Detail Management - April 2010

By Definition —
Compounding, Polishing, and Waxing
By Jordache Perozzo

These procedures and corresponding chemicals are probably the most misunderstood among detailers in the maintenance of car finishes. Many talk as though compounding, polishing, and waxing are the same. They are not. Hopefully when you finish this article you will have a clear understanding of the differences.

Webster defines polish as, “to become smooth or glossy, as from or through friction.” All paint surfaces have minute imperfections that are mostly invisible to the naked eye. They consist of scratches, pits, and little hills and valleys (orange peel) in the paint surface. It is difficult to see these individually, but together they will make the surface dull. To get the surface shiny these imperfections must be removed or reduced as much as possible.


Compound is the chemical used in these cases. All compounds have an abrasive in them. The abrasive ranges from extremely coarse to extremely fine. Which you use depends on the paint finish and the problems.

Polishes, on the other hand, have very mild abrasives to remove spider scratches or compound swirls. Have you ever watched a jeweler polish a fine piece of gold? He uses a jeweler’s rouge, which has abrasives in the product because you cannot remove scratches without abrasives. To remove a scratch by compounding or polishing you will actually remove a small amount of film. Even when gold is polished, a small portion of the gold is actually removed during the process.

Many detailers are afraid of abrasives, and, when they realize that abrasives remove some paint, they panic. But this is normal and an expected result of using abrasives. If a paint finish is allowed to become heavily oxidized or dulled then more-abrasive compounds are required, which will remove some of the paint film. But this is only necessary when the paint is in poor condition. If the paint is in good condition, all that is needed is a polish or a micro-fine compound.

A micro-fine compound or polish is to an automobile finish as jeweler’s rouge is to gold. It will not remove much film, but will remove the minute scratches and imperfections in the paint surface.

Compounds or polishes are used for cleaning the surface in a sense, and smoothing it out. The polish as a first step on a good finish — or after the compound on a poor one — will provide a smooth finish and maximum gloss. No need to be afraid of polishes or compounds. They are necessary to properly correct paint-finish problems. You just have to know how and when to use them.

Compounds and polishes should be applied with a rotary buffer or dual action buffer for maximum results. Be careful, however, when using heavy compound with a rotary buffer because it is possible to cut right through the film.

When to Use a Compound

  • When single stage paint finishes are oxidized, dull, and chalky.
  • When clear coat/base coat paint finishes are scratched and dirty.
  • On new paint finishes that have imperfections such as “orange peel.”
  • On freshly painted vehicles for “blending” or “feathering.”

When to Use a Polish

  • Always use as a second step after compounding.
  • On paint surfaces with micro scratches or buffer swirls.
  • If the vehicle has not been polished or waxed for over a year and was exposed to the weather.

When to Use a Micro-Fine Compound

  • Could be used after a heavy compound before the polish.
  • If the car is waxed regularly, once a year.
  • To remove extremely fine scratches.
  • To achieve maximum gloss and shine.


Pure waxes and/or paint sealants have absolutely no abrasives. They cannot remove scratches, imperfections, or dirt and grime. They can help to fill in those nano scratches in a paint surface, but they cannot remove them.

A wax or paint sealant is a protective coating that is applied on a paint finish that has been polished. These products seal the paint and protect it from the damaging effects of the environment.

Because waxes and sealants do fill minor imperfections they tend to make the surface slightly smoother so the gloss and shine will be improved after application.

When you select either of these protection products, make sure they contain no abrasives because if they do then they are really one-step products, which typically do not provide good protection.

The best waxes will contain carnauba. Carnauba comes from the Copernicia Cerrifera, a palm tree growing in the Brazilian rainforests. The young leaves are covered with a waxy secretion known as carnauba. It protects them from the harsh environment. Pure carnauba is the finest natural wax available. However, modern technology has duplicated carnauba wax. It is called microcrystalline wax and is actually more durable than pure carnauba.

The best paint sealants will contain “amino functional silicones,” which have a cross-linking molecule that will bond to the finish. They also will contain some wax. They last longer than waxes and are easier to apply and remove. Many detailers prefer sealants to wax for these reasons.

Never believe wild advertising claims of “never wax your car again” or “guaranteed for two or three years.” Carefully read the guarantee, you will notice that you must keep applying the product or something called a restorer every few months to keep the guarantee in effect. Never be fooled by such claims, this is for the consumer not the professional.


  • DO keep your car in a garage, if possible.
  • DO try to park in the shade.
  • DO wash your car everyday if you live in an area with a great deal of industrial fallout.
  • DO remove accumulated dirt deposits anywhere on the vehicle.
  • DO let water soften dirt and float it off the surface before touching with a wash mitt.
  • DO protect the paint at least every three months. More often is better in harsh climates.


  • DON’T leave accumulated dirt on the surface or underside of the vehicle.
  • DON’T leave bird droppings on the paint.
  • DON’T park under trees.
  • DON’T do any work on the paint finish in the sun.
  • DON’T use dishwashing detergent when washing the vehicle. It will strip the wax/sealant off the paint.
  • DON’T use chamois to remove all water from surface — it can scratch. Micro fiber towels are much better.
  • DON’T allow water to dry on the paint surface. It can cause spotting.
  • DON’T use automatic car washes that have plastic brushes.
  • DON’T believe wild advertising claims.

This is basic and brief, but it should help you in your general understanding of compounds, polishes, and waxes/ sealants.

Jordache Perozzo is aftermarket sales manager for Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. His automotive experience was initially acquired in his father’s detail business and later expanded through a position in Internet marketing and sales for auto dealerships in the Northwest. You can contact Jordache at

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