How to Polish a Car Without Burning the Paint

[adrotate banner=”4″]Before you start you will need to have the right tools, so please refer to the tools required to polish your car for product suggestions.

People would often think that waxing would take off the scratches on the paint. That is not true. As you apply wax, you simply add a layer of protection above the paint, and that layer covers up the scratches that in turn will cover up the swirl marks, stopping the light from reflecting off it. Check out the diagram below.

Paint Layers - How to Polish a Car

Polishing will even or round out the scratches on the paint, preventing the light to reflect off the sharp edges of the scratches or swirl marks.

How to Polish a Car – Where Do I Start?

Depending on the severity of the swirl or scratches, polishing will have a two or three steps in the entire process. Start with a more aggressive polish then a finishing polish (less aggressive) to take out the hazing and leave a nice glossy finish.

Be patient when polishing as you need to work the polish until it breaks down so that you’ll see the full benefits of it. This is a common mistake and not doing this will result in the paint hazing. When in doubt test the product in a small area before using it on the entire vehicle.

You Need Good Lighting

You need good lighting to see all the swirl marks and scratches on the paint. Another benefit of having good lighting is that you’ll see if the polish has broken down or not, especially on lighter colored vehicles. Avoid polishing under the sun, always do it under a shade with controlled lighting.

How to Polish a Car using a Machine

You’ll have two choices, a rotary polisher or an orbital polisher. The later is popular among enthusiasts because it is relatively easy to use compared to the rotary polisher. Please refer to our Dual Action Polisher Guide and Rotary Polisher Guide for detailed instructions on how to use both of these polishers.

  • Always start with a test area (2 x 2 square feet should be good) to see if the polish and combo you are using is too aggressive. You can start off with a medium strength polish (check the label for this) but that would depend on the severity of the scratch.
  • Make sure to work and break down the polish completely to be able to maximize results and prevent or minimize hazing. Double check the paint for hazing after you make a pass.
  • Grab a finishing polish to take out any hazing left from the more aggressive polish.

If you’re unsure of what polish and pad combo to use, it is advisable to start with a test area before moving on to other parts of the car, that way you’ll see if your combo will work or not.

How to Polish a Car by Hand

Just in case you don’t have a polisher, you can polish using your hands. It won’t give you the same results as a machine though and it will take a lot of elbow grease and time to finish an entire car.

  • Use a foam pad or a microfiber towel for application and buffing.
  • Work on one small section at a time.
  • If you are using a microfiber towel, fold it so you’ll have good comfort and grip on the towel as you work on the polish.
  • Apply a nickle sized amount of polish on the foam or microfiber towel then spread to around the small area with a circular motion then use a back and forth motion to work the polish until it breaks down.
  • Double check to see if you have worked the polish. Good lighting is key here.