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1-step, 2-step…The Various Types of Polishing Processes

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If you’re a detailing enthusiast reading through some of our how-to articles, or ones where we showcase the entire detailing process on a particular vehicle, you may have picked up on us pro detailers talking about 1-step and 2-step polishing. And if you’re a detailer or hobbyist, you probably know that this refers to how many pad/polish combinations that we use to complete a job. So given that, you can assume that using PoliSeal on a white pad would be a 1-step polish, and using Meguiar’s M105 with an orange pad followed by Meguiar’s M205 on a black pad would be a 2-step process.

Now that we have the basic definition established, let’s take a much closer look at the terms because each type of process can be broken down even further (especially the 1-step).

The 1-step Polishing Process

As we’ve already agreed, a 1-step polishing process means just that…completing the job with one pad and polish combination. All 1-steps aren’t created equal however, because there are a lot of different factors involved that determine what combination we used based on the desired results we’re looking for. As professional detailers, or even weekend warriors, we’re faced with decisions based on the condition of the vehicle, the level of correction that we wish to achieve, the amount of time we have to work within, and the budget that the customer has established. I have full details that I do (wash, wheels, machine polish, interior, etc) that only take me about 3 hours WITH a 1-step polish, and then I have the same basic package that will take me 8-10 hours with a 1-step polish. How can this be?

Let’s take a look at 3 different examples of 1-step polish jobs so you can get a better idea of what all is involved.

The Basic: This one would fall into my 3-hour “complete detail” package that I referred to. For this one, I would typically use Optimum PoliSeal and a white polishing pad on a Porter Cable 7424XP buffer. What I hope to achieve with this level is to remove light haze and very light swirls on the paint, deep clean the surface, make a noticeable difference in the gloss level, and add a layer of protection. With a versatile product like PoliSeal, you can use it very quickly and make a big impact in the overall look and feel of the finish, or you can take your time and work it much longer to achieve an even greater level of defect correction. If the vehicle just needs a quick touch-up, or there are time / budget constraints, then this type of 1-step polish can make a significant difference. For detailers just starting out…this should be a staple package being offered.

The Intermediate: When you step up to the intermediate level 1-step polish, you’re typically looking for more defect correction capability than what the basic would provide, yet you still want it to be relatively quick. With soft paint (Acura, Lexus, Porsche), you can get very good results even at this level…upwards of 60%~80% in some cases (not severe defects, and on easily correctable paint like Porsche). When I need to perform a detail at this level, I’ll typically grab for Meguiar’s M205 polish with a black or white pad and the PC. The reason I go for M205 is because it’s a non-diminishing abrasive polish…meaning it works quickly and finishes down very fine in most cases. Depending on how much correction you’re going for, you can expect to add a couple of hours to the amount of time it would take you on the basic 1-step.

The Advanced: When performing this level of a 1-step polish, you’re typically going for as much correction as you can while at the same time finishing down very well for a 1-step polish. You can’t go too aggressive otherwise it won’t finish down well enough to be a finished product. If you go too light of a combination then you’re giving up a lot of potential correcting power. You’re also not as concerned with time or the customer has a bigger budget to work with when performing the advanced 1-step. So what polish/pad/machine combination do you go with? Well, that depends on a lot of different factors…what kind of paint you’re dealing with (hard, medium, soft), what color the car is, and how bad of condition it’s in just to name a few. For most cars, you can use Menzerna Power Finish (PO203S) on a white pad with the PC (or rotary) and achieve some pretty amazing results. Menzerna polishes utilizes diminishing abrasives that have to be completely broken down to achieve the best results. This takes patience and time, but you will be rewarded in the end. For a total detail inside and out with this level of 1-step machine polishing, I can easily take 8-10 hours from start to finish (including time spent on applying a sealant afterwards). If I’m doing this level, I’m taking the time necessary to ensure that the finish is as good as it can get for just a 1-step polish. I’ve worked on cars with this level before that have had a lot of swirls and holograms, and I’ve achieved better than a 95% correction rate! (see BMW M3 article).

So as you can see, there are a lot of different ways of conducting a 1-step polish. It can be from 3 hours, upwards of 10 hours. It can provide light correction, and it can go all the way up to almost perfect. So knowing what you have to offer, what polishes work at what levels, and what exactly you can achieve at each one, you should be able to provide the perfect level of polishing for the price or the time you have to work with.

The 2-step Polishing Process

As we had previously defined, the 2-step polishing process means that you’ve used 2 different polish/pad cobinations. The first step is typically an aggressive polish or compound teamed up with a cutting pad. The second step utilizes a finishing polish and pad to remove any marring leftover in the paint from the first step, and to further refine the finish. If you were to just stop after the compounding / heavy polishing step, the paint would be left with marring, light swirls, and / or holograms (also referred to as buffer trails).

Even within the 2-step category however, there are different levels that you can work with depending on the desired correction level, time, and/or budget. If you want to achieve a high level of correction with a stunning finish, then you could do a straight 2-step with combinations like M105 / M205, Menzerna Super Intensive Polish / 106FA, or one that I have been using a lot of lately…Meguiar’s M105 on a PC followed by Menzerna 106FA on the rotary. You simply hit each section one time with each combination, and the correction level is what it is (typically it will be very good!).

Another option that you have is to stick with the traditional 2-step combination, but spend more time on the compounding step to achieve a greater level of correction. Some paints are hard, finicky, or have deeper imperfections that won’t correct after one pass with your compound, and you need to work them a bit in order to achieve that next 10-15% of correction. So you may have some parts of the car where you can simply utilize one compounding step, whereas others you may have even 2 or 3. Now some people may argue that if you compound a section twice, then it counts as 2 steps (leaving you with a 3-step after you do your finish polishing). Semantics aside, you’re still just using 2 different polish and pad combinations. The goal at this level is to achieve the highest level of correction as possible while finishing down so fine that all you can see in the paint is pure and clear reflections.

So when I’m evaluating the finish of a car, and I know that by speaking with the customer they’re interested in major correction, I may break the pricing option down based on whether I’m doing a straight 2-step, or one where I’m chasing defects with multiple compounding stages.

The Hybrid Polishing Process

Hybrid? Would that make it a 1.5-step process? What I mean here is to mix the processes up as required; once again being based on the condition of the car, the type of paint, and the budget or time you have to work within. Let’s say for instance that your customer wants the car to look as good as it possibly can, but just can’t afford or just doesn’t want the “full deal”, multi-step process that you have to offer. If for instance it’s a dark colored vehicle, you especially know that you can only go so aggressive with a 1-step process otherwise you’ll leave holograms. But if you go with a less aggressive combination, then it will still have a lot of visible swirls particularly on the horizontal areas that you see a lot (hood, trunk lid, tops of fenders, etc). I was faced with a similar situation this past summer on a black Ferrari 612 where the customer wanted his car to look good, but he didn’t see the need to go for the full-blown detail. Knowing what time budget I had to work within, I came up with a hybrid system for this particular car where I did 2-step polishing on all the areas that can be seen, and 1-step polishing on the lower parts of the car. So in the end the parts that you can’t see in the direct sunshine ended up with the amount of correction that I said could be expected for that price range, and the upper parts of the car came out almost flawless. So I kept to the customer’s budget, I didn’t donate my own time (nobody likes working for free!), and the customer received a product that looked better than he was expecting. The moral of the story here is that you don’t have to get stuck in the definition of either a 1-step or a 2-step polish. The formula was perfect for this car and for this particular customer and it worked out well for everybody. Whatever you do however, don’t perform a hybrid polish and try to sell it as a multi-step polish! If you sell somebody on a near perfect finish, and you only achieve 50% correction on the lower parts, the customer won’t be happy, and word will spread fast! Sell the hybrid as something between the 1-step and 2-step, and make it clear to the customer that the visible areas of the car will look better than the lower parts.

Well, that about covers it! Hopefully you now have a better understanding about the different polishing processes, and what exactly is involved. Don’t get yourself caught up in thinking that each level only has one possible result because you can obviously see now that you can go a lot of different ways within each one of them.

Thanks as always, and be sure to post your comments and questions below if you have any.

Todd Cooperider Esoteric Auto Detail
Todd Cooperider
Esoteric Auto Detail
Columbus, Ohio
EsotericDetail.com

22 comments on 1-step, 2-step…The Various Types of Polishing Processes

  1. Tim Buxton says:

    Great information Todd. I have been doing a lot of thinking on this subject lately and this article could not have come at a better time. I have always done too much for too little when I start polishing away and this helps me look at it from different angle.

    Did you say something about going from M105 on an orange pad to M205 on a black pad to finish up? I didn’t realize that would do the trick. When I go all out on a black car I have been using the OG lake country flat pads and starting with the M105 on an orange pad, following with M205 on a white pad then stepping down to the black finishing pad and using the M205 again to finish it off. This was my method on a black Porsche I worked with.

    So my question is… with black or darker cars can you bypass the white pad with the M205? I could always try but I figured I would ask anyway.

    • Well Tim, it actually just depends on the paint. On a black Porsche for instance, 105/orange would leave a lot of marring but it corrects pretty easily. I can usually get 85+% correction on a black Porsche with 205/black for the cutting stage, followed by a quick PoliSeal on a blue pad! If for the finishing stage you find that white leaves too much marring, but black won’t completely clear everything up from the orange/105 step, you could try a Tangerine instead since it cuts close to a white yet finishes close to a black. The best thing to do is always spend a little more time during your initial testing phase to see what works best.

      • Dennis B - UK says:

        Thanks for that usefull post todd, i am often faced with customers that want a rolls royce job for mini money which leaves me battling to find a balance between value for money and a finish that pleases the customer.
        I don’t like the word compromise but this is a good one.

        Thanks TC

        Regards D Bishop

  2. joe says:

    Appears you get it! LOL! Nice read! Very well done. I look forward to more.

  3. Eric Schuster Eric says:

    Nice article Todd, I will be face with this situation tomorrow on a black BMW. Guy wants a one step, but is prepared to spend the time/money for a two step, but really wants a one step! We will see what the condition is when I get there, but I only have so much time to spend on it….

  4. Jason says:

    Anyone figure to use the Optimum Hyper Polish spray as a one-step polish? Or even the poorboys professional polish?

    • Jason,

      I’m sure the Hyper Polish could be used as a one step depending on the pad that it was combined with, and depending on the paint type as well. What works great as a one-step on one car doesn’t mean that it will work on every car. That’s where knowing your products, how they react with different pads / tool / techniques, and the differences between paint types come into play. There’s no one product that will work perfectly in every situation, which is why you’ll see that most pro detailers out there keep a wide selection of polishes, tools, and pads to combine as necessary to meet the requirements of the specific car, level of correction desired, temperature / humidity, etc.

  5. Steve says:

    Todd,
    Great Article, Hybrid polishing process was a great name for something I’ve done, but didn’t have the correct name tag!! In your two step processing step, I noticed the menzerna PO106FA with LC black pad for a final finish. I’m partial to PO85RD as a finish step going into a Jeweling (sp)step. If you get a chance could you give us a Jeweling process that you think would bring out the most final finish possible?

  6. Kostas Skourtis says:

    Hi Todd,

    All the best for a healthy, productive and inspiring year. Thank you for another great ‘food for thought’ article.

    You mention a recent go to combo 105/pc + 106fa/rot. What pads do you find yourself using the most in each stage?

    Thank you in advance for the time and effort to reply.

    Kind regards
    Kostas

    • Good question, but it actually depends on the type of paint and the severity of the defects. For hard paint and/or heavy defects, the Surbuf pad with 105 on a PC is hard to beat (although caution is advised when using them…they are very aggressive!). And for the 106FA on a rotary, I mostly use a black pad with it unless it’s an extremely hard finish. If that’s the case, I’ll then grab for either a white or a Tangerine pad.

  7. Kim Smith says:

    Thanks Todd. Very helpful article.

    I’m a new detailer and have been reading DI posts like crazy for the last couple of months and there’s something I still haven’t figured out. How can I tell when a polish is “broken down” sufficiently and can be removed?

    Also, I just finished my first polishing job on a 2004 Lexus RX 330 this past weekend and was disappointed in the level of correction I acheived. How can I figure out where I could make improvements in the process to achieve better results next time? In other words, is there a way I can tell if it was the choice of polish and pad I made or if it was inexperienced technique and approach that gave me disappointing results.

    Thanks,
    Kim

    • Kim,

      I’m glad that you’ve been finding a lot of valuable information here on the blog.

      The break-down cycle of polishes refers to diminishing abrasives, such as what you would find in a line like Menzerna. Typically speaking, you’ll know when the polish starts to break down when it changes color/consistency. When you start off with just 2 or 3 small drops per section, the polish will have a milky or hazy look to it as you work it into the surface. After several minutes you should notice that it will change to a clear, and then you’ll know that it has broken down. At this point you can move onto the next section and then come back and wipe it down once the panel cools. When you work with a non-diminishing abrasive such as Meguiar’s M105 or M205, it will not go through that same cycle…the abrasives simply continue to cut.

      As for your results on the Lexus, there can be many factors involved. First of all it comes down to experience, and you need to remember that nobody became an expert at paint correction their first time out. It takes time to learn paint types, the machine(s), pads, polishes, and how they all work together. Once you get more experience with the different pads, polishes, and techniques, then you’ll be able to figure out the best approach when one polish or combination isn’t giving you the results that you desire. This is also why you need to learn different types of polishes so you can react accordingly with the paint that you’re working on. When you do a test section on a car, you’re doing this to establish what’s going to work best on that particular car on that particular day and at the level of correction that you’re hoping to achieve based on the services purchased by the owner. And also remember that you need to discuss levels of expectation and the appropriate pricing when working with the client. When most detailers start out, they want to offer up a full-correction job, they inevitably spend a day or two working on it, and as a result end up making only $10/hour!

      You’ll quickly pick up on all of this, and by reading through these articles and trying different products and techniques, you’ll quickly get the hang of it all.

      I hope this helps.
      Todd

      • Kim Smith says:

        Thanks Todd. Your repsonse is not only extremely helpful, but very encouraging too. I have a tendency to want things to be perfect, even when I’m learning, so this was a great reminder to ease up on myself, relax, be cool, and have fun with the trial and error process!

  8. bstp says:

    Hi Todd, may i ask for your advice?

    just got a car that is booked for a one day single step correction / paint enhancement job tomorrow. its another w202 c class in blue black. i got the chance to decontaminate the car tonight and inspect the paint.

    this car is a daily driver and it sees public car washes frequently (its a member of a car wash chain, to add insult to injury!) so u can imagine the amount of swirls present throughout the paint.

    ptg readings showed extremely varied results throughoout the car. the thinnest panel was the roof with readings ranging from 75 to 85 microns. the sides of the car had from 80-100 microns with a number of areas showing markedly higher readings, from mid 200ish to as high as 600 microns on the front left fender. the engine hood had on average between 230-400 microns indicating repainting some time in the past. some areas of the car also showed poor half a##ed respray marks here n there.

    my plan is to use d151 as my one stepper liquid. with different machine pad combo depending on the state of the panels.

    my concern is on the engine hood. other than washing swirls it also showed quite a significat layer of watermarks.

    my question is, what would be the best way to apply d151 to get the most out of the hood in a single step?

    for the thinner areas of the car i plan to use d151 on uber green with the rotary and maybe uber yellow on panels with safer paint thickness reading.

    but for the hood, i was thinking something like either: -d151+wool on the rotary or -d151+mfda cutting pad on the da (maybe even with a dash of d300 on a pad primed with d151?)

    what do u think about my plan Todd? what would be the best bet.

    • Regardless of what you do, it sounds like it’s going to go right back to the same condition if it goes through frequent public car washes (swirl-o-matics). Given that, I would have only recommended doing a very light one-step that doesn’t chase swirls…but then again, that’s just me.

      I don’t use D151, so I can’t comment directly on that particular product. But if you’re doing what appears to be an intensive one step, why would you want to break out the wool pad and work your way up on the hood? If you want to provide a little extra service and do more correction on the hood (a multi-stage polishing process), I’d recommend that you just quickly hit the hood with Megs MF Cutting Disc and D300, and then finish it off with the same finishing process you’re using on the rest of the car.

      I hope this helps.

  9. bstp says:

    thank you for your reply Todd. sorry that it took me some time to reply.
    your thought on the fact that the car’s gonna go thru all that wash’n’swirl all over again really helped me when i worked on the car. i kept saying it to myself to stop my ocd urges.

    anyway i wanted to try the d151 coz it was my first chance to see it in action. so in the end the hood got set of d151 on a cutting pad, it turned out acceptable, while the rest d151 on a polishing pad.

    it still took me around 8 hours of polishing thou i think i still need to brush up on my single stepping skills.

  10. Marco says:

    Thank you Todd for your very informative write up.

    I’ve read many guide and write up about the detailing process but i’d like to know how do you plan the polishing path:
    How do you choose the test spot section or sections?
    Where do you start from? Bonnet?
    Do you polish a whole panel, changing pad size if the section involves a thin area?

  11. jai says:

    can you tell me rates of 1 step

  12. jai says:

    dear sir can you give me rates 1 step

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