Car Polish Will Not Ruin Your Paint – Improper Use Will

When your car’s paint loses its shine or starts to sport blemishes or scratches, your first thought is probably to polish it. While it’s widely believed that car polish will ruin the paint on your vehicle, it’s not entirely true. 

Car polish will not ruin your paint, but improperly applying it will. Your car has a thick layer of clear coat that protects the paint from the sun and other elements. Polishing aggressively or frequently removes most of this clear coat. The loss of this clear coat can cause the paint to fade. 

Think of car polish as sandpaper. So when you use the wrong grit or rub too deep, it will cause significant damage. This article will discuss car polishing in detail, how to do it right, and how best to improve your car’s appearance without compromising the integrity of the clear coat. 

Can Polish Ruin Your Car?

Polishing can help refine your car’s coat and remove scratches, blemishes, and contaminants that may have caused it to lose its shine. However, if you don’t take precautions, car polish can also cause a lot of harm.

Car polish can ruin your car’s coat as it contains certain abrasives. If you use the polisher at a high rpm, employ certain compounds and polish too harshly, you’ll be left with burned paint, cloudy paint, or holographics. When done infrequently, gently, and with the right cutting pads, car polish will not ruin your car.  

Before polishing your car, get a professional to test how much clear coat you have on. This is especially crucial if you’ve polished your car in the past, as you need to know how much you have left. If you have never polished your car you probably have a generous coating to work with, but you should still be careful in case of deep scratches in the future.

Here’s a YouTube video on how to use polishers to avoid ruining your paint:

Potential Problems When Polishing a Car

You have probably seen cars covered in swirls, scratches, holographics, or paint burns. Some damage is due to neglect and exposure to elements like the sun and rain. However, some of these issues are a result of car polish.

Here are three common potential problems you may encounter when polishing a car:

  • Burned Paint
  • Holographics
  • Oxidation

Burned Paint

Polishing your car often or too aggressively can leave you with a very thin layer of clear coat. When you apply excess pressure while using machines, the heat generated will burn car paint.

Most detailers love aggressive cutting pads because they work deep into the scratches and swirls, leaving an appealing finish. Unfortunately, these pads can also leave the paint vulnerable to burn marks.

Car paint can also burn when overexposed to the sun’s UV rays; cracks or peeling paint are usually signs of UV-ray damage. The paint was most likely affected due to a lack of clear coat protecting it. Besides getting burned, paint subjected to UV rays begins to fade and peel,

exposing the car to further corrosion. 

How To Fix It

  • Use 150-200 grit sandpaper and a buffer along the edge of the burned paint and work the buffer until the edges become smooth. This step is crucial to remove the rough paint edges.
  • Apply your car’s paint color over the sanded area. Ensure you apply the paint evenly so the damaged area is properly concealed.  
  • When the paint dries, lightly sand the area with fine-grit until it becomes smooth. 
  • Use microfiber to remove any debris before applying a clear coat. 

This video illustrates how paint burns occur and how to avoid them:


Holographics, also known as buffer swirls or buffer trails, form when the wrong high-speed rotary buffers are used. The micro-scratches caused by the circular movement of the rotary polisher can be avoided when the detailer follows the steps to remove blemishes slowly. 

Holographics are usually a sign that you:

  • Polished the car too quickly. 
  • Skipped the refining steps.
  • Handled the polishing tools poorly.

Holographics don’t always appear immediately after polishing. However, after washing your car a few times, the swirls hidden by heavy fillers will become more visible. 

How To Fix It

  • Wash your car with a microfiber cloth to avoid adding more scratches to the surface.
  • Although the car is clean, some detailers prefer cleaning further with a clay bar. The bar will remove contaminants embedded in the surface. So run your hands over the paint, and if there’s a rough texture use a clay bar to remove the extra contaminants. 
  • Apply polish with a pad to remove a thin layer of the clear coat where the holographics are embedded. Holographics are thin scratches, so you won’t need to polish too deep. If there are deep scratches you need a harsher pad, but be careful not to burn the paint. 
  • Apply wax to protect the paint and fill any fine scratches that may have remained. 


When you see a chalky residue or faded paint, especially on the hood, roof, or trunk of your car, it’s most likely due to oxidation. When the clear coat is sanded off during the polishing process, the paint is exposed to the elements, which include UV rays, water, and oxygen. 

Older vehicles tend to experience this issue more often as the newer models have coats more resistant to oxidation. Sometimes oxidation damage may appear on the entire car or in patches. For example, a red car may turn pink or have patches of pink, while a black car may turn a dull gray.

Although similar effects may be due to exposure to UV rays, oxidation is often the culprit. 

If your car is showing signs of oxidation, you need to work on it immediately as leaving it exposed could make things worse. 

How To Fix It

  • Clean the affected area. Before fixing the problem, the detailer will need to know the extent of damage, for which a cleanup is necessary. Cleaning also removes contaminants hidden under the chrome, like road salt, which will continue damaging the paint if you don’t remove it before fixing the problem. 
  • Hand buffing. If the affected area is small, hand buffing should do the trick. Use polish compound, which is a liquid abrasive, to remove lingering contaminants and smoothen the surface. This compound works like sandpaper, but is finer and less aggressive, helping to bring the shine back to faded spots.
  • Machine polishing for large areas. If your entire car is affected by oxidation, machine polishing may be ideal, especially if you don’t have the time or energy for hand buffing. Depending on your car, a foam pad (less aggressive) or wool pad (more aggressive) will help remove the signs of oxidation.
  • Sanding with 1000-3000 grit sandpaper is sometimes necessary if the compound polish is not abrasive enough. This will help rid the car of contaminants that are hard to remove. After sanding, apply compound polish by machine to remove any scratches left behind during the sanding process. 
  • Glazing, also known as swirl removing, will diminish swirls left behind after rubbing polish compound. A gentle foam pad and a swirl remover (non-abrasive glaze) will leave a clear, glossy surface. 
  • Waxing is the final and critical stage. Wax is waterproof and airtight, so the paint is protected from elements that cause oxidation. 

Unfortunately, most auto manufacturers guard clear coat formulas, so they are not readily available. They still use wax though, as it effectively protects the paint from external damage. 

To prevent paint oxidation, you should:

  • Wax the car once every month or two.
  • Protect your car from the sun and other elements. 
  • Park your car in the garage or cover it with a car cover as much as possible.  

Is Car Polishing Bad for Your Car?

Scratches and other blemishes will appear on your car over time irrespective of what you do. Elements like the sun, rain, and even stones on the road will affect your car’s appearance over time. At some point, you will need to polish your car to restore its aesthetic appeal.

Car polishing is not bad for your car when done properly and with significant time gaps in between. If your car’s paint is old or too exposed, the effect of the polish will be greatly diminished. Additionally, if the paint is not prepared or the polish is done aggressively, your car’s coat will be adversely affected. 

When polishing your car, you need to get someone with the right skills and knowledge on car polishing. The methods and tools used are crucial, and without the right preparation, polishing can ruin your car.

Tips for Properly Polishing a Car

When done properly, polishing can make any car look significantly better in terms of aesthetic appeal. However, the polishing needs to be carried out effectively or you can end up with a poor finish that can be more expensive to reverse. 

Here are some tips on how to properly polish a car:

  • Wash your car thoroughly to remove old wax, grease, and any contaminants that will negatively impact the outcome. Polishing a dirty car may cause more scratches or swirls of oil.
  • Use a soft cloth or a microfiber towel to avoid causing more scratches. Rough material can inadvertently do more harm than good. 
  • Rinse the car with alcohol to remove excess oil. Sometimes, extra oil stays on the surface of the car and accumulates more dirt over time.
  • Avoid using a shampoo containing wax or any gloss-enhancing agents. The chemicals in these liquids can harm the coat. 
  • Confirm that the sealant or wax is completely washed off. Any polish left on the car will complicate the polishing process by clogging the new polishing pad.  
  • Touch your car to check the texture once the car is dry. Cars are always exposed to contaminants like tree sap, paint over-spray, tar, or water spots that leave blemishes on the surface. While some of these spots may be visible, invisible contaminants are of greater concern. A clay bar will help get rid of hidden contaminants.
  • Check the polishing pads you will use. Ensure they are clean and free of particles that will scratch the car. 
  • Apply a strong all-purpose cleaner on sealants that are hard to remove. Leave it to penetrate the sealant for a few minutes before cleaning the car as you normally would. 
  • Use a car dryer or leaf blower to get rid of water hidden in panel gaps, crevices, and sealed spaces. You need to make sure the entire car is dry otherwise water will drip on your car as you polish, complicating the process and compromising the finish. 
  • Keep checking the state of the polishing pads while polishing. If you find that residues start to cling to the pad, clean this up before you continue polishing. 
  • Tape any plastic or rubber parts, such as the trim. When using a rotary or dual action polishing machine, there’s a high risk of the pad damaging the trim or other rubber bits. If you aren’t careful, the plastic pieces will stick on the pad and scratch your car. You should also shield the headlights in the same way. 
  • Inspect the paint before polishing. Use a paint thickness gauge to check how deep you can polish. If you have a very thin layer of clear coating, you may need to reconsider polishing. If you have no choice, apply a thin layer of polish to avoid paint burns. 
  • Assess the severity of the swirls or scratches. Use your thumb to test the scratch lightly. If it’s a deep scratch you should be able to hear a sound when moving your thumb across it. If you can’t hear anything, you are dealing with light scratches and can polish a bit less than usual. You can also use a bright torch in your garage as the damage is more evident when viewed through a concentrated light in the dark. 
  • Start with the least aggressive pad and polishing compound. Only move to more aggressive pads and polishing compounds if the damage is deep and requires more polishing. When polishing, you should aim to remove only the affected coat’s layer and preserve as much clear coating as possible for future polishing. 
  • Evenly coat the pad with the polish or compound to control its impact. Start by applying a moderate amount of polish and work your way towards adding more after studying its effects on your car.

When polishing your car it’s crucial to level the clear coat first, just like sandpapering wood. You should only remove as much of the coating as necessary to eliminate swirls or scratches. 

If you go too deep you won’t have enough clear coat left to polish your car sometime in the future. If you’re planning to resell your car, the reduced clear coat can significantly affect its price, so you need to be extra careful. 

Here is a great guide on car polish, including tips on how to get it right:

Mistakes To Avoid When Polishing the Car

Considering how sensitive your car coating is to polish, you should be aware of the dos and don’ts involved. 

There are some common car polish mistakes people often make that affects the quality of the finish. If you can avoid them, your car will look great after a polish, and you will have enough clear coat left to protect the paint. 

  • Avoid putting too much polish on the pad because you will have more cleaning to do when you’ve finished polishing. 
  • Don’t work a large area at once because you might miss some spots.
  • Don’t polish over wax or sealant because the polish will not penetrate the hydrophobic surface. 

How Often Should You Polish Your Car?

As mentioned earlier, car polish isn’t bad for your car when applied in moderation and with the right technique.

Most experts recommend polishing a car once or twice a year. It is important to note that the exact frequency depends on lots of different factors like the conditions of the car’s paint, the level of paint preparation, if the car is parked outside or in a garage, how often the car is driven, and the experience of the person polishing.

You may take your car to the workshop more often if you find it covered in scratches regularly. However, keep in mind that the paint coating will be adversely affected if your car is polished too often.  

Key Takeaways

Now that you know when to polish a car and when to avoid doing so, let’s go over a few key points to keep in mind when polishing your car.

  • Car polish won’t ruin your car if the polish is applied gently and infrequently.
  • Using a polisher at a high RPM can potentially damage the clear coat of your car.
  • It’s imperative to check your car for contaminants before polishing.
  • Ensure your car is completely dry before polishing as water can ruin the polishing finish.
  • Don’t use too much polish in one go and focus on small areas first. 


Formula Auto Care: What Are Car Holograms And How To Get Rid Of Them? 

JD Power: How to Remove Oxidation From Car Paint 

Fast Car Help: Paint Holograms and How to Fix Them 

Motor Biscuits: You’re Going to Want to Avoid Making These Car Polish Mistakes  

International Journal On Advanced Science Engineering Information Technology: Detection of Scratches on Cars by Means of CNN and R-CNN

Youtube: How To Burn Paint and How To Make Sure You Don’t Burn Paint

The Drive: Here’s How To Polish a Car Like a Pro 

Cherish Your Car: How To Fix Burnt Paint On Car? (Explained)

Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge