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01 Sep 2007 | Text and photos by Andy Hum | Category: Car Maintenance Advice

Although a quick coat of wax will make a car shine for a while, it's polishing that really makes paint look sharp.

Many people mistaken waxing as the process that makes the car look good. Although a quick coat of wax will make a car shine for a while, it's polishing that really makes paint look sharp. A smooth, flawless shine is only achieved by pre-cleaning the paint, before applying the wax.

Although the two terms have become interchangeable, it is important to note that waxing and polishing are different. A polish brings paint to a smooth finish by getting rid of contaminants below the surface via the use of abrasive material. Polishes contain oils that conditions the paint, creating a gloss that is not possible with waxes.

Wax is a transparent protective coating that protects the polished area. Paint manufacturers usually recommend carnauba wax as they allow the paint to "breathe" and provide hard protection. Wax is nothing more than designed to protect the area that has been polished. Waxes made with carnauba are recommended by paint manufacturers since they allow the paint to breathe and provide hard protection.

The Functions of Polishing

Polishing products are known in a variety of terms such as "scratch removers", "polishing oils" or "paint cleaners". Despite their different names, they essentially perform the same job of polishing the car.

To be more precise, paint cleaners are used to remove below surface contaminants, defects as well as swirls. A polishing oil is used to improve surface gloss by bonding into the pores and fissures of the paintwork and replenishing the resins that the paints are made with. However, presently many cleaners provide some polishing functions and vice versa.

The process of polishing combines cleaning the paint and infusing the resin.
Professionals polishing a vehicle

Polishing helps to restore gloss and remove light surface imperfections and prepare it for the next step of waxing. Generally, polishing removes defects and imperfections which include:

Random, isolated scratches
Cobweb-effect
Buffer Swirl
Oxidation
Pore imbedding stains
Chemical etching
Acid rain spots
Etching from bird droppings

Professional polishing versus Basic Polishing

Professional detailers use different equipment and products as compared to the average car owners.

One equipment is the rotary buffing machines which can spin at high speeds. This equipment is necessary for removing deep imperfections in the paintwork such as:

Severe water spots or swirl marks
Rotary buffing machine used for polishing
Heavy oxidation due to sun and weather exposure
Heavy swirl marks or other micro marring
Poor repaint or paint repair blending
Poor surface finish (orange peel)
Heavy surface pitting from sand or road stones

With serious paint imperfections, professional detailers cut into the paintwork with abrasive pads and strong polishing compounds to smoothen the surface. A high level of skill and expertise is required to ensure excess paint is not removed in this process.

While the available on shelves polish has little risk of damaging the paintwork of the car when used, these polishes are more mild and only serve to remove minor imperfections.

How to polish

When cleaning or polishing paint, always work in a shaded area out of direct sunlight. Polishes and cleaners do not work well on hot surfaces.

Work on one area at a time, covering 2 to 4 square feet. Buff off the polish residues as you go. Most polishes do not need to dry or haze before being wiped off, but be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions.

You can use a foam, terry cloth or microfiber applicator pad to apply your polish. Use a small amount of polish. A small dab is usually sufficient to polish an area of 2 to 3 square feet.

After cleaning, your car's paint should be clean, smooth, and free of streaks and minor swirls. It's now ready for waxing.


Also read

Starters guide to bringing the shine to your paintwork
Guide to waxing your car
Guide to claying your car
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