My idea of a great polish is one that cuts paint in order to remove defects that are embedded in a car’s finish. But it needs to do this without being overly aggressive. While you do need some amount of cutting from a polish, one that is too aggressive will remove more clear coat than is necessary, which can greatly limit the durability and lifespan of a coat of paint.
So while that may be the end goal of a great polish, there are many other things to look for when choosing the right product. Compare your favorite product to my list and see how it stacks up!
1) The polish must work smoothly with all buffing pads without clogging. Whether you are using wool buffing pads for more paint correction, or exclusively foam pads, the texture of the polish should not matter. If the polish is too heavy, it will clog. Constantly having to clean or replace your pad because the polish is too thick is annoying. Clogging also causes “buffer bounce,” due to the pad being out of balance, which can damage the paint surface.
2) The polish must have good consistency. Polish that runs is as bad as polish that clogs. Both make huge messes requiring double-duty clean up after you finish buffing. Good polishes stay where they are applied, even on a horizontal side panel. Some polishes go on smoothly but then liquefy and even spatter if it is hot. A good polish should have good consistency and maintain it throughout the process, regardless of the environment.
3) The polish must not leave a dusty residue. Good polishes do not dry out, but remain hydrated throughout the buffing process. A good polish should never leave a dry, dusty mess to clean up.
4) The polish must leave a flawless shine. Correction qualities are important in a polish, but I want the final buffing to be fast and easy. The polish should leave the surface mostly shiny and glossy, ready for the final, easy buffing.
5) The polish must work across old and new paint systems. Clear coats and paint systems are always evolving, but detailers tend to be loyal to products that work. We often maintain as many classic cars as newer models, so when polishing an older, single-stage paint system, we prefer not to have to use a different polish on it than we would use on a new car. The basic recipe for a good polish shouldn’t change according to the paint system.
6) The polish must live up to its hype. There are several great polishes out there, so I tend to be unforgiving if a polishing product does not live up to what the advertising says it will do. For instance, some polishes claim to be exceptional on black or dark paint; or that it will remove up to 1200 grit sand scratches and still produce a flawless shine. If making claims like these, I expect the polish to follow through.
7) The polish must act as a visual barrier between the pad and surface. Once I have applied the polish, I want to see clearly the areas I have buffed and those I have not. I do not want to have to stop and find my place. If the polish dries or evaporates too quickly, I will wind up dry buffing, which causes all types of flaws in my technique from swirling and hazing to re-buffing an already buffed area, which leads to over buffing.
8) The polish must be versatile enough for any type of buffer. Manufacturers developed orbital versus rotary buffers as an advancement in technique, not a reflection of the type of polish you use.
9) The polish must work at all buffing speeds. We rarely recommend buffing at high speeds since you risk burning the paint, but regardless of whether the detailer is buffing at 1,000 RPMs or 2,000 RPMs, the polish should work at all speeds, regardless of the amount of friction created.
10) The polish must be easy to wipe away. Removing paint imperfections is a vigorous job so the last thing you want is to have to exert a lot of force getting the polish off the car. Removing it by hand should be as easy, although not as fast, as using an electronic buffer.
11) The polish must be environmentally safe. When we detail vehicles we are in close quarters with our chemicals and often in a closed up garage and I don’t want to be inhaling obnoxious fumes. VOCs can cause respiratory issues and smog. You’ll want a polish that has as few of these compounds as possible.
12) The polish must be silicone free. This one is mostly an issue for someone buffing a vehicle in a body shop. Silicones and polymers can cause adhesion issues and fish-eyes in paint that isn’t fully dried. In my case it isn’t much of an issue because we mostly only deal with fully cured paint jobs, but it’s still a consideration.
While everything listed above are certainly good for helping select a particular product to use, you should also be aware of the company producing these polishes. Are they passionate about detailing? Do they strive to innovate and produce better products. I always find some comfort in knowing that my polishing materials come from a source that I think cares as much as I do.
How about you? Is there anything in particular you like to look for when choosing a polishing product? Let us know in the comments!