It is inevitable for a car’s finish to corrode and fade due to sunlight, bird droppings, rain, and dust. It’s important to buff your car’s paint if it’s dull. Further removal of defects, such as minor scratches, oxidation, and etching, is accomplished through polishing and buffing. 

In the automotive industry, the terms “buffing” and “polishing” are sometimes interchangeable. Buffing removes swirl marks and restores shine, while polishing removes paint protection products or damage to clear coats.

Despite taking some time and effort, buffing a car yields great results. If you don’t like working by hand, an electric rotary buffer will improve your work flow.

Buffing your car paint

What Is Buffing?

Your car’s paint loses some of its luster as it ages. Car paint can crack, corrode, chip, and fade as a result of the environment. Acid rain, bird droppings, dust, or UV rays can cause these problems. Cars have a clear, hardened coating that protects their paint. Clear coats can be restored if they have lost their shine.

The process of buffing is used to restore the shine of a car’s paint job. Rather than repairing deeply scratched or blemished paintwork, buffing restores the full, overall shine of your vehicle. Buffing removes a layer of paint’s clear coat in order to remove swirls and light scratches. Additionally, buffing can extend the life of the finish in addition to improving its appearance. Auto body shops use buffing as part of both surface protection and repair procedures. 

The process of buffing is more complex than it appears. Clear coat layers vary from car to car. Cheaper models have 4-5 layers, whereas top models have 10-15. A minor mistake can lead to costly repainting jobs if your car’s paint is damaged. In order to prevent that, buffing must be done with the utmost care.

Why buff painted vehicle surfaces?

The buffing process helps to repair minor paint imperfections as well as protect it. 

Surface Repair

Several lengthy steps must be completed during paint repair, including polishing and buffing. Polishing is the more challenging of the two, requiring the use of polishing compounds on a painted surface using a power tool. The basecoat remains intact while barely perceptible layers of clear coat are removed.

This is followed by buffing, which involves removing any leftover compound from the polishing process with a clean towel or pad. It not only cleanses newly polished areas, but will also reveal any damage that may have occurred during polishing.

Surface Protection

The process involves more than simply removing scratches and oxidation. In order to prevent the damage from recurring, it is imperative that a paint protection product is used.

Many car owners and detailing professionals apply protective products after paint correction repairs are completed, such as synthetic sealants and ceramic coating. Buffing is not only used for correcting and protecting, but also for the actual ceramic coating application process itself.

The protective layer will bond or embed itself into the surfaces it protects when applied. It is imperative to remove any remaining unbonded material, which is why buffing is required.

The buffing stage may not seem difficult, but there is a lot of room for error. It is possible that the product will fail if the protective layer is removed prematurely, resulting in little coverage. Buffing too late results in streaking because residual media will finally solidify on top of the protective coating.

Different Buffing Methods

Besides manual buffing, you can also use a high-speed buffer and an orbital buffer.

In manual buffing, each step is performed by hand. You use a microfiber towel to apply enough polish or rubbing compound to your car paint and then scrub it. If you have some experience and want better results faster, an orbital buffer may be more suitable. Additionally, professionals use a high-speed buffing machine to restore the aesthetic beauty of your car and repair deep scratches.

Hand Polishing and Buffing

Though modern methods of polishing and buffing have become significantly faster, many purists still prefer hand polishing. It is obvious that hand buffing requires physical exertion and more time, but the benefit of control and attention to detail is probably its best feature.

Electric Polishing and Buffing

A polisher powered by an electric motor is likely to provide the best experience for detailed experts and advanced DIYers, as they are much more efficient. An electric power tool is used along with polishing compounds, polishing and buffing pads.

Orbital Polisher

In addition to spinning, an orbital buffer also moves the disc in a circular pattern to ensure that the pad never remains in one place too long. It isn’t as intensive as high-speed buffing, so professionals tend to use it for finishing work.

High Speed Polisher

High-speed buffers with large pads and faster speeds can work on large areas of the paintwork at once. However, it is very easy to damage the paint with this procedure. Amateurs may try hand or orbital buffing, but high-speed buffing is best left to those with experience.

Speed settings on a powered buffer

An excellent finish to a vehicle can only be achieved by using the least abrasive polish possible. There are certain factors to remember when buffing an automobile.

Moderate to heavy scratches

The car’s paint must be repaired with an abrasive microfiber or wool pad and a scratch remover compound if you notice moderate to severe scuffs and scratches. You will be able to buff the surface to its optimal level and in the most effective manner if you set the speed to a high of five or six.

Light and small imperfections

To remove mild to moderate oxidation, water etching, and swirls, use a finishing compound and foam pad. Speed settings of three to five are optimal, depending on how light or heavy the scratches are.

Minor or no damages at all

Despite little or no damage to the vehicle’s finish, you still want to ensure that the gloss is enhanced and the surface is smooth so a protective agent can be applied well. For best results, use a pre-wax polish enhancer and a finer foam pad. A low speed of one to three is recommended.

Different Types of Polishing / Buffing Tools

Polishing/Buffing Pads

The polishing compound needs to be spread and rubbed using a pad. While buffing pads come in various shapes and sizes, most are circular in shape. You can also use them to apply sealants, wax, and other coatings. The most common pad materials are foam, but microfiber or wool may also be used. Although some pads can be used by hand, others are designed for use with machines such as a DA (Dual Action) Orbital Polisher or Rotary Buffer. 

Polishing/Cutting Compound 

Essentially, it is sandpaper in the form of a paste or liquid. The tiny particles encapsulated within the compound make it almost like wet sanding when applied to clear coats. Various levels of coarseness are available for polishing compounds. The coarser material should be used first, followed by milder materials with each pass. 

Buffing Towel/Pad & Buffing Wheel

After polishing is complete, the polishing compound is removed by buffing. When buffing by hand, there is usually a wheel that has a handle on one end and a sticky end that adheres to the buffing cloth or pad.

Towels used for buffing are generally narrow in width, but long in length. Microfiber is the most popular buffing towel material, which works wonders to remove paint protection formulas and polishes. Microfiber towels reduce scratching while eliminating stubborn residues, and are long enough to make buffing corners an easy task.

Buffer Cloths are perfect for hard-to-reach areas because they are smaller and easier to handle than larger towels.

Steps to buff your car with a polishing compound

You can buff a car step-by-step following these instructions.

Wash the entire car thoroughly

Start by rinsing off any accumulated dirt and debris. You can wash your vehicle thoroughly with gentle car wash shampoo. It is best to park the car in a shaded area to avoid the formation of soap stains.

Use the appropriate compounding pad and polish

You can use a wool pad or a microfiber pad and buffing compound to begin. Check the compound’s abrasiveness by applying it to a small painted area first. When there are large paint imperfections and scratches, use a strong compound. You can then use a milder compound.

Assess the pad’s abrasiveness by looking at its grading. Make sure you choose one that is right for your paintwork.  In contrast to a polishing or cutting pad, a finishing pad is the least aggressive.

Buff in an up-down and left-right pattern. Consider working on one specific part of your vehicle at a time, such as a door, a panel, or a fender. When the compound becomes cloudy, it’s time to clean it with a microfiber towel. In this way, scratches on the surface are removed. Polishing machine speed is adjusted according to the amount of paint defects.

Now buff using a finishing pad

Replace the wool pad with a finer foam pad. Repeat the steps outlined above while concentrating on a small area. It is best to begin with a sufficient amount of pressure and gradually decrease it as you proceed. As soon as the compound has spread thin, you can wipe it off with the microfiber towel. 

Finish with waxing

A coat of wax is applied after the entire vehicle has been buffed. You can use carnauba wax liquid. In most cases, these products come with their own applicator. It should be applied in circular motion over a small area. When waxed, the surface is protected, comes out shiny and is free of swirl marks.

Conduct a final clean up

It is important to wipe any spots of buffing compound off windows, mirrors, trim, and wheels. 

Buffing technique

It is best to test the polishing tools on a small patch of damaged paintwork before attempting to polish the entire vehicle. A scrap metal piece or an older vehicle may also be useful. Start with a less aggressive formula. A stronger or more aggressive product might be necessary in case the desired effect is not realized. If the test area yields the desired results, then you continue to buff the entire vehicle. In essence, it’s a process of trial and error. You can try another strategy in its place if the first one didn’t work.

Things to keep in mind before buffing

It is never advisable to dry buff. When using a polish or compound, you will get the best results. The polish must be allowed to dry properly. The polisher should not be moved rapidly over the paint surface, which is something that beginners do. Do not lift the polisher from the paint or body when it is still running.

It requires some experience to know which combination of polishing pads and compounds will achieve the best results. Polishing pads and compounds are available for different kinds of jobs, such as heavy oxidation removal or finishing.

It is a good idea to keep jewelry away from buffers because they spin at dangerously high RPMs. Avoid respiration of polishing fumes by working in a well-ventilated area. Protect your hands and eyes by wearing gloves and safety glasses.