Let's Get Technical: Polishing & Waxing

By Tom Dobush, May 2014

Now that you have cleaned your car inside and out, it is a good idea to protect it. Protecting your car’s painted surfaces not only protect its curb appeal but also its value, not to mention a waxed car is usually much easier to clean the next time around. So we’ll cover polishing, sealing and waxing which should be done regularly after washing.

Just like with soaps or even motor oil, whichever products you choose as the best for your car are up to you. There are lots of opinions as to what products are the best, but ultimately it comes down to budget and personal preferences. Initial assessment and preparation of the paint and proper application of chosen products are equally as important as the quality of the products themselves.

So assuming you read my last article and got the basics of cleaning down, the next step is assessment of the paint. This is where you ask yourself a series of questions regarding the overall condition of the paint to decide what the following steps should be. Depending on the age of the paint, it may be single stage or have a clear coat. Older, vintage cars from the 80’s and earlier tended to have a single stage paint, however many of them have been repainted at some point over the years. Most paint shops no longer use single stage paint as environmental regulations have tightened and technology has improved, so chances are your car has a clear coat on it. If your car was manufactured in the 90’s or afterwards there is an excellent chance of it having a clear coat. If you are not sure, most body or paint shops could easily tell you with just a glance, free of charge.

This clear coat is your first line of protection for the color coat, so it is important to treat it with care when polishing. I always recommend leaving the buffer or polishing wheel to the pros. Getting the steps of a professional paint detail or polish correct can be very tricky. It is easy to burn or damage the paint when using a machine. If the step down process of compound polishing is rushed the paint can also be easily damaged, leaving swirl marks or even worse, light spots.

The idea behind polishing is to remove a very minute amount of clear coat to even out its appearance to the naked eye. If you were to view your paint under a microscope, you could see how rough the paint becomes with scratches and pitting from road debris (dust & dirt) and from even the washing process. Imagine a microscopic mountain range, the roughness making the paint appear a bit dull. By lightly polishing, you can even out some of the tiny peaks and valleys of the paint creating a more uniform surface to reflect the light and create a nice shine. To do this, in most cases a very light, fine grain polishing compound is all that is needed. I recommend what is called a “hand glaze” which is the lightest or finest grain compound available. Apply the hand glaze to a dampened microfiber cloth and apply lightly and evenly to a 2 foot by 2 foot area. If this is your first time, it is recommended that you choose an inconspicuous place to start in case anything goes awry. Also, we recommend a spray bottle full of water to be used in conjunction with the hand glazing, misting the polishing surface regularly to keep the polishing process slow and even. Rub the glazing compound over the paint in straight line motions and avoid over doing it. You can always go back to a section and polish more if you feel it is needed, however once you over do it, there are no take-backs! So please be careful, and follow the product instructions strictly. A very light polish on your average sized BMW sedan could take an hour or two, and can be tiring to say the least. A more thorough polish could be done in stages over several days, amounting to ten hours or more, so plan accordingly. Generally, after polishing the car should be thoroughly washed with a carnauba car wash soap again to remove any excess compound in seams and on the painted surface. After that, the car should be dried with a shammy or squeegee.

Once dried, the paint should be sealed with an acrylic sealer. Sealer is typically used to fill in some of the heavier scratches in the paint and provide a layer of protection that can last as much as two to three months, depending on how often the car is washed and environmental conditions.  Think of it as a second protective clear coat. Sealers are applied to the paint with a clean microfiber cloth. A light coating should be rubbed onto the paint uniformly; again using straight line passes and light to moderate pressure. Make sure you follow the specific directions that come with the sealer. For best results, allowing the sealer to cure, often overnight before applying any wax is necessary.

After having let the sealer set is the opportune time to apply a carnauba based wax. Following the manufacturer’s directions for whatever brand wax you choose, apply the wax with an applicator or microfiber cloth. After allowing the wax to set (usually from five minutes to an hour), buff the waxed surfaces by hand. This removes the excess wax and the friction from rubbing melts the wax ever so slightly to fill in any scratches and even out the clear coat as much as possible, creating the desired luster and shine. In some cases, and often for best results, several layers of wax can be applied.

Depending on usage and conditions, carnauba wax usually will last for up to two weeks before having to be reapplied. The car can and should be washed regularly without having to apply sealer again for some time, however wax will only last a wash or two sometimes. Keep in mind, the paint should be lightly washed any time before waxing to make sure any contaminants are expelled and not rubbed deeper into the paint.

This process can be painstakingly time consuming but is often well worth the effort. Elbow grease or sweat equity can go a long way with polishing, sealing and waxing. Spending a little extra time and effort in these steps can make a significant difference in the end results.

What would you like to read about in my next article? I greatly appreciate your questions, input and feedback. I can be easily reached at BavarianRocketScience@gmail.com. Thanks for reading and happy motoring!