How To Polish A Car

Learning how to polish a car yourself allows you to rectify any imperfections in your paint such as swirl marks or light scratches. Whether you want to apply a polish by machine or hand, we show you the exact process for the best results.

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How To Polish A Car
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When it comes to polishing your car’s paintwork, you have the choice of using a machine or doing it by hand. Depending upon the severity of the defects will determine which method is best. For example, if the paintwork is covered in swirl marks and light scratches, a machine polish is highly recommended.

Regardless of the method of application, you will also need to use a quality car polish to remove any defects in the paint. Again, depending upon the defects on the paint will determine which is the best polish to use. For example, if you are going to perform a three-stage polish, you will need a cutting, polishing and finishing compound. However, if you are simply polishing the car to completely clean it, there are many “all-in-one” polishes available.

If you have never polished a car before, below are our detailed guides for polishing by hand and machine.

How To Machine Polish A Car

If you really want to perfect your paint, learning how to machine polish a car is highly recommended. Most car polishing machines come with a range of buffing pads that allow you to correct any imperfections in the paint.

In terms of the buffing pads required to machine polish a car, you will need a compounding, polishing and finishing pad. These often come colour coded and have been designed to work with the polish or compound for the best possible results. Other items you require include:

  • Polish or compound
  • Microfibre cloths
  • Lubricant or quick detailer
  • Extension cable

Once you have got everything you need and washed the car, follow the below steps to machine polish a car.

How To Machine Polish A Car

1. Position the car and ensure the extension cable reaches all the way around the car.

2. Attach the buffing pad to the centre of the backing plate of the machine.

3. Apply one or two blobs of polish onto the face of the pad and spray a lubricant/conditioner onto the pad.

4. Use the buffer (turned off) to spread it around the paintwork to be polished.

5. Turn the machine on to a low-speed setting, apply even pressure to the paintwork and work it into the paint.

6. Increase the speed setting on the buffer and continue to work in the polish with 3 to 4 passes.

7. Once the polish begins to become translucent, it can then be wiped clean with a microfiber cloth.

8. If you have been using a cutting compound, you will then want to begin using a polishing/finishing pad to polish and repeat steps 3 to 7.

Regarding the 8th step, this may differ depending upon the type of paint correction you are doing. For example, a three-stage correction would begin with a cutting compound where the majority of swirls and scratches will be removed. A cutting compound would then be followed by a polishing compound and then you will finish the paint correction with a very fine finishing compound. This is the reason why you will need three different pads and three different compounds.

How To Hand Polish A Car

If your car’s paintwork is in relatively good condition and you only want to clean the paintwork and increase its shine, polishing your car by hand is more than ideal. Whether you use a polish that’s abrasive or an “all-in-one” product, the choice is entirely up to you.

In terms of polishing a car by hand, you will only require an applicator, polish and microfibre cloth. Once you are ready, we would then recommend the below steps to hand polish a car.

1. Apply a small amount of polish (1 or 2 blobs) to the applicator.

2. Gently distribute the polish upon the area to the polished.

3. Work the polish into the paintwork (circular motion or left to right).

4. Keep working it into the paintwork until it becomes translucent.

5. Allow the polish to cure if required (see the bottle’s instructions).

6. Buff off the polish residue with a clean microfibre cloth.

Although polishing your car by hand requires more physical effort, it’s much easier to do and you are less likely to cause any damage to the paint. Incorrect use of a polishing machine can cause further defects such as increased swirls and marring marks.

Protecting The Car

After you have polished your car, it’s recommended that you apply a car wax, which adds a layer of protection to the paint and further increases its shine. Most waxes can also be applied by hand or machine and last up to 2 to 3 months. If you require even further protection, you may even opt for a car paint sealant or a ceramic coating.


Polishing your car can be very rewarding and also enjoyable once you’ve perfected your technique. One word of advice when it comes to choosing a polish is to begin with the least abrasive formula first. If the imperfections are still present in the paint after polishing, you can then begin to use a more abrasive polish to remove them.

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