How to Choose Buffing Pads and Compounds?

how to choose the best buffing pads and compounds car detailing

You can’t get that dazzling shine for your car without the right buffing pads and compounds. Picking these tools means finding what suits your needs and budget.

This blog will walk you through buffing pads and compounds so you’ll know exactly which microfiber pad and ultimate compound to grab for your ride.

What are Compounds?

Compounds are specialized products that fix paint imperfections and restore your car’s look. They consist of abrasive particles in a paste or liquid. These compounds help remove scratches, swirl marks, oxidization, and other blemishes from the car’s surface.

Compounds come in different abrasiveness levels, so you can pick the one that matches the severity of the imperfections. Used properly, they restore the paint, boost its shine, and prep it for polishing and waxing, resulting in a smoother, more appealing finish.

Car paint typically has three layers: primer (base layer), color coat (middle), and clear coat (top). When you use a compound, it only polishes away the thin clear coat layer.

In simple terms, when applied with a buffing pad and rubbed on the car’s surface, it removes microscopic layers of paint to smooth out the surface.

This gets rid of scratches and dullness, perfect for swirl marks or tiny scratches. However, deeper scratches might need more than just a buff and polish.

What is a Buffing Pad?

Buffing pads are flat, circular pads made from foam or microfiber. They’re used for buffing, waxing, and polishing a car’s surface. While some can be used by hand, most are designed to attach to a buffing machine.

These pads apply liquid abrasive compounds to your car’s surface to achieve that ultimate shine. Using a buffing machine is the most efficient way to do this.

Choosing the right buffing pad and compound is key to getting professional results in car paint correction. Whether you’re removing swirl marks or aiming for a glossy finish, the correct pad is essential.

black and white buffing pads

How to Choose the Right Compounds?

Before picking a compound or polish, consider a few key features. Different compounds work best for different paint types, colors, and surfaces.

Step 1 – Consider the Abrasiveness

Select a compound based on the level of abrasiveness you need. Think about what you’re addressing: swirl marks, scratches, oxidation, or water spots. Deeper issues require more abrasiveness. Compounds range from light to heavy abrasiveness.

For minor issues like swirl marks and light scratches, a car polish might suffice. Polishing compounds are less abrasive than cutting compounds, which remove more paint layers. 

Car polish only removes the top layers of the protective coat to restore gloss and smoothness.

Step 2 – Do a Small Test

Test a small, hidden area of your car. This helps determine if the compound effectively removes scratches and restores shine. Apply a small amount and rub it with a microfiber cloth to see the results.

Step 3 – Start with the Least Aggressive Method

Use the least aggressive method that delivers good results. Starting aggressively can damage your paint and add scratches. Begin gently, allowing room to increase pressure if needed.

Step 4 – Assess the Results

Check the results to see if the scratches are gone. Shine a light on your car’s surface and examine it from different angles. If you are not satisfied, try a more aggressive compound to eliminate scratches and swirls completely.

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:

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. 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.

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

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 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 to 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. 

Check out our services and service areas and contact us today to book an appointment!