Polishing your car is undoubtedly the process that is going to get the most notable aesthetics results that you can get with any detailing stage. Polish is used in order to revive paint, removing swirls and scratches.
Picking the best car polish is actually a fairly tough task, mainly because there are so many to choose from and the vast majority have very different jobs.
It could be the case that I use 2 or even more, car polishes when it comes to correcting the paint of just one car. Pro detailers do exactly this.
Before I dive into my best car polish, I wanted to just quickly jump on a couple of important points that you need to be aware of.
What is polish?
Polish is an abrasive compound. It’s used to buff out scratches, swirl marks, oxidation, haze, and other imperfections in the paint.
The act of polishing the paint will actually remove small layers of clear coat to refine and level the finish. This is important if you want the paint to produce an intense shine. Polish also contains essential oils that can bring out the colour and gloss in automotive paint.
Is wax different from polish?
Polish should never be confused with wax. Pure polish should not contain wax. I’m saying this due to the number of products that claim to polish while applying wax. Polish contains micro-abrasives that can literally shave off a small layer of clear coat to restore a smooth and shiny finish.
On the other hand, a wax is used to seal and protect the surface after polishing. Pure wax should be non-abrasive. In an ideal setting, you can apply multiple thin layers of wax without scratching the paint.
In layman’s terms, the polish is designed to refine the paint and wax is used to protect the paint.
What are compounds, and what’s the difference between a polish and a compound?
As we start to get into the different types of polish, our first port of call has to be talking about a polish and a compound polishing compound”). Also referred to as rubbing compound or cutting paste, compounding is the first step in the detailing process.
The image below shows the layers of paint in a typical 2 pac paint application. The top layers are clear, the one below that is the base color and below that is the primer.
When we polish paint we are actually removing the surface imperfections in the clear coat layers to get a smooth finish. Usually if the base coat is damaged, we need to repaint the panel.
Compounds contain larger particles of abrasives that cut deeper into the clear coat. A compound is great for correcting larger or deeper imperfections such as heavy scratches, dull swirl marks, severe oxidation, and other surface contaminants.
With that being said, a compound is a stronger and more abrasive type of polish. The surface will need to be polished and waxed after compounding. While the surface is left smooth to the touch, the paint will need to be further refined in order to restore gloss and clarity after compounding.
This is often known as a 2 (even 3) step polishing phase.
What’s the best car polish? Well, there is more than one type.
Below is my personal list of the best car polish. As the best polish varies on the requirement of the job, I divided this sections to cover both heavier repairs, more superficial damage, and when you just need a quick easy all in one polish.
- Best Compound Polishes
- Best Car Polishes.
- Best All-in-One Polish
Best Compound Polishes
These compounds are the best for removing deep scratches and recovering heavily weathered paint. Usually you follow these up with another finer cut polish from the second list below.
Unlike other polishing compounds, Meguiar’s 105 utilises exclusive micro-abrasives. This means the compound can cut deeper into the paint to leave a smoother finish in less time. This product can easily remove fine 1200 grit sanding marks with just a single pass.
If it’s powerful enough to remove sanding marks, imagine what this compound can do for scratches, swirl marks, and oxidation? I firmly believe the Meguiar’s 105 is a safer alternative to harsher compounds. Other polishing compounds have a thicker and rougher consistency. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can actually cut through the clear coat and paint, which is not good.
The Meguiar’s 105 can also be applied by hand or machine. But the best and easiest way to do it is to grab a dual-action polisher with a foam or wool cutting pad and work at speeds of no more than 2000 rpm. When the compound begins to dry or flake, simply wipe off the residue with a dry towel.
- DEFECT REMOVAL: Great for removing scratches, defects, acid rain and severe swirls/holograms
- ULTRA-FAST COMPOUNDING: Ultra-fast cutting removes 1200 grit or finer sanding marks
- SUPERIOR FINISH: Exclusive super micro-abrasive technology leaves best-in-class finish
The Menzerna Heavy Cut Compound 400 is also formulated with ultra-fine micro-abrasives. This means it can also remove 1200 grit sand marks and deep scratches. This water-based compound can easily smoothen out paint imperfections without using silicones and synthetic fillers.
But what makes the Menzerna Heavy Cut Compound special is the glossy finish. This is actually a cut-and-gloss polishing compound that can significantly cut your polishing time in half. This product works great with a DA or rotary polisher with a medium polishing pad or wool pad.
Check out the full Menzerna 400 Heavy Cut Compound review here.
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Best Finishing Polishes
Use these polishes on superficially damaged paint or after use of a compound in a two step process to remove the marks left by the compound.
After treating the paint with the Menzerna Heavy Cut Compound 400, the next step is to apply the Menzerna Super Finish 3500. This product is a high-gloss swirl remover that contains diminishing abrasive particles. Menzerna even claims the powder-fine abrasives are the smallest and most uniform of all the polishes in the auto detailing industry.
The ultra-fine abrasive particles are sharp enough to cut through conventional clear coat and ceramic-coated finishes. The result is a smooth, glossy, and pristine finish with virtually zero scratches and swirl marks.
If your paint needs a lot of work, consider a heavier cutting compound before applying a finishing polish. But if your paint is relatively in good condition (with smaller hairline scratches and swirls), the Menzerna Super Finish 3500 is the right polish for the job.
- Orbital: Upper rotational speed range
- By hand: Light pressure with circular motions
- Cut: 3/10
This finishing polish is specifically designed to be used after treating the paint with the Meguiar’s 105 Compound. This product also contains ultra-fine abrasives that will permanently remove scratches, swirls, and defects in the paint.
The Meguiar’s #205 Ultra Finishing Polish contains no fillers, silicone, or synthetic crystalline ingredients. It can be safely applied by hand, but I find that using a DA/rotary polisher will give much better results and for less legwork. This then enables the product to work its way over the surface to bring out the depth and shine in any paint job.
- COMES COMPLETE WITH 1x FREE MICROFIBRE POLISHING TOWEL**
- Ultra-fast cutting removes 2000 grit or finer sanding marks
- Super-micro abrasives leave best in class finish
Best All-in-One Polish
Now, is there really such a thing as an all-in-one polish? The Auto Finesse Tripple All In One is one such product. This is an excellent polish for light detailing jobs or DIY applications. If your car is not festooned with deep scratches and swirls, this is the perfect polish for the job. Best of all, it can be applied by hand or machine.
The Auto Finesse Tripple is formulated with deep cleansing solvents to remove surface contaminants and oxidation. The formula also contains fast-acting fine diminishing abrasives to safely remove light scratches and swirls. Best of all, it also contains T1-grade carnauba wax to protect the finish while adding a deep and glossy shine.
Truth be told, this is a great all-in-one polish that can do many things. While I usually stay away from polish-and-wax products, there are a few that can perform as advertised. The Auto Finesse Tripple is one of them. This is not the product to use if you demand a professional-level of gloss and clarity, but it simply gets the job done for most DIY detailing jobs.
- No dust formula, easy on easy off.
- Restores paint and removes oxidation.
- Contains diminishing abrasives.
Autoglym is a renowned brand in the automotive detailing world. The Super Resin Polish is one of their best products. It is formulated to clean, polish, and seal the paint to reveal a mirror-like shine. What’s great about this all-in-one polish is the universal application. It is safe to use on all paint types and colours including clear coat, water-based, or metallic finishes.
The product does suffer, more than most, with the polish drying, causing dusting across the paint. It’s not a problem as you can blow it off, but bear it in mind as if you are new to polishing, it can be rather alarming. A top tip would be to go back over the car after you’ve buffed the polish with a compressed air can to make sure all particles are removed.
- Super Resin car polish removes light scratches, scuffs and marks while providing long lasting protection and outstanding shine
- Easy to use car polishing product suitable for all paint types and all paint colors
- Buff to a deep shine with an Autoglym Hi-Tech Finishing Cloth or Mitt for
How To Get Stunning Results with Car Polish
Is it necessary to use a DA or rotary polisher?
The straight answer will depend on what you want to get out of polishing.
I like to break it down into percentages, with the percentage representing the overall finish of the paint. One thing that I will state, is that getting your paint 100% blemish free, is going to be a very tough ask. I shoot for anywhere around the 90% mark and you’re going to have to work really hard to look over the car and find the problematic areas.
A DA or Rotary polisher is going to allow you to get your paint in the 90%+ bracket. In fact, it’s the only way in which you can do this. Working by hand won’t be able to generate the cut from the pad and polish combination that is required to remove these scratches.
If you’re a weekend warrior and just looking to improve, then by all means set away by hand. It takes a good amount of work though and the results aren’t going to be as drastic, but if you’ve only a lightly swirled car and your paint is already in good condition, then it potentially could be all you need.
What I will say is that if you are looking to invest in a DA polisher, then don’t be put off thinking you are going to destroy your paint. The modern-day machines are now very user-friendly and you’d really have to go some to make any errors that can’t be rectified.
The skill when using a DA is refinement and being able to quickly and safely, both correct and refine your paint. It’s like riding a bike, anyone can get on the saddle and cycle off, but we don’t all have the skill to tackle the Tour de France.
That being said, if you’re new, I’d avoid Rotary polishers until you’re comfortable with a DA. A Rotary polisher will move much faster than a DA, meaning that you really need to be on your toes. Professionals use them as it saves them time, but they’d likely already mastered a DA prior to using a rotary.
Top tip – Grab a spare panel from a scrap yard to practice on. You can get them cheap (free) and if you break it, then at least it’s not your car! Also, these are often way more beaten up than most cars, so you can really get a feel as to how much work is needed for correction.
How do I apply polish using a Dual Action polisher?
If polishing using a machine, the trick is to moisten the pad with a small amount of polish before working on the paint. Start with a clean or new polishing pad. Add three to four pea-sized amounts of polish on the pad and use your hands to work the entire surface of the pad with the polish. After this, I apply two or three more drops of polish on the pad and proceed to work the paint.
I then like to run the DA polisher across the panel (50cm x 50cm section at a time) on a low speed of around 2, just to make sure there is an even covering. I then turn the speed up to a mid-high setting, working slowly in a cross-hatch formation from left to right.
I’m right-handed, so my left hand sits at the top of the DA and my right at the bottom. All the work is done using my left hand and the right is used as a guide.
You don’t need to use too much pressure either. Just let the machine, polish and pad do the work.
How do I apply polish by hand?
If applying polish by hand, it is best to start with a slightly damp foam or microfiber applicator pad. Pour two drops of polish on the applicator pad and spread the product evenly on the pad. Apply two smaller drops of polish on the pad before working the product on the paint using linear motions.
Some manufacturers will state that you can use circular motions, but I just can not bring myself to do it and opt for my trusty cross-hatch method that’s never failed me yet.
Whether polishing by hand or machine, the trick is to apply polish like you’re applying lotion to your skin. Before the polish gets a chance to fully dry to a haze, wipe off the excess using a dry microfiber towel. Turn the towel over and buff the surface lightly.
You don’t need to let polish cure like you would wax, so you can remove it with a plush microfiber towel right away.
After polishing the paint, always finish off by sealing the paint with a proper wax. The wax will protect from UV damage and help the paint to gleam with a lustrous, wet-look finish.
Do I need to use multiple steps (stages) to get rid of surface defects?
It’s quite possible, yes, but it will all depend on the condition of the paint. Since polish or compound can remove ultra-fine layers of clear coat, repeated and careless polishing may diminish or totally erase the clear coat on the finish.
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[wpsm_titlebox title=”3 Polishing Stages” style=”3″]
1 Stage – One step, one polish and one pad. For this, you will make one pass across the whole car. This is used for cars that are generally in pretty good condition with very little correction needed. More of an enhancement than a correction.
2 Stage – Two steps, two polish (polish and compound) and two pads (generally). This includes a more abrasive prior to Stage 1 and will be used for deeper scratches and swirls in the paint. The first part will correct the paint and the second will refine.
3 Stage – 3 steps, 3 polishes and multiple pads – This is for cars that are heavy swirled and scratched. It often includes wet sanding which is a process used with very fine sandpaper to remove defects from the paint. This is an extreme process and only used on massively depleted paint.
But if the paint is severely marred with hard-to-remove swirls and contaminants, it is better to compound the paint before refining with a pure polish. Simply working the polish over contaminated surfaces may improve the texture and shine, but the deeper scratches will still be visible under direct light.
Of course, compounding and polishing is not the end of the story. It is essential to seal the finish by applying a fine layer of wax to produce the desired results.