This is a copy and paste of a write-up I did on another forum. I'm a detailing fanatic, and I'm pretty good at what I do. If you guys have any questions feel free to PM me. I do a lot of Q and A stuff on other automotive forums.
Here's a pic of the hood of my last project car. It was polished with Meguiar's M205, sealed with Black Fire Wet Diamond, and Waxed with Natty's Blue paste wax.
Polishing, Waxing, and Sealing
Let's start with some terminology. Now, there isn't a specific guide to car care terminology. Some companies use different names for products, but these terms are defined as how the general car care specialist uses them.
Polish- Something that has a various amount of an abrasive substance in it that will smooth away scratches and swirling. A true Polish does not contain anything that will protect the paint. It is just used to get rid of surface problems by "sanding" if you will, the clear coat and making it smooth again. There are many different "cuts" of polish. A finishing polish has very little cut while a "rubbing" compound had a lot of "cut".
Sealant- Sealants are synthetic products that protect the paint. They do not contain any waxes. They do usually contain gloss enhancers. Sealants protect longer than waxes, but you usually do not get the depth and gloss that you do from a wax. If you choose to only do one or the other you should use a sealant instead of a wax for the following reasons
#1 You can layer sealants more easily with less ill effects
#2 Sealants last longer than waxes
#3 Sealants protect better than waxes
#4 Sealants are usually easier to apply and remove than waxes.
If you use a sealant and a wax you want to put the wax on last. Some people are under the impression that a sealant should be put on over the wax to "seal" the wax on the car. This is not true. The sealant needs to bond to the paint and cannot do that if the wax is put on first.
I generally use a sealant most of the time and only wax before a big car show to make it really look nice and deep.
Wax- Usually a paste or liquid that contains Carnuba wax. Most waxes that are "synthetic" are just sealants. Meguiar's Tech Wax 2.0 is a classic example of this. They call it wax because the general public is more familiar with the term "wax" and are more likely to buy it. (this info actually came from a Meguiar's employee, it's not just my opinion)
Waxes can build up, there is such a thing as "too much wax" Depending on the brand and application there is no way I can give you a number as to how many coats are too many, it varies a lot.
The car needs to be stripped of all wax at least 1-2 times a year. This should be done using a Citrus based cleaner specifically designed for this purpose. You can get such products online from any car car specialist stores.
Next you want to Clay bar the car. This removed surface deposits and makes the paint smooth. It does not get rid of scratches or water spots, etc. It's pretty cut and dry how to use it, just follow the directions. It's quick and easy and makes a difference especially if you park your car outside. After you clay bar you need to re-wash the car to get all the crap off of it.
Once the car is stripped of all wax and Clay Bared you can polish it to get out any imperfections.
If the finish is bad you want to use an aggressive polish and an aggressive pad.
Pad selection is just as important as polish selection. You can take a light polish and use it on an aggressive pad and get more "cut" and the inverse is also true.
When you are polishing you will want to press the pad to the paint. You want the pad to be crushed against the surface but not so hard that the buffer bogs down. I mark my backing plate so I can see how fast the buffer is spinning. If it starts to slow down, I let up on the pressure a little.
In order to polish a car you need heat and friction. You can not get that from a POS buffer you get a Wal-mart. You need a real buffer!!! The Porter Cable 7424 is the best bang for the buck, IMO
If you are using an aggressive polish or "compound" (I use Meguiar's M105) you want to use either a Cyan or Yellow pad (all my color references are for Lake country pads since they are the industry standard)
The Cyan is a Hydrotech pad with will hold more of the polish at the surface and lets you be able to use less polish since it doesn't soak in the foam. That's why I use the Hydrotech pads, but the Yellow regular pad and the Cyan Hydrotech pad has about the same level of cut.
If you use an aggressive polish you will then need to follow up with a finishing polish to make the finish smooth and mirror like.
I use Meguiar's M205 and a Tangerine Hydrotech pad for this. If you don't want to use a Hydrotech pad then you can use an orange pad instead for the same effect.
In my opinion the Hydrotech pads are the best value and the only way to fly.
Now if you only have minor swirling you can just start with a finishing polish like the M205 and skip the aggressive polish.
Since I'm very careful with my paint and do proper washing and no driving in the rain, etc. I never have to use anything other than the M205 on my car.
Now, to confuse things even more. . . If you have moderate swirling you can use Meguiar's Swirl remover with a Tangerine or Orange pad or even Meguiar's Ultimate Compound with a Tangerine or Orange pad. Either of these will get out any minor to medium swirls or scratching and are way way way less harmful to your clear coat than the M105. If you don't want to use the Meguiar's products, there are several other swirl removers out there. A swirl remover is usually a medium grade polish that will cut more than a finishing polish therefore getting the job done quicker, but isn't so aggressive that it has to be followed up by a finishing polish.
M105 is like liquid sandpaper and should only be used if necessary and the paint has a lot of problems. If you use it too much it will eat through your clear coat and that ain't good, lol
I usually turn my buffer on 5 for my polishing. I work in 2 foot square areas at a time. I use a MF to remove the polish after it's broken down. Polish wipes off very easily once it's broken down.
Make sure to keep you pads clean and dirt free or you will scratch the hell out of your car. I use snappy pad cleaner. It's just a pack you put in a couple gallons of water and soak the pads in. Throw them in as soon as you are done and let them be soaking. Then massage the polish out of them and sit them up to dry. Place them against something so they sit at an angle and the polishing surface is facing down so dust and dirt doesn't collect on them as they are drying.
I usually use 2 pads for each grade of polish. So, depending on the car I'll either use 2 or 4 pads depending if I use just a finishing polish or if I have to use a more aggressive polish first.
Once the car is polished you can apply sealant. I use either a blue fine finishing pad, a black finishing pad, or a crimson Hydrotech pad. Any will work fine. You will only need one pad for this. Tape off all the rubber, etc. and go over the car one panel at a time with the buffer on about a speed of 3. Wipe the sealant off after it dries with a microfiber. When applying the sealant you are not putting any extra pressure on the car.
Most sealants need time to cure. You need to check the specific product for cure times. I usually wait 24 hours between coats and only do 2 coats max.
Waxes vary a lot and I can't cover all the bases since they are all different from one to the next. Basically, with a wax you apply it last and do it by hand, usually. Some say circular overlapping, some say straight lines, etc. Just follow the directions for the product you are using.
Keep the microfibers you use to remove wax, sealants, and polishes separate and only use them for these tasks to prevent getting them dirty and scratching your paint. Basically, don't use a MF you clean you wheels with to remove polish from you freshly polished paint.
OK, that's all I can think of. You can see a lot of videos of people using buffers on youtube if you don't know how long you should work a specific area. But you basically want to work an area long enough to fix the problems and no longer.
You do want to work in a cross hatch pattern. Go from left to right then right to left as you move down or up in an overlapping patter. Once you have reached the end of your "box" then you go back over the same area in an Up to Down and Down to up motion. This will make for a more even result.
Here's a few things to consider when washing your car. Especially if you have a black car that shows micro scratches and swirls easily
Most of the damage to you paint is done by improper washing. If you are rubbing a gritty, dirty sponge all over your car when you wash it you are doing more damage than good.
Now, I only use Sheep Skin Wash Mitts. They are great at protecting your paint by having enough nap to hold in dirt and debris.
Start with a good car wash. I use Chemical Guys Maxi Suds II because it's very slick and very sudsy and smells great. It doesn't strip wax or sealant and that is super important. The slickness is also important since that helps to lubricate the surface and prevents scratching the paint. The Meguiar's Deep Crystal wash is good also, but doesn't suds up nearly as well.
If you have access to a pressure washer, use it to first spray the car with soap then rinse with high pressure to get as much of the dirt and grit off as possible before touching the car. (this is very very helpful to keep from scratching the paint from a dirty wash media) They key is to soap the car up to lubricate it before you increase the pressure to prevent scratching. The pressure washer will get a lot of the dirt off so you're not dragging it all over your car when you start using the wash mitt.
You need a Bucket (or 2) with grit guards in them. The grit guard sits in the bottom of the bucket and traps grit and dirt so it doesn't get back on the car and do damage. You can use a rinse bucket first then the soap bucket to make double sure to get all of the grit out of the mitt. If you car is "dirty" you are going to want to use the 2 bucket method and the grit guard. My car rarely get's what you would call "dirty" I'm usually just get some minor dust off of it and I'm fine just using 1 bucket since I use a grit guard.
Grit Guards make all the difference in the world for not scratching and swirling your paint when you wash your car!!!!
Agitate the sponge against the grit guard to work the grit out each time you put put it in the bucket to get more soap.
Wash the car in straight lines, not circles to prevent swirl marks.
Rinse the car then dry using one of these methods. . .
You can either use the sheeting method to pre-dry the car. To use the sheeting method you use a hose with no sprayer on the end so it's free flowing. Start at the top of the car and fill the top with water so it's running off the sides. Bring the hose down to the edge of the top and move it back and forth to "catch" the water and slowly work it down to the bottom of the car. If you do it correctly it will sheet the water off the car and be almost dry with just a few spots left.
At this point you can just use a Microfiber drying towel to blot (not rub) the little water that is left.
OR, my preferred method is using a leaf blower to just dry the car off which will also get water out of the nooks and crannies that the other method will miss. I do this because in shows I can't have water spots inside my gas cap, trunk, etc. Plus, the less you touch a car's paint the less chance you have of scratching or streaking it.
I try to never touch my paint if I can help it. If I have just dust on my car I would rather pressure wash it and leaf blow it than to try to use a microfiber and quick detailer, which will scratch the hell out of a car. You notice it on a black but maybe not on another color.
When you have a car with a mirror shine like mine you can really see when you screw up with using car dusters, microfibers and quick detailer, etc. However I have found that using the Ultimate Quick Wax as a quick detailer works the best of anything I've seen for dusting the car off if you don't have time to wash it. It is very slick and with very minimal pressure can be used a few times in this manner without much visible damage as long as you keep light pressure and the car is not covered in dirt when you do it. This is for light dust removal only, not washing your car when it has road grime all over it and expecting it not to scratch it up.
Never ever just spray a car off and then dry it with a towel. If it's just sprayed off, even with a pressure washer there is still dirt and dust on it and the towel will rub it around and scratch the heck out of it no matter how careful you are. If you just spray the car off you better use a leaf blower to dry it or you will scratch the paint.
I don't believe in "spraying a car off" without using something to agitate the dirt, it doesn't fully clean the car and just sets you up for problems when you go to dry it. IMHO it's a waste of time.
Once you get a good wax job the last thing you want to do if screw it up the first time you wash the car. . .