car polishing by hand

How To Polish Your Car by Hand or With a Buffer

Have you ever considered polishing your car? Beyond a quick wipe-down after a wash, many vehicle owners have never given their car a polish. But aside from leaving you with a good-looking ride, polishing can also help keep your car’s exterior in top shape and prevent damage.

Related: How To Buff Out Scratches On Your Car

Body shops will gladly take your money in exchange for a polish, but the process is so simple that learning how to do it yourself is a cinch. Here is our guide on how to get your car looking shiny and new with only a few basic tricks and tools.

In This Article

What You Need to Polish Your Car

Polishing your car only requires a handful of supplies, some of which you will already have laying around the house. What will make or break your polishing is the right environment. Park your car in a clean, shady location while you polish it. Direct sunlight can dry out the polish solution before you get a chance to buff it off.


Aside from shade, make sure your work area is well-ventilated and can drain well. If you have a driveway for this, that is perfect, but working on your street can work too if traffic is low.

Before you start polishing, grab the following:

  • Polishing solution
  • Car wash soap
  • Hose with spray nozzle
  • Rotary buffer or hand polishing pads/rags
  • A clean microfiber cloth
  • A car wash brush

A Step-By-Step Guide to Polish Your Car

Once you have your supplies, park your car in your work area and set aside an hour or two. It is not hard work to polish your car, but you want the freedom to go slow and work on small sections at a time.

Polish Your Car by Hand

polishing alfa romeo stelvio by hand
  1. Clear away any obstructions. Polishing can get messy and you do not want anything in your way.
  2. Wash your car, with special care to remove dirt, dust, and debris. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a microfiber cloth. You want as little moisture as possible on the car’s surface.
  3. Apply a small dab of polish to a polishing pad. The pad will absorb more polish as you work, so you do not need to use much. Just periodically top it up.
  4. Pick a small section to start on. You will want to apply the polish and buff it off before moving to the next section.
  5. Begin spreading the polish onto the paint with circular motions.
  6. Use a clean microfiber cloth to buff off the polish, leaving your car’s exterior looking shiny.
  7. Repeat until your whole car is polished.
Check out this beginner’s video on car polishing by hand.

Polish Your Car with a Buffer / Rotary Polisher

polishing alfa romeo stelvio with a rotary buffer
  1. Clear your work area of anything that might get in your way.
  2. Wash your car, with special care to remove dirt, dust, and debris. Rinse it thoroughly but do not dry your car.
  3. Attach a fresh polishing pad to the rotary buffer. Apply a dollop of polish directly onto your car.
  4. Turn on the rotary buffer and use it to begin spreading the polish over a small section of your car. Keep the rotating pad parallel with the car’s surface. Apply light pressure.
  5. Move the rotary buffer evenly across the section you are polishing. You will notice small scratches in the paint job’s clear coat begin fading as it heats up.
  6. When the surface begins shining from the polish, move to the next section. Repeat until your whole car is polished. If the polishing pad becomes encrusted with polish and dirt, pause to rinse it off before you continue working.
  7. After polishing, wash your car again and rinse it off. This time, dry thoroughly with a clean microfiber cloth.
Check out this beginner’s video on car polishing with a rotary buffer.

Related: 6 Best Dual Action / Orbital Polishers (Corded and Cordless)

Mistakes To Avoid When Polishing Your Car

While the polishing process is no sweat, anytime you are aggressively rubbing your car’s paint job, it can cause damage. Watch for these mistakes to prevent a wrecked exterior:

  • Polishing works by heating up the paint job. If you polish too hard, either by hand or with a rotary buffer, you can overdo it. Avoid spending too much time polishing any one area or the paint job might get cloudy and scorched.
  • Do not apply polish to your entire car when starting out. Only apply it to the area you are currently working on. The extra polish will dry before you get to it, leaving caked-on polish for you to scrape off.

How To Safely Polish Your Car

Car polishing is pretty easy, but that does not mean it is risk-free. Here are some tips to keep you safe while polishing:

  • Wear long sleeves to prevent polish from splashing on your arms, where it can cause chemical burns or rashes.
  • When using a rotary buffer, tuck anything away that might get caught in the machine. This includes dangling hair, loose clothing, and jewelry. The spinning disc will tear at anything that it catches on to.
  • Many polishes, car wash soaps, and car care products are harmless to the environment, but rather than risk it, try and safely dispose of runoff or unused product.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Polish fumes can build up and are harmful if inhaled.

Tips & Tricks to Polish Your Car

Your first time polishing your car can get a little intimidating. Try out these tips to help make your polishing process perfect:

  • Work in the shade, so that you have more time to work before the polish dries out.
  • Stick to the Goldilocks method for how long to spend on one area: not too long so as not to damage the paint, but just long enough to work up a thorough sheen.
  • Regularly rinse off your polishing pad. It will build up with polish and dirt, which you do not want to put back on your car.
  • Wear a set of old work clothes that you are happy to get dirty. Likewise, keep anything that you want to keep clean out of your work area.
  • Use small amounts of polish and only add more if necessary. You might be surprised how little you need, and using too much can get messy.
  • Do not polish your car if its paint job is damaged. Get it repaired before starting to polish.
  • Only use clean polishing pads, cloths, brushes, and other tools to prevent smearing dirt all over your car.

How Frequently to Polish Your Car?

A regular polish can keep your car’s paint job in top shape. That said, any more frequent than every three to four months can wear out your car’s paint. A good trick to keep on schedule is to polish your car on the first weekend of every new season.

Henrik Soke

Henrik has over 20 years of experience in various IT fields. Durability Matters is his passion project born out of his love for minimalism and high-quality products that last. He's an avid hiker, mountain biker, and outdoor enthusiast.

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