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Polishers and Pads – A Common Problem I See With New Detailers


Can you imagine driving your dream car with a bad engine, transmission, an alternator?  Looks more like a nightmare! That is the approach many people take when they invest in a machine polisher.

You want to do a paint correction on your car and your focus is on looking for that perfect polisher.  You are on a quest for that ultimate tool. You are perhaps having an endless internal debate between the Flex 3401 or the Rupes LHR 15 Legacy.  Perhaps you are intrigued with the Boss polishers.  But have you thought about what kind of pads you are going to get with your polisher of choice?  Are you planning on getting enough pads so you are prepared to take on any unforeseen challenges?

I recently did a two-stage paint correction on a Black 2002 Jaguar XK8.  When I was done cleaning and drying the pads I used for this project, I counted them. 13 pads! I used 13 pads just for machine polishing.  I brushed off spent polish and abraded paint from my pads frequently.  Still, I went through 13 pads.

before shot

after shot

If you have not guessed, skimping on pads is a terrible idea.  People will ask me why they are not getting the results they desire with polishing.  I often discover the problem comes down to trying to polish an entire car with two or three pads. This is especially true with black cars, where (with black colors) the flaws in your processes reveal themselves more.

Zack wrote a brilliant article addressing how many pads are needed.  It was merely my goal to provide a real-life example of what can contribute to you having a better experience with paint correction.

In short, budget for pads! I would always recommend, if you have a budget that can barely cover a high-end professional polisher, purchase an entry-level polisher with an abundance of the appropriate pads.  I guarantee you will have a better experience polishing cars if you take that approach.  With a pad cleaning brush, the minimum I have used for a two-stage job, were 3 for mild compounding and 2 for polishing (with less abraded paint coming off).  I recommend you have at least 4 of any kind of pad that will come into contact with abrasives and at least 5 of any kind of pad that will come into contact with a compound.  If you are thinking of getting even more, I encourage that as well.  I also recommend you purchase the appropriate pads for your polishers.  Most pads are designed to work well and last longer with specific kinds of polishers (i.e. – standard DA, Long Throw, Forced Rotation, Rotary).

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
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17 comments on Polishers and Pads – A Common Problem I See With New Detailers

  1. Bill says:

    Great article, I have a related question. How do you determine that a pad is beat and it’s time to get rid of it?


    • Rodney Tatum says:

      Bill that I am afraid to say I can’t give a concrete answer to that. First and foremost trust your gut. The major warning signs: foam tearing, warping, and or seperating from the velcro. If these things are happening I would strongly suggest tossing them. Aggressive pads will tend to wear out faster because of the heavy lifting that takes place with more heat/speed/time, more paint saturation, coarser abrasives, and friction from coarser pad structure.

  2. Matt says:

    Good article pad make a big difference you really can’t used to many pads. I find DA I need at least 4. On the rotary I fill a bucket of water to almost the top and use it as a pad washer dipping my wool or 3m pad in mixture of all degreaser and one really diluted and spin the pad dry a couple times. I tried it with the da pad but it wasn’t worth the effort

  3. Anthony says:

    Aren’t those holograms/buffer trails in the second picture? I got them on my black Hond and had a hard time getting them out.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      What you see is not holograms.
      I suspect what you see is the light flashed (rays) on the paint. You can see holograms from a rotary polisher for a variety of reasons and on rare occasions a forced rotation. I correct ed with the Duetto and at times with the Porter Cable.

      It can be a little difficult to describe but I think of an Aurora in the sky when I try to describe holograms.

      • Mike says:

        You really dont need the pad washer when u have compressed air. It’s really unnecessary. For 119 bucks buy a few more pads. Your car and customer will thank you.

  4. Ron Ayotte says:

    I clean my pads after each panel, using a pad brush, terry towelling and compressed air, especially when buffing single stage paints. I plan on investing in a pad washer in the future.

    Another note: carefully inspect your pads, even if they are brand new. I had some that I had ordered that had the backing delaminating from the pad right out of the packaging!

    • Mike says:

      You really dont need the pad washer when u have compressed air. It’s really unnecessary. For 119 bucks buy a few more pads. Your car and customer will thank you.

  5. Larry Bishop says:

    Great topic, Rodney. I agree, there are countless threads from new folks overweighting the polisher decision and not asking about pads. I remember my first DA purchase (classic griots 6″) and thought I was all set as I bought the starter kit w/ four pads, albeit all different. There is much to learn and prioritize the deeper you get into correction.

  6. Hugo says:

    I am going to use HD’s Speed 1 step polish on my vehicle. Since it’s a Corolla I’m assuming I’ll use maybe 5 pads. After I have achieved a great turn-around would it make sense to use Meguiar’s Ultimate Paste Wax?

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      I would not recommend Meguiar’s Ultimate Paste Wax over Speed. Two reasons: Ultimate Paste Wax is meant to cross link over paint, not a previously applied protectant. This is especially problematic with a hybrid synthetic montax wax base. Second reason I suspect the solvents would remove Speed. Essentially in terms of protection, it would be a waste of both products.

      I would highly reccomend topping HD Speed with HD Poxy. The products are designed to work together seamlessly. Poxy giving that boost to an AIO making the protection more durable.

  7. Mateus Campos says:

    Great article.
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  8. Jim OBrien says:

    Your articles are great and I have learned a lot from them. Thank you for doing them. I have a request. I admit I’m new to this so I’m wondering if you would write an article about the different styles of pad surfaces such as what are the pros and cons of a flat foam pad, a hexagon design, an egg crate? Thank you again!

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