I just started working at an Auto Detailing Shop and I noticed there are a lot of different colors of polishing pads and opinions on what is best for polishing and buffing. There is even an old guy here who still swears by the old lamb’s wool pad. Can you give me some quick tips to get me started with these polishing pads?
Thanks for the great question! We’ve been polishing automobiles for well over a hundred years, so certainly there are a lot of traditions and folklore.
Back in the old days when cars were painted with thermoplastic single stage lacquer, well before modern clearcoats, the “go-to” polishing pad was lamb’s wool. These pads polished well, but the lamb’s wool fibers are aggressive for cutting – think about wearing an itchy wool sweater! The aggressive cutting into the paint by the lamb’s wool can leave surface polishing defects, sometimes called holograms or halos, especially in today’s clearcoats.
Foam polishing pads first appeared in the mid 1960’s and gained popularity in the 1980’s with the widespread introduction of modern OEM thermoset clearcoats on automobiles. The lamb’s wool pad, if not used properly, can quickly cut or burn through a clearcoat. Remember that an OEM clearcoat is much thinner than a sheet of paper! OEM clearcoat technology is now further advanced for resistance to chemical etching, like acid rain, and even for scratch and mar resistance to help minimize carwash swirl marks. The specific type of OEM clearcoat will have an impact on your polishing procedures.
To get started, the most important thing to think about is the quality of the finished job and exceeding your customer’s expectations. Next, plan the work steps, layout the polishing materials and estimate the required time. The goal is to efficiently deliver a quality finish.
This is where the discussion of the pads starts. The pad has several difficult jobs to do during the polishing process. First of course, you need to connect the pad to a rotary air tool and most pads now have a simple Velcro backing to make that easy. Next the pad needs to interact with the polishing liquid (compound or polish) and keep the paint surface as clean as possible from particles that can leave scratches in the paint film. Special polishing properties are engineered into the synthetic foam pads-quite an advancement from natural lamb’s wool. Modern foam pads are designed with a honeycomb-cell-type structure, which is a structure with small cells or closely spaced pores that results in more pores per inch. These are less aggressive and great for final finishing, while pads having lower pores per inch will be rough and more aggressive to remove surface defects.
Good polishing technique is important to not “load up” the pores in the polishing pad so that it is no longer effective to do the intended job. Also consider how the pad will bend and shape over the car body, especially around curves and contour areas. You want to keep the pad in good contact with the paint surface. Pick up a few different pads and push down on them. You will notice that some are very sturdy and some compress quite easily. This property is the pad density which impacts how the pads interact to the paint surface. Often the pads are different colors to help you keep all this straight.
If you combine all these pad variations and with the types of compounds and polishes, you can see there are a lot of options. However, if you think about the specific customer needs and then how quickly and efficiently you can do the job, you are off to a good start. For example, you may start out with a more aggressive approach if there are some large imperfections and then go medium and then fine buffing. Or maybe you just need a fine buffing procedure. Also, the suppliers of the polishing materials offer a lot of training and support. Many of them have some great on-line tutorials! Hope this helps you get started with selecting the most efficient pad for the job!