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Polishing your car will help to maintain your car’s paint job, thus extending the beauty and life of the vehicle’s exterior. Better yet, it’s a great way to get rid of dirt, minor scratches, and rust that may have accumulated on the car’s surface over time.
In short, knowing how to polish your car is a great way to completely revitalize the exterior finish of your car.
Unfortunately, this step is usually forgotten between car washing and waxing, probably because many car owners don’t know how to do it properly. In addition, having your car polished professionally can be expensive, which is another reason many people put it off or avoid it altogether.
Surprisingly, you can easily polish your car at home, provided you’ve got some time and a few tools.
Don’t believe me? Perhaps this guide on how to polish your car will give you the tips and confidence you need to get started!
What does car polishing mean?
Car polishing refers to an abrasive task that scratches away and removes a fine layer of clear coat material to get rid of bonded contaminants and level out minor scratches.
In essence, it’s similar to sanding, but in a more delicate manner, using much finer mid-liquid abrasive materials and products. In addition, car polishing fixes the issue of paint fade and oxidation and is particularly important when dealing with older vehicles with lacquer paint jobs.
That said, polishing can either be done by hand or with a polishing machine and there is a wide range of polishing pads and compounds on the market. However, finding the correct polishing equipment is usually the most difficult part of the job.
At the same time, using incorrect tools, techniques, and products will have a negative impact on the car’s finish as it can produce unsightly defects like haze, holograms, or more scratches.
It’s also worth mentioning that just polishing the car surface will not get rid of deep gouges and stone chips that penetrate through the clear coat into the underlying primer and color coats.
In such scenarios, you will need more advanced techniques of paint correction to fix the defects. For that, car polishing is usually done as a finishing operation to remove bonded contamination and most light scratches, orange peel, swirl marks, and other surface defects.
Methods of polishing your car
As already mentioned, there are 2 common methods of polishing your car;
This is the easiest method to restore some shine to your car’s paintwork, making it a great option for beginners. Plus, it’s relatively straightforward as you only need some polishing compound and a few microfiber towels.
Polishing compounds are usually available in paste form and feature tiny abrasive particles. That way, the abrasive particles scratch away the topmost clear coat layer as you rub them in the car paint.
This helps to level out most light scratches and remove spots, oxidation, and other contaminants stuck to the car’s surface.
Unlike waxing and washing, hand polishing should be done in circular motions, while gradually moving the polishing pad up and down and side to side to cover the car surface.
More notably, use medium pressure and overlap your strokes as you work on the paste until there are no traces of the polishing compound left on the panel. Next, wipe away the car surface with a clean microfiber towel and repeat the above steps until you get the desired results.
To get excellent results, separate the panel into sections and polish them one at a time instead of trying to work on the entire panel in one go.
On the downside, hand polishing is both tiring and time-consuming. For that, it’s almost impossible to polish the whole car in one go, particularly if the clear coat has experienced significant deterioration over the years.
Other than that, it’s perfect for removing surface contamination and light scratches from individual areas and panels. However, it will be difficult to polish out stone chips and deeper scratches from your car’s clear coat by hand.
While buffers and polishing machines can seem intimidating at fast, they’ll help you polish the entire car in no time and get outstanding results. Unfortunately, they can compromise the car paint entirely or cause serious damage to the car’s clear coat if you use them incorrectly.
So, if you’re scared to polish your car with a machine, I’d recommend you get a few panels from the junkyard and practice on them first.
In addition, you need to ensure that you’re using the right polishing machine for your car. The most commonly used polishing machines include:
Orbital buffer (Standard orbit polishing machine)
An orbital buffer is relatively affordable and a direct replacement for hand polishing, but it is a lot easier and less tiring. Its pad rotates around a circle while staying in a fixed position, just like a hand would when polishing the car in a circular position.
In addition, this machine is very easy and safe to use, although it provides little cutting power. For that, it’s commonly used to apply car care products like sealants and waxes quickly and evenly across the car surface.
Random Orbital polishing machine
A random orbital polisher is more advanced as the pad rides on a bearing while orbiting in a circle, which allows it to spin freely around its axis. Moreover, the pad rates through momentum after the motor powers the orbital motion, producing a random pattern across the car surface.
Best of all, random orbit polishers provide good cutting power to remove imperfections and polish the surface, yet they’re very safe to use, making them a perfect choice for beginners.
Rotary polishing machine
The rotary polisher is practically an angle grinder that rotates at 1/3rd of the speed, which can be up to 3000 RPM. More importantly, the polishing pad rotates around its axis, meaning the outer edge moves faster than the center.
If not handled properly, this machine can produce hologram effects in the car paint finish. Moreover, it can overheat and quickly burn through the car’s clear coat.
For these reasons, a rotary polisher isn’t recommended for beginners as it’s the most aggressive polishing machine.
Dual action polishing machine.
Most professional detailers use a dual action polisher to polish cars as it forces both the rotational and orbital motion of the pad, thus producing a fixed pattern. As a result, the machine is more aggressive, and efficient and removes materials faster compared to random orbital machines.
However, beginners should beware when using a dual action polisher to polish their car as they can quickly overheat the clear coat.
How to polish your car by hand
Things you’ll need
The major benefit of polishing your car by hand is that you’ll not need a lot of equipment to get started. However, you’ll need to work harder to get rid of the swirl marks and scratches, yet the results will not be as good as machine polishing.
That said, here are the tools and materials you’ll need to polish your car by hand;
- Best polishing compound/ liquid
- Microfiber cloths
- Polishing pads
Step-by-step guide on how to hand polish your car
- Thoroughly wash the car to get rid of any debris and dirt. Rinse the car with clean water and use a car-drying microfiber cloth to dry the car’s surface and remove as much moisture as possible.
- Apply a small amount of the polishing compound on the applicator pad.
- Spread the polishing compound on the car paint surface in regular, circular motions, while working in small sections. Although the polishing pad may absorb some of the polish since it is like a sponge, you’ll still be able to cut back as you work.
- Lastly, use a clean microfiber cloth to buff the polish into a shine, section by section.
How to polish your car with a machine
Things you’ll need
- Rotary polisher/ buffer or orbital polisher/ random orbital sander with a polishing attachment
- Hose & spray nozzle
- Car wash brush/ pad
- Microfiber cloths
- Polishing compound
- Car wash soap/ mild dish soap
- Car washing sponge
- Rubbing alcohol
- Bug remover
Step-by-Step guide on how to polish your car with a machine
Step 1: Wash the car
Pour a significant amount of car washing soap into the bucket and fill it with water. Then use a hose-attached brush to thoroughly soak down the entire car, while removing any large bits of debris and dirt.
Soak your car washing sponge in soapy water and use it to firmly rub over the car’s body, one section at a time. Afterward, rinse each section after washing before you proceed to other areas to avoid leaving marks on the car’s surface.
Step 2: Remove stubborn bug stains
Once you’re done washing the car, inspect it for bug stains and other stubborn bits of dirt. Spray those spots with the best bug stain remover you can find and use a heavy-duty towel to rub them until they disappear.
Alternatively, you can use rubbing alcohol and a clean microfiber towel to remove bug stains and other tough stains like tree sap from the car’s surface.
Step 3: Rinse & dry
Thoroughly rinse the entire car with a hose-attached brush to wash away all the remaining car wash soap suds, rubbing alcohol, and bug stain remover. Then use a car-drying microfiber towel to carefully dry the entire car.
Step 4: Prepare the polishing machine
Attach the foam polishing pad to your polishing machine, then plug it in. Apply a considerable amount of the polishing compound, about 2” in diameter, onto the polishing pad.
Put the polishing machine against the car’s body. Make sure the polishing pad and polish are firmly pressed into the car before you turn on your polisher.
Step 5: Polish one section of the car at a time
Turn on the polisher at low – medium speed and slowly move it over the car’s surface. Spread out the polishing compound thinly to form a whitish haze on the car.
As mentioned earlier, polish one section of the car at a time before you move into another area. More importantly, don’t lift the polisher off the car before it completely stops running when you want to switch it off.
With that in mind, polish each section for 5 – 15 minutes until you’ve completely polished every part of that section.
Step 6: Dry the car
After polishing each section of the car’s body, rinse it with a hose-attached brush and scrub lightly to get rid of the polish residue. Lastly, use a car-drying microfiber cloth to thoroughly and carefully dry the car!
How often should I polish my car?
You should polish your car at least twice a year or every 6 months, preferably fall and spring.
With adequate time and proper technique, knowing how to polish your car is a great way to revitalize it and make it look new again. Thanks to its ability to reduce or remove the appearance of surface defects like surface scratches as well as dreaded swirl marks.
Better yet, car polishing creates the ideal surface for a coat of car wax or sealant.
For that, it’s a good idea to protect the car paint after polishing it by adding a sealant or wax to make it stay shiny for longer. This will help to protect your car’s paintwork from bird droppings, tree sap, fallout, acid rain, and other harsh contaminants.