Clear Coat Polish
What you need to know

Do you want clear coat polish or do you want a traditional car polish?

Do you know the difference between a traditional car polish and a polish for clear coat?

Is there really a difference between the two?

If you are hear looking for the best polish for clear coat, then chances are you have fallen prey to the hyped-up marketing of the industry or have learned just enough online to be dangerous.

Don't feel too badly, as you are not alone. If you are confused then there is still hope for you.

  • What is clear coat polish?
  • Do you actually need a special polish for clear coat?
  • What is clear coat anyways?
  • What is the best polish for clear coat?
  • What does Darren use?

Darren's Note: Unless noted the topics discussed on this page are referring to factory applied paint. Any aftermarket (non-factory applied paint) paint jobs or body work is a separate discussion.

I could work 10 layers deep on this topic alone if I wanted to bury you with more information than you would ever need, or that would ever be relevant in your world.

I will stick to what I consider the essentials of what you need to know, with the addition of depth, without overwhelming you with non-essentials.

Clear Coat Polish

The good news is that regardless of what you have heard or read, you don't need a special polish made for clear coat. Clear coat safe products (waxes, polishes, sealants, etc.) are nothing more than industry hype that is part of every product or tool this industry wants to sell you.

But the fact that you are here asking about clear coat polish strongly suggests that you are working on limited information and experience. Which then leads me to believe you have likely fallen prey to the marketing hype of this industry.

Be not discouraged as I will enlighten you if you are willing to invest a few moments of your time.

What Is Clear Coat

Clear coat in its most simplest of explanations is car paint, with no added color or pigment. It is the top layer of what is called a paint system. And virtually every new car, truck, or van made since the mid eighties has a paint system with a clear coat as the top layer.

clear coat failure on Mercedes

This doesn't really mean much in the way of special care and maintenance on your car and based on your age, you have likely never worked on a car that has what is called single stage paint.

What Is A Paint System

Car manufacturers use this term that includes all layers applied to a car in the production process.

As part of paint systems, car manufacturers use different methods of application as part of their particular paint system (liquid spraying, wet dipping, electrostatic, etc.) While most people think of car paint as being applied with a spray gun using traditional liquid paints, the industry has evolved by adopting various other types of application processes.

A simple explanation of a common paint system would be application of a corrosion inhibitor, primer, color coat,  with an application of clear coat as the final, and top layer.

What Is Single Stage Paint

Single stage paint refers to a paint system that has not been finished with a clear top coat. This could include, but not limited to lacquer, acrylic enamel, acrylic urethane.

Single stage paint jobs are virtually non-existent in the world of factory paint systems.

What Is 2-Stage Paint

Not to be confused with 2K paint systems or 2K clear coats, 2-stage paint systems refer to any paint job that has been finished with a clear coating as the top coat.

In simplest terms, a clear coat is paint with no color pigments and will be the top coat of a paint system.

How To Tell If Your Car has Clear Coat

The simple default answer would be that in every case, your car will have a 2-stage paint system with the exception of the following cases:

  • Your car was made prior to mid-eighties (the 2-stage paint system was adopted gradually based on many factors so there is no hard-line rule based on year, color, make, or model)
  • Your car has been repainted by a body shop (this could be the entire car, whole body panels, or partial body panels)
  • Some solid white cars/trucks past the eighties were still being painted solid white with no clear coat 

Darren's Note: When I say solid white, this means any car, truck, or van that has no pearl of metallic as part of the white paint. The most common examples of these unique situations based on my experience are the following: Mercedes Benz, Toyota Trucks, and some commercial trucks/vans.

Hard Clear Coat vs. Soft Clear Coat

Any discussion on hard clears versus soft clears is almost irrelevant. Since every clear coat will be uniquely formulated, there is a wide spectrum in clear coats.

There is no standardization within the industry. This requires anyone attempting to polish a car by hand or machine to respond based on "hardness" of the clear coat.

This means the harder the clear, the more work will be necessary to produce desired results. Since there is no standardization in clear coats with respect to hardness of softness, the world of car polish continues to use outdated and inferior technology that typically requires multiple compounds and polishes to achieve desired results. (Don't worry as a much simpler and safer technology exists that will be discussed in the section below called "What Would Darren Do")

Darren's Note: If you have had the misfortune of visiting any of the car forums, detailing forums, or the "University of YouTube", you may have heard discussions by non-professionals about hard or soft clear coats. Any search for the best clear coat polish will generally include a discussion about working on hard or soft clear coat.

This only confuses people like yourself that are just starting out. Usually this discussion is added as a tool to over-dramatize the subject of car polishing as a way for a company to sell you their polishing system, or for a non-professional to sound professional.

All this really does is further confuse a group of people like yourself who already begin with limited knowledge and experience.

Today's world of free information is now a world of misinformation. Cynical as that may sound, all of us are at risk in varying degrees based on our knowledge and experience on any given topic.

Polish For Clear Coat or Clear Coat Polish?

Not long after the introduction of clear coats and the 2-stage paint system, "Big Business" realized it could leverage the ignorance of car buyers by labeling products as clear coat safe.

Not limited to just clear coat polish, the industry started using the term "clear coat safe" on many products in effort to distinguish their product from the competition.

From car wax to car polish, there was no limit to how "clear coat safe" is used as a marketing strategy.

"Any polish can be used to polish your car. Any polish can be used as a clear coat polish. Any polish can be used in a safe manner or an unsafe manner. The real question is more about the effectiveness and efficiency of a car polish."

If you find yourself a frustrated but an informed car owner now, do not worry as I will show you how I simplified my world as a professional detailer with a car polish that I consider a sure thing.

Clear Coat Polish:
What Would Darren Do

Now we come to the million dollar question that I am so frequently presented with by people like yourself:

"Darren, just tell me what you would do!"

And that is exactly what I will do.

My "Sure Thing"

CSI Ceram-X Car Polish 62-203-Quart - Single Product Polish (SPP) Superior Single Polish Replaces The Countless compounds/Polishes You Think You Need

  • Safe for any paint finish (not recommended for matte paint finishes)
  • The original Single Product Polish (no more multiple compounds and polishes)
  • Go from heavy defect removal to a swirl free finish with a single polish
  • Body shop safe
  • No solvent smell
  • Will not swell paint like other compounds or polishes
  • Can be used in direct sunlight on hot paint
  • My top pick for a clear coat polish (which is what you will be polishing on your car)
  • Use with any machine, any pad, any car

using clear coat polish to polish car

Now that you know what polish I both use and recommend, let me lay out the specifics for polishing your own car.

  1. Wash car (See washing car)
  2. Decontaminate paint using clay bar (See clay bar kits)
  3. Use your choice in a dual-action, random orbital buffer (See random orbital buffers)
  4. Choose a medium cut foam pad
  5. Apply 6-8 pea size drops of polish onto pad face, evenly spaced
  6. Set buffer speed to 4 or 5 and place buffer onto car so it remains flat
  7. Polish a 2' x 2" section of your car using back and forth, up and down pattern
  8. Wipe area off with micro fiber cloth and check results
  9. if you have achieved desired results, move to next area making sure to overlap sections

Since we have learned that clear coats come in all types of hardness, you will never know beforehand what you will be working with. The industry would have you buy multiple compounds and polishes in an attempt to equip you with enough products in order to compensate for the many types f clear coats on the market.

This is one of the major reasons I love the Ceram-X car polish is that it takes the guess work out of polishing your car. But there will always be guess work as every car will be unique with regards to the clear coat, but also unique based on the condition of your car and your expectations as a car owner.

For this reason you will need to do some testing with your car when first polishing it to determine what it will take to produce the results you are after. You also need to maintain some realistic expectations as not all paint defects and damages can simply be polished away.

Clear Coat Polish Summary

At this point I hope you are feeling less confused and more prepared to begin polishing your car. The clear coat polish I recommend on this page is true professional grade car polish as well as being the safest and most effective way at producing permanent results to your car's clear coat.(this is different than products that only produce temporary results by using ingredients that simply cover up paint defects)

Start slowly and get your feet wet. You don't have to tackle your entire car in a single moment. Polishing your car is a lot of work regardless of the products and tools you choose, so pace yourself at the beginning and work from there.


Darren Priest

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