How to Buff Your Car Like a Pro

If you want to sell your car, you need to enhance its “wow” factor. You may purchase a pre-owned vehicle with the full understanding its appearance wasn’t cared for responsibly. Perhaps you just like to make sure your vehicle is always spotless and shiny-new. Whatever the situation, nothing will achieve the goal of reinvigorating the look than a good buffing.

For a lot of people, this can seem a daunting endeavor, but with the right foreknowledge there won’t be an issue. With preparation, the most inexperienced owner can turn in a professional job. Know your tools and understand the process. (You can find many resources for executing the project on this site.)

To be sure you have the education for tackling this project, here are 42 top tips for ensuring you buff a car like a pro.

General Advice

Carefully research the tools and resources for buffing your specific model and color.

Buff Your Car Like a Pro

  1. Never mix buffing pads after they have been used with a compound. Use separate pads for your compounds, waxes and polishing.
  2. Use wool pads for heavily oxidized surfaces or after paint has cured. Foam pads shouldn’t aggressively cut paint.
  3. Stock up on foam pads for their versatility. They leave no swirl marks and can perform light cutting.
  4. Usually, damage results when the buffer is left in one spot too long or the operator is too slow. Maintain a uniform, rhythmic motion.
  5. Masking or painters tape will safeguard edges and other areas that grab buffers or burn easily.
  6. Use your spur often. You do not want dried compounds in your pads.
  7. Learn to apply compounds to surfaces, not to the pad. This causes a wear in the compound and can also leave quite the mess.
  8. Never set buffing and polishing pads on the ground. Pads easily pick up dirt, hair, rocks and more. Clean them thoroughly or toss them and use one of the others you should have in your toolkit.
  9. Buffing and polishing are meaningless if you do not regularly wash the car.


  1. Paint preparation will be critical to a smooth and successful process. Wash the car and prep surfaces with a clay prep bar. This will be beneficial in the management of protrusions in the surfaces, including environmental contaminates and railhead particles.
  2. Work your buffer right to left (from a right handed view) over the bead of compounds or polish. Start slightly on device edges and finish flat.
  3. Work small areas and keep the pace uniform. This is going to require practice, but proficiency will increase.
  4. In the beginning, keep RPMs on the slow side.
  5. Use the weight of the buffer. Work with the device, not against it.
  6. Be mindful of the buffer’s position as the cord can get wrapped in the spindle.
  7. Be aware of windshield wipers, antennas and emblems as these have been known to grab pads. Where possible, remove obstructions. At the very least, mask them. Apply this principle to rubberized body moldings as well. They can be burned or stained.
  8. Avoid edges. Mask or work parallel with the wheel of your buffer. Unless you’re experienced and have a good touch, work close but not over.
  9. Beginners should never lock the variable trigger and lose the option of slowing down when they need to.
  10. Avoid burning paint by staying in motion. Getting the feel of your buffer’s movement and how to manage it will come with time.

Managing Swirl Marks

  1.  buffing padsAvoid cross contamination of pads, a major cause of swirling. Compound, polishing and finishing pads should be kept away from each other.
  2. Minimize swirling by keeping buffing pads clean. Spur your wool pads regularly, and wash and air dry them.
  3. Wash any area where a compound has been applied with soap and water. This helps eliminate excess compound on the surface.
  4. After glazing or polishing, do not buff dry. Let a little material remain on the car, otherwise you risk creating friction. The best way to clean residue is to perform a hand or orbital wax.
  5. Never put foam pads into a dryer. Soak them in warm water and ring dry.
  6. You may love power, but for detailing, keep compound RPMs between 1,750 and 2,400 and finishes between 1,200 and 1,750. Lower rates-per-minute mean less friction and less buildup in heat, a factor in damage during buffing production.
  7. Take care to match buffing pads and polishing materials. All paint surfaces are not the same. Test tools by buffing a small area. Start with the less aggressive approach and, if required, work your way to the most aggressive. You should test compounds and polish in the same manner.

 Car Cleaning

  1. Make the process easier by using approved tools to elevate yourself. Standing on step ladders or, worse, buckets are safety hazards. These objects tipping over and causing a fall are the major reason for accidents when buffing. Also, do not work on slick or wet surfaces.
  2. Use a spur to keep your buffing pads clean. Do not use screwdrivers or other sharp objects.
  3. Use eye protection at all times.
  4. Keep electrical tools away from standing water. In fact, clear any standing water in the work area.
  5. Always stay within manufacturer recommended RPMs when buffing.

While the above tips can apply to everyone, here are a few tips for the body shop professional.

  1. Color sanding should have proper prep, pad selection, and carefully applied buffing technique and timing.
  2. Plan buffing and color sanding when paint is ready. Avoid waiting until paint is too hard.
  3. If you do buff too soon, dye back.
  4. Experiment with sandpaper, using combinations of buffing pads and timing of the buff.
  5. Utilize sandpaper that meets the minimum level for getting a project completed.
  6. Stronger paper will cut faster, but its effects will be more difficult to rub out.
  7. Do not be afraid to use water when sanding. Grit and particles left in the paint can damage the finish.
  8. Avoid repairing damage during the process with a swirl of oily hand glaze. Glaze is a temporary fix and washes off.
  9. An expanding service in the body shop industry is offering a quick detailing of the vehicle with buffing. Steam cleaning the motor, freshening up the interior or a random orbital glazing are being used as incentives to draw in business.
  10. Proper buffer and finishing sells the job. The best body work will not impress a customer who can see imperfections.

Car Washing Tips & Tricks

Car Washing TipsA car, regardless of age, that looks like new is impressive. But to manage that healthy glow requires due diligence. Sure, you can drive to the cash wash once a week, but trust that doing it yourself will make that look special. Lucky for you, professional techniques used by shops are accessible to owners.

Microfiber cloths, paint cleaning clay, aloe leather healers and chemical cleaners are replacing rubbing compounds, the leather chamois and piles of newspaper.

What follows is a detailed plan for giving vehicles the professional and brand new look they deserve.

  • Assess the Exterior and Interior

Many of us just look at the car and decide it needs cleaning. You shouldn’t rush the process without accounting for what’s needed. Inspect rugs, the dash, carpets, handlers and headliners. Look at the hood, roof, tires and wheels. Your diligence will make the car look better and help keep it clean.

  • Apply (Non-Acid) Tire Cleaners

NOTE: Wheels and tires should be thoroughly cleaned before cleaning and protecting car body paint.

 Tire CleanersThe pros use specially compounded acid solutions for cleaning tires. The compound will also be used to get brake dust off of wheels. This process is best left to the pros. DIY-ers should stick with non-acid products. In the wrong hands, an acid-based cleaner can cause oxidization and pits in bare alloy wheels, and damage wheels painted with clear coating or color.

  • Apply a degreaser to wheels. Detergents can cause damage to paint if splashed.
  • Floors, Carpets & Rugs: Use Compressed Air and Stiff Scrub Brushes

Get an air compressor if you don’t have one. Use it to blow dirt out of the flooring’s nooks and crannies. As any car owner can attest, dirt, grime and French fries can end up anywhere. Compressors blow dirt where you can see it. Brushes loosen dirt. While a car vacuum is a great tool, they can miss elements, especially if you don’t cover all areas.

  • Get that New Car Smell with Duct Cleaning

With a small compressor, blow dust and dirt out through heating and a/c systems. Aim the high pressure air at the walls of ducts behind vent grilles. This is where dirt and dust stick and can create those musty, cramped smells in the cabin. If there’s an air filter, clean or change it.

  • Hand Washing is Still the Way to Go

Hand washingHand washing is the most reliable way to get a good cleaning. While it can seem annoying, most people enjoy washing their car and do not see it as work. The task lets owners inspect and familiarize themselves with their vehicles and the body’s tactile shape.

Do not use dish washing or laundry detergents. They might clean, but those solutions are a threat to surfaces, stripping protection like wax coating. This leaves the vehicle at greater risk for nicks, stains and scratches. Always use a car wash solution.

  • Why Drying is Important

When the wash is complete, get to work drying the surface with a rubber blade squeegee. As water evaporates, anything from dirt to unwanted minerals can land on the surface and embed itself.

  • Clean Paint: Shiny, Bright & New

A wash alone may not clean the paint. Man-made components, bird droppings, dead insects and other pollutants can settle and gradually saturate through wax or coating. The sun will do its part too, burning these elements into the paint. A good way to test the smoothness of the surface is to run a dry hand over the paint after the car’s sat in the sun. If the surface is rough, it needs cleaning.

You can clean – as well as repair stained or scratched wax – three ways: physically, chemically or both. The chemical path involves paint cleaners. Paint cleaners remove wax, but they also clear top layers of unwanted bonded contaminates. They can also repair small scratches. The physical path involves rubbing a small block of paint cleaning clay. The clay should be lubricated with a liquid cleaner wax. While there are machines that do this, you don’t always have to drag it out for every job.

Make sure if the clay is dropped you clean it thoroughly and re-lubricate before continuing.

  • Smooth Paint with a Polish

Polish will smooth surfaces, bring out the shine and give the car that look you want. Some car polishers contain wax. This protects paint but won’t smooth it. Use an oscillating polishing machine.

A tip for measuring results is to hold a ruler perpendicular to a surface and see how far its reflection goes. The further the ruler can be seen, the glossier the finish.

  • Use Wax to Protect SurfacesWax to Protect Surfaces

Wax absorbs stains and small scratches. It also wears off. Now your beautiful paint has to fight for itself. To manage this, either add a paste or liquid wax to the surface. Professional detailers usually apply two layers of wax, getting areas the first coat may have missed.

Waxing should be done every couple of months (see next tip). Any more than that is a waste of time as layers won’t adhere.

  • Wax at Least Once a Season

While there is no substitute for a traditional waxing, a liquid spray wax will touch up spots – removing stains and scratches – quickly. You should go with a conventional wax job at least once a season. This is because wax wears off and time doesn’t play a part as much as where your car goes. Beading water and sliding terry cloth towels are not good indicators that the car needs waxing. In fact, there are no real indicators. This is why it’s better to simply wax on a schedule.

Managing the Cabin

  1. Empty the vehicle.
  2. Remove floor mats.
  3. Using a brush attachment, vacuum seats, carpets, floors, rear deck and dash. Make sure to get between the seats, in cracks and crevices, and along trims.
  4. Shake, beat and vacuum floor mats. If you have plastic mats, hose them down and let them dry completely.
  5. Use a cleaner and cloth to meticulously wipe down vinyl surfaces.
  6. Buff surfaces with a soft, clean cloth.
  7. Use a little window cleaner sprayed onto a cloth and clean plastic surfaces and parts.
  8. Use a rag or paper towel to remove the gunk, dust and excess cleaner.
  9. Get an cleaner that’s appropriate for your seats’s fabric and get to work. Leather will need to be conditioned and cleaned to avoid drying or cracking.
  10. Perform some extra detailing with an old toothbrush.
  11. Return items to the car.

Taking Care of the Glass

glass cleanerGlass should be cleaned last, including mirrors. This is because dirt and grime coming off the car will end up on them. Use a glass cleaner with ammonia. Do not apply it to upholstery, especially vinyl, or the instrument panel. Use a microfiber cloth to rid glass of spots and streaks. If it’s hard to reach rear windows, use the back of your hand to reach and clean those areas. Roll windows down to clean edges.

You may want to polish windows to remove accumulated minerals. Pro shops wax side and rear windows to prevent etching caused by water stains. No cleaners should be used on windshields except Rain-X.

Drying Tips & Tricks

Improper drying is a major cause of swirling and scratching on car surfaces. Here are things you can do to dry your car properly and minimize even minor damage.

The first thing we want is to have a good quality wax or sealant on the paint and wash the car. You could use a blower designed specifically to manage drying. It will get the job done quickly and get water out of hard to reach places. But take care that you don’t damage paint by overheating. To finish the task, you want a microfiber cloth.

Before any drying, make sure the body is free of dirt, oil or grease that you could end up rubbing into the finish. Complete the wash by running a hose at medium pressure over the car. Do not spray. Instead, remove the nozzle. Water should flow right off the surface and take any remaining surface water with it. Let the car drip dry for a minute or two.

Use a metal-safe and a glass-safe squeegee to remove any excess moisture. Follow that up with the cloth, carefully drying the car. Start with the hood and work down to the front and then back. Throw the cloth over a flat surface and slowly pull it across the surface toward you. Turn and shake the cloth frequently. Prevent streaking and swirling by folding the cloth into a square and wiping.

If the exterior is taken care of, open doors and wipe sills, jambs and seal areas. Dry under doors to prevent sills from getting wet again. Take a terry detailing towel and wipe down tires. You don’t want to use the body cloth as it will get dirty.

Open both hood and trunk to wipe down seals and jambs. Use the damp towel to remove dust and light oil from the top of the engine and its compartment surfaces. When you’re finished, wash all cloths and towels. Do not use them again until they are thoroughly clean.

While a car wash can do a great job, the occasional DIY wash will give your vehicle a personalized clean and heighten your appreciate for its look.

Waxing Tips & Tricks

Nothing makes a car paint job shine like a professionally applied layer of wax. It complements the look, creating an attractive high gloss luster.

To not manage regular car waxing is pretty much watching your car’s beauty and value go down the drain. It’s a small task considering what you get in return for the investment.

Here are tips for waxing, simplifying the process and ensuring your vehicle always looks pristine.

  • Wash the Car

Do not use laundry or dish washing liquids. Use a car-specific cleaner or shampoo. While the occasional cash wash visit can do a decent job, remember the staff uses the same towels and tools for every car. It’s like wiping the dirt and grime from other cars onto yours.

Also, components in their brushes and recycled water contain unwanted elements from other cars which gets blown on yours.

  • Get Your Tools

Whether taking a manual approach or planning to use a good pneumatic or electric polisher or a top notch buffer, have the right cloths, sponges and pads for removing and applying wax. Mechanical buffers have come a long way and can be found in many home garages.

  • Choose a Quality Wax

An automatic car wash uses a cycle that equates mostly with rinse water. While you get a nice shine, they offer no real protection to paint.

Not every wax conforms to every car. Make sure your choice is the one for your model and color. The best products come in paste or liquid form. They contain carnauba wax and will leave greater results. Liquid wax will promote a longer lasting shine. Paste creates a greater shine.

  • Create the Shine You Want

Wax protects the paint and enhances its appearance. But do not rely on wax to create the look. You car has to be kept clean and dry. Take a medium grit polish and apply it to scratches, even if they are barely visible. If there are deeper, visible scuffs or scratches, you may need to reach for rubbing compounds and a good car buffer.

  • Detailing

Try to work in shaded areas. The sun will speed up drying and you do not want this.

Before applying wax, wipe down the unpainted trim with a protectant sprayed into a sponge. After, use a clean cloth to wipe the trim. This step will enable easier removal of wax that gets on the trim. Another method to avoid this would be to apply mask or painters tape to those areas.

Apply a thin layer of wax to one small section at a time. Avoid thick layers as they will be harder to manipulate and get off the car. Check the wax you’re using to see if it has to settle for a period of time before being buffed away. You want to start removing wax as soon as possible.

  • Removing and Applying Wax

Use a careful circular motion to apply or remove wax. Whether using a buffer or hand, work small areas but avoid spending too much time on any single area. This increases the chances of an uneven look or swirls.

  • Wax Regularly

You should give your vehicle a full waxing once a season. In the meantime, feel free to spot check and perk up your car’s appearance with a liquid wax occasionally. Always carefully wash any area before waxing, regardless of how small the work area.