How To Polish Your Car: The Most Misunderstood Aspect of Car Detailing

How to polish your car

Newcomers to the detailing world are often under the misapprehension that waxing your car is what makes it shine, but that’s not quite the case. It’s polishing your car that actually sorts out issues in the paint, removes scratches, brightens up dull or faded paintwork, gets rid of swirl marks, oxidation and other contaminants and leaves the paint smooth, clean and shiny. Yes wax does help paintwork to shine but it’s function is also to protect paintwork that has been polished.

The process of polishing your car is often referred to as paint correction. Think of it like using an exfoliator on your skin! Wax is a bit like make up….it looks good but doesn’t last that long!

Polishes are abrasive and for that reason we recommend only polishing your car as needed because each time you polish, you’re removing a layer of material. If you over-polish your car, you will eventually thin out the paint and in extreme cases can cut through the clearcoat and the paint right through to the undercoat!

The diagram below illustrates various types of paint defects. Polishing removes material from the top layer – in most cases this will be clearcoat. The more abrasive the polish, the more material will be removed. So as you can see, polishing to remove a thin layer of clear coat from the diagram below will get rid of all the defects, except the deep scratches. When you remove all the swirls, marring, water & acid etching and hologramming you will have smooth, prepared paintwork that can be then cleaned and protected with wax.

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Once polished you can maintain your swirl-free finish simply by using the correct car washing and drying products and techniques, such as Snow Foam or Prewash and then a shampoo wash.

Keeping the paint protected and in good condition will ensure it needs less frequent polishing.

In the detailing world, swirl marks and other paint defects are the enemy! They are generally caused by poor washing and drying technique. As we mentioned above, swirls, scratches and defects are impossible to remove with normal waxes and sealants. Some glazes, such as Poorboys Black Hole Glaze will fill them temporarily, but ideally, we want a long lasting finish.

To get your car to better than showroom condition, you will need to polish the surface using different grades of polish. Depending on the severity of the paint defects you may have to start with a coarse polish and move on to a finer polish. The chemical polishing agents and/or the polishing particles, combined with the hand technique or buffing machine action will safely remove the extremely fine imperfections in the paint. How deep you need to go will depend on the depth of the marks and swirls on the paint.

Before You Start

Before you start any kind of polishing you need to get your paint as clean as you possibly can, otherwise you will simply drag dirt around, scratching the clear coat and making even more swirls! Pre wash or snow foam should be used first – this is a non-contact step, ie you don’t physically touch the car, let the pre cleaners do their thing to lift dirt and contaminants away from the surface, then pressure wash. Check out our pre wash guide here.

Then you shampoo the car using the 2 bucket method and a soft microfiber. We have another guide to washing your car which you can check out here.

How To Polish Your Car

Lastly, we highly recommend using a clay bar to remove the stubborn contaminants from your paint. This is a highly satisfying process – you’ll be surprised by how much debris the clay lifts off your paintwork, especially if it’s the first time you car has been clayed – again, we have a specific guide about how to use a clay bar to get the best results.

How To Polish Your Car. clay bar ireland

Polishing your car

Polishing can be done by hand or by machine. Polishing your car by hand is potentially safer but will be a long and laborious task, especially if you have the whole car to do, but it can be done! If polishing by hand, tackle a small 30x30cm section at a time and then, once happy with the results, move on the the adjacent 30x30cm section. This will allow you to see the fruits of your labour, side by side with a section that hasn’t been polished which can be pretty satisfying.

The more efficient way to approach things is with a machine polisher. Due to the hard work and repetitive nature of hand polishing, using a machine polisher often yields better results, simply because people cut corners when polishing by hand because they get bored!

How To Polish Your Car polishing machines ireland

Using a machine polisher, together with the correct grade of polishing pad, and polish, you won’t be too long getting fantastic results. However caution is needed as it is much easier to do damage with a machine polisher than it is polishing by hand. We’ll have a separate guide on machine polishing techniques and safety in the coming weeks.

Once the surface is prepared (pre wash, wash, clayed) it’s time to inspect the paint and see what you need next. Bear in mind, you want to remove as little paint as possible.

So, let’s sort the polishing machine first. There are basically 2 types, a DA Polisher, (Dual Action) and a Rotary. The DA is for home detailers really, it’s safer, and it’s not as aggressive in action as the rotary, but it does take longer.  The rotary works faster, but can also strike through paint quicker, especially on edges. Currently we have Dodo Juice Buff Daddy DA Polishers and Spin Doctor Rotary Polishers in stock.

Next you’ll need polishing pads, these come in various sizes and various grades of abrasiveness. Depending on the condition of your paint you might start with the coarse polishing pad, and move to the fine polishing pads. Again, we have the Dodo Juice Range in stock.

Types of Car Polish

Next, we need a suitable polish, remember, not all polishes will be suitable as they are run from very coarse compounds, all the way up to very fine finishing polishes. Which one you start with depends on the level of defects and swirls in the paintwork. Always aim to use the least aggressive pad and polish combination to get the job done so that you remove the least amount of top coat possible.

Polishing Compounds are the most aggressive types of car polish and are really only needed for very badly swirled and marked paint.

Cutting polishes are next up, and are a popular starting point with most detailers. But again, if it’s possible to remove the swirls with a finer polish, don’t start with a cutting one. Poorboys World SSR2.5 is a highly recommended and very popular product.

Finishing polish is the final step, and must always be done after using a cutting polish. A good product will remove holograms and very light marring and hazing of paint. Collinite Prewax Cleaner is a good choice, as is Poorboys World SSR1.

How To Polish Your Car detailing ireland

Paint Protection

Once the painted surface is perfected, you’ll want to protect it and safeguard all that hard work you’ve just put in! Protection comes in the form of waxes and paint sealants. Waxes and sealants are applied in the same way, but offer differing types of protection. Both will protect the painted surface from acid rain, fallout, bird droppings and tree sap. A paint sealant is a synthetic polymer that will provide a high gloss finish yet will last much longer than a wax – up to a year in some cases.

Check back soon for our complete guide to waxing your car!

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