Top Tips for Ultimate Refinement and the Perfect Gloss
Polishing your car with a machine is a fundamental and enjoyable part of detailing, providing that ‘freshly polished shine’ we all know and love. But to achieve that desired maximum glossy result by polishing a car, meticulous time must be spent.
Machine polishing is an abrasive detailing process. Even during the refining and jeweling polishing stages, where we’re happy the swirl marks and other surface defects are gone, we still use abrasion to create a paint finish that appears flawless to the human eye under normal conditions. For most car owners, that’s a totally satisfying result! But for many detailing pros with workshops full of spotlights, there still remains a ‘next level’ of car polishing to reach.
Can You Polish A Car By Hand?
Compared to machine polishing, polishing a car by hand is more time consuming and far less consistent. Every stage of the polishing process involves a finer grade of abrasion. If we inspect machine polishing results up close by using an LED spotlight for reference, we can sometimes reveal a faint haze or a pattern of micro-hazing left by the polisher. The only way to fix these discrepancies is by more polishing; an exhausting task if you were to do it by hand.
All the extra elbow grease in the world won’t get you to where a machine polisher can, so if your swirl marks and other defects appear to be gone, but you’re still able to identify some micro-hazing while you strive to achieve that extreme level of car polishing perfection, then all you need to do is polish the car again with an even finer step.
How Long Does It Take To Polish A Car?
Machine polishing a whole car takes anything from a day to a couple of weeks, depending on the size, severity of defects, complexity of shapes and surfaces, and the level of correction being targeted.
Thankfully, the final refining stage, which is sometimes referred to as ‘jeweling,’ is a quick and easy portion of the whole process. With an ultra-fine polishing compound and one of our softest car polishing pads like our HDO/SDO black finishing pad or our red waxing Force pad, you have the potential to reach that perfect shine on your automotive paint with this simple process. Here’s how:
- Make sure you are working in a clean environment – no dust, dirty edges, and be sure to use clean microfiber towels.
- Take your finest polishing compound and use it to fully but finely prime the polishing pad face.
- With your polisher, be sure to work the polish to help the abrasives diminish. This means using a little more pressure on the pad and a higher machine speed to begin with, gradually reducing both to normal levels over the course of your pass as the polishing liquid turns clearer. Don’t be afraid to take your time.
- Using a soft, clean microfiber towel, gently and thoroughly buff away the residue. Turn the towel to a fresh side frequently throughout this process to reduce the chance of cross-contamination. Do not poke or push; instead, let the towel do the work in an effort to avoid re-inflicting any marring or swirls into the clear coat.
- After you feel the job is done, check your work using a hand-held LED spotlight at arm’s length from the clear coat surface.
This meticulous polishing process on your car can certainly be frustrating, but the end results make it an equally rewarding experience! To avoid exhaustive analysis paralysis, a good idea is to use masking tape on a panel and attempt a 50/50 test, where you polish the exposed finish and remove the tape to reveal the difference this extra polishing work has made to your clear coat.
Watch Kelly Harris demonstrate this test in his two most recent videos:
Additionally, there is no need to worry about taking off too much clear coat – this polishing process is so gentle that there’s almost zero material being removed each time, as witnessed in this video.
Is Polishing A Car Worth It? How Long Does Polishing Last?
The answer to this question really depends on the car owner. Polishing a car requires an investment of time and materials, and there’s really no question that the results can be stunning, but how long will they last?
For a quick shine, it’s easy to use the many available products, such as glazes, waxes, and sealants that add natural or synthetic oils and silicone to the paint surface for an artificial gloss. In doing so, you merely polish with your wax, your applicator pad, a microfiber cloth for buffing, and stand back afterwards to observe a huge improvement in gloss!
There’s just one little problem: it’s fake! Kelly Harris refers to it as automotive ‘make-up’ because you get a temporary visual improvement that is not designed to last.
Traditional waxes and sealants have two functions – to improve and protect the look and integrity of the finish. But unlike modern ceramic coatings, they are sacrificial surface coverings, designed to be replaced on a fairly regular basis.
From the first car wash that follows using traditional waxes and sealants, you will likely notice that the luster is already fading. Chemicals in cleaners and even just a short amount of environmental exposure can begin to break down these surface products, leaving the ‘true’ paint surface – and all its flaws – revealed.
When you machine polish a car instead, we are creating a glossy surface which is free from fine scratches, swirls, and imperfections. This means that rather than relying on wax and sealant products to artificially fill in all the finish flaws, the clear coat is genuinely glossy and reflective. Using an extremely precise gloss meter, it’s actually possible to demonstrate that perfectly polished paint can become less glossy when you add a wax, because the wax is ever so slightly translucent.
So how long the polishing lasts depends almost entirely on how you use, and care for, the vehicle following the polishing work.
Waxing A Car
After perfectly polishing your paint, you still need to add some protection to the paint’s surface. Traditional vehicle waxes and sealants are coming up against increasing competition from ceramic coatings, which can be tricky to apply as seen in this video featuring both a good and bad example, a variety of simple ‘spray on / buff off’ sealants, and even ‘spray on / rinse off’ hydrophobic coatings.
Choosing which works best for you means factoring in the ease of use and durability of your chosen product. Some spray sealants now offer protection for several months but require a little more work to thoroughly buff to a streak-free finish, whereas there are rinse-off coatings that take no effort at all that likely don’t last as long.
Waxing a car the ‘old way’ is still a popular choice, as it can be a relaxing, therapeutic experience for a car enthusiast. However, it can bring with it a greater chance that your applicator pad or buffing cloth picks up some fine environmental contamination and introduces new fine swirls to your paint surface.
This makes it vital for you to consider your working conditions. A sandy driveway with a fresh breeze might not be the most conducive environment to successfully wax your vehicle.
Washing A Car
Believe it or not, washing a car is one of the best ways to make it look worse – if you don’t take the right approach. If you’re still picking up a sponge, chamois leather, and a drying blade, there’s going to be trouble!
This is because old-fashioned methods can do more harm than good. Modern automotive paint is less resistant to fine scratches and other marks than it was a generation ago. Even microscopic dirt and grit particles can aggressively re-inflict the swirls and dullness you have machine polished away when you scrub them in with a sponge or drag them around the surface of the entire car with rough leather or towels.
Good wash technique helps you to clean and maintain your shine without undoing your hard work. Here are some key pointers for safely washing a car that will help you to preserve your polishing results:
- Invest in quality cleaning equipment and take care of it. Modern wash mitts made of soft microfiber or lamb’s wool are kind to paint surfaces, along with microfiber cloths and towels for buffing and drying. Keep these items clean by storing them where they can’t get dusty. It even pays to keep your buckets clean, so invest in grit-guards and rinse them well between uses and consider having a separate wash bucket, rinse bucket, and wheel bucket.
- Before touching the car, rinse it with a jet wash or pointed hose to remove as much loose dirt and surface contamination as possible. This process hoses away tiny pieces of dirt that could mark your paint if scrubbed against your finish. Utilizing a snow foam will help chemically break down bonded iron found in brake dust and other contaminants as part of your pre-wash routine.
- Take advantage of the lubrication that car shampoo offers by using plenty of it in your wash water. A good shampoo and a quality wash mitt should give the sensation of silk when washing your car.
- Drying a car is where most swirl marks and scratches occur. With no soapy lubrication, it’s easier for fine dirt particles to score the paint surface you’ve lovingly polished to perfection, so ensure your drying towels are super clean and absorbent. Try dragging the towel around as little as possible as you dry the car and instead, let the towel’s absorbent characteristics do the work.
- Make sure your protectant is still working well. Your drying towels will work best and most safely when the paint surface is still beading and hydrophobic. Quality products should last a good amount of time, but as the protection wears off, consider adding more, or topping up, when conditions are safe to do so.
- A few bonus pointers: wash your wheels first and dry them last. Wash the cleanest panels first, and the dirtiest panel last. Avoid washing your car in direct sunlight if possible, as removing water or chemical stains usually requires more buffing, increasing the potential for more swirls. Likewise, washing a car in windy conditions can blow fine grit from the floor onto your car – be aware, and take precautions, such as another rinse, if need be.
So how long your polish lasts depends on your level of considerate aftercare. With meticulous attention to detail, the perfect gloss you achieve using Lake Country polishing pads will be there for you, your friends, neighbors, and Instagram followers to enjoy for years to come!