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Variables that play a part in polishing results

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Polishing a certain surface, using a certain technique will not always yield the same results. This is one of the difficult parts about detailing. There are many different variables that play a part in the result you want to achieve. Getting these all lined up will give great results in short time with ease.


Pressing down harder while polishing will create more friction between the polishing pad and the surface. The polish will be the only lubricant between the 2 and with increased pressure will rub more polishing particles over the surface with greater force. However, this also increases the chance for micro-marring, cutting deeper then needed, temperature, dusting of polish and contamination of paint particles.

Machine rotary of orbital

There is an important difference between rotary and dual action. A rotary often offers greater cutting power, but is more difficult to finish with. A dual action is easier and safer to use, but will offer less cutting in most situations. The rotary is often considered to be only suitable for experienced users.

Rotation speed

Slower speed will allow for finer polishing, but will also slow down the polishing process. It will create less heat and cause less dusting, but might create to little pressure to get full advantage of the polishing particles. In many cases it is recommended to cut with medium speed, polish at high speed and finish at low speed. But this can slightly differ per pad or polish.

Angle of the pad

In general, it is recommended to keep the pad perfectly flat against the surface, but with certain surface this might not be possible due to the curve of the panel. In those cases, a pad that touches the surface under an angle, will create slightly different polishing behaviour. Especially with a rotary, this can cause unwanted polishing errors like a “cut-through”.

Type of pad

Not all polishing pads are the same. There are foam pads, but also microfiber or wool pads that give much more cutting power. It is important to choose the correct type of pad.

Size of pad

The size of the pad plays a part due to rotation speed. When you use a 200mm pad at 3000rpm, the rotational speed will not be the same all over the pad. 50mm from the center, the pad is turning with 28.26 km/h, at 100mm from the center is will reach 56.52km/h, at 150mm from the center is will reach 84.78km/h and at the outer edge is will achieve 113.04km/h. So even thought the inside is only reaching rotational speeds of 28.26 km/h, the outer edge is reaching 113.04 km/h. Meaning the center is seeing much less friction and heat build-up, while the outside is reaching much higher speeds.

Wet or dry pad

A wet pad will allow less polish to be absorbs by the pad, and will also have a much lower friction coefficient. Meaning you will get less polishing result from the same pad and polish, simply because it is wet. It has likely become wet because the polishing pad was rinsed out to clean.

Roughness of pad

Most manufacturers have added colors to their polishing pads to make it easier to identify them. Unfortunately, every manufacturer uses different color codes. Regardless of their colors, most manufacturer makes a cutting a pad, a polishing pad, a finishing pad and sometimes a special pad to apply wax with.

Power of machine

Some machines can withstand a fair bit of pressure and keep turning at the same speed. Other machines have less power, and slow down when there is enough pressure. Knowing what your machine will do under certain circumstances is very important.

Polishing product

The polishing product you are using plays a very big part in everything. Some are rough, others are much finer. Then there is also the difference between solid or liquid polishes and the product aimed at polishing paint, glass, plastic or metal.

Amount of polishing product

Using more product gives more liquid, lowering the amount of friction. Giving less polishing result. Using to little polish will cause the pad to have to do the polishing, which it is not supposed to do. To much polishing liquid will also prevent the polishing particles from being rubbed on the surface correctly. Too little get them caught inside the material from the polishing pad, not reaching the surface properly. The correct amount gives lubrication will still forcing the polishing liquid to be rubbed over the surface.

Amount of polishing product in pad

A saturated pad will not absorb new polish. So when applying new polish to the pad (because the old polish has stopped giving results) you are increasing the amount of polish between the pad and the surface. Lowering the level of friction and motion between the polishing particles.

Amount of paint particles in pad

Polishing means cutting away paint. This paint gets caught in the polish and eventually in the polishing pad. These paint particles clog up both the polish pad and the polishing liquid, making both less effective. Cleaning the pads will rinse away these particles, making them ready for new use.

Amount and way of prepping surface

Before you start to polish a surface, you need to prepare it properly. This means washing, cleaning, decontaminating, claying and perhaps even a wipe down. Not doing these steps properly cause interference with particles of which the behavior is less predictable. Giving you less control over the end result.

Material surface

Paint reacts different then glass or metal. This means that a polish for glass might not perform properly on metal or paint, and polish for paint might not react properly on glass. Choosing the correct type of polish for the required task will make it easier to achieve proper results.

Paint hardness

Not all paint is the same. Some paint is very hard, other paint can be very soft. Very hard paint is less likely to get damaged quickly, but will also require more work to correct. Soft paint is more likely to be damaged, but is easier to correct.

Type of surface imperfection

Just a slight mark will not require a very rough polish. A deep scratch will require a more deep polish. Different marks require a different approach. Simply removing contamination can be done by a light polish, but restoring old faded paint will require a deep cut. Different jobs, different products, different technique etc.

Depth of surface imperfection

Not just the size, lengt and type of the imperfection matters. The depth also plays a role in this. A very shallow mark is more easy to remove, requiring less material to be removed. A deep mark will require more paint to be removed.


The humidity in the air might cause the polish to dry out quicker or less quick then normal, this causes more or less dust and makes the polish act different. Where 3 drops are enough to do 1 panel, it might require a second dose of 3 drops to finish it off properly.

Temperature of surface

It is highly recommended to not polish in hot summer sun. This will cause the polish to react very differently. It will also make the polish pad drag over te surface resulting in more friction, causing more heat of which there is enough already. Heating the panel up to quick might cause the polish to evaporate more quickly, resulting in unexpected behavior. The recommendation is to always work indoors or in the shade.

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