Congratulations! You’re taking the first step towards learning the process of machine polishing paint. If your finish is riddled with halo scratches or surface marring, then this is the definitive guide to restoring a show worthy shin! Below, we’ll show you that it isn’t magic or voodoo detailers use to refine paint, but a system of abrasive processes that restore your shine. Machine polishing, in a simple way, is using liquid abrasives in the same manner as sanding. You are abrading the surface, bringing the paint back to a smooth and glossy level.
Before we start the process of machine polishing the paint, you’ll want to make sure your paint is clean. And we mean fully clean. Wash the vehicle to remove dirt and road film, then do a full decontamination to remove any bonded contamination. If you want to read up more on this process, check out our decontamination article here.
Now, we’re not just going to jump in with a compound and start running. At the heart of the detailing methodology is preservation. We detail our cars to keep them looking nice, but also to protect them. Machine polishing is no different. Every vehicle comes with a limited amount of paint and we want to use the least aggressive method possible to bring back that shine. To find our process, we’ll use a test area.
A test area is no more than a dedicated area for you to hone in on the products and process needed to remove these defects in the most efficient manner. Dedicate a 2’ x 2’ area for your test. If it helps, tape this section off for the best comparison to the unpolished panel. Starting with a light polish and a polishing pad, prime your pad with product by placing a few dots of product around the face of the pad and work it around with your fingers. This covers the face of the pad to prevent “dry buffing”. Now apply 3-4 dime sized drops for your “working” product.
With the machine on a slow speed setting of 1-2, spread the product over the test area. Once you have spread the product, kick the machine up to 5-6 and get those abrasives moving. With a medium amount of pressure on the machine, just a little above the body weight of your hand, start polishing in a slow, overlapping pattern.
This overlapping pattern is called a section pass. Moving as you would in the game Snake, work the machine vertically across the test area and then follow the same pattern horizontally. Once you’ve moved across the test area both vertically and horizontally, you have completed one section pass. Continue this for 6-8 section passes and wipe away any excess product.
Here is where the paint will tell you what needs to be done. Paint types are as vast as personalities. Some harder and some softer than others. If you have a softer paint, you’ve probably just found the process you need. Visually inspect the paint for defects using a swirl finder light or pull the vehicle into direct sunlight. If you still see marring and swirl marks, then you know you need to step up to a more aggressive procedure.
If you need to continue, swap your pad and polish out for a cutting pad and a compound. Similar to a golf swing, you don’t need to change your technique. You simply repeat the process and allow the products to do the work for you.
NOTE: You may come across some scratches that come close to or fall below the clear coat. These RIDS (random isolated deep scratches) can be difficult to remove and require removing much more paint. You can identity these with your fingernail. If it catches, you know the scratches have gone past the clear coat. If you’re working on a daily driver it may not be worth the time or the risk to remove or repair these defects. And, if are unsure of the situation, contact a local professional for a second opinion.
Now that you have the process down, repeat it around the vehicle and then seal it with your favorite wax, sealant, or coating. If you haven’t found your favorite yet, stop by our Detailer’s Reflections page for a first person view of some of our bestselling products!