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In the buff...

October 11, 2010
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Do you buff? This is one of the most common questions customers will ask when they call to get their vehicles washed and detailed. Whenever I’m confronted with that question, I always give a generic, “Yes.” That’s not always the right answer because you do not need to buff every time you detail a vehicle.

Types of buffing
So, what is the definition of buffing? The basic meaning of buffing is the removal of surface defects like scratches, fallout, overspray, oxidation marks, swirl marks, etc. from the vehicles finish to restore the luster of the paint. The final product is the restored bright, smooth mirror-like finish.

Buffing can be completed either by a high-speed rotary buffer or by hand. Both ways have pros and cons. I never let inexperienced technicians use a machine buffer because of the risk involved in damaging the vehicle body.

Hand buffing is slow, but if you can avoid damage to the vehicle, it’s well worth it. The high-speed of the buffing machine saves time, but chances of damaging the body is high. However, machine buffing produces the best results. Whichever method you decide to use to buff, the end result will depend on how you go about doing it.

To buff or not to buff?
Always make a visual check of the body paint to look for any visible defects. It’s very useful to visually check the paint using both sunshine and a different wavelength light, i.e. fluorescent. UV light will show defects in paint that might not be very apparent in normal light. Feel the paint with your fingertips to check for defects or surface contaminants. If you feel roughness on the paint, you can prepare to buff the vehicle.

Getting started
The most important step in cleaning is preparation. The body paint must be cleaned and pre-treated to remove any defects. The most common defects are tar, bugs, grease, overspray, fallout, and tree sap, etc.

Ensure that the defects are removed and the paint surface is clean. I recommend using clay, as it removes most contaminants. If there are defects all over the body, you can buff the whole vehicle one specific area at a time.

As a rule of thumb, use the least abrasive polish first. Before buffing, remember safety precautions: wear goggles or glasses and remove any hand or wrist jewelry.

Get ready, get set, buff!
Buff one section at a time either by hand or using the buffer machine. Check the results. If the less abrasive polish wasn’t effective, upgrade to a more abrasive polish. It’s easy to tell where you will need a more abrasive polish as the front and top of the vehicle gets more damage.

On the section to be buffed, use a polish pad to evenly apply a small amount of polish. Do not let the polish dry. If you’re using a buffing machine, keep the buffer moving and work the polish in.

If the shine comes out then you have buffed successfully. If there is no shine, apply more polish and continue to buff. You can use a microfiber cloth to hand buff after applying the polish. I prefer to buff by hand because I have more control of the process however, a machine buffer produces better results.

Optimize your results
In summary, the methodology you decide to use when buffing will only bring the desired result if you have a system in place at your shop that is followed religiously.

I follow the preferred steps to get optimum results when buffing:

  1. Clean the car thoroughly to remove all surface contaminants. Sufficient light is critical;
  2. Read the instructions on the car polish carefully;
  3. Buff one section at a time;
  4. Use minimum polish;
  5. Rub the polish on the car body evenly;
  6. Let the polish dry to haze;
  7. Use a microfiber cloth to buff the polish;
  8. Use the same method for all the sections of the car that need buffing; and
  9. Always work safely.


Bernie Waruru is the owner/operator of Exquisite Mobile Auto Detailing. You can reach Bernie at

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