people assume that waxing and polishing are synonymous. In fact, they are
two different processes. Professional detailers and show-car owners
know the secret to an award-winning finish is properly cleaning and
polishing the surface prior to waxing.
All paints age from exposure to ultraviolet light, pollution and acid
rain. Beautiful finishes gradually become dull and chalky. Waxing
over these surfaces will only create a temporary gloss over dull paint.
To reveal the paint's true vitality, vibrancy, and depth, it must be
I'm using a paintwork
cleanser to clean and lightly polish the paint on this Porsche
prior to waxing.
strictest sense, paint cleaners remove surface defects and swirls
while a polish improves surface gloss. The lines are blurred
however as many cleaners provide some polishing action and many
polishes have some cleaning ability.
Polishing deep-cleans the paint. It also
removes oxidation, old wax, minor swirl marks and water spots. The
result is a rejuvenated top paint layer, which is then ready for waxing or
sealing. Polishing creates a uniform, high-gloss shine.
YOUR CAR'S PAINT
You can easily evaluate your car's paint every
time you wash. To do so, wash and dry your car. With clean
hands, run your fingertips across the paint surface. It should feel
very smooth, like glass. If it doesn't, you're feeling the contaminants
and oxidation on the surface of the paint. This is your indication
that it's time to clean and polish your paint using a good polish.
To determine if your paint has enough wax protection, rub a clean, dry
detailing towel over the hood or trunk surfaces. If you hear
squeaking, it's because the paint is dry and needs polishing and
protection. When a car's paint surface has good wax protection, a
towel should glide across the surface.
SELECTING A POLISH
Selecting a polish can be intimidating. There
are hundreds from which to choose, each having different abrasive or cut
capability. There are polishes for clear coat and non-clear coat
finishes. You will also need to choose the correct product for hand
application or machine application. In most cases, hand polishing is
Polishing a newer car twice a year will maintain
the car's showroom appearance for years to come. Newer cars usually
have a clear coat finish, so be sure to select a low
abrasive polish that is safe for clear coat finishes. For
ultra-safe polishing and paint cleaning, use a polish designed to be a
cleaner on new paint and paint in excellent condition.
If your car's finish is dull, cloudy, or chalky, it may require the use of
rubbing compound. Use caution when polishing with compounds, as
they will quickly remove the top layer of dead paint. Check your
work often to make sure you don't rub the paint too thin. Follow
compounding with a swirl remover polish formula.
Once you've selected a polish, here are some tips to make polishing
- Work in a shaded area, out of direct sunlight.
- Work on one area at a time covering two to four
square feet. Buff off the polish residues as you go. This
allows you to discover any problems early before polishing the entire
- For best results, use a foam
applicator pad to apply polish. If you need a little more
polish or cleaning power, use a terry
cloth applicator. When the applicator becomes caked with
polish, switch to a fresh applicator.
- Use a small amount of polish. With most
polishes, a 1-inch size dab is enough to polish a two to three square
- If the polishing residue
does not buff off easily, switch to a clean buffing
- Apply polishes in a back
and forth motion, not circular (polishes should take out swirls, not
create them... don't polish in circles). If you are creating
swirls, you are using a polish that is too abrasive or you need to
replace your polishing pad or towels.
After polishing, your car's paint should be
squeaky clean, smooth, and free of streaks and minor swirls. It's
now ready for waxing.
I love to polish my cars. I get a real
sense of accomplishment when a car is perfectly polished, and the paint is
as smooth as silk. Call me nuts, but I love rubbing the fenders on a
shapely sports car until it shines like a mirror. Only polishing can
give that result. This chapter is a brief introduction to polishing.
If you have a specific paint problem, such as swirl marks, water spots, or
paint chips, read those chapters.