How To Polish & Detail A Car Like A Pro?

How To Polish & Detail A Car Like A Pro?

A guide to detail a car, car polishing, paint correction, and full detailing for beginners.


Doesn’t everyone want their car to look like a million bucks all the time? Believe it or not… looks matter… remember the old first impression adage? Well, it still holds true today.


A well-kept car interior and exterior extends the service life of your car. It also preserves value. It lets others know that your car is well cared for and that you take pride in your personal image and outlook. Above all, it shows that you take pride in your ride!


So whether you’re a first-time car owner or a DIY car detailing enthusiast. Or if you get annoyed waiting for days to get an appointment at that snooty car polishing service in your city…. Your wait is over.


This guide will explain in detail everything from how to polish a car by hand. It also introduces how to use tools like special car polishers. It will also narrate advanced tips and tricks for paint correction, scratch repair, and deep-cleaning cars at home!


Are you excited…? Yes? Well jump in and let’s get on with it!



How are cars painted?

Before I answer what I presume would be your most pressing question about how can I make my car paint shine like new? it’s important to understand “how” your car has been painted.


Modern vehicle bodies are made out of steel and aluminum. This is called the substrate.


A 1-micron thick phosphate pre-treatment layer covers the substrate. The purpose of the pre-treatment layer is to give a base on which the electrocoating can be applied. The metal substrate is protected by a 20 microns thick e-coat.


The e-coat provides strength and chip resistance to the important layers beneath. It also acts as a very smooth primer surface on which the base color or ground coat is applied. The ground coat layer can be anywhere from 10 up to 20 microns or slightly more.


After the ground color coating, a mid-coat layer of anywhere up to 20 microns is applied. It provides the car with a signature color shade, pearlescence, or a metallic finish. Finally, a clear-coat layer is applied.


The thickness of the clear-coat layer ranges from 30 to 50 microns. The glossy clear-coat lacquer resists the fading of color layers due to UV rays. It also protects against oxidation, staining, scuffing, and scratching. Some companies also add a tint to the clear coat layer for extra visual depth.


The total thickness of all the layers including paint is anywhere from 50 microns to approximately 150 microns. Most vehicles average out at about 120 microns.


Before we move on, consider this. A single human hair on average is about 50 microns. So the paint layers on a vehicle’s body can be as thin as the diameter of a single human hair to that of about 3 or 4 human hairs. Wow!


How are cars painted

Is Polishing bad for car paint?

The thickness of paint on your car, including all the layers put together, is equal to that of craft paper (1/200th of an inch!) It’s fair to start thinking, “Is polishing bad for car paint?”


Yes! If you do it very often and without understanding. Or if you choose not to follow the proper procedure or take proper precautions.


Polishing isn’t bad for car paint if it is done the right way, at the right frequency, using proper materials, tools, and techniques. In fact, it is very good for your car paint. It preserves the color, value, and look of the vehicle. Above all, it makes your ride look a lot better than most others in your neighborhood or at the office!


Car manufacturers have improved painting techniques and technology over time. Problems are identified early. Solutions applied as soon as the problem is identified. This extends the quality and lifetime of the color of a vehicle. This means two things.


First, cars are painted to look good and resist damage due to environmental factors over a longer period of time.


And second, that cars painted nowadays are not very easy and cheap to get repaired and repainted. If they are damaged they remain like that. or scratches are allowed to accumulate on them over time.


So it is much better to look after and polish, restore and protect your car exterior. The other option is to wait until the time you need to take your car to a high-end workshop or bodywork service facilities. They all offer a rather expensive and time-consuming repainting job.


How to polish and wax a car?

Who doesn’t like to see that fresh-from-the-showroom shine on their prized automobile? We know you do! Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

Car wax

So, let’s get down to the basics of polishing and waxing your car. Whether you choose to work by hand or use a power tool to help your goal is to make sure it gets that brand new brilliance and luster. While we are at it, let’s also learn a few tips and tricks to ensure it gets a gleaming glow that lasts for a long time.


First of all, you need to use proper car polish products, waxes, and protective coatings. Otherwise, you only waste money. You can also spend hours pampering your vehicle without getting anywhere near your goal.


If you want to give your car the TLC it deserves, it makes all the sense to look for the best car polishes on the Amazon. You should research the top car waxes and coatings. It is also necessary to look for the best car detailing tools and polishing/ buffing materials. By using the best car-care products, you will transform your automobile’s outlook. Dull paintwork will get a glowing mirror-like look. You will also extend its life. You will protect it against damage from the climate and the local environment.


We will get to the best brands, products, and materials later. For now, let’s just focus on the procedure.

What is the proper way to polish and wax a car?

STEP 1: Thoroughly clean your car

Use a special car shampoo to wash the car according to instructions provided by the manufacturer. You can use a foam gun to apply an even layer of the shampoo suds to the vehicle and let it remain for a couple of minutes before you wash it off. A good quality shampoo will not damage the clear coat of the vehicle.


If you do not have a car washing shampoo then it is advisable that you use two caps of dish-washing liquid mixed in a gallon of water.


Use a microfiber cloth to scrub and wipe clean your car as you go about removing all the dirt and grime that has settled on the surface of your automobile.


Once you are sure that you have washed off all traces of detergent and suds and the car is still wet, use a clay bar to rub across all the panels on the car. All stubborn stains, road film, and foreign substances will get adsorbed to the clay bar.


To complete this step, finish off by using a clean microfiber cloth to thoroughly dry the entire vehicle.


STEP 2: Protect the parts you don’t want to accidentally damage

In this step you should mask all the edges, trims, light fixtures, grille, antenna, spoiler, door handles, door molding, trims, and edge guards. Use a masking tape that protects the car but is easy to come off after application. Larger elements like bumpers, side mirrors, and fenders can be covered with polythene and then taped down.


Car Polish
Removing leftover wax from car trims
STEP 3: Polish the car

Car polish comes in two forms, either in the form of a thick paste or as a liquid. Car polish contains abrasives. When repeatedly rubbed with force they eat away at the imperfections on the surface of the clear coat and improve its optical clarity.


The grit size in different polishes varies by the intended application. Compound polishes have coarse grit while finishing polishes have a very fine grit size. All polishes start working by removing the remains of any old wax along with the stubborn grime and stains embedded in the clear coat.


Compound polishes have the ability to remove most of the clear coat to treat imperfections that have reached the colored base coat. You may apply special resin-based treatments to heal and seal the exposed base coat.


STEP 4: Wax your car

Traditionally waxes have come in the form of pastes, but now high-quality waxes are available in the form of pastes, liquids, as well as sprays.


Car waxes are supposed to provide a glossy, shining coat to the surface of a vehicle. The wax coating is resistant to both water and harmful UV rays from the sun.


Using car wax also reduces the need to frequently polish the vehicle. Polishing is an aggressive process. It physically removes the clear coat and paint of the car to repair the scratches and swirl marks.


To be able to apply an even layer of wax it is important that it is not applied in extremely hot or freezing cold environments.


It is best that waxes are applied indoors. You do not want contaminants that are flying about in the air to settle on the surface of the car as you are waxing it.


STEP 5: Removing leftover wax from car trims

Please check if the products you are using are safe for other parts like trims. In any case, mask all parts not intended for waxing with a plastic sheet and tape. If you spot any build-up of residue on the trims or elsewhere on the car, remove it as soon as possible.


To help with the removal of residue, trim restoration products and kits are recommended. They not only clean the trims but also restore them to their original appearance. Use a soft foam to apply the product and proceed to wait for about 10 minutes.


Then use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe the surface. One application may take away any leftover polish. For wax removal, you will need another application.

How do you polish car paint by hand like a pro?

Hand polishing is a good method to get rid of minor clear coat scratches, etches, and swirls. For deeper paint defects and marring, call for machine polishing. A key advantage of hand polishing is that there is very little chance of paint damage.


If used incorrectly an orbital rotary buffer will damage the paint and layers underneath and above in no time. It depends on the rotation speed and pressure being applied.


Polishing an entire car by hand can be very difficult. It takes a long time to do and puts a lot of stress on the human body.


It’s best to choose a polishing compound that is less abrasive. Also required would be foam pads and microfiber pads. Keep a few spare ones at hand in case you accidentally drop the applicator on the floor or it gets too dirty.


Although pads can be washed and reused, you can’t trust washing to make them 100% dust and grit-free. Since any contaminant can damage the car paint it is best to use a new foam pad every time you polish a car. Dab some polish on the pad and spread it around on the surface of the pad to prime it.


A fresh pad would appear to absorb all the polishing compounds. But as you keep using and replenishing the polish, you will notice that the pad deposits a uniform layer of the polish wherever you may take it. Many people apply dabs of polish directly on the painted surface.


Don’t be tempted to do that. Work patiently covering small sections, one at a time. Always use a circular overlapping motion when applying polish with foam. For your own safety and to protect the automobile color from damage, do not apply the polishes to the painted surface using your fingers.


Lastly, before the polish dries off, use a microfiber cloth to buff the polish residue from the area you worked on. Work slowly section by section, in a well ventilated and well lit covered area. Only when you are sure that you have done your best, should you consider another coating.


These may be of a sealant, scratch-resistant, or water repellent coating.


How to wax a car by hand

You’ll find the best car waxes being marketed as hard pastes, fine sprays, and thick liquids.


Waxes that come as hard pastes in cans are harder to apply by hand. If you choose to use them you will be spending a long time applying them.


It can be exhausting to apply them by hand. But if you are a fan of a hard 2-hour workout while shining your car then by all means. Hard waxes are the most rewarding because their effects are long-lasting.


The second-best result is achieved by liquid waxes. The effort required to apply them by hand is less than the muscle power required for hard waxes. Just shake them well before applying so that the carrier liquid distributes the wax evenly in each drop.


Spray on waxes are the ones most used if the hand application method is selected for waxing a car. But the downside of these is that they need to be applied preferably after every car wash to maintain their effects.

wax a car by hand

Here is a list of conditions you will have to meet and supplies you will need if you are applying car wax by hand:


  1. The time required: Around 2 hours. Give or take.
  2. A dust-free covered area is preferred. The ideal temperature lies between 70F – 80F.
  3. You will need to have a supply of clean water.
  4. A gallon of soapy water. Use automotive shampoo or a light dishwashing solution.
  5. A couple of clean washcloths, some microfibre cloths, and at least one sponge.
  6. Two small sponges or wax applicator pads that can be easily handheld.
  7. Rubber gloves as personal protective equipment


Always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer of the wax you are using. They know the technique to bring the best out of their product. Pay special attention to know if the wax you are using requires a damp or dry application. Trust their printed guidelines.


Use a small amount of wax on the applicator pad (you will probably get one with the wax). Spread it on the pad and dab it around five or six places within 2 feet by 2 feet area.


Press down firmly on the surface you are about to wax. Start moving in small circular motions and massage the wax into the painted surface moving in any “one” direction you choose. Cover the entire selected area with a thin film of wax.


Apply a little more wax if you think that the selected area has not been covered. It is better to apply a little extra wax than to apply less. Why waste all the effort you are putting in? You will notice that the wax will start getting hazy. This means it is getting dry and that is supposed to happen. So don’t fret. Take some more wax and move to the next chosen area.


Once the car is covered, you should take a microfiber cloth and remove the dried out wax. This will take a bit of effort but that’s what needs to be done now. Remember to keep moving in a slow overlapping circular motion.


Change the side of the cloth once you see a lot of wax has built up on one side. Once both sides of the cloth are full, take a new piece of microfiber. By the way, this process is called “buffing” out the wax.


Use an LED torch or a special car detailing LED lamp to ensure that the reflection is uniform and all the excess wax has been removed while buffing. You don’t want to leave even a trace of extra wax behind.


By the time you are done buffing the wax your car should be sparkling like new.


How to polish a car with a rotary, fixed orbital, or dual action polisher?

orbital tool use

All rotary and fixed orbital power tools for polishing come with a backing plate on which you can attach pads of various porosity and hardness. There are three aspects that you need to watch out for when using a rotary power tool.


The cutting grade of the foam, availability of an interface layer (usually another round piece of foam), and diameter of the base plate and foam.


You can start with a low RPM but coarse wool or foam pad and then work your way towards a hard and dense pad with very fine pores. The pads are usually used at high RPM and they are moved quickly across the surface. Start with a wool pad and buffing compound.


These are more abrasive, and they are able to take out most minor scratches in the clear coat. A word of caution here! Even a small mistake with a power tool can overheat and burn through the clear coat. Use a crosshatch design (up-down followed by a left to right motion) to cover the intended area and keep gentle pressure on the device.


Never stop in any location, if you see something stubborn come back to it later. Always make sure the pad touches the paint surface in a flat manner with no tilt.

How to wax a car with a rotary, fixed orbital, or dual action buffer?

Wax is designed to provide a smooth glossy look to the car. It tackles any trouble spots that are not eliminated by buffing post-polishing. Wax is perhaps the most difficult product to work with by hand. A power tool helps by making the job far easier.


Foam and buffering pad diameters are also important to appreciate here. For larger cars with larger plates, you can use the standard 5-inch pad. For small cars, it is advisable to use 3-inch pads along with equipment backing and interface back of the same size.


Wipe any remnants with a special wax removal microfiber cloth. Avoid buffing in circular strokes. You might again introduce new swirl marks on the hardening waxed surface.


Final Thoughts

By following the OEM instructions on polishing and waxing material you will achieve excellent results for your car. Your car will shine and its color will become much more vibrant. Remember you might have to do this at least twice a year.


There is a way to avoid doing this chore once or twice every year. That is by adopting the practice of applying a nano-particle based ceramic polymer adhesive coating as a hard coat over the clear coat layer. The nanoparticles fill the gaps in the entire paintwork.


But it is an expensive option. But the results of these coatings are astonishing and high performance. These coatings are part of another blog post. Stay with us to stay informed!

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