’t cheap and it’s not something that’s possible to do in a cheap way. Period. In addition, what makes this question even harder to answer, is that it will heavily depend on where you live. In the German speaking part of Europe, there are e.g. good and solid but still affordable machines from Dino Kraftpaket, Höftech, ADBL, Liquid Elements, Krauss, Lupus and other brands. But whereas Liquid Elements is also available in the UK, there are also machines from AutoFinesse, AutoBrite Direct, and others in Great Britain. And in the US, you have Griots that offers such machines, as well as Meguiars and others. And then you have some global brands and household names like DeWALT, Milauwkee, or Makita which also do some respectable machines.

In that respect, it’s important to understand that most brands don‘t really do their own polishers. Most buy ones from Asia and put their label on it and most will be pretty damn much the same as the DA3 / DA12 / DA21 machines or the ones that SPTA offers. So, the only viable answer to the question of which the best polishing machine for a beginner on a budget is, really always should be: any!

Because at the end of the day, all those machines will be inferior to what the two market leading brands in this field have to offer: Flex and Rupes. What sets their machines apart from all the others I mentioned above are 3 things:

  1. They are made by companies which almost exclusively do polishing (and sanding) machines –  or at least that’s how these companies started. So they didn’t introduce polishing machines as a simple addition to their product lineup, those machines are their product lineup. They are experts in what they do, have lots of experience in it, and many many many professionals trust in them.
  2. Their machines are not just powerful on paper, because most cheaper offerings from other manufacturers will match the technical specifications of Flex’ and Rupes’ machines. However, it’s how the machines of the latter two transfer their power to the pad and, ultimately, to your car’s paint that just works better.
  3. Flex and Rupes polishers are more refined which you e.g. realise by how i.e. Rupes’ machines are perfectly balanced which leads to less fatigue if you work with them over extended periods of time, which you e.g. see by Flex’ warranty program, or the simple fact that both manufacturers offer machines which run significantly smoother, with less vibrations than cheaper machines.

And here’s the thing: all of those things help. They don’t just help professionals in their daily detailing work, they help beginners even more. A better balanced, more stable, smoother running machine will be far easier to handle than a rattling and bouncing one.

So, at the end of the day, the honest answer to the question of which would be the best machine for a beginner to polishing would be: the same as for a professional. The fact that most beginners don’t want to, aren’t willing to, aren’t allowed to, or can’t spend the money on a Flex or Rupes should not let us forget that those two brands really do offer the best machines. 

But that’s not the only reason I’m saying that polishing and paint correction isn’t cheap and that if you’re on a budget, you shouldn’t even start with polishing. Because what‘s more important at this point is that you learn the basics of polishing machines and choose the right one in terms of its specs and - more importantly - that you realise that you will not be able to polish your whole car with just one machine, one pad and a few polishes.

For a start, polishing machines come in different sizes. To be precise, the size of the so-called backing plate varies. The backing plate is the round thing on which you find Velcro to which you attach the polishing pads. And the simple fact of the matter, based on simple physics, is: if you want to polish a whole car, several cars, and especially if you do it for others (professionally and paid), then there just is no way around that fact that you‘ll need to invest big as you’ll need several polishing machines with differently sized backing plates. In my opinion, you’ll need at least three:

  1. One machine with a 125 (5 inch) or 150mm (6 inch) backing plate, like for example a Rupes LHR15, Rupes Duetto, Flex XFE 7-15, or DAS12
  2. One machine with a 75mm (3 inch) backing plate, like e.g. a DAS3
  3. One small machine with a 30mm (1 inch) or 50mm (2 inch) backing plate, like e.g. a Liquid Elements A1000

Yes, you read that right: if you want to start polishing and you are serious about that, I recommend that you get three different machines. And yes, that means that you’ll have to spend at least 300-500 Euros / Pounds / Dollars on machines alone. And yes, that will mean that you’ll need enough pads for each and every one of those machines.

I know that this tip differs massively from what most others will tell you. That’s because you’ll often receive these tips from people who run shops and sell you “polishing beginner sets” with one machine, three different single pads, and three different polishes. And to be absolutely clear about it: I don‘t say that you won‘t be able to achieve good results with just one machine polisher and just one or two pads that costs between 50 and 100 - not at all. It is perfectly possible. I just want to make you aware of and raise your awareness for the simple fact that polishing itself is the highest „art“ within detailing which can and will make the biggest impact on the appearance and finish of your car of anything you can do, but it also requires quite significant investments to do it properly.

Let me compare it with endurance racing or track day driving. Yes, you can do and start it on a budget by getting a (very) cheap car, put in the necessary parts (cage, seat, brakes, suspension, ...) and then just go ahead with it. And yes, you can then step by step improve that car. But at some point and if you want to be competitive at it, you‘ll need to invest big time. 

And that‘s the thing you have to know when it comes to polishing: you can start on a budget and e.g. polish your hood to get some practice. But as soon as you have certain goals, it‘s not possible to do it cheap anymore.

And that’s why I am not recommending any specific machine to you, as I don’t believe that just one machine is enough to do a whole car. But if you don’t believe me, then maybe you’ll believe one of the most respected professional detailers on the planet:

If you really really really just have the money for one machine and you really really really want to polish your whole car, then here’s another tip from me that will differ from what most others will recommend to you. You see, most will recommend you to start with a machine with a 125mm (5 inch) backing plate. The reason they do this is because with the bigger pad size of such a backing plate, you’ll be quicker on larger flat section such as the hood or roof. However, what most people forget is that on many modern cars, there are less and less really flat sections, but angles and curves. And as soon as you work with angles and curves, a 125mm (5 inch) pad will suddenly become too large. And that’s before we talk about A-pillars, narrow and intricate areas on front and rear bumpers…

And that’s exactly why I recommend that you get yourself a polisher with a 75mm (3 inch) backing plate. The reason for this is not only that those machines are usually smaller, lighter, create less vibrations and are therefore easier to handle, but more importantly, you will be able to do about 90% of most cars, whereas with a machine with a larger backing plate, you won‘t be able to do a lot of smaller and more intricate areas on your car. Plus, the smaller pads are cheaper. The downside is that you‘ll need more pads as the smaller ones fill up quicker with old polish and removed paint (see the concept of “residue control” above).

So, now that we talked about the main aspect in the choice of polishing machines in my opinion – the size of the backing plate – let’s go over some additional technical terms you have to know and understand in order to make the right decisions.

The mode of spinning operation refers to how a machine creates its spin movement. In general, there are three different kinds of machines on today’s market:

1. Rotary machines, in layman’s terms, just spin on one axis. These machines have the best power transfer from machine to paint, but therefore also come with the highest risks of paint damages from improper handling, ranging from light ones (holograms, buffer trails) to severe ones (burning through the paint) as you’ll never be able to make the spinning movement of the backing plate stop. The machine will just always put its power to the paint, no matter how much heat is generated and no matter how flat or angled you are putting the pad to the paint. Also, rotaries allow you to install backing plates with different sizes on the same machine. But, the singular motion of the backing plate and pad also means that the machine will generally always feel like it’s “pulling away” from you. All of this means rotary machines take more time to master and are therefore less suitable for beginners, but great for professionals as they will be able to remove paint defects quicker.

    1. Rotary machines, in layman’s terms, just spin on one axis. These machines have the best power transfer from machine to paint, but therefore also come with the highest risks of paint damages from improper handling, ranging from light ones (holograms, buffer trails) to severe ones (burning through the paint) as you’ll never be able to make the spinning movement of the backing plate stop. The machine will just always put its power to the paint, no matter how much heat is generated and no matter how flat or angled you are putting the pad to the paint. Also, rotaries allow you to install backing plates with different sizes on the same machine. But, the singular motion of the backing plate and pad also means that the machine will generally always feel like it’s “pulling away” from you. All of this means rotary machines take more time to master and are therefore less suitable for beginners, but great for professionals as they will be able to remove paint defects quicker.
    2. Dual action (DA) or random orbital machines are far more complicated to explain. On a very basic level, the machine is not directly making the backing plate spin. If you try to turn the backing plate on a rotary or forced rotation machine, you’ll feel the resistance from the machine’s gearbox. If you turn the backing plate on a dual action or random orbital machine, you’ll realise that the backing plate is free spinning. That’s because the machine itself is only spinning something that’s in between the machine’s gearbox and the backing plate (with a counterweight in it to counter the weight of the backing plate) in a random orbit and not just a single axis like with a rotary – hence the name. The name “dual action” stems from the fact that the pad which is attached to the backing plate of such machines does two things: it spins (because of the rotational mass of the pad and backing plate combo) and it is also moving in a random orbit, creating small circles within the larger overall circle if you would paint the effect that this creates. Two movements, hence “dual action”. All of this means several things: DA machines (as we will refer to them from now on) put less power to the paint, the spin movement can stop if you apply too much pressure, run the pad at an angle or run it at a curved / angled section of the paint (and therefore reduce polishing power), but because of all these reasons, these machines are much safer to use (i.e. for beginners), don’t drag you along the paint, and are therefore easier to control. There are DA machines on which you can switch the backing plates out, but this is in general not something I would recommend (see this video for an explanation of why not) and there’s a limit to this: you cannot throw a 30mm (1 inch) backing plate on a machine that originally comes with a 125mm (5 inch) one.
    3. Forced rotation machines (like e.g. the Rupes LK900E Mille or Flex VRG 3401) combine a rotary and DA machine. In general, they work in the same way as a DA machine would, but the spin movement of the backing plate and pad is not free anymore, but it’s gear driven. This means that the pad still follows two motions (the spin movement around its own axis, as well as the random orbit), but because the random orbit is now forced and not free anymore, these machines combine the benefits of rotaries and DA machines. This sounds fantastic on paper, however, forced rotation machines do also come with their own specific disadvantages: they are generally very heavy and bulky, they also tend to drag you along the paint, they tend to vibrate more, and are therefore generally far less comfortable to use than a DA machine. They also tend to cost a lot more and they usually only come in backing plate sizes of 125mm (5 inch) or more. The Makita PO5000C is an interesting take on such a machine, as you can switch between a free spinning DA mode and a forced rotation mode, however, it’s throw is limited to 5mm (which we will talk about below).

All of this is confusing, I know. Which is why I recommend you go ahead and watch these two videos which illustrate all these things a lot better:

For beginners, DA machines are by far the best choice, as they are the easiest and safest to use. And combined with the right pads and polishing liquids, they can be almost as effective as a rotary or forced rotation machine.

The throw of a machine is also an aspect that you should know of. In general, this won’t really be something you can choose as you will just have to go with what the respective machine of your choice gives you. The throw describes the way that the random orbital movement of a DA or forced rotation machine travels. It therefore describes how much the backing plate and pad of such a machine “kick”, if you want. Generally, a smaller throw (which would be 3 to 8mm) will be easier to handle, as it means less risks of bumping on something, and the machine will feel smoother. A larger throw on the other hands means more cutting power and a bigger area that you’ll be able to work on, but it will also be harder to handle and is puts more stress on your pads. In general, smaller machines with smaller backing plates will come with a smaller throw (or orbit), and bigger machines with a bigger backing plate will come with a larger throw. In fact, large throw machines were introduced not so long ago and are the reason some of the machines by Rupes are also called “Big Foot” – which refers to their respectively large throws of 15mm or 21mm.

For beginners, I personally think that a throw or orbit between 8 and 15mm will be perfectly fine. In the great scheme of things I don’t think that the orbit is as important as choosing between a rotary, DA or forced rotation machine or choosing between different backing sizes, but I would not necessarily recommend that you go with a 21mm orbit machine for your first one – especially since they often tend to come with 150mm (6 inch) backing plates.

Regarding the question of the power source and if you as a beginner should go with a battery or cable powered machine, I’d say both is fine. I personally prefer cable powered ones as I think they are better balanced, a lot lighter (leading to less fatigue when working over longer periods of time with them), and they also tend to have more power. I also found that battery powered ones, even if they come from reputable manufacturers like Flex, are not yet as reliable as cable powered ones.

 

11b. Polishing equipment: polishing pads and liquids

As a general rule, I recommend the following setup of polishing pads and liquids if you decide to start with machine polishing:

  • One type of pad and liquid for „cutting“
  • One type of pad and liquid for „polishing“
  • One type of pad and liquid for „finishing“
  • Two types of pads and liquids for „emergencies“.

Cutting, polishing, and finishing are straightforward, as pretty much all manufacturers of the respective materials tell you which pad of liquid is for what. By „emergencies“ I mean two things: you’ll need one pad and liquid combo for very, very, very soft and finicky paint which is made to create a finish free of swirls, holograms, and haze. And then, one very aggressive and abrasive type of pad and liquid for very hard paint types. In respect to the latter one, as you as a beginner will most likely work with a DA machine, I especially recommend microfiber and/or (hybrid) wool pads there. However, be careful with wool pads: most of them are made for rotary machines. If you use such ones on a DA, the wool strings of the pad can curl up and create less favorable results. You’ll need special wool pads made for DA polishing machines (e.g. offered by Lake Country, Sonax, or Rupes).

When it comes to the question of which manufacturers you should get you pads and liquids from, I personally and from my own experience can highly recommend the following ones:

  • For pads: Lake Country (i.e. HDO and Force pads), CarPro, ADBL, Koch Chemie, Menzerna, Sonax, Meguiar’s, Buff & Shine
  • For liquids: Sonax, Labocosmetica, CarPro, Koch Chemie, Scholl Concepts, Polish Angel, Angelwax, Meguiar‘s, 3D

If you wonder why I didn’t put Menzerna in the above list of polishing liquids, then this once again is something my tips to you will differ from most others. You see, I personally think that Menzerna polishes are somewhat outdated and many other manufacturers overtook them in the last couple of years, i.e. when it comes to the fact that some Menzerna polishes tend to create (a lot of) dust which you then have to get rid of, whereas Sonax polishes for example create next to no dust at all. I’m not saying that Menzerna polishes don’t work – quite the opposite. And their 3500 and 3800 polishes I also like a lot. But, in general, I think that the ones mentioned above are more modern and work slightly better.

But please go ahead and do your own research and find reviews. What I would not recommend is to buy cheap. Polishing pads are not meant to last forever and at some point you’ll have to replace them. However, if you buy (very) cheap ones, you’ll have to switch them out sooner than later. Going with one manufacturer that offers pads and liquids is generally a good idea, as these manufacturers made sure that the respective pads and liquids work in harmony and are e.g. also colour coded which makes things easier for you, but it is by no means necessary.

Regarding the number of pads, I already introduced you to the concept of residue control above. Let me be as clear as possible about this one: you cannot polish a whole car with just one pad! You need more than that for two reasons: if you polish a whole car with just one pad, this will put too much stress on the pad. If you grab such a foam pad and have a close look at it, you’ll see that it consists of foam and therefore also a lot of open space between the foam material. That’s because polishing liquid as well as the paint you remove whole polishing needs to go into those air pockets. And they are also there to manage heat. If those air pockets fill up, heat cannot be transported away anymore and the pad will start to disintegrate. Plus, the results you are trying to achieve (defect removal and/or a nice finish) will quickly start to fade. So while the results may be perfect on the hood of the car where you started, they can be horrible on the rear bumper where you’ll finish the job. Let me say it again: one pad is not enough!

Which leads me to the simple recommendation of one pad per car part (and two for large parts like the roof or hood). Pads work best when they are „fresh“. As soon as they start filling up with used polish and „dead“ paint that you removed, their performance starts to fade. It‘s therefore important to often swap for new pads. Yes, in theory you could clean the pads with compressed air, a scrub or wash them out and let them dry, but there’s a limit to what blowing pads out can do and if there’s still some humidity / water in the pads when you didn’t let them dry for long enough, then you’ll just squirt that around when you start polishing – plus some polishes can just simply be made ineffective by adding water to them if they are water solvable. So, having an arsenal of pads is the only right way to go.

Yes, this means that you will end up with 6 to 10 pads per stage (correcting, polishing, finishing). And yes, this also means that you’ll need this amount of pads for every single machine with different backing plate sizes. But let me say it once again: polishing is not cheap. Never was, never will be. And if you’re chasing perfection, then why should you limit yourself from the get go by not buying enough pads?

 

11c. Polishing equipment: additional stuff you need

We’re not done yet. Polishing machines, pads and liquids are not the only things you need. You at least also need an appropriate amount of high quality microfibre towels to remove polishing residue. Once again: don’t be greedy and just buy the cheapest ones. Remember: you are chasing perfection. Imagine the situation that you just spent hours or even days getting your car’s paint perfectly defect free and you now want to remove the residue of your chosen finishing polish. By using low quality towels, you can induce new fine scratches to the paint you just perfected. Don’t be that guy and get yourself high quality towels. And get yourself enough of those because as much as with pads, towels will get saturated over time. If you’re polishing a whole car in several steps, you’ll need 10 to 20 towels. Regarding the question if you should get short pile or plus microfibers: this will depend on the polishing liquids you chose and how they react to your polishing technique and the respective paint. Some will be easier to wipe off with short pile towels, some will react better to plusher and thicker towels. Your best option is to get both types.

Additionally, before you even start to polish, you should tape off materials such as rubber and (unpainted) plastic parts, matte painted body panels, or vinyls / stickers so that you don’t damage them during the following polishing stage. For that, you need a suitable tape that is able to withstand what your polishing machine, pad and liquid throws at it. 3M, HPX, CarPro, Kamikaze and other brands offer such polishing tapes.

Also, to be sure to remove all polishing residue, you’ll need a panel wipe or IPA. This holds especially true if you are planning on applying some form of protective product after polishing your paint, as residue from polishing liquids could hinder your chosen protective product from properly bonding to your car’s paint.

Then, I also highly recommend that you get yourself a proper lighting source. Let me be as clear as possible: you cannot see (all) paint defects and you cannot see the results from polishing with the bare eye. You need proper and strong lights to check your work. In this respect, your iPhone camera light will not be sufficient. Something like a single handheld polishing light will be enough and I can e.g. highly recommend the ScanGrip Sunmatch.

Also, don’t forget about your personal safety. Every time you’re working with chemicals, I recommend wearing gloves. Protection for your eyes might also be a good idea. Polishing machines are quite loud, so ear protection would also make sense. Plus, not all residue from polishing liquids and removed paint will end up in your pads, some of it will also be airborne. So, I also recommend some kind of a mask, i.e. if you work indoors and if you do it more often (e.g. professionally).

What’s harder to answer is the question of you really need a paint depth gauge. These are electronic devices with which you can measure the amount of paint that’s on your car’s body. However, most of those devices, especially the affordable ones, will only be able to measure on metal, so they can’t read paint thickness on plastics, carbon fibre, or aluminium panels. But, once again, remember what polishing and paint correction means: removing paint. Once removed, you can’t get paint back. So ask yourself: is it really worth it, to save ~100 Euros / Pounds / Dollars and not get a paint depth gauge just to then realise there wasn’t enough paint on your car, you now have burnt through it, and need an even more expensive respray? I myself don’t think it’s worth the risk.

 

  1. The guide: how do I polish?

Polishing is something you have to do and see in order to understand it. It’s very very hard for me to describe the actual process of polishing with just words. That’s why I recommend that you go ahead and watch the following videos which explain it to you:

 

 

 

If you rather want to read through the process, then here’s how polishing works step by step:

  • The start to every polishing job is simple and the same: you first inspect the paint you are about to polish and based on your judgement of how “bad” things are, you choose a combination of machine, pad and polish, and go from there. The deeper and more severe the respective paint defects are, the more aggressive your polishing material has to be.
  • In general, it is advisable to follow a “least aggressive method first” approach. Remember: polishing means paint removal. Once removed, you cannot get paint back. That’s why you should always try to achieve as much paint correction with the least aggressive method possible. This usually means starting with a finishing pad and finishing polish first and see where that gets you. Yes, this could mean that you realise that you need to go for more aggressive methods (pads and liquids), but that’s part of the process. With time and experience, you will be able to make better judgement calls and e.g. decide that you need to go with a cutting compound and pad from the beginning. But don’t rush things!
  • Pick up your choice machine and attach a pad to the backing plate. Make sure that the pad is as perfectly centered on the backing plate as possible, otherwise you’ll feel more vibrations.
  • Apply your chosen polishing liquid to the pad. If the pad is fresh, then use a lot of polish and then spread it with your fingers across the pad so that (ideally) every single spot of the pad has polish on it – this is called “priming” the pad. But make sure to properly work the polishing liquid into the pad because if you just spread it on the surface and/or use too much, then you run the risk of slinging the polish all around your car’s paint and the area around it when you start the machine. After priming the pad, apply a few more pea sized drops of polishing liquids to the pad (with cutting compounds you’ll typically need more, with finishing polish you generally want to use less).
  • You should always start with a so-called “test spot”: You pick an area, e.g. one corner of the hood, use your choice combination of machine, pad and polish there, and then inspect the results. If the results suit your expectations, then go ahead and use this exact combination on the whole car. If not, then change something, like e.g. the pads or liquid, or something about your technique, like your arm speed, the amounts of passes you go over that spot, or the pressure you apply on the machine / pad. Keep in mind that you could run into body panels which behave differently, for example because they were resprayed or because the underground changes (plastic bumpers vs. metal parts). So, doing a test spot before starting is vital, but don’t get hung up on it.
  • Put the pad on the area of you car’s paint that you want to polish. Set your machine polisher to the lowest speed setting and start it. With a relatively high arm speed and no pressure to the machine / pad, you now spread the polish to the whole section that you now want to work on. Normally, you work in areas (squares) which are about the size (length) of your underarms. You can always increase those areas if you realise that it’s possible, but remember: the polishing liquid does contain “stuff” that starts to break down when you work it, so if you work in areas which are too large, the polishing liquid can’t be as effective as it could and should be.
  • Once there is a thin layer of polish on the whole section, bump the speed of your polisher up to somewhere in between ¾ and the maximum speed setting. Some manufacturers of polishing liquids give you tips in the instructions regarding the recommended speed settings. But because DA machines usually don’t have quite so much power as rotaries, you’re usually fine if you just use the highest speed setting – sometimes funnily referred by some to as “speed 6 and send it”.
  • Now, let the machine glide over the whole area with moderate to low arm speeds in a criss-cross pattern, applying no pressure at all (just use the weight of the machine itself). The amount of passes you do will depend on the amount you want to correct the paint, on the chosen polishing liquid’s ability to be worked over longer periods of time (some will break down quicker than others). Generally, I’d recommend that you start with 2-3 passes and then check the results. Turn the machine off, but leave the pad on the paint – if you lift it while it’s still spinning, you run the risk of polishing liquid squirting all over the place. Once the machine stopped, you lift it up, wipe away the polish residue and check the results with a strong light.
  • If you’re not happy with the results you got (e.g. there are still swirls visible), then you now have several options. You could e.g. swap the pad and/or polishing liquid for a more aggressive one. If you removed almost all paint defects you aimed for and only have some minor defects left, then I’d recommend only stepping one thing up: the pad or the liquid. If you feel that you didn’t do much, you can switch both. The other option is that you change your technique, meaning that you can for example go over the same test spot with the same pad-liquid-combo once again and see if it just takes two passes to get the results you want. If you’re fine with two passes on the whole car, then go with that. Or you can e.g. further decrease your arm speed to give the pad and liquid more time to work on every single spot. You could also slightly increase the pressure you apply on the machine / pad, creating more friction, heat, and therefore abrasion.
  • If you decide to use an aggressive cutting compound and pad combination to get rid of severe paint defects, you might realise that you’re indeed able to get those paint defects out, but are left with a somewhat “milky”, hazy, dull looking paint finish. That’s perfectly normal. Remember: polishing really is just like sanding. And because you just used a very “rough” method to get those paint defects out, you left the paint surface in a “rough” state. That means that you now have to follow of with a finishing polish and pad combination to get the haze out.
  • In general, increasing your arm speed (the speed with which you run the machine / pad along your paint) will decrease the time in which the pad and liquid combo can do its work. It you use high arm speeds and still get the results you are looking for, then fine, go ahead. In most cases, beginners tend to use too high arm speeds. Go slow and give those chemicals time to work. General rule of thumb: every part of the paint you’re polishing should get in contact with the pad and liquid for at least a one or two seconds.
  • When working with a DA machine, make sure that the backing plate and pad always spin freely. If you apply too much pressure, if you don’t use enough polishing liquid, if you work in convex areas of your car’s body, if you bump into angles of the body, then the spin movement could be stopped. This is visible and is something that you can test for yourself on a test spot the first time you use your new machine: apply the machine to the panel, start it, and then slowly but steadily increase the pressure on the machine / pad until you notice a change in the movement of the pad on the paint. To make it easier for you to see when the spin movement stops, you can also mark a fine line with a felt pen on one spot of the pad (on the outside edge of it). This line will make it much easier for you to see when the pad stops its spin movement. If that happens, you need to change something because then the machine, pad and liquid can’t work properly anymore. See this video for more explanations on how machine speed and pressure affect your polishing results.
  • After every pass, meaning every time you stop the machine and remove polishing residue, I recommend quickly cleaning the pad you just used with compressed air or a brush (e.g. an old tooth brush). This helps keeping the pad cleaner for longer and ensures optimal results.
  • Before reworking an area or going onto the next area, again apply a few drops of polishing liquid to the pad. However, you don’t need to “prime” the pad every time. You only need to do that with fresh and unused pads.
  • My personal rule of thumb is: one pad per body panel. With larger body panels like the hood or roof (or side panels on vans / buses), you maybe need to use two pads per panel. This means I swap out the pad I just used for a new one for a new body panel I am working on. This makes sure I always have optimal results.
  • If you realise that the results you aim for need several steps (e.g. one cutting / compounding step and one finishing step), you can choose if you want to do those two steps body panel per body panel, or if you want to first compound the whole car and then finish it afterwards. I personally like to first do one step on the whole car and then go for the next step.
  • Don’t overheat your machine. If you follow the rule of working in small areas at a time, this should not be an issue. Still, I’d recommend that you feel how hot your machine gets and maybe give it a few minutes to cool down in between passes or steps.
  • If you realise that your chosen polish tends to dust a lot or runs dry very quickly, you have a few options. You can add lubrication by spritzing the pad with water or a dedicated pad primer. I don’t recommend this as you add one additional variable which could affect your results. You can also try to just use more polishing liquid which sometimes help. You can also reduce pressure, increase arm speed, or decrease machine speed.

That’s it, really. You see, the basics of polishing are rather simple. What can and will make it hard and complicated in the end is the realization that every, and I really mean every polishing job is different and that you simply can‘t say in advance which machine, pad, and polishing combination will work best on a specific car and paint.

Also, you should know and realise that polishing is not always about removing 100% of all paint defects. As polishing always means removing clear coat, it’s not always advisable and it doesn’t always make sense to go for a 100% correction as there may only be very little clear coat left on your car.

Plus, as you should have realised by the description above, polishing is not something that can be done quickly. You need time to find the combination of machine, pad and liquid that works. For that, you might have to do several test spots. You need those chemicals you’re working with time to do their job. Rushing and e.g. using high arm speeds to get the job done quickly will always lead to inferior results.

 

Q&A

Now that you know (pretty much) everything basic that is to know about polishing and paint correction, we can go through some more specific and frequently asked questions in regards to polishing.

When is it time to think about polishing?

This question can relate to two different aspects: your skill level and the current state your car’s paint is in. And both of those aspects are important.

Regarding your skill level, I personally think that polishing and paint correction is pretty much the highest form of detailing. You should have gathered your fair deal of detailing knowledge before you start thinking about polishing. The reason for this is that pretty much everything else you do in detailing is just cosmetic, meaning when you wash, decontaminate and protect your car, everything you do will just be temporary, semi-permanent at max (e.g. with ceramic coatings). A glaze, wax or sealant you apply can be stripped away with relatively easy measures and some strong chemicals. As mentioned above, polishing and paint correction will permanently and irreversibly remove paint. That’s why you actually can induce damage that, in the worst case scenario, will need a respray to fix. With modern polishing equipment, dual action / random orbital machines and if you’re not a complete halfwit, it’s rather unlikely that you will burn through paint, but it’s possible. Which is why, in my opinion, it’s time to think about polishing comparably late in your detailing game. Side note: the same accounts for ceramic coatings, as they will need polishing in their preparation and polishing (or even sanding) to be removed if something goes wrong, hence why you should learn to polish first before you think about applying a ceramic coating.

Regarding the question when it’s time to polish in respect to the state of your car’s paint there is no definite answer. Some people drive cars that have never been polished and on which there is obvious clear coat failure and are happy with it – or at least they don’t care. And some people polish their cars twice a year. So, it really depends on you and how you want your car’s paint to look. In general, and in line with what I said above, I personally want to introduce you to the following rule of thumb: you should polish as often as it has to be, but as rarely as possible. Remember: polishing means paint removal so you want to keep that to a minimum.

That’s why the more precise answer to this question would be that with a finishing polish and a correspondingly soft finishing pad, you can polish rather often because you hardly remove any paint by doing that. So, as long as you keep your car’s paint in good condition and only need to remove very light wash-induced swirls, you really can polish your car twice a year. If you use aggressive cutting compounds and pads, you can remove quite a significant amount of paint and therefore really only should think about doing this if it is absolutely necessary.

 

What is a 3 stage polishing job?

In essence, it is old thinking in regards to polishing. As explained above, polishing liquids once were “one hit wonders” as they really were just good at one thing: compounds (first step) were good at cutting but miserable in finishing, medium cut polishes (second step) were good at removing paint defects you created with the first step but not quite so good at finishing, and finishing polishes (third step) were good at creating a nice finish, but unusable to remove any paint defects, even the ones created in the first step. So, in the olden days of polishing, you really needed three steps to create close to perfect results because the polishing liquids were too compromised.

However, polishing liquids have moved on and came a long way. Today, in my opinion, no one really needs to go for a three stage polish anymore. And it is especially ridiculous if someone tries to tell or sell you that he or she is going for a three stage polishing job before he or she even saw the car that they will be working on. In all honesty, it just shows that they don’t understand the subject of polishing. Because today, you can achieve perfection (or come very close to it) by using a combination of aggressive (microfiber or wool) pads and compounds which both are able to also finish nicely, and then all you need to go for is a second step with a finishing pad and polish. Three stages are rarely necessary anymore and really only come into play if you e.g. work on very, very, very delicate and soft darker paints on which you may be forced to go over in a third, final stage and an extremely fine polish in order to come up with a finish free of haze.

 

Can I polish a car by hand (without a machine)?

In general, yes. But, and I don‘t say this to be an asshole and I don‘t say this to discourage you, but much rather because I truly believe in what I‘m about to say: don’t hand polish! Here‘s a video for you:

https://youtu.be/cr-hx5pGFUM

The simple facts of the matter are that you will never be able to achieve the same results by hand as you would by machine. More importantly, it would take you an incredibly high amount of time and physical effort polishing a car by hand to get even somewhat near the results you would achieve by machine in a much, much shorter amount of time and with almost unbelievably less effort. You are much quicker and more consistent with a machine and achieve all of that in a more comfortable way. Even a very cheap entry-level machine will be able to achieve much better results than you by hand.

Just think of this for a second: if a machine polisher does 1‘000 rounds per minute, you would also have to create 1‘000 movements by hand. See why you can‘t achieve the same results as a polisher?

Hand polishing is a shitload of work, extremely physical and exhausting, will take you days (!) and not lead to the desired results in 9 out if 10 cases. I don‘t say it‘s impossible, but it‘s extremely important to be realistic about what to expect from hand polishing. Even if I consider that I technically know how it would and should work, even if I had all the necessary equipment, I still wouldn't do it. And I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

The best analogy I could come up with is this video:

 

Yes, it is technically perfectly possible to build your own house completely by hand and with natural raw materials. But would and should you do it? The answer to this question depends on another question: are you wanting and willing to do it for the experiment‘s sake and because you want to see for yourself if you‘re capable of doing it meaning that you see it as a personal challenge you want to overcome, then please go ahead and do it. If you want to do it as a cheaper alternative to machine polishing and/or because you can‘t or don‘t want to invest in a polishing setup or giving your car to a professional detailer, so you want to have the result of a scratch-free paint but don‘t want to invest (much) money in it, then don‘t do it - it‘s not worth it.

 

Can I polish outside / in direct sunlight?

It depends. Technically yes, you can do that. However, it’s not ideal. If the body panels you work on are baking hot or extremely cold, then this could severely affect your choice polishing liquid’s ability to work properly. You could even run into issues such as that you can’t take the polish residue off anymore because it has baked on the paint. Also, dirt and dust particles could fall onto the paint if you polish outside which you then scrub along the paint while polishing it. You then simultaneously remove and create paint defects – that doesn’t really make sense, does it? So, you should at least invest in a gazebo of sorts if you really want or have to polish outside.

 

I can’t get those swirls out (quick enough), what better polish / pad is there?

If you just hope to get better results in less time or with less effort by using different materials, then don‘t buy more or other stuff. The simple fact of the matter is that there are no shortcuts in polishing and paint correction. It‘s much better to realise this fact, accept it, and work on your technique instead of spending money to permanently „upgrade“ your equipment.

 

I used Menzerna 400 and can’t get those swirls out. What am I doing wrong?

Menzerna 400 (and 300, for that matter) is not that aggressive and it’s not a true cutting compound. Many people get that wrong, including many shop owners who sell you polishing beginner sets in which there is Menzerna 400 as the chosen compound.

Menzerna 400 is a one-step polish and works in a rather specific way: it’s initially and comparably high cut starts to fade rather quickly. That’s why to get the most out of it, you need to work in (very) small areas. Most people work it in too large areas at a time.

 

Which cutting compound has the most cut?

Again, this question just shows that the person who asked it hasn’t understood the simple basics of polishing and paint correction. This question can’t be answered as, once again, every polishing job is different.

However, in general, the following cutting compounds are amongst the most aggressive:

  • CarPro ClearCut
  • CarPro UltraCut
  • Koch Chemie H8.02
  • Koch Chemie H9.01
  • Scholl Shock 2 Cut
  • Sonax Cutmax
  • Sonax Ultimate Cut 6+

 

I have [brand x model y]. What is the best pad and polish combination for my car?

This question just shows that you haven’t read or haven’t understood this whole article. Read it again! 

Jokes aside: this question can’t be answered. As I said above: every polishing job is different. And you can’t know in advance what will or won’t work on your car. Plus: something that worked for someone else might not work for you, even if you two have the exact same car. Choose good pads and good polishing liquids and go from there.

 

I spent hours polishing my car but there are always fine scratches / swirls left. What’s wrong?

If you face very, very soft and finicky paint types, especially darker ones, then a panel wipe / IPA wipedown can temporarily soften it up even more which then leads to scratches you introduce by just wiping over the paint with a towel while degreasing the paint. On extremely difficult paints, panel wipes / IPA wipe downs can even lead to a nastily hazy finish which ruins all the work you put into it before. If you face such a paint, then there really is no best way of going about it. You can try different types of panel wipes / IPA wipe downs and hope that you find the one that doesn’t make things worse. You can also just wipe off polish residue with just a towel and don’t use panel wipes / IPA wipe downs, but then you run the risk that there will stay some polish residue behind which will then hinder the protective product you apply afterwards to properly bond to your car’s paint. If you opt for a simple spray wax, spray sealant or paste wax, this effect will be there, but probably won’t be that significant. If we talk about ceramic coatings, this effect will be severe. Yes, there is stuff out there like CarPro Essence, Gyeon Primer, or Labocosmetica Fiero, but that does only really reliably work with CarPro / Gyeon / Labocosmetica coatings and products – everything else will only ever be an experiment. The most important lesson here is to stay calm and just accept that you will have to live with some sort of compromise, as even professionals face the same issues and a whole industry has not been able to solve this problem in the last decades.

 

What does “jeweling” mean?

The term “jeweling” refers to a technique that aims at getting the upmost gloss levels out of paint. If is usually used within or even after the finishing stage in which you use an extremely fine finishing polish with very fine (or even no) abrasives in it in combination with a very soft finishing pad with almost no cutting ability on its own. The aim of “jeweling” is to completely remove any kind of haze that would interfere with a perfectly clear clear coat finish.

 

What does “sticky paint” mean?

The term “sticky paint” came up in the last couple of years and – in my opinion – is nowadays thrown around too often by people who either don’t really know what it means or just want to hide the fact that they haven’t the experience or knowledge to work around issues they face when polishing.

In general, the term refers to the phenomenon that your chosen polishing liquid becomes and feels “sticky” when you work it, meaning it isn’t or doesn’t feel lubricated enough so that it either becomes unusable or hard to remove after polishing. This is often seen with very soft or old (single stage) paint on which you remove so much paint or clear coat so quickly that the polish and pad can’t cope with it anymore.

To work around this issue, you can try to add more polish, add lubrication (pad primer or specialized products such as Nanolex Optimizer), or perform the “mow down” technique in a first step.

 

What is the “mow down” technique?

This term refers to a polishing technique introduced or named by Kevin Brown (and made public by AMMO NYC). If you work on a car with a lot of dead, damaged, soft, or oxidized paint, or with residue of some form of paint protection on it, you can go ahead and in a first step use a very aggressive pad and polish combination with high arm speeds to just “mow down” the paint and remove this very first layer of “stuff”. Or in other words, you first chop away the rough stuff and big branches to then be able to mow your lawn. In theory, after this first step, the following ones become easier as you have to deal with less paint residue.

 

What is a “non-correctional polish”?

It’s nonsense! There are some professional detailers / valeters who introduced this term when they use products like glazes to just temporarily fill light paint defects instead of removing them – as this is much much quicker. By filling them up, they create more „gloss“ as a flatter paint is glossier than a scratched up one. But this will only ever be a temporary fix as fillers in general only last a couple of days, maybe weeks, and for about one to three washes. That’s why I personally think that the term “non-correctional polish” is a bad business habit.

 

Can I polish wrapped vehicles?

Depends if we talk about gloss or matte wraps. For matte wraps, see the paragraph below. For gloss wraps, the answer is yes, but make sure to follow these tips:

  • Generally, only use a finishing polish and don’t use compounds
  • Don’t create or work with excessive heat

 

Can I polish matte paint or matte wraps?

Physically and technically, you can put a machine polisher on a matte paint finish. It will do its job. But it will irreversibly damage the matte paint finish because you will make it glossy. So, by all means: no, don’t polish matte paint or matte wraps!

The following video is in German, but it will show you what happens if you polish matte paint or matte wraps:

 

 

Can I polish plastic trim?

If the plastic trim we are talking about is painted, then yes. If it is unpainted plastic, then no. This is why you should always tape off unpainted plastics before you start polishing as some polishes can leave behind nasty white residue which is very hard to get off and, more importantly, if the plastic trim we are looking at here has a rough, matte / satin nature to it and you polish over it with an aggressive compound, you irreversibly change the look of it (at once spot).

 

Do I need to apply protection after polishing?

No, you do absolutely not need to put a protective product like a wax on your paint after polishing it, no one forces you to do so. But it is highly recommended in order to prolong the time your newly polished paint stays as defect-free as possible and to protect it from fading (due to UV light) and new contaminants.

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