Car washing

How to effectively machine polish with a dual action polisher

Polishing a car is the one step that can truly make the paintwork shine like new. When you clean your car you remove all the dirt from the surface, but you leave behind all the little scratches (also known as swirls) that are marked in the paint. These have generally appeared as a result of poor wash technique or general driving/parking issues (such as scrapes in car parks or vandalism).

A swirl mark or scratch is usually cut into the paintwork of the car and thus cannot be cleaned away. Instead, polish is needed to work on the paintwork itself:

These catch your eye as the sun reflects off the peculiar angles on the paint. Your eye expects the paintwork to be flat, however the reflections from the swirls reveal the true state of the surface.

How polish works

Polish comes in two forms:

  • Filler polish
  • Abrasive polish

Filler polishes infill the scratches making the scratches much less obvious. The swirls do remain on the paint however.

Abrasive polish rubs away the clear coat of the paintwork working to level the surface. This removes the scratch by bringing the surrounding clear coat down to the same level.

Either type of polish can be worked either by hand or with a machine polisher. Generally it is best to work from least to most abrasive polishes, stopping when you have achieved the desired level of correction. This prevents over correction e.g. wearing down the clear coat unnecessarily deep.

When working polish it is important to consider the thickness of paint, as too much abrasive polishing will remove the clear coat all together requiring a bodyshop to correct.

Filler polish

Usually filler polishes have little to no abrasives in them therefore there is no limit on the frequency of polishing with these. One of the most popular available is Auto Glym Super Resin Polish. It’s very easy to use so I would recommend it to a beginner.

To use this polish you will need the product, applicator pads for application and microfibre towels to buff off once cured. I usually apply and buff off by hand so this is a great introduction to polishing without breaking the bank:

  • Foam applicator pad
  • SRP
  • Microfibre towels

Apply a handful of dots of product to an applicator pad and place this surface on the paintwork (still working from the top down of course). Work your pad in small circles using a light pressure; you will be able to see the cream cloud over the surface of the car. Work over each panel evenly topping up the pad as it runs dry.

I cover the entire car in product before beginning to remove. Taking a microfibre towel, gently buff the surface to a brilliant shine using moderate pressure and circular movements.

The paintwork at this stage should look great, however deep swirls and any serious scratches will remain. If you are happy with the finish, move on to waxing to seal this brilliant shine in for good!

Abrasive polish

The following method can cause damage to your car so be careful. Too much abrasive polishing will break through clear coat into the paint layer (known as strike through), which will need a bodyshop to repair. That said, if you are careful it can be rewarding to properly correct paintwork on your car.

Working through this tutorial I will be using an entry-level dual action machine polisher (Kestrel DAS-6), Meguiars polishes (105 and 205) and Meguiars machine polishing pads (cutting, polishing and finishing pads).

  • Kestrel DAS-6
  • Meguiars 105
  • Meguiars 205
  • Cutting pad
  • Polishing pad
  • Finishing pad

Having a range of cutting power available allows you to work from least to most abrasive to find the correction level required. If you are looking to start out, try the least abrasive set up and add more abrasive pads and polishes in future. A good combination would be a Kestrel DAS-6, Meguiars 205 and a finishing pad. This combination would give a very light level of correction.

Most polishes have grains that are rubbed against the paintwork by the polisher, as these are worked they break down slowly until they are completely gone. Working the polish until these are gone is important, as not doing so could leave a number of smaller swirls which are inflicted by these grains (known as marring). If fully worked, as the grains break down they polish out their own marks until they are completely worked. 

Recently, some polishes are now non-diminishing which means the grains do not break down. Instead the effect of diminishing is replicated through the user altering the pressure and/or pad. 

How machine polishers work

There are two mainstream types of polisher for cars. A rotary has a fixed centre point and orbits in perfect circles only whereas a dual action polisher circles in random elliptical motions. 

With the more concentrated force, a rotary generates more heat and correction than a dual action in the same length of time, but is generally a higher risk tool as strike through is easier with a rotary. A dual action doesn’t repeatedly hit the same area of paint therefore heat and correction levels are lower and it is safer, however correction takes longer. Both have pros and cons, however I have used a DA for this guide.

Pads attached the polisher will have different cutting strengths as well as indicated on the packaging, the difference will usually involve density of foam (denser pads cut harder).

Controlling the polisher we will work in a taped off section of around 1.5 square feet in size. We will move back and fourth in straight lines applying pressure to the head of the polisher with our right hand.

Working a case study

Here we have a number of swirls on the rear quarter of a Focus RS. The paint on Ford is usually medium hard so we should be ok to use a DA without any major concern. The swirls are quite prominent:

We are using Meguiars 105 and 205 which are non-diminishing polishes. We therefore control the cut by varying the pressure applied to the head.

Apply 8 dots of polish (yes, that few!) to the polishing pad and spread using DA speed 1 over the area. The polish will cream up on the area. Now working at speed 3 we apply moderate to heavy pressure to the head of the polisher working slowly (around 2 feet/minute) from side to side, then move down and repeat. I work over the panel twice in this fashion. Before moving on, apply a light spray of quick detailer and buff off the remaining residue with a microfibre towel.

To finish working 105 which is non-abrasive, we will reduce the cut. Turning the DA speed up to 8 we will apply very light pressure to the polisher and work the panel at about the same speed. This less harsh cut removes most of the polishing marks from the heavier passes.

The 105 will have turned from creamy white to clear when it is worked appropriately. We do not want it to dry up when working. If this happens a quick squirt of quick detailer will dampen it up.

At this stage, you could complete the polish and wax the car up. However in order to get a really good mirror finish we will go the extra mile and use a very gentle finishing pad with a very gently 205 polish to repeat the above steps with two slow and two fast passes. This will buff up the finish with a very, very slight cut. Ultimately we are left with a fantastic mirror finish:

Once finished, ensure the surface is clear of residue by using quick detailer and a microfibre to wipe down. Move on to seal the finish under a wax to compete the look.

Car washing

Advanced cleaning – the dark art of claying

Clay bar theory

Following on from the guide to removing bug splatter and tar using chemicals, we will look to using car specific clay bars to clean the final bits of dirt off of the paintwork. We will therefore pick up after a treatment with Tardis, with few contaminants left:

A clay bar is used as a firm, flat surface that is run across the paintwork with a liquid lubricant used to mitigate damage to the car. The firmness will catch on the few remaining contaminants pulling them into the clay bar and off the paint. The obvious risk is that clay does not have a pile (like microfibre towels) so the dirt stays on the surface of the bar and therefore any dirt will be exposed to the paintwork while the clay bar is used.

The steps before this such as a good wash and chemical treatment will mitigate the risk by getting rid of the vast majority of contaminants. The other safety net is that we will work in small areas, frequently kneading the clay to reveal a clean surface.

Clay can be used on the paintwork, light covers, glass, wheels, virtually everywhere. If using a bar on wheels then do not recycle this bar and use for bodywork again!

How to use a clay bar

Clay can damage the paintwork if not used correctly so please be careful. To clay a car you will need a bar of your choosing and a suitable lubricant – usually quick detailer. My preference is Bilt Hamber clay, this is the only clay I know of that uses water as lubricant which is great on the wallet. I’ve also used Meguiars clay with Quik Detailer.

I usually cut the bar into pieces about a square inch in size and a centimeter thick, this is usually enough to do a car (or half a car if it’s particularly dirty!). Before making contact with the car, knead the clay bar until it is warm and malleable (can help to stand in hot water for 15 minutes). Form into a flat surface that we will use on the car.

Working in an area around 9 square inches in size, spray a generous helping of lubricant onto the surface of the paint and place the clay bar on top of this. Using finger light pressure, pass the bar over the area. You will feel the bar catch on the dirt the first few passes but this will subside and it will glide over the paint. This is when you know you are done with an area, as there is nothing left to pick up. The paint is perfectly clean.

As the clay picks up dirt the surface becomes soiled, in order to prevent doing damage the bar is kneaded which will reveal a clean surface. Eventually, the bar will become completely soiled, you will know as you won’t be able to knead to a clean surface. At this point dispose of the bar.

Note: If you drop the clay bar on the ground DO NOT use it again – bin it immediately. Too much dirt will be picked up on the bar.

As you work round the car in 9 inch areas you will leave a residue behind of lubricant and any diluted dirt. I usually wipe down each panel with quick detailer and a microfibre as it’s completed before moving on to the next section.

Work your way around the car panel at a time. If it is taking too long for you, you can always do the car in sections over a number of cleans.

Car washing

Intermediate cleaning – last stage protection

Assuming you have followed all the previous cleaning guides and are now at this stage you should have very clean paint – congratulations! The next step is to apply a suitable layer of protection to lock the fresh paint away from the dirt and grime of the road. This will make future cleaning sessions a lot easier as a two bucket wash will clean down to this wax layer automatically bringing the brilliant finish held beneath the wax back.

When it comes to the last stage of protection there are a myriad of choices available ranging from a few pounds worth to thousands of pounds worth of product. Ultimately, the choice of product is down to the individual and the car to find a finish (and often a balance of durability, finish and cost) that is the best balance for them. I am currently using Collinite 476. I chose this wax as it is very hard wearing (some claim it lasts for up to six months which is incredible) and very cheap.

You will need a wax of your choice, applicator pads (although microfibre cloth could be used in place of a pad if required) and a microfibre cloth.

When applying wax take the product and a pad to the car and work your way around as you do when cleaning i.e. start from the top and work down and around. Using an applicator pad, swirl this in product and rub the pad across the paintwork in small circles with finger light pressure. To ensure you are getting even coverage, view the paint from angles to ensure even coverage in the wax which will appear cloudy on the surface of the paint.

Top the applicator pad up with product as required and continue working around covering all painted surfaces. I also wax the light covers. When applying, try to keep the layers thin as excess will be hard to buff off and will produce a lot of dust. Generally a tin of wax will do many cars so do not be alarmed if you barely scrape the surface of the pot!

Once applied, the wax will need to cure to the paint surface and then be buffed off.

The curing times for wax will vary greatly depending on the product so check the label of your chosen wax. For Collinite, it bonds near immediately so I apply to two panels at a time then buff off. Others will allow you to coat the car and then wipe off.

Buffing is the final stage and involves using a microfibre to rub off the wax layer. Using a towel, work around the car rubbing off all the residue in small circles.

Once the car has been completely buffed, this stage is finished. Congratulations!

Car washing

Basic wash – Washing the car: Two bucket method

I’m going to cover the famous two bucket method of cleaning a car now. This is the basic wash technique and will be used as a base point for virtually all intermediate and advanced car cleaning tasks. Assuming you take good care of your car, most washes will only involve a rinse/two bucket wash/dry cycle with the other techniques being far less regular. 

To properly clean cars bodywork using the two bucket method you will need the following products:

  • two buckets
  • wash mitt (preferably two woollen ones)
  • selection of microfiber towels with tags removed
  • drying towel (optional)
  • bodywork shampoo (I currently use Autoglym but you may prefer another)
  • detailing brush (optional)

Two bucket method – why it works

The two bucket method employs the use of one suds bucket and a separate rinse bucket. Theoretically this means dirt is lifted from the car via the wash mitt and deposited in the rinse bucket to fully remove dirt from the car. The mitt is then dunked in soapy water meaning that every batch of soapy water applied will be as clean as the first.

I believe in this method and suggest you use it. I find I may need to change the rinse bucket a few times throughout the wash (usually 1-2 times) but the soapy bucket will remain virtually perfectly clean throughout demonstrating that this method does work provided you rinse very well. If you find the clean bucket gets dirty you will need to try and be more rigorous at rinsing your mitt before getting it soapy again. At this point I would recommend replacing the soapy water to avoid moving dirt back on to the car.

When using either bucket you should avoid dipping the mitt into the bucket too deep. Any dirt and grime will naturally drop to the bottom therefore plunging your hand right in will encourage the dirt back onto the mitt. I tend to use only the top five inches of either bucket. 

Note there are two different schools of thought on this with many believing that a ‘grit guard’ is a necessary bit of equipment. This guard sits in the bucket a few inches from the bottom and gives a course surface to rub your mitt on shedding the dirt. Personally I think sticking to the top five inches of water and rinsing properly achieves the same so that is what I do. If you think having an expensive bit of plastic in a bucket will help feel free to give it a try.

Two bucket method – The technique

First get a warm bucket of soapy water ready. Personally, I am using Auto Glym bodywork shampoo at the moment which is a very gentle detergent so as to protect my wax layers as much as possible. You may prefer other brands, however. The rinse bucket should just have cold or warm water. I position these next to me and move them round as I work over the car.

Using your wash mitt make sure and saturate it with the soapy water. Without losing too much of the water, move over to the car and work from the top (roof) downwards. Inherently the top of cars is less dirty as there is less exposure to dirt on the road and other debris being flung up onto it. Think of it as cleaning your cups and glasses before you work on the frying pan.

In terms of order I work on the roof then around the glass down to the “fold” on the sides and the tailgate. I then do the sides down to the half way point which for me is indicated by the bump strips on the car. At this point I tend to switch to a new mitt and clean the front of the car first and then the lower section we haven’t done yet consisting of the back bumper, front bumper and lower part of the sides.

While washing I apply liberal amounts of soap and work in large circles applying a light amount of pressure initially to scoop up as much dirt as possible but applying moderate pressure as required on subsequent passes once the mitt has been rinsed. Anything which doesn’t come off with a light to moderate pass I will come back to as part of a later stage to lift off the paint carefully.

I try and do several passes over each area. Where there tends to be a lot of grime like the lower part of the front doors I will usually take extra care to pass very lightly initially and rinse much more frequently to deposit the dirt.

When not using your mitt I suggest rinsing it and hanging it on the edge of the soapy bucket.

I suggest rinsing your mitt regularly. Whenever the rinse bucket gets discoloured I change it. If you notice the soapy bucket start to change as well then change this immediately and try to be more vigorous when rinsing in future. It is also very important not to let the car dry naturally in the sun while washing – this can lead to hologram marks where the chemical residue is ‘burnt’ on to the paint. This can be tough to remove.

Once the entire car has been washed it must be rinsed. I will arm myself with the hose or power washer depending on how I initially had pre-washed the vehicle and work from the roof down. I rinse very thoroughly and will do it until no more suds appear which usually takes about five minutes. I work all over the car taking care over each body seam which can hide soapy residue. Once this has completely gone the car should be a clean base. Congratulations, that was the two bucket method! Now do not forget to dry the car!

Two bucket method – with protection applied

Using the two bucket method when there is already a base layer of wax applied will remove most of the dirt back to the wax or sealant finish which has been applied leaving the same fantastic finish as was achieved previously.

Consider the following picture showing a simplified version of dirty paint with wax applied:

Washing will remove the debris leaving only the wax layers and, unfortunately, a few elements of ingrained dirt. Don’t worry about these last few bits of dirt they are usually not visible and will be taken care of when you strip and reapply the protection in future.

The result after the two bucket method will therefore be paint which is brought back to the lovely state it was in previously.

There are a few hazards when doing this though. Obviously shampoo is set to remove dirt from paint however it is not quite clever enough to tell the difference between protection and dirt. This means frequent washing will erode the protection and ultimately strip it off completely. This is a combination of the chemicals in the shampoo and the abrasive washing process of rubbing the medium on the protective layer.

Selection of shampoo can therefore be important to the longevity of the protection as you will want a relatively mild and soapy shampoo. I’m currently using Autoglym which seems to preserve the Collnite 476 wax I have on the cars. This does not seem to damage the protection however at times I feel it can lack the required bite when getting a car suitably clean in the first instance. This is the trade off when it comes to shampoos.

I also suggest layering protection at regular intervals to ensure the above process constantly gets the desired results. The exact timeframe will depend on multiple factors such as mileage, protection used, shampoo used, frequency of washing etc. I currently use Collinite 476 as my protective layer which is very long lasting (some say up to a year), I would expect to layer this every two to three months or so to keep the car in top condition.

See the protection section for more details on this process.

Drying the car

When drying the car I recommend using high quality microfiber towels with a thick pile as this will absorb more water and avoid having to do too many sweeps over the car. Some microfiber towels are specifically for drying. I recommend having at least one such towels around as they really are much better at drying.

The absolute best practice for drying is to take a towel like the one above and dry the car by dabbing it. This avoids having any rubbing motion on the newly cleaned paint. When armed with a large drying towel this is actually quite quick and easy as you can spread the towel over the body and dab the surface. Once done you can pick it up and over the next area. Working like this I can quickly dab dry a whole vehicle.

When drying often you will find the microfiber towel will be saturated with water. At this point simply ring it out away from the car and it will become absorbent again and you can continue.

At this point the basic cleaning process is complete. There are further advanced cleaning techniques for glass, plastic trim etc. which can be followed to make the clean more in depth. Additionally if you want to make it an advanced clean there are several articles on polishing cars you can follow from this point onwards.

Stand back and admire your hard work as the two bucket method has done the job of keeping your suds bucket clean!

Car washing

Basic Wash – Rinsing and pre-washing


Before stating the process of wiping the car with the wash medium it’s best to remove as much dirt and dust as possible with a rinse and, if possible, a pre-wash. When rinsing the car it is advisable to try and blast off dirt and grime at acute angles so as not to hammer the particles against the paint but rather propel them off.

It is best practice to rinse the car with a hose to remove the obvious dirt. Personally I use a pressure washer for this stage and I find the results have been much better, however they are far from essential as long as you have a hose. I currently use a Karacher pressure washer but it doesn’t need to be an expensive one.

As noted I consider a pressure washer a luxury item for cleaning the car, I would not be concerned if you did not have access to one but they can be quite useful if you have some spare cash or vouchers to use up! Do not feel disheartened if not though.


Pre-washing to me is defined by washing the car as far as possible without every actually touching it. One of the most popular ways to do this is by using a foam lance with appropriate mixture to cover the car. What this does is propel foam over the car which then clings to the outside. The suds sit on the car penetrating into the dirt and then, when you wash off after a while (usually three to five minutes) a considerable chunk of dirt comes away as part of the rinse. A foam lance usually requires a power washer to operate and the lance will need to be the correct fitment for the power washer.

A foam lance that attaches to a hosepipe directly is available and comes highly recommended by other detailing sites. I personally have not used it, however.

I am currently using Meguiars Hyperwash which is a fairly gentle, multi-purpose detergent. This is useful as it preserves my wax layers from previous cleans (see later) while still taking off the dirt. If the car is dirtier a stronger mix can be used. One suggestion is to combine Meguiars Hyperwash with a part mix of Meguiars Multi Purpose Cleaner.

When using a foam lance I fill it up with 150ml foam and 850ml water. You then attach the lance to the power washer and apply liberally all over the car from three to five feet away working from the top of the car to the bottom.

After about five minutes (in this time I often prepare the next step of my wash by getting my buckets ready) I rinse the car with the power washer thoroughly until no more suds come off of the car. Take particular care around the body seams that can trap dirt and soap.

Please also be careful not to fire the hose or pressure washer directly off the ground as this can spurt dirt up onto the car!

Car washing

Basic Wash – We hate sponges!

When washing a car you are, at the risk of stating the obvious, removing dirt from the car. While this may sound simple it is actually difficult to effectively remove the high quantities of dirt and debris picked up from day to day use without damaging the paint.

Lets consider first the wash medium (what we will wash with). I never use a sponge on any paintwork because a sponge has a flat surface and is likely to trap dirt and pull it across the surface of the paint. This then damages the paint further with lots of small scratches from the dirt particles being forced across the paint.

Instead I would suggest using a microfiber medium (usually a mitt or cloth) or, even better, a woolen mitt. The microfiber or woolen surface is not flat and therefore has room for the dirt to be pulled off the paint and up into the pile of the medium. This reduces the scope of the dirt to be exposed to the paint again.

A proper rinse of the wash mitt in the rinse bucket (see later) will then shake these particles out and permanently off the car while a sponge may not pick them off the car at all instead pushing them around it.

I suggest having a couple of wash mitts and a good selection of microfiber towels. The towels in particular are used for numerous tasks on the car so I always keep about 20-30 available.

Note when you receive your medium I suggest checking them for labels and tough edges. I remove these immediately to prevent them generating their own scratches!