Auto Detailing 101: A Quick Guide to Polishing Like a Pro

Polishing is one of the most important parts of the auto detailing process because it has the biggest effect on a vehicle’s appearance. Most car waxes and glazes won’t remove imperfections like water spots, swirls, and scratches—which is why polishing plays such a crucial role in making a car’s paint shine. After a car is thoroughly washed and dried, the goal of polishing is to remove any imperfections in a car’s clear coat that can cause the paint to look dull.

If you’re looking to pursue an auto detailing career, you’ll learn that there are different ways to polish a vehicle and different products that will get the job done.

Hand Polishing vs. Buffers: Which is the Best Auto Detailing Technique?

Polishing a car by hand can sometimes allow auto detailing professionals to get into areas that are harder to reach than when using a machine, but it’s a skill that takes time to master. In order to guarantee all surface imperfections are properly removed, it’s generally recommended to use a buffer. Once you start your career, you’ll find that polishing with a buffer can also save you a lot of time. This is because more pressure will be applied and you’ll be able to pass over the same area much faster compared to traditional hand polishing.

Buffers will also allow you to work with a variety of pads for different types of polishing jobs. Pads are easily interchangeable, so you can use softer ones for finer polishes or dense ones for a powerful polish on a car that’s been neglected for a while.

Choosing the Right Auto Detailing Products for Any Polishing Job

Choosing the right polish can be a challenge since there are a wide range of polishes on the market. Polishes can range from non-abrasive chemical cleaners to highly abrasive compounds. A good auto detailing course will teach you that polishing products fall into several categories, a few of these include:

Compounds are the most abrasive type of polish and should be used for tougher jobs. They’re typically used to remove wet sanding marks, or to polish vehicles that don’t make their way to the detailing shop very often. Since they’re strong, compounds usually leave some markings behind so they should be followed-up by a finer polish and soft pad combination

Cutting polishes are used to correct moderate imperfections in a car’s paint. Cutting polishes give most paint jobs a decent-looking finish, but it’s recommended to follow-up with a finishing polish once imperfections are removed.

Finishing polishes are the least abrasive type of finishing product, and are used for correcting very mild imperfections such as swirl marks. These polishes give paint jobs a clean, glossy look.

Finishing polishes can really make a car's paint job shine
Finishing polishes can really make a car’s paint job shine

Getting the Finish You Want With Auto Detailing Buffer Pads

Pads are held in place by a plate on a buffer, and since pads typically come in different sizes, most detailing shops will have several plates on-hand. Just as there are several types of products out there for polishing jobs, there’s also a large selection of buffer pads to match them with:

Compounding/Swirl Removal pads work with compounds for tougher jobs and are usually made out of wool or foam. Use these for removing scratches and other imperfections.

Polishing pads are usually made from a softer foam material. These are great for applying waxes, polishes, sealants, or pre-wax cleaners.

Finishing pads are typically quite firm, ensuring that you can apply pressure to remove any swirl marks at the end of the detailing process. They’re also designed to keep glosses and sealants on the paint, rather than absorbing them up.

Are you interested in pursuing professional automotive detailing training?
Visit ATC to learn more about our programs or to speak with an advisor.

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