The car paint protects the sheet metal from environmental influences, but it has to take a lot of punishment: stone chips cause minor damage, the sun bleaches the paint, bird droppings, insect remains and tree resin attack the upper layer of paint. The result is a dull, faded paintwork. Regular polishing of the car can help. And polishing is nothing more than grinding in the ยต range: car paint is usually 100 to 140 micrometers thick. Each polish polishes away about 0.1 to 0.5 micrometers of clear lacquer. Afterwards, the paint shines again, is better protected against environmental influences and is easier to clean. There are two ways to polish the car: by hand or by machine. However, it is not only the polishing itself that matters but also the right preparation and post-processing.

Correct preparation for polishing

Before we polish the car, the paint is prepared for its shine treatment. The first step is a car wash. The best way to do this is to take a short tour of the vehicle and check all painted body parts for particularly stubborn dirt. Thoroughness is required, because any remaining dirt acts like sandpaper on the paintwork and can scratch it. Often, despite intensive washing, a lot of dirt still adheres in hard-to-reach areas. With the right cleaning agents (e.g. automotive clay bar) and the right application, this also disappears.

When examining the paintwork, it is important to inspect damage. Because stone chips and deep scratches often go all the way to the metal sheet. If this is the case, we need to take protective measures before polishing, because if we do not treat the damaged area immediately, there is a risk of corrosion. Bare sheet metal rusts quickly, the rust infiltrates the paint and spreads further. After washing, check whether the paintwork feels smooth and whether there are any dull areas. If the paint is still rough in some areas, it is best to use a paint cleaner first before you treat the car with a polish. The special cleaning compounds absorb the dirt.

Important: Do not polish in the sun because the polishing agent dries faster and can leave unsightly marks on the paintwork. The best place to polish the car is a protected place, for example a garage or carport. There is also no danger of new dirt flying onto the clean car with a gust of wind. Before polishing, all plastic parts should be carefully taped off using a masking tape. Otherwise they could accidentally be polished and appear shiny or even white afterwards.

You can also take your car to a professional who will polish it with a polishing machine. But a professional car polish is pricy. Those who want to save this money prefer to do it themselves by hand. But polishing properly needs to be learned!

Pay attention to these things!

When polishing the car, make sure you do not wear jewelry such as rings, watches or bracelets, these can cause unsightly scratches in the car paint. If possible, get a car polish suitable for plastic and rubber parts, otherwise, ugly stains may remain.

To polish the car properly, the polish is applied with a microfiber cloth and then the paint is worked on in circular movements. Experts recommended working from top to bottom, starting with the car roof. It is helpful to concentrate on smaller areas and not to treat the whole car at once. Otherwise, the polishing agent will dry out and be difficult to remove afterwards. Less is therefore more. Especially at corners and edges, you should not apply too much pressure on the paint surface, as it can quickly be damaged! If there are still dull spots in the paintwork afterwards, these can usually be removed with the help of a grinding polishing paste. Even small surface scratches can be polished away in this way. To polish the car properly by hand is a little tedious, but the result is worth the effort.

Be careful with matt paintwork!

Care is much more problematic with matt paintwork. Here, you should not use a polish because the car paint loses its rough structure through polishing and shines, which is something you do not want. And mistakes can hardly be repaired with a matt paint finish. To clean the matt paint, hand washing is best. A trip through the car wash is only recommended if it uses a brushless, touchless or cloth applicator.

Find the right polish

A polish usually contains abrasives that remove small scratches, smooth the paint and remove roughened layers of paint. Finding the right polish is difficult. Incorrect polishes or varnish cleaners with a large grain size can do more damage to the varnish than recondition it. In addition, there is the difference between simple polishes or cleaners and combination products of polish and sealant. They are superfluous if the paint is only to be sealed once.

Polishing the car by hand

If you are using polish on your car for the first time, it is better to do it manually than a machine. You can determine better with your hand whether the pressure exerted is correct. Polishing by hand takes a lot of time and effort. If you want to polish your whole car, you can easily plan several days for the work. To polish by hand, apply some polishing paste to the sponge or polishing pad and spread it evenly over the area to be polished (never apply the polishing paste directly to the sheet metal!). Then work on the lacquer (clear coat layer) in small, circular movements. Do not exert too much pressure. The lacquer should only be repaired and not sanded down. When the part is finished, remove the remains of the polish with a soft cloth. Depending on the condition of the paintwork, it is a good idea to first sand with a coarser polishing agent and then polish with a finer polish.

Equipment and technique

For polishing, you need a polishing pad or sponge or special polishing wool besides the correct polishing agent. Also, a microfiber cloth to remove the polish. Experts recommend soft cloths or special sponges. Ugly scratches and other damage to the paintwork (so-called holograms, usually in stripes) can be repaired by working in the opposite direction. Circular holograms only disappear by straight polishing. This is done by hand – and not with a polishing machine, which often causes this damage.

A taboo is polishing wool: it sticks together quickly by absorbing the moist polish. This can cause scratches. You also use up an unnecessary amount of polish.

The stronger the polish, the higher the risk of holograms being polished into the paint. In case of doubt, inexperienced people should opt for the weaker version and polish individual areas a little more frequently.

Wax preserves the paint, but does not make it shiny. A solid wax lasts longer than a liquid wax. It is applied thinly to the paintwork with a cloth, and after a short drying time, you clean up the remains.

Weather and washing will gradually wear away the preservation. Depending on the mileage, you wax five to seven times a year. You can recognize well preserved paintwork by the very fine droplet formation on the surface during rains.

Hand polishing of the car paint: some tips

  • When polishing, make sure that not too much polish is used.
  • Plastic parts such as bumpers, trim strips should not be covered with polish (tip: mask off beforehand).
  • Before starting work, remove sharp-edged objects such as watches, rings and belts – these could cause scratches in the paintwork.
  • The car paint is polished with circular movements. Even pressure is decisive for the quality of the hand polish, otherwise, an unsatisfactory result can be expected (e.g. spots or cloud formation, streaks).
  • Use a hand polishing sponge, a hand pad or a mouse for polishing. Always work against the direction of scratches, and polish with straight, overlapping paths.
  • Use a clean microfiber polishing cloth, or paint finish cloth to wipe off the polish.
  • Always work systematically.
  • If, despite all precautions, plastic parts have come into contact with polish, it is best to remove it from the affected areas with a microfiber cleaning glove (damp, lukewarm water) and e.g. car shampoo.

Polishing a car with the machine

Compared to polishing by hand, using a machine is basically a simpler alternative because it requires less effort. In addition, the cleaning result is usually tidier. We could achieve results that would not have been possible with manual polishing. But this is also where the dangers lurk, because the wrong machine or technique can quickly cause damage that can no longer be “polished away”. Care should be taken during use, to avoid accidentally damaging parts of the car paint. When polishing a car with a machine, one works with cross movements. For an optimal result, uniform pressure is very important.

At the beginning, some polishing agent is applied on the rotary disc and roughly distributed on the surface to be polished. To make it run more smoothly, we can spray the pad with a little water. Then we guide the polishing machine over the surface with light, even pressure – first in vertical, then in horizontal movements. If the lacquer is removed unevenly, it shows in the form of so-called holograms. In the beginning, it is better to work at a low speed to get a feeling for the machine – increasing the speed is always possible.

Important: Always keep the machine in motion, otherwise, there is a risk that the lacquer will overheat in some places and get damaged. When polishing with the machine, professionals recommend using a coarser polishing agent first and then polish finely.

Tip: It is better to polish corners and hard-to-reach areas by hand.

Types of polishing machines

We differentiate Polishing machines between orbital and rotary machines. The orbital polishes in elliptical movements, the rotary machine in circular movements. The orbital is more suitable for beginners, its movement makes it easier to operate and does not cause damage as quickly. The rotary machine is more powerful, but requires a professional approach.

It is essential to use a special polish for polishing with the machine. Pastes that are not suitable for the machine can become very hot and damage the paint. Some colors are also more difficult to polish than others. For example, when polishing a black car, holograms are formed quickly. Here the application of special anti-hologram polish is suitable.

Should you polish by hand or machine?

Only those who work on paint with heavy surface scratches or flash rust should use a polishing machine and a polish or abrasive paste with coarse grain. For a paint surface that is still in good condition a fine grain hand polish is sufficient. For weathered and pale surfaces, however, often only a polishing machine will help. However, it is not worth buying one if you do not have any experience in its correct handling and usage.

Frequent errors when polishing and sealing: A classic mistake in car care is polishing in the blazing sun or on hot paint. The water components evaporate quickly and the concentrate bites into the surface, resulting in damage to the paintwork. Sealing after treatment with a polishing agent is also often forgotten.

Preserve the result and seal the paint properly

Polishing your car is only finished with the right sealant. To achieve this, the paint is often sealed with wax, which gives it a protective layer and keeps the shine of the polish fresh for longer. To work with the wax, a polishing sponge or microfiber cloth is needed again. Work again in circular movements, if possible, without pressure. Always wax smaller areas section by section so that the wax does not dry up. Polymer coatings are an alternative. While waxes consist mainly of natural components such as carnauba waxes, polymer sealants are produced synthetically. They are said to last even longer and be more resistant than classic hard waxes because they form a chemical bond with the paint, while the wax only “lies on”. In return, sealing with wax achieves a higher gloss than sealing with synthetic agents.

Regular wax sealing can save polish

The sealing of a vehicle after polishing is always useful. In this way, we protect the vehicle paintwork; it stays clean longer and, above all, is more resistant to further soiling. There are some car polishes that even contain wax components and thus offer a useful sealing option. We should consider this when buying a car polish.

But there are other sealing possibilities. Besides car polish, you can also get a good paint sealant. There is also the possibility to have a professional sealing done. Just as you can seal the paint, this is also possible for the glass panes and rims.

If you regularly wax your car paint after washing, you will require less polishing. If the surface does not show any unevenness or holograms, it suffices to refresh the sealant. You should not polish your car unnecessarily.

Can you polish car paint with a household remedy?

A question that often comes up is whether you can polish your car paint with a household remedy. This is possible, but only to a limited extent. It is popular to use a toothpaste. It is important that it does not contain any coarse grains, otherwise, scratches can occur relatively quickly. With the help of some home-based solutions such as baking soda, white vinegar, cornstarch or rubbing alcohol, you can also achieve a certain shine on your car. However, you will only have moderate success polishing your car with home remedies, and we therefore recommend that you use a proper car polish!

Can you polish away any paint scratch?

The depth of the scratches plays an important role. You can easily check this by feeling the scratch with your fingernail. If it gets stuck, it is a deep scratch and a car polish cannot help. Here we must fill it up with paint before applying the car polish.

However, if the scratch is only superficial, we can easily remove it with a polish. It is important to use correct polishing products.