Auto Polish
Understanding the Essentials

best auto detailing tips

Like so many areas of car care and auto detailing, auto polish is a topic filled with hundreds of choices and as many opinions! In an effort to help you become an informed consumer first, this page will help lay a foundation with which to help you make informed decisions.


From manufacturers of car polishes to car forums filled with wannabe experts, there is no shortage of opinions. The reality is that most people lack even enough experience or education to even ask the right questions. I find myself overwhelmed by mounds of choices and endless opinions myself; and this comes from someone with decades of professional experience.


Auto Polish Overload!


auto polish

It is hard to come to buying decisions when terms and labels are forever interchanged and misused. What one person calls car polish, another may call rubbing compound. The industry is filled with so much ignorance, it is hard to reach any conclusions that will help you get to where you want to be. See how many of the following terms you have heard and ask yourself if you know the difference:

  • Auto polish
  • Rubbing Compound
  • Car wax
  • Sealant
  • Glaze

In order to fully understand this convoluted topic of auto polish, car waxes, and so forth, it will be helpful if we first understand the "nature of the beast". And the nature of the beast is that big manufacturers have 3 basics goals:

  1. Sell you products.
  2. Separate you from you and your money.
  3. Increase company profits.

Upon closer inspection you will realize that these 3 goals are really one and the same. For this reason, big companies simply use whatever method will work to sell you more and more "stuff"....more car wax, more auto polish, more whatever, whatever, whatever! Notice that educating you as a consumer does not even make that list!


"Finding the best car polish will be like trying to hit a moving target. Like any other industry, each manufacturer is in competition for your attention and your hard earned money. Slick marketing and fancy labeling is standard operating procedures."


At a level, most manufacturers really prefer you to remain ignorant. This way they can prey on your ignorance in order to sell you more product. And the reality is that there exists an unwritten rule between manufacturers; "To keep you as a consumer as ignorant as possible" so as to not ruin it for any of them.

I know this sounds overly cynical, but when you have companies producing so many redundant products, using misleading labeling, and glorified terminology, it is hard to come to another conclusion.

But we don't have to let that ruin me from helping you get what you want!


Auto Polish: Mechanical vs. Chemical

If you are really here in search of the best car wax, then you will need to follow that link. Since you came here using the search term of car or auto polish, I will limit the discussion to helping you not only understand more than when you came here, but help you in deciding the most appropriate car polish for you and your world.

Because this topic is filled with so much bad information and contradicting terminology, let's start with the very basic understanding of what a polish actually is, and what does this have to do with polishing your paint.

As stated within Wikipedia, polishing at its simplest definition "is the process of creating a smooth and shiny surface by rubbing it or using a chemical action." This is exactly where simple ends and confusion begins in the world of car polishing, car buffers, and specifically auto polishes.

Mechanical Polishing: (abrasive technology): This is where abrasives are used to literally abrade the surface to create a flatter, smoother, and more reflective surface.The flatter (this is referring to surface texture rather than lack of shine) the surface is, and the finer the actual scratches are, the more perfected and shinier the surface will appear. Mechanical polishing in a simple explanation is the process of using course abrasives that either diminish in their ability to abrade (referred to as diminishing abrasive technology in the world of automotive polishes) or by progressively polishing the surface with finer and finer abrasives. (this is where the multiple polishing steps and differing compounds and polishes are introduced) Under a microscope, your car paint will reveal two disturbing realities: the surface is literally made up of tiny hills and valleys (called surface texture or often referred to as an orange peel effect with the unaided eye), and endless scratches. Polishing with abrasives will diminish these hills and valleys by using abrasives that will literally allow you to scratch your way to perfection.

Chemical Polishing: Chemical polishing is the use of chemicals to "clean" and remove surface contaminants (not to be confused with the removal of embedded paint contaminates when using detailing clay) and/or surface oxidation. Many polishes in the world of car polishing rely on chemicals to perform the polishing. These types of polishes are the safest as they do not abrade the surface like mechanical polishing will do. But these types of polishes are severely limited in their ability to actually remove paint defects. Chemical polishes will enhance the appearance of your car paint by polishing the defects, microscopic hills and valley's, but they are not going to be able to actully remove them.

Polishing a Car:
Hand polishing or machine polishing

car polish tips

The nest step in our learning curve when I am talking with people is usually about polishing a car by hand versus polishing a car by machine. If you thought there were mixed reviews and opinions before; this topic is even more divided!

So with that said. let me bullet point this for simplicity and clarity:

  • Any auto polish you buy can be used by hand or machine regardless of what the label says. (like every other area in life, you simply respond to the moment. Kinda like saying you could never drive in the snow unless you have special snow tires. While this may not be particularly wise, you could still drive in the snow regardless. The conditions would quickly reveal both the abilities and the limitations of the moment.)
  • Polishing your car by hand is both the ignorant and ineffective way to polish a car. ( I get it; all the endless horror stories of damaged paint, burned edges, swirl marks, etc., etc.)
  • Car buffers of today are far superior to anything we had in the past. They have been engineered to be so incredibly safe, that even a complete beginner can not only safely polish their cars paint, but perform at a professional level.
  • I don't care who the person is; nobody will be able to replicate the power and consistency of a car polisher with their hand in the act of trying to polish a car. (and just like guns: it is the person behind the gun that is the problem.)

Paint Correction and Blemish Removal

In order to actually remove, repair, or restore paint permanently, it will be required to use an auto polish or compound that contains actual abrasives. There is no limit to the type of abrasives that a manufacturer might formulate into their compounds and polishes. But the fact remains that it must contain some form of abrasive(s) that will actually remove flaws, blemishes, and other paint defects through the use of mechanical polishing; whether this be by hand or machine.

The idea is to remove blemishes and scratches by scratching them away with big scratches that are then followed up with smaller and smaller scratches; eventually you will have scratched your way to a surface that appears flawless to the unaided eye.  The reality is that there are thousands of scratches present on your paint. But through the use of car polishers, polish pads, auto polishes, and technique, you can create what will eventually appear to the unaided eye as a completely flawless finish.

This uniform scratch pattern is essential for two very important reasons:

  • Makes the paint surface look flawless to your eye.
  • Creates a uniform surface that reflects light (natural or artificial) evenly, thus creating that "wet-look" and true show-car shine.
  • The more "flat" the surface is (I am referring to the physical quality of a flat surface with no texture at all, versus flat as in no shine), and the less scratches it has, the more "mirror like" the paint will look. So surface texture in many ways is as important as a scratch free surface.


Auto Polish with Cleaners

Many products will be labeled as a car polish and have no form of abrasives in it. These polishes have what are referred to as cleaners in them but can still be labeled as an auto polish. But the only form of "cleaners" are in the form of chemical cleaners, versus actual abrasives that true polishing requires. Any true auto polish will have at a minimum some type of abrasive particles that will literally scratch the surface of your car paint. This does not mean a manufacturer will not also add both abrasives and chemicals do perform the "cleaning" or polishing of your car, but to be a true "polish" in the area of car paint polishing, it will require abrasives.

And with that said, I have just demonstrated a very real problem within this industry of the misuse of terms and labeling. You came looking for an auto polish, and now I have deflected your attention onto cleaners that this industry will still label as an auto polish. (see how slippery this slope gets?)

The industry is filled with countless versions of auto polish and each manufacturer literally makes their own rules. Some companies are very clear in their labeling of auto polish and the type of polishing their particular car polish can perform. And then there are companies that simply suck!

The manner in which many car care companies label their products is poor at best, and downright misleading at worst.  Many company's use ambiguous labeling and terminology to simply sell their particular product. Once again; companies are all competing for your attention and money.


Darren's Recommendations

Like so many other areas of car care and auto detailing, I could overwhelm and bury you with a thousand choices as to the best auto polish. But since my goal is to simplify, not complicate, I simply offer suggestions based on these 3 common requirements:

  • Products I know will deliver excellent results.
  • Products that are easy to get.
  • Products that are priced economically.

For this reason, when it comes finding basic car polishes that fit into the category that most people consider when looking for a quality auto polish, I offer the following categories and suggestions:

Cleaner Waxes and Polishing By Hand

Most people are short on time and a cleaner wax that can be applied by hand will be the winning combination for the majority of people (any of the cleaner car waxes below can be applied in any manner you choose: hand or machine. Since all of these products below contain either very trivial amount of real abrasives, and mostly rely on chemical cleaners to perform the polishing, over-polishing will not be of concern here as many people will ask how often do they need to polish and/or wax, and can I polish and/or wax too often.

  • All these products are as "safe" as safe can get when it comes to a cleaner wax or a car polish.
  • All the products below will rely mostly on some form of "chemical" to do the actual cleaning or polishing of your cars paint. And in this case, polishing will really be limited to simply enhancing the appearance of your cars paint rather than true polishing of the paint with abrasives that will be a permanent fix. This means gloss will be restored and enhanced, but true paint correction is not going to happen with these products.
  • The reason these are called cleaner waxes is that they are cleaning the paint, rather than polishing the paint. But since most people misunderstand what true polishing actually is, they lean towards simple, easy, and basic.
  • Cleaner waxes are a great place to start for any beginner.
  • Even among the professional world of auto detailing, the rule is that you start with the least aggressive/least invasive strategy first, then move up from there based on your expectations and the results a particular product is either delivering or not delivering. And for that reason; these products are a great place to start and many of you will need to look no further than any one of the products below. But start you must, rather than bouncing from one endless automotive polish review to another.
  • If you already know you are ready to take the leap to true abrasive technology and want to see what I recommend for any beginner, have a look at car polishing for beginners.



Zymol Z503A Cleaner Wax

zymol cleaner wax

Zymol Z503A Cleaner Wax - 16 oz.

  • Internationally acclaimed world-class shine and protection.
  • Gentle, safe, mild cleaning and petroleum solvent free.
  • Unique one-step cleaner/wax combination derived from a 120 year old German formula.
  • Top rated cleaner wax with Amazon reviews.


Mother's California Gold Cleaner Wax



Mothers 05500 California Gold Brazilian Carnauba Cleaner Wax - 12 oz.

  • The All-in-One cleaner wax I grew up using on my first cars.
  • Still a popular product due to its ease of use and trusted brand name.
  • For anyone looking to combine some cleaning ability with lasting protection.
  • Contains heat resistant carnauba wax for a long-lasting shine.
  • Top rated Amazon reviews.


Meguiar's A1214 Cleaner Wax



Meguiar's A1214 Cleaner Wax - Paste - 11 oz.

  • Easier to use than traditional Carnauba wax.
  • Meguiar's reputation; Meguiar's quality.
  • Cleans, shines, and protects in one easy step.
  • Can be applied by Hand, Orbital, or Dual Action Polisher.



Darren's Top Pick for Professional Grade Auto Polish

best auto polish

Just as an added note, there are many polishes out there that will perform at a professional level, the problem is that you will read one review after another, or listen to one expert after another and find yourself in one or both of the following:

  • You hear/read opinion after opinion and you are frozen in anxiety, fear, and frustration not knowing which auto polish to choose, or.....
  • You have listened to far too many "experts" and now you have a garage self full of car polishes and yet here you are, still looking for the nest "best auto polish".


What You Need to Know

Due to all of the bad information floating around the many car forums and life in general, let me add some additional key points for clarification:

  • The specific point you need to remember if you find yourself stuck, is to just start somewhere. You don't have to know everything. You just need to start, and any of the products on this page is an excellent starting point. But if you fail to start, you will fail to get anywhere!
  • Any of these products can be used by hand or machine. If you are just starting out, the simple way will be to use one of these auto polishes by hand and then work from there.
  • If you are just beginning and thinking of attempting to learn how to use a car polisher for the first time, I recommend starting out mild and working up from there.  This link just below is the ideal place to start if you are thinking of learning how to use a car polisher.

Car Polishing for Beginners






Auto Polish