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What Does Polishing Do?
Polishing is a broad term for a range of processes designed to either remove or mask sub-surface paint defects and greatly enhance surface gloss in readiness for sealant or wax protection. In this guide, find out about what polishing does and why it is the secret to achieving an amazing finish, how to assess the condition of automotive paint, what the differences are between compounds, polishes, glazes and chemical paint cleaners, how to polish your paint effectively by hand, and how to polish your paint safely by machine ...
Preparation, preparation, preparation... is the key to achieving amazing car care results. No matter how good your fancy wax is, or how many coats of it you apply, you will not achieve a perfect finish unless you spend time preparing your paint properly. Proper preparation involves two key steps. In the first, firmly bonded surface contaminants are removed using tar removers and detailing clay, to leave painted surfaces feeling perfectly smooth. In the second, sub-surface defects sitting below the paint surface are removed by polishing, which is a broad term for a range of processes that remove or mask paint defects and enhance surface gloss in preparation for the addition of protection.
The polishing step is often skipped or misquoted by many car care enthusiasts (in the latter case we mean that many people often say they have polished their car as a catch all term for whatever they have done to it). This may be because they do not fully understand what polishing does, or because they are not confident enough to try it, or because they believe it requires equipment that they do not have. As a result, many enthusiasts are left dissatisfied with the appearance of their paint. In this guide, we will attempt to shed some light on the subject of polishing by (i) illustrating common sub-surface paint defects, (ii) describing the different types of polish currently available on the market, (iii) demonstrating how to polish paint by hand and (iv) demonstrating how to polish paint by machine.
What do we mean by sub-surface defects? Sub-surface paint defects are any forms of damage that are cut into the uppermost layer of paint on your car, and include marring, swirl marks, scratches, stone chips, water spots and acid etching caused by bird droppings and bug remains. By far the most common form of sub-surface defect is stone chips, particularly on the front ends of cars. However, many paint finishes also suffer from swirl marks and etching, and scratches are almost guaranteed if you park in supermarket car parks on a regular basis. Another less common form of defect is buffer trails or holograms, which are lines of swirl marks inflicted by poor machine polishing attempts. A few of the more common forms of defects are shown in the images below.
Serious swirl marks really stand out on dark coloured paints
Water spotting and swirl marks characterise this neglected paint finish
Serious buffer trails and stone chips are blighting the front end of this BMW
Stone chips and scratches are obvious types of defect whose cause is clear, but what about swirl marks, water spots and etching? What are they and how are they caused? Swirl marks are circular patterns of fine scratches that resemble the form of cobwebs (hence why they are sometimes referred to as cobwebbing). They are nearly always the result of poor washing technique and are virtually guaranteed to be inflicted if you use automatic car washes (those rotating bristles aren't as soft and gentle as they look). The other classic cause of swirl marks are traditional sponges, as they provide no means of lifting particles of dirt safely away from painted surfaces when they are being washed. Instead, particles of dirt and grime are held on the face of the sponge and moved around over the underlying surfaces, creating fine scratches.
A popular misconception is that because swirl marks always appear in circular patterns, they must therefore have been caused by scrubbing the paint in a circular fashion. This is not true. The reason why swirl marks appear to be circular when viewed in the sun, or under any other form of point source lighting for that matter, is that the sharp edges of the fine scratches present in the paint are catching and reflecting light radiated outward in all directions from a single central point. If you look at the same surface under a highly diffuse source of lighting, you will actually discover that the fine scratches are running randomly in all directions; they just appear to be circular when viewed under any form of point source lighting for the reason given above.
Water spots may form on painted surfaces when hard tap water is used to rinse off after washing and is then left to dry off naturally. The spots themselves comprise calcium carbonate, or limescale as it is more commonly known, and other evaporative salts. If such spots are left on painted surfaces for any significant length of time, they can harden to the point where they become very difficult to remove, even by machine. In extreme cases, such deposits can attack underlying surfaces, causing etching. Etching refers to chemical erosion of the uppermost layer of paint (more often than not a clearcoat), and is also caused by the corrosive effects of strong organic acids in bird droppings and bug remains. Such contaminants should always be removed as quickly as possible in order to lower the risk of etching occurring.
Can all sub-surface defects be corrected by polishing? Sadly, the answer is no. Critical to this issue is the depth of the defect in relation to the paint system. Most modern paint systems are made up of three layers; a basecoat of primer, then a layer of flat colour and finally a topcoat of clear lacquer, commonly referred to as the clearcoat. The clearcoat on many modern cars is often twice as thick as the underlying colour layer and is designed to enhance the appearance of the finish as well provide environmental protection. Most sub-surface defects usually only affect the clearcoat and can often be fully corrected by polishing. However, if the defect has penetrated the deeply into the clearcoat or, even worse, exposed the colour layer then polishing will not help; in these cases your only option is a trip to the bodyshop for a partial respray. In our experience, most stone chip damage falls into this latter category. A good test of whether a defect can be corrected by polishing is the fingernail test; if you run your fingernail over a defect and it catches, even slightly, the chances are it is too deep to be corrected by polishing alone.
How can defects be corrected? Defects in the clearcoat can be corrected in one of two ways. Firstly, you can lower the level of the clearcoat in the vicinity of the defect by aggressive polishing until the defect is no longer visible. In general, it is safe to remove up to 25% of the thickness of the clearcoat over the lifetime of the car; anymore and you risk paint system failure. The benefit of this technique is that the defect is permanently removed, but the downside is that such action can compromise the integrity of the clearcoat, particularly if undertaken on a regular basis. The second option is to lessen the severity of the defect by gentle polishing and then try to hide or mask the remainder of it before applying sealant or wax protection. This is undoubtedly a safer option, but the downside is that the correction is only temporary; whatever you use to fill the defect will eventually be eroded, making it visible again.
In addition to the choices given above, you also have the option to work by either hand or machine. Polishing by hand is not a waste of time, although it is fair to say that it is hard work and the results will be limited to some extent. If you have any defects worse than minor swirl marks you will be hard pushed to remove them working by hand; the best you can hope to do is lessen their severity and then consider trying to mask them prior to applying protection. Machine polishing opens up greater possibilities, both good and bad. While it becomes possible to fully correct even quite serious sub-surface paint defects, it equally becomes possible to remove too much of your clearcoat in a short space of time. If you go down the road of machine polishing, do your homework, follow the advice laid out below and in our supplementary guide entitled 'What polish should I use?', and set aside a reasonable amount of time for practice in order to gain experience.
At this stage of our discussion it is also important that we raise the issue of paint hardness as a critical factor in the safe polishing equation. Quite amazingly, paint hardness varies significantly between different makes of car, and also in some cases between different ages of the same make and model of car. The reasons why this is so are quite involved and the implications for choosing an appropriate polish for the task in hand are significant, so for these reasons we have written an additional guide entitled 'What polish should I use?' covering these two topics in detail. However, suffice to say for now that it is extremely important that paint hardness is properly taken into account when polishing because if it is not, then completely inappropriate products may be selected that either remove too much paint or turn out to be completely ineffective.
Now we can start to see why some people are daunted by polishing. Not only can we tackle defects in different ways, but we also have to take into account how the material that we are polishing can vary in terms of its hardness characteristics. If this level of complexity wasn't already bad enough, we now have to add in a third factor; that of product selection. It is no surprise that many car care enthusiasts are confused by the polishing process, for there are literally dozens of different polishes available on the market, all named and marketed in different ways. However, when you look past the choice and the labels, four main categories of polish appear, and these categories are the key to really understanding polishing, as they unify all of the other options outlined above. For this reason, in the next section we will explore these four categories of polish in more detail before then moving on to look at polishing techniques in more detail.
Cutting compounds are the most aggressive type of polishes on the market, and are used to correct major paint defects such as severe swirl marks and deep scratches, and restore dull, neglected paint back to good condition. Cutting compounds work by physical abrasion, and should be thought of as liquid sandpaper. Many modern cutting compounds comprise fine uniformly sized abrasive particles that break down progressively during the polishing process; as a result, such abrasives are usually referred to as diminishing abrasives). This contrasts with traditional polishing compounds, in which the abrasives did not break down at all during the polishing process, and which left surface hazing that required further polishing steps with increasingly finer abrasives until a high gloss finish was restored. The benefit of modern abrasive technology is that it is now often possible to go from compounding to applying protection without the need for an intervening polishing step with a finer finishing polish. In cases where a finer final polishing step is still required (often on darker coloured cars), the amount of additional polishing required is significantly reduced, saving time and effort.
A few important points should be noted about the use of cutting compounds. Firstly, these products are designed to be used with machine polishers, and generally should not be applied by hand. This is because a very high work rate is required to breakdown the abrasive particles, and if they are not worked hard enough then micromarring will occur, which is the technical term for fresh sub-surface defects inflicted during the polishing process as unbroken down abrasive particles are continually moved on the paint, leaving a faint pattern of very tightly defined swirl marks. Secondly, cutting compounds are aggressive, particularly when used with cutting pads, and will remove paint more quickly than you might expect, meaning that they need to be treated and used with respect. Thirdly, compounding should not be viewed lightly, and can only be done a certain number of times before the integrity of the clearcoat is permanently compromised. We therefore strongly recommend that you always consider your options carefully before resorting to heavy compounding.
The next discernible group of products on the market are polishes, which vary in grade from medium abrasives through to light abrasives. Like cutting compounds, most of the products in this category comprise uniformly sized diminishing abrasives, although in this case the average particle size is much smaller and often quoted as being ultra-fine or micro-fine. In contrast to cutting compounds, the much finer abrasive particles used in polishes require less work in order to breakdown, meaning that they can be applied either by hand or machine (although by machine is easier and gives better results). The purpose of polishes is to permanently remove less serious paint defects, such as minor swirl marks, and create smooth, high gloss, highly reflective surfaces in readiness for the addition of sealant or wax protection. It is fine finishing polishes that are the secret to creating jaw dropping car care results, as it is during the final stages of the polishing process that the paint surface is burnished to its maximum extent.
A few important points should be noted about the use of polishes. Firstly, some polishes currently on the market contain a small quantity of fillers, which help to mask any remaining defects prior to the application of sealant or wax protection. Although this might initially strike you as a good thing, the downside is that once such fillers are eroded some of the remaining defects will reappear. For every polish with fillers there is one without, so always do your homework and pick which type suits you best. Our preference is to always work with finishing polishes that contain no fillers, meaning that the true level of paint correction can be easily assessed. Secondly, when working by hand it is beneficial to use the least abrasive product possible to get the job done. This is because polishing by hand is hard work, and much less effort is required to breakdown finer abrasives. In addition, when working by hand it is possible to inflict micromarring when using medium abrasives, as you may not be able to breakdown the abrasive particles fully. We recommend starting with a light abrasive and only moving onto medium abrasives if absolutely necessary.
Glazes are a seemingly misunderstood category of polishing products, perhaps because of confusion caused by the naming of certain products. In the true sense of the word, a glaze is a pure polish that does not contain any abrasives or cleaning agents. Glazes are designed to improve the brilliance and clarity of painted surfaces, and mask or visually reduce the extent of any remaining imperfections. In order to do this, glazes typically comprise gloss enhancing oils and kaolin (China Clay), which fills and hides minor sub-surface defects very effectively. Somewhat confusingly, some glazes only contain gloss enhancing oils, meaning that they do not have any masking abilities, and some products that are called glazes actually include fine abrasive particles, meaning that they are not glazes in the true sense of the word. We therefore recommend that you read product descriptions carefully before choosing an appropriate glaze for the task in hand.
A few important points should be noted about the use of glazes. Firstly, glazes are underused in the UK. In our opinion, it is far better to apply a glaze on a regular basis and hide any defects rather than polish your paint with abrasive products on a regular basis. We only tend to polish our own cars with abrasive polishes once every one to two years, and in the intervening period we use glazes to keep them looking good. Our reasoning for this is very simple; every time you use an abrasive polish you remove a further fraction of your clearcoat. Do this too often and you risk compromising the long-term integrity of your clearcoat. Keeping daily drivers looking good is hard, but glazes offer a highly convenient solution that avoids the risk of ever over polishing your paint. Secondly, once a glaze is applied you should apply sealant or wax protection immediately, in order to seal in the fillers. If you fail to do this, the fillers and gloss enhancing oils will be washed off the next time it rains or when you next wash your car, negating the benefits of applying it in the first place.
The final discernible group of polishing products on the market are chemical paint cleaners, which blur the line between polishes and last step products as they typically polish and lay down sealant or wax protection in a single step. All of the products in this category utilise solvent-based cleaning agents instead of abrasive particles, meaning that they have limited polishing powers but excellent cleaning abilities. However, some newer products in this category also utilise abrasive particles for the polishing process, meaning that more serious defects are sometimes able to be corrected. In spite of their limited polishing power, such products are very useful and typically brighten painted surfaces up considerably as they draw out dirt seated dirt and grime from within the uppermost few microns of the clearcoat. These so called one step style products are also great time savers, and perfect for enthusiasts who want to clean their paint while simultaneously adding protection.
A few important points should be noted about the use of chemical paint cleaners. Firstly, they must not be used over glazes, because their solvent-based cleaning agents will strip away oils and fillers, cancelling out the benefits of applying the glaze in the first place. Secondly, such products typically lay down a layer of sealant or wax protection and care should subsequently be taken to ensure that if a further protective product is used that it is compatible with this layer, as sealants should not be layered over waxes. The golden rule is that if the chemical paint cleaner lays down a layer of wax then only a wax-based last step product should be applied on top. However, if the chemical paint cleaner lays down a layer of sealant, then you can generally apply any type of last step product on top. If you are ever unsure about what can and can't be layered in terms of chemical paint cleaners and last step products, please contact us and we will be happy to advise you accordingly.
Now that we have illustrated common forms of sub-surface defects and described the various types of polishing products available on the market, we should be able to determine what can and can't be achieved using different polishing methods. Let's start with hand polishing, as this is the only option open to car care enthusiasts who for whatever reason do not own a machine polisher. As mentioned earlier on, polishing by hand is not a waste of time, although it is fair to say that it is hard work and the results that can be achieved are limited in comparison to those that can be achieved when using a machine. If you have any defects worse than minor swirl marks you will not remove them working by hand; the best you can hope to do is lessen their severity and then consider masking them prior to applying sealant or wax protection. Based on this, and the fact that polishing compounds should not be applied by hand, we can see that our attention should be focussed on correcting or masking minor defects and products falling into the polish, glaze and chemical paint cleaner categories.
In order to permanently remove minor swirl marks by hand, we recommend that you first try using a light abrasive polish (the exact choice should be made with due consideration given to the hardness of the paint being polished; this topic is covered in detail in our guide entitled "What polish should I use?"). If after several applications some of the marks still persist, you can then move on to trying a medium abrasive polish. If you do this, you must work the area well, in order to help the abrasives to breakdown. After several applications, we recommend finishing off with another application of a light abrasive polish, in order to remove any marring and restore a perfect finish in readiness for sealant or wax protection. If you would rather try and hide defects instead of removing them, we recommend that you use a glaze containing fillers. Such products will also enhance the glossiness of your paint in readiness for protection. If your paint is free of swirl marks but dull and lifeless, we recommend that you use a chemical paint cleaner to deep clean the paint and lay down an initial layer of sealant or wax protection.
When it actually comes to polishing by hand, the first thing you should do is ensure that the paint is perfectly clean and dry; wash your car first and then decontaminate it if any surface contamination is evident. We recommend that you apply polishes by hand using either a good quality foam applicator pad or a microfibre applicator pad. The former tends to be better for applying abrasive polishes, as foam typically affords more bite, whereas the latter is better employed when gently working in glazes or chemical paint cleaners. Whichever you use, always remember to use a fresh pad for each product; you should never mix products on the same pad.
A common myth about polishing by hand is that you should only work back and forth and side to side, rather than in circles; it actually makes no difference as long as you allow sufficient time for the abrasives to breakdown. A good indication of this is a change in the appearance of the polish; many appear to become more transparent when they have been properly worked. We recommend that you actually try to work in all directions wherever possible, because this will help to ensure that the edges of defects are rounded off evenly. In all cases, the final film of polish residue should be buffed off carefully using a plush microfibre towel.
Our challenge for today; minor swirl marks in the bonnet of a Subaru Impreza
Such defects should be tackled using a good quality medium abrasive polish
Only a few drops of polish are required to effectively work a 2 ft x 2 ft area
The polish should be worked in firmly and evenly in all directions
After a minute or two the residue will start to turn clear as the abrasives breakdown
The result; the minor swirls are gone, but some deeper random scratches remain
Polishing by machine opens up more possibilities in comparison to polishing by hand, as products can be worked much harder and for much longer with ease. For example, many popular dual action machine polishers have a maximum working speed of approximately 6000 orbits per minute. It is impossible for a human being to replicate this work rate; just imagine trying to polish a panel in a circular motion 6000 times a minute for 5 minutes or more, all the time applying constant pressure! Because the work rate is also selectable, machine polishers can be used to safely tackle all forms of paint defects, ranging from minor swirl marks to very deep scratches. The only proviso is that the clearcoat must be intact before starting, and must not be reduced to less than 75% of its original thickness as a result of polishing. A further benefit of polishing by machine at high work rates is that painted surfaces can be burnished to an exceptionally high lustre prior to the application of sealant or wax protection; the same quality of finish is very hard to achieve when working by hand.
Although machine polishing offers many advantages over working by hand, it also adds complexity to the polishing process. This is because additional choices have to be made with regard to machine type and pad selection. These choices are critical, because if you get them wrong it is very easy to damage your paint; machine polishers can remove paint surprisingly quickly if not used correctly. Let's start with the choice of machine type. Machine polishers fall into one of two camps; rotary or dual action. Rotary polishing machines are usually the choice of professional detailers. As the name suggests, the polishing head rotates evenly around a fixed point at speeds of up to 2500 revolutions per minute. This circular action creates a lot of friction that can be used to great advantage when correcting major paint defects. However, the downside of this is that it is also very easy to inflict damage in the form of burn marks, buffer trails and excessive paint removal. Mastering the art of rotary polishing takes a lot of practice and for this reason we do not recommend it unless you seek professional training first.
Dual action machine polishers work very differently to rotary polishers, in that the polishing head oscillates randomly about a fixed point as the polishing head spins (hence the term dual action). What this means is that friction is vastly reduced at any given point of contact, limiting the effective work rate and greatly reducing the risk of burning the paint or removing too much of the clearcoat. Because of this, dual action machine polishers are ideal for enthusiasts who want to be able to safely correct their paint without the fear of inflicting further damage. A common myth is that dual action polishers are much less effective than rotary polishers. While it is true that extremely serious paint defects can often only be fully corrected by rotary polishing, it is also true that dual action polishing can usually correct all but the most serious of defects on most paint types. The major difference is the time taken to perform the correction; a job that might take under an hour with a rotary polisher may take several hours or more with a dual action polisher due to the lower effective work rate, but in most cases the end result will be similar. Now we can see why it pays the professional detailer to master the art of rotary polishing, and why dual action polishing is the safe alternative for car care enthusiasts.
Pad selection is another critical choice when polishing by machine. All pads designed for use with dual action machine polishers are made from varying grades of high quality flexible polyurethane foam. The firmness of the foam dictates its suitability for different polishing tasks (compounding, polishing, glazing) and is usually colour coded to make recognition easier, although manufacturers rarely use the same colour schemes, so always read product descriptions carefully. Compounding pads are made from the firmest foams and are usually non-reticulated, which means that the foam was not thermally expanded during manufacture and therefore remains very firm and dense. This allows such pads to cut into the surface of the paint quite easily, and they should therefore be used with care. Polishing pads are made from foams of intermediate firmness and are usually reticulated, meaning they are more flexible and adaptable than compounding pads. Such pads have a very slight cutting action that allows them to correct minor defects without removing too much paint. Glazing pads are made from much softer foams and are always fully reticulated. Such pads have no cutting action but are capable of burnishing paint to an exceptionally high lustre. Even softer foams are now available for applying liquid sealants and waxes too.
In addition to the firmness of the foam, pad designs also vary in size and shape, ranging from small, flat pads to large, variably contoured pads. Small spot pads varying from 80 mm to 100 mm in size are designed to be used with 75-90 mm backing plates, and serve two main purposes. Firstly, they allow access to awkward areas, such as around grills and wing mirrors. Secondly, they allow specific defects, such as scratches, to be worked harder, as their size means that all of the polishing effort is focused on a smaller area. As an additional benefit, their size also means that less surrounding paint is affected during the process of scratch removal. Larger pads typically varying in size from 135 mm to 165 mm are designed to be used with 125 mm backing plates, and are ideal for general polishing tasks and working on larger panels. In the past, pads were always flat, but recent advances in design and technology have resulted in the release of shaped pads onto the market, which are sometimes easier to control. The most advanced pads currently available feature variable contour and constant pressure technologies, which provide greater flexibility in the form of multiple polishing faces and additional safety in the form of foam layers that help to keep the polisher level during use.
Now that we have examined all of the choices surrounding machine polishing, we should be able to determine safe approaches to defect correction. In all cases, the first thing you should do is ensure that your paint is spotlessly clean and dry; wash your car first and then decontaminate it if surface contamination is evident. In order to correct serious paint defects, such as severe swirl marks and acid etching, we recommend that you first try using a polishing pad in conjunction with a medium abrasive polish (the exact choice should be made with due consideration given to the hardness of the paint being polished; this topic is covered in detail in our guide entitled "What polish should I use?"). This combination can be worked hard at high speed without fear of removing too much of the clearcoat. If after several applications the defects still persist, you may want to consider swapping over to a cutting pad and a heavier polishing compound. However, such action should not be taken lightly and ideally only if you are experienced at machine polishing or have sought advice from an experienced person first. If you decide to proceed, always work in a well lit area, check your progress after every attempt, and keep the working speed below 5000 orbits per minute.
Once you have removed the defects, check the quality of the finish. If you can see any marring you will need to conduct another polishing step, this time using a polishing pad in conjunction with a finishing polish. We recommend that the same combination is used to tackle less severe paint defects such as minor swirl marks and fine scratches. If after several applications the defects still persist, you can then try a medium abrasive polish (applied using a fresh polishing pad; you should never mix products on the same pad). The pattern you should see emerging here is very simple; always use the least aggressive product you can to get the job done, and always match your choice of pad to the task in hand. The process becomes even more straightforward if your aim is to simply mask any remaining defects or burnish the finish in preparation for sealant or wax protection; simply use a glazing pad to apply a suitable choice of glaze.
When it comes to the actual polishing process, the technique is similar whether working large areas or specific defects. In the case of the former, the first thing you should do is mask off all trims using low tack masking tape. This is because it is hard to avoid running onto trims when using large pads, and failure to cover them often results in staining that is subsequently time consuming to remove. The second task is to choose a suitable pad and product combination for the task in hand. Then you should fit the backing plate to your polisher, press the pad in place (making sure you centre it on the backing plate) and connect the electricity supply. We recommend using an RCD safety device and an extension cable, so as to allow all panels to be easily and safely reached. Now you are ready to start polishing. Before you do, you should prime the pad; this means adding a little lubricant to the pad, so that dry buffing is avoided before the polish has time to spread. The easiest way to prime a pad is to mist it once with a quick detailer. The next thing to do is apply three to four drops of product to the pad; this is more than sufficient in most cases.
With the pad primed and loaded with polish, the next thing you should do before switching your machine on is spread the product across the work area by pressing it repeatedly against the panel; this subsequently helps to ensure that all parts of the work area are evenly polished. Try to work 2 ft x 2 ft sections at a time, starting on a panel clearly featuring defects you want to correct (this allows you to quickly determine if your choice of pad and product is going to achieve the desired result). With the pad held against the paint, you can now switch the machine on. We recommend that you read the instructions supplied with the machine before you first use it, paying particular attention to the section on safe working practices. When you start polishing, you should make an initial pass over the whole work area at a low speed setting (2-3 on the dial of most dual action machine polishers) in order to allow the product to spread out evenly across the pad and the panel.
Time to tackle the deeper scratches left in the bonnet of this Subaru Impreza
Only a few drops of a medium abrasive polish are required per 2 ft x 2 ft area
The polish should be dabbed onto the panel and then spread at low speed
After completing this initial pass at a coverage rate of 4 - 6 inches per second, you should turn the speed up (4-5 on the dial of most dual action polishers) and then move systematically across the panel, applying light to moderate downward pressure. Slow, overlapping passes are ideal; there is absolutely no need to move the machine rapidly backwards and forwards or side to side. Different products need different amounts of work before they are ready to be removed, and knowing when this is the case only comes with practice (although a good rule of thumb is that most allow you to go over a 2 ft x 2 ft work area at least three dozen times before they are ready to be buffed off). A good indication is a change in the appearance of the polish residue; many appear to become transparent when they have been properly worked and broken down. You should always stop the machine with the pad held against the paint. Many product residues are a little bit stiff, and their removal often necessitates firm but careful buffing with a microfibre towel. Plush towels with a short nap are ideal for this, as they are kind to the finish yet have sufficient bite to lift polish residues with ease. Once the residue is removed you should inspect the panel and repeat the process if defects still persist.
The polish should be worked methodically in an overlapping pattern at high speed
After a few dozen passes the polish will start to turn clear as the abrasives breakdown
The result; complete removal of the scratches, leaving a perfect high gloss finish
When polishing out specific defects, such as serious scratches, the technique is essentially the same, but the choice of pad will differ. In the following example, we will demonstrate how we removed a nasty scratch that appeared on the rear quarter panel of our daily driver after we had left it parked in a supermarket car park for a few hours. To remove a specific defect like a deep scratch, it is better to use a spot pad, as they concentrate the polishing effort and affect less surrounding paint. In this case the scratch wasn't deep enough to catch a fingernail, so we were confident that we could safely remove it by lowering the level of the surrounding clearcoat. After setting the machine up and fitting a smaller sized backing plate, we primed the pad with a shot of quick detailing spray and then loaded it with a medium abrasive polish. We then spread the polish evenly over the work area by pressing the pad against the panel repeatedly.
This scratch came free with our shopping one week at our local supermarket
Polishing pads should be primed before use with a quick mist of quick detailer
A little bit more polish than usual is used when focusing on deep localised defects
Now ready to start polishing, we held the pad against the paint and turned the machine on, using a low speed setting (2 on the dial). We moved the pad over the work area applying only light pressure for a minute or so, in order to allow the product to spread out evenly across the pad and the work area. Then we increased the speed (4-5 on the dial) and began to move systematically back and forth across the work area, applying moderate pressure. After a few minutes the product started to turn transparent, so we switched the unit off with the pad held against the paint and then buffed off the residue with a plush microfibre towel. While this first application greatly lessened the severity of the scratch, it was still clearly visible. We then repeated the process, this time applying firm pressure and using the machine at high speed (5 on the dial). After the product once again began to turn clear, we turned the machine off and buffed off the residue. A close inspection revealed that only the faintest trace of the scratch remained, so instead of repeating the process we decided to apply a glaze and then apply multiple layers of sealant protection.
The polish should be dabbed on and then initially spread at low speed
Once spread, the polish should be worked at high speed with moderate pressure
After two attempts, a coat of glaze and a top coat of sealant and the scratch is gone
The final step in the polishing process is to pack away all of the tools you have used, making sure everything is clean and ready for next use. All towels and applicator pads should be washed in a washing machine at a low temperature using a non-biological liquid detergent (avoid soap powders and detergents containing bleach or fabric softeners) before being allowed to dry out naturally. All polishing pads should be scraped off using a blunt plastic edge and then rinsed out thoroughly under the tap before being left to soak for 10 - 15 minutes in a bucket of pad cleaning solution. After 10 - 15 minutes is up, the pads should be rinsed out thoroughly and then left to dry out naturally.