The Ultimate Orbital Car Polisher Guide


In this article, you will learn:

  • The differences between an orbital polisher and a rotary polisher

  • The right type of orbital polisher for beginners

  • How to use an orbital polisher to remove oxidation, scratches and swirl marks

If you’re really into DIY auto detailing, no tool will come in handy more than a machine polisher. When combined with a polishing compound and cutting pads, these machines make short work of scratches, swirls, paint transfer and oxidation, leaving your car’s high gloss finish shiny and like-new with a fraction of the effort that it takes to do it by hand. And, once you’ve corrected the paint, you can use the polisher again to apply the wax, saving time and trouble again!

But, with so many choices available, you might wonder which machine polisher is right for you. Good thing for you we have you covered. Let’s dive in!

Rotary versus orbital

The topic of machine polishers can be a confusing one. Polisher manufacturers call their products a number of different things. Some call them buffers, buffing machines or car buffers. Others have invented new names that incorporate their branding. Muddying the waters even more, there was once a whole category of buffing machines called “orbitals,” and those weren’t even the same type of car care products as today’s orbital polishers.

For clarity, just remember there are two types of polishers to choose from. The action of a rotary polisher is very straightforward. You turn on the power, and it spins a cutting pad round and round in a circle at high speed. Orbital polishers, on the other hand, spin a cutting pad in the same fashion but also move the pad in an orbiting motion.

Rotary polishers focus intense abrasive action on one area of the paint, which makes them more effective at correcting scratches, swirls and oxidation in your car’s clear coat. But this repetitive motion also makes them less user-friendly for beginners. As the pad spins in a tight circle, it polishes the same spot rapidly, creating heat and friction. In the wrong hands, it could end up burning your clear coat.

Orbital polishers move polishing pads around a larger area. This spreads out the polishing intensity and reduces the risks of damaging your paint job. That’s why we recommend orbital polishers for beginning and intermediate detailers. And, because they combine convenience, simplicity and effectiveness, plenty of professionals use them as well.

hybrid solutions pro 1 & done

Choosing an orbital polisher

If you’re considering upgrading from good, old-fashioned elbow grease to an orbital polisher, we have great news for you. Many entry-level polishers are not only effective and affordable, but they’re even preferable for beginners who are learning to use a machine. With these polishers, if you accidentally push down too hard, the motor will stall a bit. This forgiving action doesn’t make them exactly foolproof, but having some margin for error is reassuring as you learn how to operate a machine and what types of pads and polishing compounds you need to get the job done right.

A pro-level, dual action polisher, on the other hand, is gear-driven and super-powerful, exactly what professional detailers prefer. But, in less experienced hands, this can create some issues with burning if the user applies too much pressure or leaves the polisher in the same spot for too long. If you’re a beginner, steer clear of these and go with a more affordable, user-friendly model.

orbital polisher

The right pads and polishes for the job

As you correct the paint on your car, try to pay attention and learn from each detailing experience. Different automakers use different kinds of clear coat, so you’ll get the best results once you learn whether your clear coat is soft, medium or hard. This, along with the amount of damage you’re working to correct, will help you determine how aggressive your cutting pads and polishing or rubbing compound need to be. As you learn, always err on the side of caution. Start with less aggressive, finishing pads and a polishing compound and check your work. If you need either a more aggressive pad or compound, go ahead and make that adjustment. The point is it’s always better to start too gentle than too aggressive.

orbital polisher and pads

How to correct your paint with an orbital polisher

Before polishing or waxing your car, you should always prep the surface first. Wash and dry the exterior and use a clay bar to remove any bonded contaminants from the clear coat.

Examine the finish all over your car. Pay close attention to the areas that take the most abuse from the sun and daily wear and tear that causes scratches. If the finish looks dull, scratched or swirled, it’s time to correct the paint.

Grab your orbital polisher, a medium-grade cutting pad and a polishing compound. If you’re still learning the ropes, we recommend Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Polish & Wax for paint correction. It’s a very user-friendly polish for beginners, and it has a built-in wax to combine two steps into one. Apply 4 dime-sized drops of compound to the pad of choice.

In time, you’ll develop your own technique for paint correction, but here’s a good process to start with:

Start by testing your cutting pad’s effectiveness on one small area of the car. Tap the area with the polishing pad to transfer some compound onto the car. Using the lowest setting, quickly spread the compound across a 12” x 12” area. Then, turn up your polisher to medium and slowly go over the area again. Apply only gentle pressure. The weight of the polisher itself may be enough to do the job. Finally, with the lightest pressure, make a third, fast pass perpendicular to your previous pass.

Wipe away the excess compound and check your work. If it could use more paint correction, switch to a more aggressive pad and follow the steps above again. If you’ve removed all the damage in the area, continue polishing, working in 2’ x 2’ sections, until you complete the entire car.

If you used an all-in-one polish and wax, your detailing job is done. If you used a single-action polishing or rubbing compound, follow it up with a sealant or a layer of wax to protect your beautifully, shiny finish. Our Hybrid Solutions Pro Flex Wax or Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Spray Coating will do the trick nicely.

polishing car


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