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, and, of course, your budget.

This blog will take you through the realm of buffing pads and compounds and by the end, you will know exactly what microfiber pad and ultimate compound to buy for your car.

What are Compounds?

Compounds are specialized products designed to address imperfections and restore the appearance of a car’s paintwork. These compounds are made of abrasive particles suspended in a paste or liquid form. They play a crucial role in the process of paint correction by removing scratches, swirl marks, oxidation, and other blemishes from the car’s surface.

Compounds are available in various abrasiveness levels, allowing users to choose the right one for the specific type and severity of imperfections they wish to address. When used correctly, compounds can help rejuvenate the paint, enhance its shine, and prepare it for subsequent steps in the detailing process, such as polishing and waxing, ultimately contributing to a smoother, more lustrous, and visually appealing finish.

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.

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. This is perfect for removing swirl marks or microscopic scratches. These can easily be corrected with buffing and polishing. However, if the scratches are too deep, a simple buff and polish may not be enough to fix them.

What is a Buffing Pad?

Buffing pads are flat, circular pads made of different materials, mainly foam or microfiber. They are used for buffing, waxing, and polishing on a car’s surface. Some buffing pads 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.

The selection of the appropriate buffing pad, along with the choice of the right compound, is critical for achieving professional results in car paint correction and surface enhancement. Whether you are removing swirl marks or aiming for a lustrous finish, the right buffing pad is necessary.

black and white buffing pads

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. Different compounds work best for different types and colors of paint, different types of car surfaces, and coatings, etc.

Here are four steps that you can take to identify the best compound for your car.

Step 1 – Consider the abrasiveness

Choose the compound product according to the level of your desired abrasiveness. Consider the need you want to address, such as swirl marks, scratches, oxidation, or water spots. The deeper the issue within the surface, the more abrasiveness you will need. There are different compounds based on 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, which can remove multiple layers of the paint. Car polish 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 small test

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.

Apply the specified amount of the compound on the small, inconspicuous area and rub it thoroughly with a microfiber cloth to see the results.

Step 3 – Start with the least aggressive method

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– Assess the results

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.

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, or start a detailing business, you’ll need to invest in a few types of buffing pads.

Here are some 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

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.

Let’s go through some materials and their pros and cons.

Foam Pads

They 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

They 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 

They 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

2. Flexibility of the buffing pad

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. Gauge the flexibility of a buffing pad by lightly twisting it with your hands.

3. The cut of the buffing pad

The cut 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.

Buffing pads are usually categorized into cutting pads, polishing pads, and finishing pads. It’s important to note that buffing pads can vary in their level of cut depending on the manufacturer and product line. Always check the product specifications and guidelines provided by the pad manufacturer to ensure you’re using the appropriate pad for your specific detailing task.

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. The different types of paints, such as clear coats, dark paint, etc. require a specific type of buffing pad to achieve the best results.

For beginners, it is enough to identify if your car has a clear coat paint, or a single stage paint (non clear coat). For clear coat paints you will generally need less abrasive buffing pads.

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

a buffing machine with a wooden handle

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.


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, there are certain factors that you need to consider before choosing the buffing pads and compounds for your car. Choosing the improper buffing pad and compounds can lead to damage on your car’s surface. 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.

If you need professional mobile car detailers to buff and polish your car for you, 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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