CCM is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

How To Polish Your Car

Polishing a car with a polisher

Although you can correct small paint imperfections by hand, you‘ll need a car buffer or polisher (same thing) to correct large areas or buff your car to a next-level shine.
For the same amount a professional detailer would charge you to polish your car, or even less, you can buy your own buffer and polishing products and do it yourself.

This small one-time investment will enable you to get the same or even better results over and over again with just love and some elbow grease. You’ll get a lot more satisfaction for your money too!

Professional detailers can make your car look shiny and new, but so can you. It isn’t difficult, anyone can do it!

Just follow our simple guidelines and you will be amazed by the results!

Here’s how you polish your car and get professional results:

How to Polish your Car like a Professional Detailer


To get professional polishing results, preparation is key. If you don’t clean your car surface meticulously first, you’ll end up with more scratches instead of less. That’s where most people go wrong.

1. Wash your car

First of all, wash your car thoroughly to remove all road grime and coarse dirt.

2. Clay bar your car

The clay barring process will remove stubborn minute contaminants that can’t be washed off. If you polish your car without clay barring first, you’ll run the risk of marring and scratching your paint if those contaminants work loose and get caught in your polishing pad during polishing. With those contaminants removed by clay barring, polishing will be much faster and easier too.

3. Check paint thickness

To not run the risk of polishing through your clear coat (you’ve probably heard some horror stories), we recommend first checking your car’s paint thickness

If you have a (reasonably) new car or your paint measures anywhere close to or above 100µ (microns) / 4 mil, you should be fine.

But if your car’s paint thickness is below 80-90µ (microns) / 3 mil, we recommend to only use a DA polisher at low RPM applying very light pressure or preferably only gently polish your car by hand just to be on the safe side.

If your car has thin, worn paint, it’s best to only use fine grade polishing pads and liquids too. 

No car is the same, so this is just an indication, a general guideline. Use common sense. When in doubt, have an expert assess your car’s paint condition first.

4. Get everything you need to polish your car

These are the only things you’re gonna need:

Here’s How to Polish your car in 6 easy Steps

Step 1: Park your car in the shade, away from trees

The heat from direct sun softens your car paint in summer, making it more prone to abrasion and scratches. 
Intense sunlight will also evaporate your product before you can work it, potentially leaving marks and spots. That’s why you should never correct your car paint in direct sunlight on a warm summer’s day. 
However, in late autumn or early spring the sun is too weak to heat your car paint, so you should be OK. Gently touch the car surface to make sure it isn’t hot and use common sense. 

If you don’t have a place in the shade, it’s better to wash and clay bar your car on an overcast day or early in the morning when it’s cool.

It’s not a good idea to park your car under trees when you’re detailing it. There’s always stuff falling from trees like tree sap, dead foliage, bird droppings… If this stuff accidentally gets caught in your wash mitt, towel, clay bar or polishing pad while you’re working, it will scratch your car paint.

If you have access to a large enclosed garage with good lighting, it’s best to park it there for the actual polishing fase. Inside you have almost 100% dust control, which is a huge bonus. 
Outside there’s always a risk of the wind picking up and blowing stuff on your immaculately cleaned car. There’s also bugs and birds doing “their thing”.

Step 2: Saturate your polishing pad with polish

Put on a pair of nitrile gloves to avoid skin contact with chemicals and polishing agents. 

Stick a soft foam polishing pad on your polisher and saturate it with polish. 

We recommend starting with a soft foam pad combined with fine grade polish and to evaluate the result as you go. Depending on the hardness of your car paint and the state it is in, you might have to do more passes compared to harsher polishes and compounds, but it’s the safest way to go. 

About 6-8 pea-size dots of polish should do. Spread them evenly with your fingers so the whole pad is covered in polish.

It is very important to keep the pad well lubricated with polish during the entire polishing process to minimize friction so your car paint doesn’t scorch.

Step 3: Start polishing areas of 2’x 2’ in straight lines

Put the power cord over your shoulder so it doesn’t scratch your car. Polish at medium to 3/4 speed in manageable areas of about 2’x 2’ a time and always keep moving the pad around very slowly, don’t stay in one spot because your car paint will overheat. 

Don’t polish the 2’x 2’ square randomly. Polish in straight lines, up and down twice per lane (that’s called two passes) with no pressure, let the machine do the work. Always keep the polishing pad level with the surface and make sure the pressure is distributed evenly. 

Keep a close eye on your pad and working surface and add polish before the pad runs dry. When the polishing pad runs dry, you’ll scorch your car paint.

After the first two passes, move to the adjacent lane and repeat, and so on. When you’ve completed the full square, do the same but this time from side to side until you’ve done a full two-pass crosshatch pattern.

Gently wipe the working area clean with an edgeless microfiber towel.

Step 4: Assess the result of this area

If the result is satisfactory, carry on with the same technique. Move on to an adjacent 2’x 2’ square and allow a slight overlap to make the two squares blend.

If the result is underwhelming, you can try doing more passes or applying a little more pressure till you get it right, but don’t overdo it! 


Step 5: Adjust if necessary

If that still doesn’t work, you can step up to a medium grade foam pad with medium grade polish for a light general paint correction. 
You can also use a coarse grade polish to revive dull old car paint. 

To correct small scratches or blemishes, you can use a coarse foam pad with compound.

It’s very important to take your time to assess what you’re doing and to only gradually step it up (if you have to), because heavier polishes or compounds with assorted pads remove much more paint than fine polish does. Remember there’s only so much paint on your car and it doesn’t grow back! 

When you’ve used a medium or coarse polish or a compound, you’ll have to finish with a fine grade finishing polish to get a professional mirror-like finish. If you don’t, you won’t get that concours result.

Check your pads frequently for caked up old polish and paint dust. This build-up will prevent the pad and polish from doing their job efficiently. If you leave it on, your pad won’t cut as well as it should. 
You can remove this gunk simply by holding a small coarse brush like the polishing pad cleaning brush (included with most polishers), against the pad’s surface while operating the polisher at its lowest speed setting. 

Step 6: Polish the rest of your car

Once you’ve worked out which combination works best for your type of paint, it’s an easy ride: continue with the same technique until you’ve polished your whole car.


When you’ve completed polishing your car, it’s the ideal moment to apply a protective coating. A wax, sealant, ceramic or graphene protective coating will help preserve your paint in this beautiful concours condition for up to several years!

Now sit back and enjoy your hard-earned result over a hot mug of coffee or while enjoying a cold beer… Life is good today!


Happy detailing!


Subscribe To Our Newsletter. It's 100% Free!

* indicates required

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top