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.