Car Polish vs. Compound – What’s The Difference?

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a man uses a car polisher to polish the car paint

Car owners often get in critical situations where decisions must be made from two or more options. An example is when you want to know if you should polish or compound your car. At this time, there is usually a desire to understand why a decision to polish your vehicle is suitable over that of compounding your car and vice versa.

Today, I’ll show you the differences between car polishes and car compounds and which method you should use depending on your car’s paint condition.

Before deciding whether you need polishing or compounding, you need to check the car paint. If it’s in a horrible condition, then compounding is required. However, if the color only has light scratches, light oxidation, and some swirl marks, you should only polish it.

What Is Car Polishing?

what is car polishing, when you should polish your car

For car detailing enthusiasts, polishing is an essential regimen. Understandably, some car owners often neglect this process, substituting it with waxing and using sealant on their cars. Still, it is by far one of the most beneficial steps in maintaining the pristine appearance of your car’s paint finish.

The car polishing process usually removes a tiny amount of your car’s clear coat. This is because your car’s clear coat is usually the affected part before a need for polishing can be considered. Polishing will remove the ills left by clearcoat damage on your car. Therefore, it typically removes this damage, whether in the form of watermarks, slight scratches or swirl marks, or acid rain etching, among others.

Serious questions have been asked by many about the recommended number of times one should do car polishing too. Mostly, the car shouldn’t be machined and polished more than 3-5 times in a lifetime. Of course, it depends on the thickness of the clear coat.

Related: Best Car Detailing Polishers: For Both Beginners and Professionals

Differences Between Car Polishing and Waxing

People often confuse car waxing with car polishing. These are two different car detailing practices with almost similar approaches. You can wax your car without polishing it. When you do this, your car wouldn’t actually look its best.

However, it looks better and is protected. One more important thing is that waxing doesn’t necessarily entail applying the sealant to the car. Yet, some people do this.

What Is Car Compounding?

what is car compounding, when you should compound your car, car detailing

As its name implies, car compounding refers to the process of using compounds to restore damaged car paintwork surfaces. The processes involved in car compounding include polishing, rubbing, and cutting.

Car compounding can be referred to as intense car damage repairs. Meanwhile, polishing entails performing light corrections on your car.

Car polishing compounds are less abrasive and typically used to enhance paint finish. They also increase your car’s shine. They are known to get rid of your car’s body’s lighter imperfections. Hence polishing is not powerful enough to remove heavier imperfections in your car’s paintwork.

Within the scope of car compounding, there is also something like rubbing compounds. These have harder abrasives with larger particle sizes, hence resulting in a more aggressive formula.

The resulting procedure can smooth out severe scratches and restore more severe damage to your car’s surface. Should you, therefore, still worry if you should polish or compound your car, there you have a clue.

Should You Polish Or Compound Your Car?

Let’s see in which situations it’s better to polish your car and in which it’s better to compound it.

When Should You Opt for Car Polishing?

As mentioned earlier, car polishing is a process used to clean and shine and remove small imperfections on your vehicle’s paint surface.

If you are caught between a decision to either polish or compound your car, you can choose to polish your vehicle;

  • If you are interested in removing light scratches
  • Get rid of stains or light oxidation from your car finishes
  • Take care of less severe imperfections on newer cars, and
  • When you wish to remove watermarks from paint or glasses, mostly if windows have failed to clean properly

Car polishing will serve you diligently well in refining your car’s shine and protecting the paints.

When Should You Opt for Car Compounding?

Car compounding helps to maintain your car’s shine, mostly when more severe damage had occurred to the body. As opposed to polishing, compounding handles more severe damage to the car’s paint.

You need car compounding when:

  • You need to remove stains and severe oxidation.
  • You want to remove the paint transfer.
  • You wish to smoothen out deeper scratches and scuffs.

You have to avoid taking chances with car compounding on new car paintwork restoration. You can only use this process after less aggressive products have been tested on the car first.

Step-by-Step Guide on Polishing and Compounding

Since the disparity in these processes has been identified, let us delve into the processes involved in each case.

Quick guide when polishing the car:

  • Choose a polishing/buffing pad. Your choice of polishing pad depends on the severity of the imperfections and sometimes the affected area. Your detailing agent should know about all of these and how they affect results. Your choice of the pad will affect the shine and clarity
  • Work on only a small surface area at a time. Pick the surface in bits of approximately 20” x 20”.
  • Turn on the polisher slowly. Move the polisher across the paint surface in the direction of metal flow with back-and-forth motion and minimal pressure.
  • Repeat process. Change the direction of moving horizontally to treat different surfaces of the affected area.
  • Remove excess products. You will most likely have spills and excess. Kindly remove any excess product noticed and use a microfiber towel to assess the results.

Guide when compounding the car:

  • Begin by assessing the paintwork. This will help you to understand the level of damage involved.
  • Wash and dry the car to prepare the surface.
  • Test the product on a small inconspicuous area of the surface for a start. Some products can be more aggressive than others. So, it is best to test when working with new products.
  • Apply the product when you are satisfied with the test reactions. Ensure also that surface is clean and out of direct sunlight.
  • Remove excess product with a clean cotton or a microfiber towel.
  • Lastly, apply car polish to bring back the shine.

Should you use car polishes after car compounds?

Absolutely. It would be best if you had car polishing after compounding to help you bring back your car’s shine. Do not forget that we have defined car compounding as entailing more than one process. Polishing, in this case, is like adding finishing to woodwork. If you are explicitly working on black car paint, you can use a polish that contains a pigment to achieve optimum results.

Don’t Forget to Protect The Paint

water beads on waxed car, protecting car paint,
Water Beads On Waxed Car

After polishing your car, do not forget to protect the painted surface.

Waxes and Sealants

Protecting and safeguarding the hard work you have done means using waxes and paint sealant on polish. Both waxes and sealants can be applied the same way. However, they offer different kinds of protection.

Both waxes and sealant protect your car’s painted and polished surface from acid rain, bird droppings, tree sap, and fallouts.

Although often confused with waxes, the sealant is synthetic. It is specifically a polymer that provides a high gloss finish that usually lasts longer than wax. This may take up to a year in some cases.

However, sealant and waxes can be used together to achieve both durability and a high-quality finish.

Related: Best Car Waxes: Protect and Shine For Your Car

All-In-One Polishes

Aside from these, there is something like an “all-in-one” product. This polishes and protects your car’s paintwork simultaneously.

These substances usually contain light abrasives that easily remove and reduce paintwork defects. They also fill to mask any deeper imperfections that cannot be removed by either light abrasives or synthetic sealant to protect your finish.

Therefore, the “all-in-one” product is considered a highly effective one for routinely maintaining your car’s paintwork even when it is in good condition.

Ceramic Coatings

If you want the best possible protection for the car’s paint, then you should consider getting ceramic coating.

Ceramic coating is the most expensive way to protect the car, but it offers the best protection.

If you want to ceramic coat your car, I suggest that you go to a professional car detailer, and he will do everything you need (compound, polish, apply ceramic coating).

It’s a complex process in which you need plenty of knowledge, and the professional car detailer will do it in the best way possible.


I hope that now you understand the differences between car polishes and car compounds. To conclude one more time, car compounds are much more abrasive and are used to remove deeper scratches. Car polishes are used either when there are only light scratches and swirl marks or after compounds to fix those tiny scratches they cause.

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