How to Choose Buffing Pads and Compounds?

how to choose the best buffing pads and compounds car detailing

You can’t achieve that glorious shine and gloss you’ve always wanted for your car without the suitable buffing pads and compounds. When choosing these tools, you have to make sure they fit what you need at the moment. Microfiber pads are best for applying compound to your car’s paint.

What are Compounds?

Compounds are used to remove heavy scratching, oxidation, etching, micro scratching, and the like on a car’s paint.

Simply put, when used on a buffing pad and rubbed against the surface of a car, it removes microscopic layers of the paint to even out the surface. This results in the removal of any scratches or dullness.

Most car paints are made up of at least three layers: the base layer which is the primer, the mid layer which is the color coat, and the top layer which is the clear coat. When using the compound, only the extremely thin clear coat layer will be polished away.

This is perfect for removing swirl marks or microscopic scratches. These can easily be corrected with buffing and polishing. If the scratches are too deep, perhaps beyond the second and third layer, a simple buff and polish are not enough to fix them.

What is a Buffing Pad?

Buffing pads are flat, circular pads made of different materials that are used for buffing the paint on a car’s surface.

There are buffing pads that can be used by hand but most are meant to be attached to a buffing/polishing machine. 

These pads are used to apply liquid abrasive compounds to a car’s surface in order to achieve the ultimate shine you want. A buffing machine is always the most convenient and efficient way to accomplish that.

Once the car’s surface is clean and prepped for compounding, a buffing pad is ready to use. Ultimately, you need to wash your car first in order to get rid of any dirt, dust, and other contaminants on the surface before applying the compound to the paint.

How to Choose the Right Buffing Pads

There are a lot of buffing pads to choose from. If you’re planning to detail your car on your own, you’ll need to invest in a few types of buffing pads.

 There are different factors that you need to consider before purchasing the perfect buffing pads for your needs. Let’s go through them one by one:

1. The material and its quality.

how to choose buffing pads Step 1. The material and its quality.

Buffing pads are made from different materials. You need to know which one to use according to the level of scratches and defects you’re dealing with. The heavier the defects, the more abrasive the buffing pad you need.

✅ Foam pads can be used for compounding, polishing, or finishing alike. These are generally used for removing light scratches. If faced with heavy scratches, choose stiffer foam pads for better results.


  • Cuts paint more slowly which helps improve the gloss levels suitable for beginners to use
  • Easy to clean
  • Don’t clog up as quickly with paint residue and polishes
  • Can be used on all paint types


  • Takes longer to remove deeper defects

✅ Microfiber pads are generally more abrasive than foam pads. They’re usually used for cars with heavier defects in the paint. The paint is first compounded with a microfiber pad before being polished in order to enhance the gloss and remove the residual haze.


  • Can remove deeper defects efficiently
  • Suitable for two-stage machine buffing and polishing


  • Becomes clogged with residue and polishes so it needs to be cleaned frequently
  • Can produce more heat than foam pads
  • Not suitable for beginners

✅ Wool pads are a bit similar to foam pads. They can range from aggressive compounding wool pads to milder wool pads according to your needs. Just like microfiber pads, you’ll need to supplement a wool pad with a foam pad for the finishes.


  • Removes leftover waxes and grime better
  • More user-friendly
  • Cuts deeper scratches and swirl marks


  • Requires more product since wool pads are more absorbent
  • More difficult and time-consuming buffing
  • The buffing agent dries quicker on a wool pad and may leave swirls and defects
how to choose buffing pads Step 2. Flexibility of the buffing pad depending on the surface you'll use it on.

2. Flexibility of the buffing pad depending on the surface you'll use it on.

You will need a buffing pad that can adapt to the curves and edges of your car’s surface. This will help ensure that the compounding liquid is properly and evenly distributed on your car’s paint.

3. The cut of the buffing pad.

how to choose buffing pads step 3. The cut of the buffing pad.

This means its effectiveness in removing defects. Mild buffing pads can only remove light, surface-level scratches and swirl marks but will require more buffing time to achieve a smoother finish.

 Aggressive pads, on the other hand, can get rid of deep scratches and defects quickly.

how to choose right buffing pads step 4. The type of paint on the surface of your car.

4. The type of paint on the surface of your car.

Professional detailers and manufacturers often have different opinions and recommendations when it comes to the type of buffing pads to use on a specific car surface.

There are clear coats, dark paint, etc. that require a specific type of buffing pads to achieve the ultimate results.

5. The buffing machine that you're going to use.

how to choose buffing pads step 5. The buffing machine that you're going to use.

 It’s important to buy a buffing pad that’s compatible with your buffing machine. You might want to consider purchasing buffing pads with a backing pad to attach the pads to the polisher or sander easily.

How to Choose the Right Compounds

There are certain features that you need to consider before choosing the right compound or polish for your car.

There are some compounds that work best for black paint, red paint, hard paint, soft paint, commute cars, luxury cars, and such.

Step 1 – Choose the compound product according to the level of your car’s abrasiveness. There are different products based on these. There are products for light abrasiveness, medium abrasiveness, and high abrasiveness.

For minor paintwork issues like swirl marks and light scratches, car polish might do the job. Car polishing compound is less abrasive compared to cutting compound.

 It only removes the top layers of the protective coat on the car’s surface and build-up to restore its glossy and smooth finish.

Step 2 – Do a test spot on a small, inconspicuous area of your car. This will help determine whether or not the compound works best for removing scratches and restoring the glossy shine on your car’s paintwork.

Step 3 – Use the least aggressive method that gives you the best results. Starting off with an aggressive method may damage your paint and add more scratches to the surface.

Gently buffing your car gives room to add more pressure on the buffing machine if need be.

Step 4 – Check the results and assess their effectiveness in removing scratches. Shine a light on your car’s surface and look at all angles to see if the swirl marks and light scratches are removed.

If you are not satisfied with the result, you might want to try a more aggressive compound that can totally eliminate the scratches and swirls.

The first step toward learning how to buff and remove swirl marks on your own car is knowing how to choose the right buffing pads and compounds. Now that you know both, you can buff and polish your car’s paint like a pro.

Remember, if you don’t feel confident about using a buffer machine or doing it on your own, hire a professional mobile detailer to do the job for you.

There are certain factors that you need to consider before choosing the buffing pads and compounds for your car. You need to take into consideration the level of abrasiveness on your car’s surface so you know which compound to use.

If you need professional mobile car detailers to buff and polish your car for you, or perhaps deep clean interior services and headlight restoration services for your car, you can always rely on River Islands Car Salon to give you the best results. Contact us today to book an appointment!

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