Polish, Compound, Wax, Buff,… These terms get thrown around a lot during discussions about car detailing. Often, they are used interchangeably without regard to their real meaning. However, they all have very distinct meanings and knowing how they differ can make a world of difference. Whether you have a show car or just want to have your daily car looking it’s best, learning about the detailing process will insure that you are getting the most out of your time and money.
Before we look at the difference between these terms it is best to get an understanding of what paint correction is.
Picture the painted surface of your car as a smooth, mirror like plane. Over time, dust, dirt, and other contaminants build up on that smooth surface. Unfortunately, the process of washing this dirt and dust away causes the fine particles to act like sandpaper, scratching and digging grooves into the once smooth clearcoat surface. As these fine scratches build up, the surface becomes dull and hazed. Paint correction is the use of specialized machines and polishing agents to slowly remove microscopic layers of clearcoat to once again make the surface smooth and mirror like.
A buffing or polishing machine (here the words are safely used interchangeably), is a handheld machine with a motorized spinning head. Foam or fiber pads are placed on the head and used to spread wax or polishing agents onto the painted surface.
Think of wax as makeup for your car. Though it is often applied with a buffing or polishing machine, it is simply a coating which fills in the scratches – making them harder to see. Over time the wax is worn and washed away, once again, revealing the underlying scratches. In terms of paint correction, wax is purely cosmetic. It will make your car look good for a short time, but does nothing to remove the underlying scratches.
Removing the scratches requires the slow removal of microscopic layers of clear coat to, once again, level out the surface. Compounding agents or leveling agents are specifically formulated liquids that, when added to the rotating pad of a buffing or polishing machine, act as extremely fine grit sandpaper to slowly shave down the clear coat surface.
Once the compounding agents have done the heavy lifting, a polish is then used to remove any final haze and add to the depth and clarity of the finished surface. Think of polish as an even finer grit sandpaper that is used to fine tune the newly leveled surface, revealing a beautiful, highly polished surface.
Paint correction is the mechanical leveling of clear coat or paint (clear coat is unpigmented paint, clear) to a point where all the paint is free of swirl marks and light scratches. Swirl marks are essentially a “V” cut/slice in the paint where light bounces around in the valley of the scratch and exits. This is how you see the swirl marks. If the paint was flat, with no valley, you wouldn’t have anywhere for the light to bounce around…that is where paint correction shines the best.
As the polishing steps are carried out, there are various degrees of aggressiveness which are used for different levels of desired end results. For example, not everyone needs or should have “perfect paint,” some are simply ok with much better, not perfect. Not everyone looks at their paint with a flashlight. This can be a straightforward and simple process, or a very labor intensive process where experience and knowledge are of the utmost importance depending on the car owner’s expectations. We take the time to figure out the proper steps and use the correct products to achieve the desired results in a timely fashion. We don’t cut corners by “filling” in defects by using oils and glazes to make it “look” like things were done, only to find out after two washes all the oils are removed and your paint looks the same as before.
Our gloss enhancement is designed for those looking for more gloss with a bit of swirl mark removal. The clarity package is designed for those looking for a good amount of correction (removal of swirls and light scratches) and a lot more gloss. This is our most popular package. Then there comes the reset package. This includes a heavy compound step, a medium polish step, and fine final polish step. The reset is for those looking to really turn their car’s paint around and get back to square one with about 90% to 95% correction.
Once the painted surface is perfected, it is now ready for a protective layer. Protection comes in the form of waxes and paint sealants. Waxes and sealants are applied in the same way, but offer differing types of protection. Both will protect the painted surface from acid rain, fallout, bird droppings and tree sap. A paint sealant is a synthetic polymer that will provide a high gloss finish yet will last much longer than a wax – up to a year in some cases. It was once the case that though waxes wouldn’t last as long, they would provide a higher gloss and deeper shine. However, paint sealants have come a long way in the last few years – almost making waxes obsolete. Today’s paint sealants have a higher melting point than wax, allowing them to last longer in extreme elements while still providing the depth and shine provided by a wax. Waxes can also be applied over a paint sealant – further protecting the hard work that went into your car.
Taking the sealant process one step further, we enter into the world of polymer coatings. Polymer coatings chemically bond to factory clear coat to provide a permanent protective layer.
We can now see that the act of buffing is not synonymous with polishing, compounding, or waxing. Buffing is a generalized term for making a surface smooth and shiny. Compounding and Polishing are similar in that they fall under the paint correction umbrella, yet vary in the amount of surface that they remove. Waxing, sealing, and coating are similar in that they all offer protection for the recently corrected surface.
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