Updated at: 16-08-2022 - By: Lucas

Although the terms “rubbing compound” and “polishing compound” are frequently used interchangeably, they refer to two distinct but related products. The paint and appearance of your vehicle can be permanently damaged if you use rubbing compound in an inappropriate manner.

The degree of abrasion that rubbing and polishing compounds produce is the key distinction between the two. Wax, in contrast to abrasive chemicals, adds material to the surface it is applied on.

The rubbing compound is used to remove scratches, while the polishing compound is used to bring out the gloss. This answer, on the other hand, is ambiguous and serves no practical use to me.

When it comes to scratch removal, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, so I’ll explain why and when you should use a specific compound. Make sure you’ve got the necessary tools and at least one test run on something less valuable than your car before you start polishing paint.

Understanding Car Paint

Rubbing Compound

You could believe that a single coat of paint on a piece of metal is all that it is, but this is far from the truth. The raw metal is first coated with a primer, which helps the base coat adhere to the metal better. Without a primer, the paint will sag, damp down, and seem unevenly distributed over the surface.

A base coat of paint is sprayed on top of the prepped surface. The color of your car is determined by the top coat, which is almost often metallic, but some companies still provide matte colors.

Protective Clear Coat is the final and most crucial layer. To guard against UV fading and scratching, it’s the thickest coat available. Corrosion will occur if a scratch is deep enough to penetrate the primer and must be repaired as soon as possible.

It’s technically not a paint coat, but electrolyte baths are used to coat the car’s body pieces in a chemical process. While it greatly enhances corrosion resistance, current nickel plating is not as durable as it once was.

How To Determine The Depth Of Scratches By Eye

Scratches on your car are most likely the catalyst for your search for a rubbing or polishing substance. A parking lot accident can leave significant scratches, but so can exposure to grit, sand, and insects in the air over time, resulting in tiny abrasions.

The whiter a scratch is, the more damage it has sustained in the outset. When a cut is deep enough, the primer layer, which is normally grey or white, is exposed, causing the scratch to seem white due to the reflection of sunlight.

Using a fingernail, measure the depth of the hole you just made. Scratches that make a clicking noise when you bite into them indicate that they have penetrated deeply. It’s easier to get your fingernail through a minor scratch because it doesn’t have as much resistance.

Measuring Scratch Depth With A Coat Thickness Gauge

Rubbing Compound-2

Gauging damage by sight is a bad approach because it’s easy to make a mistake and ruin the clear coat. Use a coat thickness gauge to get an accurate reading of the depth.

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Compared to other coat gauges on the market, this is one of the cheapest that works well, with semi-professional ones costing upwards of $500, and true professional gauges costing more than $1000. As long as you know the extent of the damage and the compound to apply, it’s fine.

How To Use The Coat Thickness Gauge

Calibrate the device and wash the vehicle.. To determine the original depth of the paint, take measurements of the coat thickness at various locations where the finish appears flawless and average the results. Continue on the interior of B column, between the driver’s and rear passenger’s door, the same procedure you used for the A-pillar

To save money, producers just apply a little amount of clear coating to places that aren’t exposed to direct sunlight in order to keep production costs down. The thickness of the clear coat can be estimated by subtracting the column coat depth from the outer panel coat depth.

The Significance Of Clear Coat

Because it shields the paint underneath from abrasion and the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, the clear coat is critical to the appearance of your car’s paint job. The thickness of the coat will be reduced by polishing, rubbing, or sanding, but this is the only way to remove the scratches.

However, removing too much of the coat can have the opposite effect. A coat thickness gauge comes in handy for determining how much of the clear coat has been removed from scratched areas once you’ve established the clear coat’s base thickness.

Scratches that have taken more than half of the clear coat should be avoided by DIYers. A clear coat on a bigger area is successfully removed by polishing it out, which exposes it to UV radiation.

For the same reasons as above, I don’t recommend attempting to repair more major scratches. With their years of experience, the professionals know just how much force, time, and compound are required to remove a scratch completely.

Finally, we can get down to the nuts and bolts of what each component does and when it’s most effective. Use the previous sections as a reference if you haven’t already in order to gain a better understanding of what happens when you use compound solutions on paint.

Polish Compound

A small bit of clear coat is removed with a polishing compound in order to bring out the gleam and restore the color of the car. In terms of major scratches, it’s not the best tool for the job. But for little blemishes, it works well. The polishing chemical is simply known as polish in the detailing industry.

The Polish Compound’s advantages

  • Brings out the color of the vehicle.
  • Removes minor scratches.
  • Leaves the clear coat mostly intact.

The Polish Compound’s drawbacks.

  • Isn’t suitable for removing imperfections.

Rubbing Compound

Rubbing Compound-3

Rubbing compound, also known as simply compound, can be compared to a liquid sandpaper of finer grain. In order to remove deeper scratches, it has abrasive properties that remove more clear coat. It’s important to know that polishing is required after using the compound, or else the paint will remain hazy.

Using a Rubbing Compound Has Many Advantages

  • Eliminates scratches.
  • Don’t remove too much of the clear coat.

The Rubbing Compound’s drawbacks

  • Generates heats. 
  • Requires a follow-up with a polish.


Because it is the most successful method of eliminating damage and restoring the vehicle’s original appearance, wetsand is the third option I’ve opted to include. A compound and a final polish are often used to complete the process. In order to avoid lasting damage, you must be careful when wetsanding, as it removes a lot of the clear finish.

Wetsanding’s Pros and Cons

  • Leads to showroom-quality paint restoration.
  • Removes all imperfections and hides deeper scratches.
  • Doesn’t generate heat. 

Wetsanding’s Negative Effects

  • Removes the largest amount of clear coat out of all methods.
  • Requires a follow-up with compound and a polish.

How To Determine Which Method To Use

The degree of wear and the desired effect must be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to polish, compound, or wetsand a given surface.

In terms of appearance, wet sanding followed by compound and polish is the best option. While wetsanding isn’t necessary for all paint, it will certainly lessen the discomfort. Because there won’t be enough clear coat remaining, wetsanding will be impossible in the long run.

In actuality, wetsanding is no more abrasive than compound sanding, which is what most people believe. While wetsanding removes more clear coat, it does not generate heat that could harm the paint…. If you’re going to use a lot of rubbing compound, you may want to start with wetsand and only use the compound to remove the haze off the surface.

The least abrasive of the three procedures, polish, is the safest. The annoying scratches may not be buffed out, but even a decade-old paint job will benefit from it.

How To Apply Polish, Compound & Wetsand

In spite of the fact that most of the steps are nearly identical, the tiny adjustments in how you apply compound or wetsand can make a difference. In this section, we’ll go through the tools you’ll need and the approaches you can use to achieve the greatest outcomes. Each technique requires a neat and cool exterior as a pre-requisite.

How To Use Polish Compound

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A Step-by-Step Approach

  • Apply a generous amount of polish on the pad and spread it around.
  • Once the pad has soaked in most of it, spread a few extra drops on it.
  • Set the polisher speed to the lowest or second-lowest setting.
  • Work the area of 1 sqft for roughly 15 to 30 seconds, passing over the same spots multiple times.
  • Finish the job by thoroughly cleaning the area with a microfiber cloth.

How To Use Rubbing Compound

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Easy To Follow Directions

  • Microfiber pad will absorb a lot of the rubbing compound, so apply a lot and spread it.
  • Add extra drops on top, and set the speed to the second-lowest setting.
  • Work the area of 1 sqft for up to 30 seconds, spreading the compound evenly.
  • Wipe the area with a microfiber cloth.
  • Complete all of the steps explained in the polishing section. 

How To Use Wetsand

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An Explanation of Each Step

  • Attach the 1000 grit pad and set the polisher speed setting between 1 and 3.
  • Spray the area you’re polishing with cold water, and use the paper for 15 – 30 seconds.
  • Wipe the area and spray it with water again.
  • Use a 2000 grit pad and repeat the polishing process.
  • Repeat the process with the 3000 grit pad. 
  • Thoroughly clean the area, then follow the steps from the rubbing compound section.
  • Finish off with the steps from the polishing section. 


Is rubbing compound more abrasive than polishing compound?

Rubbing compound, on the other hand, is more abrasive and removes a thicker layer of coating than other methods. Consider it more of a sanding solution than a polishing one.

Is rubbing compound bad for car paint?

Rubbing compound is terrible for automotive paint because it removes a small quantity of it during the application process. However, if you want to repair scratches without having to repaint the entire body panel, you’ll need to do this.

Can you buff with a rubbing compound?

There is no way to polish the paint to a shiny finish with rubbing compound since it is too harsh. You’ll always need to use a polishing chemical to do it.

Do I need compound or polish?

Unless you have a lot of serious scratches, a simple polish is all you need to restore the original look. Scratches and damage, on the other hand, necessitate the use of both a compound and a polish.


For best results, use rubbing compound followed by polishing. Rubbishing compound is more abrasive and better at removing scratches. Polishing the car, on the other hand, will suffice if all you want to do is restore the paint’s original color. If you’ve never tried wetsanding before, you may be surprised to learn that it’s not as difficult as it appears.