Applying compound, polish, or wax to a car’s paint is a tricky stage because it demands great care. Not only do you have to make sure you apply an even coating, but you also have to use the correct application buffing pad for the job.
That is why we have put together this guide on polishing pads, also called buffing pads. We explain the different types of polishing pads, the materials used, and which ones are best for applying certain products. Our recommendations are for dual action polishers or for hand application.
Different materials used for polishing pads
You will come across foam, wool, and microfibre buffing pads. Within each material, there different types that each have a certain aggressiveness to them, depending on whether they are for use with an abrasive compound, polish, or used as a finishing pad.
Foam pads are our material of choice for casual users. It is by far the most commonly used material for polishing pads and comes in a large array of types, depending on their task. They can’t match microfibre for performance or wool for abrasiveness, but overall, they are easier to work with than either of them.
Microfibre pads are the most recent development of the three. Most of us can testify to the effectiveness of microfibre for a range of uses and it is an equally effective material here too. There is a big range available, from cutting to finishing. The biggest issue with microfibre pads is the heat buildup. They generate more friction than foam or wool and it means they can’t be worked as long. But they also work faster. As such, they are very good for people who know what they’re doing.
Wool pads have been around for the longest. Because the fine wool fibres are themselves abrasive, they are excellent for use in the cutting stage with a medium or heavy cutting compound. Thus, great for paintwork with severe scratches. However, the natural trade-off is that they aren’t good for finishing. For casual DIYers we tend to suggest sticking to either foam or microfibre pads. The abrasiveness can land beginners in trouble.
Types of polishing pads
Manufactures tend to expand the subcategories even further, but polishing pads are used for the following three stages:
Cutting and compounding pads are for the most aggressive and for use with abrasive cutting compound in the first stages of dealing with scratch removal on paintwork. Here are the best of these:
Meguiar's DFC6 Foam Cutting Disc
Measuring six-inches, a buffing pad for dealing with light swirls and scratches. Machine washable.
Lake Country CCSYE5 Heavy Cutting Pad
A heavy 5.5-inch cutting pad for more severe scratches. Partially closed-cell (CCS) foam allows for less polish absorption into the pad, making the product last longer, and creates less heat.
Polishing pads are less aggressive than compounding pads and are meant for use with mildly abrasive polish.
Chemical Guys Hex Logic White Light/Medium Polishing Pad
This 6.5-inch pad is for medium to light polishing. Restores gloss after cutting away scratches and swirls. Hex pattern gives even spread and allows airflow to prevent overheating.
Meguiar's DFP5 Foam Polishing Disc
Sized at five-inches. For light polishing to give a high gloss. Machine washable.
The softest pads of the lot. Meant for use with sealants and waxes in applying the protective coating. For most DIYers, a polishing pad and a finishing pad is what you will need, since most of us don’t use cutting compound.
Lake Country CCSGRE5 Polishing/Finishing Pad
This can be used for polish or wax. Uses CCS foam.
Griot's Garage 10525 Red Foam Waxing Pads
Set of two 5.5-inch pads. For use with waxes and sealants. Its open-cell foam increases durability but uses more wax. Machine washable.
Meguiar's DMF5 Microfibre Finishing Disc
A two pack of five-inch pads. An efficient finishing pad thanks to the microfibre material. Machine washable.
Notes on polishing pads
There are a couple of important things to remember when buying polishing pads, in addition to getting the right ones for the job:
Makes sure you get the correct size to fit your dual action polisher. Dual-action polishers vary in size and so too do the pads.
Use different speed settings on the polisher depending on whether you are applying compound, polish, or wax. Compound should use a faster speed, polish medium speed, and wax a slower speed.
Hand applicator pads
Not all polishing pads have to be used with a machine. Some can be used by hand and are great for casual users or beginners. It takes any stress away from using a polishing machine. These are our picks of polish hand applicators:
Meguiar's X3070 Foam And Microfibre Applicator Pad Set
This set includes two sets of two. One set are soft foam pads (four-inch) for polish or wax, the other are microfibre pads (five-inch) for applying polish or compound.
Glart 46PP Microfibre Hand Polishing Sponge Set
A six-pack of 135mm (5.3-inch) microfibre pads for use with any polish, wax, or sealant. They feature a simple hand strap for easy use. Separate the colours for different uses. They are machine washable too.
Some of the pads above are machine washable, but some of the foam pads are not. To clean these, you can use a foam pad cleaning brush. Hold it against the foam pad while the polisher is on. This will remove polish residue.