How To Polish Your Car by Hand (Step-By-Step Guide)

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how to polish a car by hand, hand polishing the car

If you’d like to polish your car to remove some light scratches and enhance the paint, you can do it by hand too. Even though most people do it using a machine polisher, polishing your car by hand is entirely doable. So today, I’m writing a complete guide on how to polish your car by hand. 

By the end of this article, you’ll be full of the knowledge required to successfully and safely polish your car by hand. So, make sure to read the article thoroughly. 

In this guide, I’ll try to be as to the point as possible. I want to make it very straightforward. Furthermore, in the end, I’ll also put some FAQs that you can read for even more information. 

Step 1: Prepare Your Car For Polishing

First thing first, to get the best results, you need to properly prepare your car for polishing (check my step-by-step guide here). 

The guide is comprehensive and takes you through every step needed to get your car 100% prepared for polishing or compounding. 

In short, you’ll have to:

  • Thoroughly wash the car
  • Clay bar the vehicle to remove any contaminants

You should properly prepare your vehicle because you don’t want anything between a polishing pad and the paint (contaminants, waxes, sealants, etc.). When the car is spotless, you’ll get fantastic polishing results, and you’ll do it quicker. 

Step 2: Make Sure That You Have All The Equipment

Of course, before you can polish your car by hand, you need to make sure that you have all the equipment required. 

For polishing your car by hand, you’ll need:

  • Compound and polish paste or liquid: there are plenty of options to choose from, but I suggest you use Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound and Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish. That way, you can get fantastic results. First, you should use the compound to remove swirl marks and scratches, and then you should use a polish to enhance the paint and remove haze left by the compound. 
  • Applicator pad: you can use whichever applicator pad you like, but I highly suggest using a grip applicator pad such as Adams Blue Hex Grip Applicator Pad (check the price on Amazon now).
  • Few microfiber towels: you’ll be using them for wiping off the excess polish or compound left on the paint after you finish buffing with the pad. 
  • Paint protectant: when you finish polishing your vehicle, I recommend applying some paint protectant to your car.

All those products aren’t expensive, and even better, you can use them more than once, since they’ll last you pretty long. So, that’s a one-time investment for few applications. 

Step 3: Work The Product Into The Paint 

Now, you can start polishing your car and remove swirl marks and scratches. It would be best if you always started with a compound. The compound is more abrasive than the polish and will quickly remove scratches and paint imperfections. 

Then, after you finish polishing with a compound, repeat the process using the final polish for enhancing the paint and removing haze left by the compound. 

Here are quick steps you should follow:

  1. Apply compound or polish to the applicator pad: pour product to the applicator pad. Make sure not to use too much product. 5-6 dots will be enough. 
  2. Gently start polishing in circular motions: don’t use too much pressure on the applicator pad. Just make circular motions in all directions. Make sure to polish every single part of the section thoroughly. 
  3. Work in small 20×20 inches sections: when you’re polishing by hand, you should work in smaller areas, which will help you to do a better job, and not to mess up anything. In my opinion, you should polish each section for a minute or two.

By following those steps, you’ll get fantastic results.

Step 4: After Each Section, Wipe Off The Residue

Whenever you finish one section, you should wipe off the excess. You should do it as soon as you finish polishing that section because you shouldn’t allow the product to dry on the paint.

So, use a clean microfiber towel and buff the area you have just polished. Also, I suggest folding the towel so the pressure is even. Wiping off is easy and quick, so make sure not to skip it or wait too long after polishing.

If the polish dries on the paint, it can be hard to remove it. 

Step 5: Periodically Clean the Applicator Pad

A clean pad leads to the best results. When you’re polishing, the pad will become dirty, and there will be some clear coat particles trapped inside. So you can’t expect good results with a dirty pad.

It would be best if you cleaned the pad after polishing each car panel. For instance, when you finish polishing the hood, clean the applicator pad. The same applies to other car panels. 

The cleaning of an applicator pad is easy. However, if you don’t know how to do it, here’s an excellent tutorial for that, so check it out. 

Step 6: Apply Wax or Sealant

It would be a shame to leave the paint unprotected after polishing. For that, you can use waxes, sealants, or ceramic coatings.

My advice is to apply wax or sealant since ceramic coating requires a lot of knowledge and expertise.

Applying waxes and sealants is easy and will protect your paint from the lightest scratches, UV rays, heat, and other external factors. It’ll also make your color hydrophobic, which makes it easier to drive the car during rains. 

Check out my recommended car waxes here. 

A general guide for applying car wax:

  1. Pour some wax into the applicator pad
  2. Apply it to the paint by gently making circular motions
  3. Let it dry for a few minutes
  4. Buff it with a clean microfiber towel

Of course, every wax or sealant is different, so always read the instructions on the bottle to apply it 100% correctly. 

Pros and Cons of Hand Polishing The Vehicle

As always, there are some positive and negative sides to hand polishing your vehicle. Check them out in the table below.


  • You won’t spend a lot of money on buying polish machines, etc.
  • There’s less chance that you’ll burn the paint, which can easily happen with rotary polishers.
  • You can do it anywhere since you don’t need a power source
  • Hand polishing may be an excellent option for mobile detailers.


  • It’ll take a lot of time to polish the whole vehicle
  • You’ll get tired very quickly.
  • Results aren’t as good as with a machine polisher.
  • You need to work in smaller sections than with a machine polisher.
  • You can’t use large pads.


Can I polish a car without washing and claying it before?

Yes, you can polish a car without the preparation stage, but I highly recommend you never do that. If the paint is dirty, all that dirt will scrub on the surface and damage the color even more, when you start polishing. When you polish, you need a 100% clean surface.

Why should I use compound and then polish?

The compound is a more abrasive product, and you should use it to cut the paint and remove swirl marks and scratches. After that, you should use a polish to remove haze left by the compound and get that perfect deep paint appearance.

Can I polish a car by using a microfiber towel?

Yes, you can polish using a microfiber towel, but I suggest you use a dedicated grip applicator pad. With an applicator pad, it’s easier to polish since you have something to hold tight in your hands.

How often to clean a polishing pad?

Well, I like to clean it after polishing each panel. So, for instance, I clean it after polishing the hood, after doors, roof, etc. You get the point. The more you clean it, the better results you’ll get. 

How long does it take to polish a car by hand?

It’s hard to tell, but if you’ll do a 2-step paint correction (compound and polish), you’ll need at least 3-4 hours for each step. So, it’ll take around 7-8 hours to polish your car, and a lot of elbow grease.

How much money do I need to polish my car by hand?

I’d say that you can buy everything you need for less than $50, which is amazing. Of course, I didn’t count washing products, only products, and equipment needed for polishing. It’s much cheaper if you compare it to machine polishing, for which you’ll need at least $200 for a mid-quality polisher.

Should I polish a car by hand or by using machine polisher?

There’s no definitive answer, but you’ll get much better and quicker results if you use a dedicated machine polisher.

Also, make sure to check my eleven tips and tricks to get even better polishing results. I wrote them for machine polishing, but most of them can apply to hand polishing too.

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