How to Buff Your Car:
Start by asking the right question

So you want to know how to buff your car?!

But why do you want to buff your car?

I am willing to bet what you are truly after is shinier car paint. So you go in search of tips on how to buff your car and you read review after review on the best car buffers and the best car polish, but when it comes down to it what you really want is shinier car paint.

Unfortunately you are living in a world that I refer to as "information overload". You have so much free information at your finger tips that you become overwhelmed with way too many opinions and you never really get any closer to what you are after:

"Neck turning, retina blistering shine on your car paint!"

how to buff your car

The industry also knows that most of you in search of shinier paint don't have enough experience to ask the right questions. This also means the industry will simply answer your "inadequate" questions based on your inexperience that will get some of their polish in your hands, and some of your money in theirs.

How to Buff Your Car:
What you probably already know

I think it is safe to say that you likely accept that in order to make your car paint shinier, you will need to buff your car. But buffing a car is a massive generalization!

My goal is to help you know how to buff your car with tips and recommendations that will simply your life of car care and do so n a safely and efficient manner.

  • Do you buff your car by hand or with machine?
  • Should you use a car polish or a compound?
  • What is the difference between a compound and polish anyways?
  • What is the best way to buff a car?
  • How does car polishing actually work?

Now that I have laid out a few questions that I have found most people don't necessarily think of, I will answer them in a more appropriate order that should bring far more understanding for you!

how to buff your car tips

If this is your first search online on how to buff your car then consider yourself lucky! I am going to answer questions you won't know to ask due to inexperience and perhaps due to the thousand other opinions you may have heard along the way.

"Today is a world of information overload! Too many voices, too many choices, and far too many so-called experts."

If you have been searching for awhile, then you probably realize we are drowning in a vast sea of endless opinions. It's hard to know who to believe and where to start.

Follow along and let me break this subject down so the thought of how to buff your car doesn't send you into cardiac arrest! You will soon realize you can actually buff your car yourself and even produce professional grade results along the way!

"Do you want to polish paint, or do just want shiny paint?"

The reason I ask is that most people really just want shiny paint, not necessarily how to polish a car. Most of us just accept that we must do the one, in order to get the other.

I know... polishing paint is gonna take some work. But I am certain you already accept that. You probably just want to know the best way to go about it.

But you need a little understanding before we get started....

Paint Enhancement vs. Paint Correction

buffing a car with rotary car buffer

Here's another question you likely haven't considered and will probably never be asked by someone trying to sell you the next best car polish or rubbing compound. They just want to sell you something rather than actually educate you so you can make an informed decision.

Big difference between those two!

With that said: Do you want your efforts (shinier paint) to be temporary or permanent?

What? Is there a difference?

Yes, there is a big difference.

You can use a very basic car polish with no abrasives, or simply apply a coat of the best car wax to make your car look shinier. But this is simply a temporary fix to what is probably a bigger problem.

That bigger problem being your car paint that you know could look much better if you figured out how to buff your car.

What you really need to do is fix your "canvass" first. And in this metaphor; the canvass is your car paint. If your canvass sucks, then any car wax or sealant is going to be extremely limited on how well it can shine up your car.

Let's talk about how to fix your canvass and fix it at a permanent level.

How Does Car Polishing Actually Work?

how to buff your car for beginners

To "permanently" fix your car paint, you need to scratch it.

Yes, you read that right!

What you need to know is that not all scratches are created equal. I am not talking about all the unwanted scratches your car likely already has. I am talking about using compounds/polishes that contain abrasive particles in them to scratch away paint flaws and imperfections, as well as restore some additional depth and shine before you apply some form of car wax or paint sealant. 

"You will literally scratch your way to success!"

The official term of the kind of polishing you need to do to your car is mechanical polishing. This simply means that you use an abrasive material to eliminate or diminish the imperfections of your car paint.

When it comes to polishing your car, these types of abrasives will be found in the endless choices of car polishes and compounds. Your brain might begin to melt at this point at the thought of trying to find the best car polish in which to buff your car, but don't worry! I will be covering that also...

Now that you know that not all scratches are created equal, you also need to know that not all compounds and polishes are created equal. Some car polishes perform better than others.

What is the Difference Between Compound and Polish?

I start with this question as it is a common one and one you will need to know moving forward. The simple answer is this:

Compounds are more aggressive forms of products used for polishing. Compounds have more aggressive types of abrasives and are used for what you can call the "heavy lifting" of car polishing.

Polishes are made with finer abrasives or no abrasives at all. Since the main goal of a polish is to make a surface (specifically car paint) shinier, there are chemicals that can enhance and restore shine without using any type of abrasives. These "chemical only" car polishes are very limited in their ability to do any real significant change to your paint surface in restoring shine, depth, and gloss.

Since we want to create some lasting shine to your car, you will need a car polish with some form of abrasives engineered into the product.

Polishing by Hand or Machine

One of the next commonly asked questions is how to polish a car. But more specifically is it better to polish a car by hand or machine.

The simple answer will be determined based on your commitment to results. So let's analyze the pros and cons of each possibility:

Polish Car by Hand

  • No equipment needed
  • All you have to do is rub until your shoulder, elbow, and wrist wants to fall off!
  • The results will be inconsistent from section to section
  • Your body will never be capable of duplicating the consistent speed and movement that can be achieved with machine polishing
  • Less fear associated with hand polishing; especially if this is your first time to polish a car

Polish Car by Machine

  • Additional cost in purchasing a car buffer
  • A learning curve to use the car buffer (don't worry; it is far easier than you think)
  • Capable of achieving dramatically better and lasting results than polishing your car by hand
  • Will actually be quicker than trying to polish a car by hand
  • An ability to polish your car evenly with consistent speed and movement of polishing pad

How to Buff Your Car:
What Would Darren Do (WWDD)

While many people would start by selecting the best car polisher or polishing pad, I am going to start you with what I consider the best car polish. regardless of any other factors of how to buff your car, I think starting with a top rated car polish is your best step forward.

how to polish your car

A big part of this is due to the fact that this polish can be used both by hand or machine polishing.

The reason I also start with the car polish is about versatility. I know through decades of experience that regardless of any other factor or component of the car polishing process, choosing the right car polish will allow you to adapt to any situation...

if you have the ability to find and choose the "right" car polish!

If you are a beginner, how to buff your car will be filled with mixed emotions. You want your car paint to be as shiny as possible, but how you get there and the amount of work involved leaves most of us sitting on the fence with no ability to take any action. I want you to take action so you can have a greater love affair with your car by making it shinier than it currently is.

What You Need to Know: Not all car polishes are created equal. The countless guys I have trained or mentored continue to show me just how much fear and anxiety the subject of buffing a car can bring to a guy who is about to buff a car for the first time. I consider the two polishes above as my "sure thing" when it comes to me as a professional, as well as you and how you buff your car.

If you are an over-thinker like I am and want to become fully educated in the world of car polishes, then I suggest you have a look at my page on the difference between car polish and compound. (This will open my other site in a new window)

The Ceram-X was develop as what is known as a Single Product Polish (SPP). This means it has the ability to remove sanding marks and finish to a swirl free shine with the use of a single polish rather than the multiple compounds and polishes that the rest of the industry would have you believe you need. The ability of this polish to do this is possible by formulating the polish with highly refined, consistent abrasive technology that is completely different than the diminishing abrasive technology (DAT) found in virtually every other compound/polish in the market.This single product can perform on any paint, any hardness of paint (or clear coat), with any type of machine or pad (or by hand polishing)

The D1 Polish Enhancer was only developed as an add-on to the Ceram-X for the restoration industry that are working on restoration and paint jobs in the hundreds of thousand, to million+ dollar project cars. Only a very experienced and trained eye could interpret the difference between paint that was finished with Ceram-X only, or paint that was also polished with the D1 Polish Enhancer.

buff your car

Darren's Tips: Because everyone of you reading this page will come looking how to buff your car with different skills and experience, the good news is that you have options. If you are the very fearful/over-thinking type, then you can always start with the D1 Polish Enhancer to begin your learning curve of how to buff your car. The abrasives in the D1 Polish Enhancer have abrasive particles 10x smaller than that of the Ceram-X.

I know you would be completely safe using the Ceram-X along with a dual-action, random orbital car buffer to start with, but I also know there are plenty of overly fearful guys. How to buff your car is a subject completely saturated with loads of bad information by guys with little, to no real-world experience.

So while I would recommend the Ceram-X as your fist step in how to buff your car regardless of whether you have ever polished a car or not, you can start with the D1 Polish Enhancer also. You have so much control based on the type of polishing pad you choose, the speed of the polisher, the amount of pressure you apply, etc. I completely understand the fear, but I also know that you remain in so much control during the entire process.

It is this very reason that I start with the car polish you choose before anything else in learning how to buff your car.

How to Buff Your Car
Choosing the right car buffer

rotary car buffer and car polishes

The type of car polisher you choose is a very simple recommendation that pretty much the entire world of auto detailing would agree upon:

A random orbital polisher. Also known as a dual-action, or DA car polisher. These current day offerings are not to be confused with what you may have grown up with used by your dad to apply wax to his ride. The bulky, rattle your teeth loose, outdated orbital car buffers of days gone by.

Today's offerings in quality engineered dual-action car buffers are vastly superior than they were decades ago and are continuously improved upon. (polisher and buffer is a generalization and are referring to any tool used to buff or polish a car. Some people will say car polisher, some will say car buffer)

"Random orbital car buffers are as safe and friendly to use as any other buffer you can choose."

While I grew up in the world of auto detailing limited to using only the infamous rotary (high-speed) car polisher, no longer is a guy like you limited to a single choice in the type of car polisher you choose.

With that said, I recommend one of the random orbital car buffers below:

Maxshine M15 Pro Polishing Kit

Maxshine M15 Pro Series II DA Dual Action Polisher & Polisher- M15 pro Armory Kit

  • A wining balance in performance, power, and cost when it comes to a car buffer
  • The perfect car polishing kit to start with if you want a quality polisher without breaking the bank
  • A self-contained kit that provides a simple answer of how to buff yor car to achieve your true end results of shinier car paint
  • The first and last polisher most of you will ever need

Darren's Tips: Whether you are looking to buff your car or go into professional detailing this is a great polisher and pad system to begin with. And for most of you, the last one you will ever need.

If you have the budget and accept that you really need to use detailing clay to prepare your car paint surface before you buff your car, then the Adam's car polishing kit below might be a better fit for you as that kit also contains detailing clay and detail spray with it.

Adam's Swirl Killer Car Polishing Kit

Adam’s Swirl Killer 15mm Polisher - Orbital Polishing Paint Correcting Buffer Tool - Car Scratch Remover, Correcting Polish - Use Post Car Wash Clay Bar & Pre Wax or Ceramic Coating (Ultimate Kit)

  • True professional grade car buffer ideally suited for all levels of experience, or no experience at all!
  • If you have the budget and are committed to a comprehensive car polishing kit
  • Everything needed (even detailing clay) to raise the shine on your car paint to a level you never thought possible

Darren's Tips: This car polisher feels great in my hands, has plenty of power. Not only does this buffing kit come with everything needed, but it provides a wining balance between cost, performance, and quality without over-paying like you could with a few other brands of car buffers.

Micro Fiber Detailing Cloths

THE RAG COMPANY (10-Pack) 16 in. x 16 in. Professional EDGELESS 365 GSM Premium 70/30 Blend METAL POLISHING & DETAILING Microfiber Towels THE MINER

  • You will need some quality micro fiber cloths to remove the polish as you are buffing your car
  • Not all micro fiber cloths are created equal; these represent a great balance in quality, thickness, and cost when it comes to how you buff your car

How to Buff Your Car:
Step by step tips for the beginner

Due to the endless opinions on the how to buff your car, I am going to break it down for you in hopes of helping you not only take that initial first step, but perform at a level that you would not likely ever think possible.

Darren's Note: Before moving forward in how to buff your car, you will need to decide the following:

  • Are you going to polish by hand or machine?
  • Choose a car buffer you think most appropriate for you and your world.
  • Choose the type/brand of polishing pads you plan on using.
  • Choose the type of car polisher you want to use.
  • Choose the car polish you have decided you want to start with (hopefully you have been following along and have come to most of these decisions already)
  • Choose some quality micro-fiber cloths to use in wiping off your car polish as you are working

  1. Work on a clean paint surface only (clean in this moment simply means a freshly washed car to remove what I call the superficial dirt)
  2. Decontaminate your car paint to remove embedded/bonded paint contaminants (this is the process commonly called claying your car using detailing clay. If you swipe your hand face down across the surface of your car paint, you will likely feel tiny specs of dirt that seem to be stuck to your car paint. This is simply what happens when air pollutants of any kind settle onto your car paint and begin to etch into the paint. While it is absolutely possible to buff your car without removing [decontaminating] these tiny specs of dirt, removing these bonded contaminants will not only deliver better final results, but make the car buffing process easier as the pad and polish will not get resistance from these tiny, bonded contaminants)
  3. Assuming you have chosen and collected all the tools/products needed: car polish, car polisher, polishing pads, and micro fiber cloths.
  4. Assemble your equipment, pads, and polishes into a working area.
  5. Although you can use most car polishes in direct sunlight by finessing the moment, it is always best to work on a shaded cool surface of your car paint.
  6. How to buff your car from section to section is entirely up to you, but as a rule you will want to buff your car working on the top surfaces first, while working your way down the car (this means you start at the highest surface areas first so you don't lean on your freshly polished side panels as you try and reach across your roof or hood to polish these higher areas of the car)
  7. As a rule, as you learn how to buff your car and gain experience, you will want to remove the car polish each time you apply polish with a micro fiber cloth (I don't recommend using any other type of cloth. These means I do not recommend baby diapers or other materials of cloths)
  8. Apply your choice of car polish to the polishing pad by applying 7-10 pea sized amounts evenly spaced on the pad surface. (depending on the actual car polish you choose when learning how to buff your car will determine how much polish you apply moving forward. Every polish/pad/buffer combination will respond differently and you will simply have to experiment until you find the perfect combination based on all factors. There is no single rule that can be applied as there are simply too many variables that will affect the car buffing experience)
  9. If you are a true beginner and overly fearful, simply start with less speed and less pressure when first learning how to buff your car. As you gain experience you will be able to make adjustments so as to produce your desired results.
  10. The more speed, the more pressure, the stiffer the polishing pad, and the longer you polish a specific area will produce more paint correction abilities. The opposite is also true if you lack the experience to know what you are doing at the beginning.
  11. Since all of the car polishers above are what are considered random orbital car polishers, they all move/spin/vibrate in two ways (this is why they are also called dual action car polishers). Be mindful as you are working that the polishing head is both spinning and vibrating. Often you will "stall" the spinning of the polishing head if you apply too much pressure or are polishing on character lines of the car. The machine will continue to vibrate, but once it stops spinning, you will no longer be utilizing the full potential of the particular car polisher you are using. This will not damage the car paint you are working on, but you have just limited yourself. How to buff your car is about awareness and understanding all the moving parts of the car polishing process. You will not learn overnight; but once again, you are able to safely ease into this part of the detailing process knowing you are doing it in a very safe way.

Darren's Tips: I understand that if this is your very first time and are just beginning to learn how to buff your car you may be overly cautious. Just know that with any of these buffers, polishes, or polishing pads on this page, it would be very difficult to actually damage your car paint. You may become frustrated as a beginner like most of us naturally will, but you can be assured that you do not need to be overly concerned about doing any actual damage to your car paint.

How to Buff Your Car by Hand

Applying Q-7 car wax after polishing car by hand

Because of misinformed people who seem determined to repeat claims and statements they have limited to no experience in, many guys find it simply unacceptable to think about ever touching their car with a machine to polish the paint.

Old school thinking keeps many guys stuck in outdated ways. How to buff your car is a decision only you can make, but buffing your car by hand is going to severely limit the results you will be able to produce.

I have yet to observe any guy who can replicate the consistent movement of a machine with their hand in polishing their car. Machines dominate every industry for a reason, and if doing everything by hand was truly the best and most effective method, I know that we would still be doing it today.

But it simply isn't!

In the event you are one of the people who for whatever reason are not going to learn how to buff your car with a machine, but still want to buff your car by hand, then use the following tips:

  • Choose one of the CSI polishes from above (if you think your paint needs some serious attention, then go with the Ceram-X. If you think a more mild polish will suffice, then go with the D1 Polish Enhancer)
  • Use either a micro fiber cloth, or a micro fiber pad to do the hand polishing with
  • The natural way for a person to polish is in circular motions. You will hear endless opinions as the proper way to polish a car by hand. Ultimately you are going to have to figure this one out on your own due to so many variables that will make your situation totally unique: what type of paint you are working on (single stage or two stage clear), what color is the paint, how damaged is the paint, what is your intent for polishing your car (develop more overall shine? remove scratches?). This means you may find that circular motions overall is effective, but may happen upon a scratch and need to really lay into the scratch in order to remove/diminish the scratch with strong back and forth movements, then transition into a lighter, circular polishing pattern. Once again; you will have to decide on the most appropriate way in which to buff your car based on the results you are observing as you begin to work.

Give yourself a break and accept that everything has a natural learning curve to it. It is unrealistic to think you will perform at the same level as a veteran detailer like myself when you first learn how to buff your car. But if you stick with it and put in a little time and patience, you will quickly adapt and learn the skills to produce a shine on your car that will impress both you and anyone else who looks at your car!

I hope this has helped in your first attempts of how to buff your car!


Darren Priest

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