What will you use for your for your Detailing Services
The Detailing Company  get a lot of questions regarding the difference between hand and machine polishing. My general response is, “Time.” There’s not a lot you can do by machine that can’t be done by hand using the correct materials and methods. In fact, sometimes machines work too fast, and you risk removing too much paint material. Situations differ, so you need to learn how to read the paint surface.

Polishing rule 1: Use the least aggressive tool or polishing material necessary to get the job done. Hand polishing is the least aggressive, followed by a dual-action (DA) polisher, followed by a rotary buffer.

Polishing rule 2: Do not mix polishing materials. Do not use the same polishing pad or cloth with multiple abrasive materials.

Polishing rule 3: Work in good lighting conditions, and frequently check your work. You will rue the day you polish through your paint because you couldn’t see what you were doing or polished in one area too long.

Polishing with a rotary buffer requires skill and training. We’re going to discuss the proper use of this versatile tool later in the chapter. For most car appearance enthusiasts, a rotary buffer is not a necessary tool. It is essential for professional detailers and painters, who need to properly machine-compound a car.

Polishing with a dual-action car polisher machine is a great way for most car appearance enthusiasts to create a perfect paint finish without a lot of elbow grease. Although a dual-action polisher does not have the power and speed of a rotary buffer, it also does not have the potential liabilities.

Hand polishing is the best way to polish when time and effort is not a concern. All polishing jobs require a final hand polishing step to completely remove wheel marks left by machine polishing.

Most professional detailers use rotary buffers and dual-action polishers to polish paint. The overwhelming reason is time. To do the job properly by hand would be prohibitively expensive. It’s also true that some jobs will get better results with a machine in the hands of a professional.

There are basically two kinds of polishing machines: rotary buffers and dual-action (orbital) polishers. A professional painter’s rotary buffer is little more than a body grinder with a polishing pad in place of the grinding disc. These are high-power, variable-speed motors that give a professional painter or detailer a lot of flexibility. Rotary buffers have a straight drive to the polishing head (i.e., the polishing pad connects directly to the shaft of the motor), whereas dual-action polishers have a special drive head that causes the polishing disk to run in an orbital pattern while also rotating.

The following chart compares the significant differences between a rotary buffer and a dual-action polisher.


Ease of use
Don’t rush a rotary. Time and care are required to do it right.
Virtually foolproof. Just pick it up and start polishing!

Learning curve
Requires extensive training and experience to master.
Requires very little training and experience to be proficient.

Potential to damage paint
Improper use will cause swirls, excessive paint removal or paint burns.
You’d have to be an ape to damage the paint.

Effectiveness on paint with heavy oxidation or severe micro marring
Potentially eliminates all superficial surface damage.
Paint looks much better than it did, but may not remove all surface damage.

Highest gloss and deepest shine possible.
Much better than hand polishing, but will not compare to rotary.

Amount of polish required
May require slightly more than a dual-action polisher, but not nearly as much as hand polishing.
Most efficient method.

Absolutely best final results. Fastest of all polishing methods.
Safe, effective and easy to use.

Much higher potential to cause paint damage. Requires significant time investment to master.
Somewhat limited results compared to rotary polishing, but better than hand polishing.

I often get questions like “Who should use a rotary buffer and why?” or “What’s better, a dual-action polisher or a buffer?” This is not an easy question, because no matter what I say, there is an opposing and equally valid response.

Rotary buffers are for trained professionals and serious enthusiasts with experience. The possibility of ruining a paint job with a rotary buffer is very high when a powerful, rotating machine is put in the hands of an unskilled person. Rotary buffers spin at speeds up to 3600 rpm. One small slip, and you’ll pop off a molding, burn a hole in your paint, or break off a windshield wiper. I’ve seen each of these mishaps, so I know it can happen. That said, the rotary buffer is my tool of choice. I put myself in the category of a serious enthusiast with lots of experience, and I have had two minor mishaps in 20 years. For me the result is worth the small risk.

A good dual-action polisher can also deliver great results on all but the worst paint finishes. For this reason alone, I think most enthusiasts and novice detailers should invest in a dual-action polisher, not a rotary buffer.

Polishing machines can be purchased for as little as £50 or as much as £500. The difference in capability is significant. At the low end are low-power orbital polishers. These machines are designed for the average car owner who wants an easier way to polish and wax his or her car. Although they will make the job of polishing and waxing easier, they will not improve the resulting finish of your car. At the high end you will find multipurpose detailing machines, like the Porter Cable 7424, that polish, buff, and scrub carpet and upholstery.

If you require even more in depth technical help from professionals from around the world then visit the Detailers Forum and ask a professional for help and advise