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Machine Polishing

1. What is the difference between an orbital polisher and a rotary buffer?

There are three different types of polishing and buffing machines:

  • Orbital Polishers/Waxers
  • Dual-Action Polishers
  • Rotary Buffers

Dual-Action Polishers and Orbital Polisher/Waxers

The motors and drive units on these two types of polisher's oscillate in an eccentric circular motion or a figure-eight motion.  Due to the random or semi-random motion of these machines, they are much safer to the paint because it's nearly impossible to generate enough heat to cause paint burns or wear through the paint.  In most cases, if too much pressure is applied the oscillating action on the polishing pad will stop and the energy will be transmitted back to the tool operator as excessive vibration.

Oscillating machines have a second benefit.  Because the tool head does not rotate in a direct circle, they will not create the dreaded buffer swirls or holograms in your paint finish like a rotary buffer can.  This safety feature makes these machines highly popular with car enthusiasts like the idea of machine polishing, but at the same time are concerned about burning or inflicting swirls into their car's paint finish.

Here at Autopia Car Care, our favorite polisher is the Ultimate Detailing Machine XP by Porter Cable Car Polisher.  Here's why:

  • Uncomplicated - Simply attach buffing pad, plug in, turn on, and start polishing or waxing.
  • Versatile - Can be used for cleaning, polishing, and applying waxes.
  • Easier - Takes the difficult labor out of the process (the machine does the work, all you do is guide it!).
  • Faster - What would take all day by hand can be done in minutes by machine.
  • Thorough - Creates a more uniform, higher gloss finish than your hands.
  • Better Protection - Pushes protective waxes into the microscopic pore far better than your hands.

In recent years, the Ultimate Detailing Machine XP by Porter Cable Car Polisher design (popularized by Porter Cable) has become the machine of choice over the older style Orbital Polisher/Waxers for a number of tangible reasons:

  • Their small size and light weight makes them easy for anyone to use.
  • They are easy to control and require no previous experience or skill to use correctly.
  • The horizontal design and smaller size allows you to work on small panels and tight areas easier with better control.
  • A wide range of options for polishing pads and buffing bonnets.
  • Velcro® interface makes changing pads fast and easy.

Rotary Buffers

Rotary buffers are drastically different in the way they work compared to Dual-Action Polishers and Orbital Polisher/Waxers.  Unlike an oscillating machine, the drive unit used in a rotary buffer is direct. What this means is the tool head is driven directly off the electric motor, giving a high-powerful rotating motion. The benefit of this type of machine is that it can do a lot of heavy polishing work very quickly. By heavy polishing work, we mean that the rotary buffer will remove paint to restore a damaged finish.  While Autopia Car Care understands the average person doesn't want to remove precious paint from their car's finish, it is necessary in order to create a high gloss, defect-free finish.  In such cases, we recommend seeking the advise of a professional.

2. Is hand polishing or machine polishing better?

Before the era of clear coat finishes, when traditional paints, like lacquers and enamels were used, the average car owner could detail their car by hand and get really good results. This is no longer true.  The modern car finish uses a catalyzed (hardened) top coat (color or clear) that is impossible to polish by hand.  Modern paint finishes require special polishing pads and chemicals to remove defects, where prior to 1990 a can of polishing compound, a soft rag and a little elbow grease would get the job done.

Here are a few reasons a dual-action polisher like the Ultimate Detailing Machine XP by Porter Cable Car Polisher is so important:

  • A dual-action car polisher is much faster than hand polishing, yet just as safe.
  • Machine polishing is much less fatiguing to your hands, arms, and back
  • Dual-Action Polishers apply a much thinner coat of polish or wax that's easier to wipe off
  • Dual-Action Polishers and Orbital buffers spread polishes and waxes more evenly, for more uniform results.
  • A dual-action polisher removes surface defects and oxidation more thoroughly.
  • A dual-action polisher is the only effective way to remove swirl marks and bring back full gloss.


3. What pad, polish and speed setting do I use together? Proper machine polishing is as easy as following this simple pattern and concentrating your work in a 2' by 2' section at a time. Master this and you are on your way to a brilliant shine!

  • STEP 1- Major Defect Removal – Remove serious defects

    The yellow Sonus SFX-1 Restore Defect Removal Pad or white DAS ScratchBuster Restore Polishing Pad is the first step in serious defect removal such as random isolated scratches, heavy swirl, severe oxidation, stubborn water etching and other difficult to remove paint defects.

    Use the either the DAS or SFX Foam Polishing Pad for safe and efficient removal of more serious defects with the Sonus SFX-1 Restore Polish or your favorite fine cut defect removal polish.

  • STEP 2- Minor Defect Removal – Remove swirl and minor defects

    The white Sonus SFX-2 Enhance Swirl Removal Pad or orange DAS SwirlBuster Swirl Removal Polishing Pad is the second step for minor defect removal of swirl, fine isolated scratches, water spots, mild water etching, light oxidation and other less severe paint finish defects.

    Use the either the DAS or SFX Foam Swirl Removal Polishing Pad for safe and competent removal of medium to light common defects with the Sonus SFX-2 Enhance Swirl Remover Polish, Sonus SwirlBuster Polish, Ultima Paint Prep Plus or your choice of swirl removal type product.

  • STEP 3- Gloss Enhancement and Paint Cleaning – Pre wax cleaning and gloss enhancement

    The orange Sonus SFX-3 Final Finish Gloss Enhancer Pad or green DAS Gloss Enhancement Polishing Pad is your third step in paint perfection and is used to clean your paint and enhance gloss so you can achieve that desired deep, wet looking shine.

    Use the either the DAS or SFX Foam Polishing Pad for your pre-wax cleaning and final gloss enhancement as well as to prep your surface for proper bonding of car wax, paint sealant or protectant with the Sonus SFX-3 Final Finish Polish or your selection of fine polish or pre-wax cleaner.

  • STEP 4- Protection Application – Protect your paint finish from harsh environmental elements

    The charcoal Sonus SFX-4 Final Gloss Seal and Protect Pad or blue DAS Protect Final Finishing Pad is the final step to a flawless finish and is used to safely apply your car wax, paint sealant or protectant.

    Use the either the DAS or SFX Foam Polishing Pad for thin, even application of the Sonus SFX-4 Paint Sealant or the car wax, paint sealant or protectant of your choice.

  • Recommended Speed Setting Guide:

    • STEP 1- Remove Serious Defects – 5 to 5.5
    • STEP 2- Remove Swirl and Minor Defects – 4.5 to 5

    • STEP 3- Pre Wax Cleaning and Gloss Enhancement – 4.5
    • STEP 4- Protect your paint finish from harsh environmental elements – 2.5

    • Product Residue Removal – Sonus DAS Microfiber Buffing Bonnet - 3.5 to 4

    Note: Not all paint finishes require the entire four-step process. Complete only the steps necessary for the condition or your paint finish.


    4. I have never used a car polisher, can it damage my paint?

    The machine that causes the fear in working by machine is a rotary buffer and is not recommended for the average person. GOOD NEWS! The dual action polisher is an entirely different story and a very safe machine. It is easier than you think and far more effective than working by hand and unless you use it improperly or swing it around by the cord it is almost impossible to damage your paint with a dual action polisher. We recommend the Ultima Clean, Protect & Preserve Paint with Dual Action Polisher Kit for the new car owner or beginner that wants to learn how to polish out their car. For paint restoration you might take a look at the Sonus SFX Ultimate Detailing Machine instead. It is the same machine but has different pads and stronger polishes included. Both are still very safe and easy to use.

    5. How do I care for and clean my foam buffing pads? Foam Buffing Pad Care

    The life of your pad depends on how you care for them. Take care when polishing to not run the polisher against trim or any edge that may harm the foam surface. Never combine different types of polish, car wax, paint sealants or protectants on the same pad. Keeping your pad level during your polishing process is also very important.

    Do not wash your pads in the washing machine, the life or your pad will be shortened drastically. For proper care and cleaning we recommend washing them by hand in cool to lukewarm water with the Sonus Der Wunder Wasche. If they are super dirty you can soak them for 10 minutes then rinse until water runs clear. Squeeze out the excess water and allow to air dry on a plastic drying rack with the Velcro side up so water is not draining and sitting in the Velcro backing. Don’t worry if they don’t look new when you are finished, some staining and wear is normal.