Car Polishes: Explained

Car Polishes: Explained - The Big Bank Holiday Detail


  • Learn the differences between car polishes, compounds, glazes and liquid waxes.
  • Discover exactly what these types of products do, what they contain, and how they work.
  • See the products you can use to achieve the ultimate finish.
Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained


  • Knowledge is power, knowing the difference will always save you time and money.
  • Getting the right product for the task in hand will always yield the very best results.
  • A few simple concepts can take your detailing to the next level with minimum effort.

Learn the differences and get the very best results!

It's the age-old question, isn't it? What's the difference between a car polish and a car compound? And, technically at least, the answer is not a lot. But, that said, there's plenty more to car polishes, compounds, paint glazes and all-in-one products than meets the eye, and there's always a whole load of confusion about what they contain, and how they work.

So, with all that in mind, allow us to lay out everything you need to know by answering all those commonly asked questions…

Car Polishes: Explained - WI1D5007_1.jpg

What Is a Car Polish?

Polishes and compounds are detailing products that contain abrasive particles which are used for the controlled removal of a small (often microscopic) amount of the top layer of a given surface. This action has the effect of levelling out and smoothing the very top layer through mechanical abrasion, a process known as 'cutting'.

Unless otherwise stated (as with products such as Mercury Metal Polish), a car polish is a general term for a product designed for use on vehicle paintwork to remove (or reduce the appearance of) defects such as swirl marks and scratches. The idea isn't so much the physical removal of these blemishes, as in reality this isn't possible, instead 'removal' is more of a descriptive term because any abrasive compound will only level down the paintwork around the defect, until the very bottom of the deepest part is reached. This means the defect is no longer below the surface, making it disappear, just like if you had a pothole in the road and you dug down through the rest of the tarmac, until the surface is perfectly level, there would no longer be a hole. This is the principle of all paint correction processes.

What's also important here is that a stand-alone polish (or compound) is used specifically for this reason, it won't add any protection to the surface and it's not designed as a last step product (LSP) like waxes, sealants and coatings. LSPs will not cut or refine paintwork because they don't contain abrasives.

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What is a compound?

Although many use the generalised term "compound' for paint correction products that contain relatively coarse abrasives, these are still designed to carry out the physical process of polishing surfaces and this, technically at least, makes them a type of polish, regardless of the grade of abrasive used.

The word compound actually refers to the chemical makeup of the product, rather than the action it performs. So, all compounds are polishes (because they polish) and all polishes are compounds, or more accurately chemical compounds. These are also simple examples of 'suspensions', or solid particles (the abrasives) suspended in a liquid carrier. The carrier base can range in viscosity from a relatively thin fluid base to a thick, viscous base like a paste.

Polishes and compounds are available in various grades, which refers to the coarseness of the abrasive particles in the suspension. This is directly proportional to the amount of surface that the particular product is expected to take away, or its "level of cut'. A coarse car polish or compound has a higher level of cut, because it takes away more of the surface as it is used.

Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained

How Do Abrasive Products Work?

Abrasives scrub or grind away at the surface layer until it's flat, and this in turn gives it more clarity.

Imagine the glass in a picture frame, if it's hazy and milky, you won't get a clear view of the image underneath. This is the same principle for paintwork, a top layer (which, in the vast majority of cases is actually clearcoat) containing defects doesn't allow you to see all the way through without obstruction, this makes paintwork appear dull and shallow. Clearing away surface defects with a spot of polishing enhances clarity and allows you to view the full beauty of what's underneath, this also creates the optical illusion of the paintwork being deeper and shinier.

Scientifically speaking, the overall effect is all down to how light reflects off the surface and bounces back to your eye. If the surface is full of defects, on a microscopic level it isn't particularly flat, this not only diffracts the light in different directions highlighting the defects in question, but it blocks and reflects it straight back from the very top. A smoother, flatter surface lets light through to the colour coat and bounces back to make the paintwork appear deeper. This will also allow light to refract in a more uniform manner, giving a glossier appearance. The thing to remember is that it's not the lacquer you actually want to see, it's the paint underneath.

The special "diminishing' abrasives we use in in our detailing products are also extremely advanced. These are designed to break down as they're worked through, basically smashing into each other, breaking up and becoming smaller, finer particles, until they stop cutting. This is like sharp jagged rocks being bashed together until, eventually, they're eroded into much smaller rounded pebbles. In detailing terms we call this working the product through and in most cases this is achieved when the compound is no longer cutting, and the residue turns clear.

In some cases, as with Tripple All-in-One Car Polish, diminishing abrasives are easy to work through, making it suitable for hand polishing. In other instances, as with One Step All-in-One Compound which starts as a coarse compound, the diminishing abrasives are engineered to extend the range of cut far beyond that of a traditional compound… although we'll get to that shortly.

Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained
Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained
Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained
Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained

WHat's The Difference Between Cutting & Refining Paintwork?

As for refining paintwork? Well, people often talk of the difference in cutting and refining, but the truth is that refining any surface is actually the same as cutting, just on a finer scale.

Relatively speaking, a coarse abrasive, with a higher level of cut, will cut away more of the top layer as it's worked through to remove heavier defects. But, because the abrasive is coarse, it will leave behind its own hazy surface or holograms that need to be removed to refine the final finish.

Just like you'd use a coarse sandpaper to shape wood, before using progressively finer grades of sandpaper to give the surface a smooth finish. We use finer and finer abrasives to refine paintwork and, if necessary, remove the defects caused by the prior coarse abrasive. This of course also allows the light to shine through in a more uniform fashion, adding to the gloss. This is the reason that, in a multi-stage correction, you always start with the coarsest compound necessary to cut away the harshest defects, and then work with progressively finer compounds to refine the finish. It's also the reason we developed our Revitalise V2 System, which contains three progressively finer compounds - Revitalise No:1 Restoring Compound (coarse), Revitalise No:2 Polishing Compound (medium) and Revitalise No:3 Refining Compound (fine).

The reason we refine down paint is that, gradually, the ridges in the surface are so microscopic, that they're completely invisible to the eye. Imagine a piece of glass, you can see all the way through it, right? But deep down the surface will still have minuscule defects, you just can't see them. Refining paintwork uses the same principle - you're using fine abrasives to get the surface as level as possible on a microscopic scale.

Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained

What Are All-In-One Polishes?

An all-in-one polish (or compound) denotes characteristics that go beyond that of a traditional polishing product. In most cases this means that the product is designed to not only use the abrasive part for cutting and refining but will contain other elements within the carrier that are suited to performing other tasks. Tripple, our flagship car polish, is a great example because it's designed to clean, refine and protect in one application. The fine abrasives will lightly refine and restore clarity to paintwork for sure. But, combined with the addition of deep-cleansing solvents, it will also clean away oxidation. Tripple also contains glazing agents and is infused with carnauba wax so it will fill fine swirls and leave behind a layer of wax protection - a three-pronged approach that not only makes paint enhancement speedy and straightforward, but gives it its name, too.

One Step, on the other hand, is a next-generation compound which is denoted as an all-in-one due to the fact that it has a uniquely wide range of cut. Where traditional compounds and polishes are limited by a grade of abrasives that can only be broken down so far. The reason why it may be necessary to use multiple grades through a multi-stage correction. In essence, a coarse compound will always be a coarse compound until it stops cutting and it's the same story with fine compound.
One Step is different, it's designed to start off as a coarse compound and breaks down to a fine compound as it's worked through continuing to cut through all stages. This means that it can take care of everything from a heavy-medium cut, right down to creating a refined, flawless finish. And that's without having to change product and pad along the way.

Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained

What Is A Paint Glaze?

Although all-in-one polishes can contain glazes in their carrier, a stand-alone paint glaze is a non-abrasive product that's not classed as a polish or compound because it will not cut paintwork to physically level the surface finish. Instead, a glaze will merely level the optical finish, by filling and obscuring minor defects, leaving behind a clear layer over the top that makes paintwork appear wet and glossy. Our Ultra Glaze Paint Glaze for example, uses advanced acrylic polymers in this way to achieve the sort of finish that any concours car would be proud of.

In a way you can liken glazing to plastering a brick wall to create a level finish by filling in all the bumps and divots. The only difference here is that light is allowed to shine through the "plaster' and bounce back uniformly, without being noticeably diffracted by any defects. Again, this makes the surface appear to be deeper and glossier.

While utilising a hard wax to finish paintwork also uses the same principles to level the optical finish, a wax will always be more aesthetically pleasing when a glaze is used to enhance the finish underneath. It's also important to remember that a paint glaze will never add any durable protection. In fact, they can be easily abraded and removed so you'll always need that wax over the top, to safeguard the finish.

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Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained
Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained

What About Waxes?

As well as hard waxes, liquid and spray waxes work in the same way as glazes to level the optical finish by leaving behind a smooth, transparent layer which, to an extent, fills and obscures light defects. Like glazes too, they also contain no abrasives making them finishing, rather than correction, products. But, what's most important here that, unlike a glaze, all waxes use this layer to offer protection from the elements.

Where liquid and spray waxes differ from hard waxes (apart from the obvious being a liquid bit, of course) is in the ease of application and the period of durability. Technically speaking, a liquid wax can be a thin sprayable liquid, or highly viscous cream-like product applied using an applicator, but what's important to remember is that the thinner the liquid, the less solids are contained in the solution, and the less durability it will have. Conversely of course, the thinner the liquid, arguably at least, the easier it is to apply and buff away residue. This ease of application is the reason liquid and spray waxes are the most commonly applied LSPs in the mass market, even if plenty of detailers prefer the look and durability of a hard wax (like those in our Signature Wax Collection), even with the extra effort involved in application.

Unlike a car polish or compound, which is classed as a suspension, a liquid or spray wax is technically a solution, which means a solid solute (the natural wax, synthetic wax/polymers or wax emulsion) dispersed and suspended in a liquid (the solvent base). Basically, when in use, the solvent is designed to evaporate, or flash off, to leave behind the protection layer. The thinner the liquid, the quicker the product will be to use,

Our T1 Carnauba-infused liquid wax, Radiance Carnauba Crème, has been specifically designed as an easy-on, easy-off cream, which gives extremely similar results to a hard wax, and up to 3-months durability.

We also have Glisten Spray Wax, our solvent-based, wax emulsion-infused spray wax. Being a spritz and wipe application, this is the most effortless product to use for a deep gloss and ideal for topping up previously-applied wax protection. This still gives a good month of protection and enhanced water-beading. Glisten can also be used on any paint type, including matt and satin vinyl wraps, and is ideal for treating those hard to reach areas inside shuts and panel gaps.

Both Radiance and Glisten are great for stand-alone use, or to top up previously-applied hard wax layers, on every detail.

Car Polishes: Explained - Car Polishes: Explained
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