The difference between an all-in-one polish vs a one step correction can be a bit confusing. These two terms often get mixed up by enthusiasts and even professional detailers. Whether you’re planning to work on your car yourself or hiring a detailer to do it for you, you need to make sure you get these two straight.
An All-in-one polish (AIO) and a one step paint correction might sound like the same thing, but they’re not. Both involve machine polishing your paint. The products used, technique applied and time spent are very different though. An AIO polish is exactly what it sounds like – it includes both correction and protection in one single product. A one step paint correction actually requires two steps: A single polishing step followed by adding protection. This is what causes the confusion.
A bit about paint correction in general:
I’ll be getting more in-depth into the topic of paint correction in other posts, so I’ll just touch on this briefly. Paint correction is the process of buffing your paint with a machine to remove scratches and oxidation as well as providing gloss. In most cases, the goal is to reset the paint to “zero” – a time before it had any scratches.
For the most part, a proper paint correction is done in 2 steps: Compounding and polishing. The third step (protection) is usually left out of the count because it’s always assumed. No one would go to the trouble to improve their paint job without protecting it afterward.
This is the step that does most of the heavy lifting so to speak. Compounding is what removes most of the scratches and swirl marks. It will typically leave behind a slightly hazy or cloudy finish because of how aggressive the cut is. This won’t be as noticeable on light colors or metallic paints, but it’s there.
Polishing is NOT waxing. For some reason, this old-school terminology still haunts us to this day and adds to the confusion. This is the second step of a paint correction also known as the refinement stage. All you’re doing here is finely polishing out the remaining haze left from the previous compounding step. This is what adds the crazy gloss and crystal clear reflections to your paint.
This is commonly referred to as your “Last Step Product” or LSP for short. Now that your paint is looking great, you’ll want to protect it with a wax, sealant, or ceramic coating. This is usually done by hand which is obviously very different from the polishing stage.
What is a One Step paint correction?
A one step correction is simply the 2nd step (polishing) by itself. Sometimes the paint isn’t in bad enough condition to require compounding, or it’s just not in the budget. Many light swirl marks and minor scratches can be removed by paying a bit more attention with a finishing polish. This still requires lots of time searching for defects in the paint and fixing them under proper lighting.
One step corrections are technically 2 separate steps. First, you polish the paint thoroughly, then you add a wax, sealant, or coating to protect it.
How I perform a one step correction:
After washing the vehicle thoroughly, I ALWAYS clay bar the paint before any type of machine polishing. All it takes is one contaminant to be picked up into your pad and you’ll be damaging your paint rather than fixing it. Take the time to ensure you have a perfectly clean surface.
It’s a good idea to tape off any plastic or rubber moldings that you don’t want your pad to touch. You don’t have to worry about painted edges or body lines because the finishing polish we’re using isn’t aggressive enough to risk burning through. It never hurts to be extra safe though, so if you want to make your car look like it’s from the Tron movie by covering it with tape, feel free!
Ever wondered how often you should be using a clay bar on your paint? My answer is in this post:
You’ll need proper lighting to be able to see the imperfections you’re trying to fix. Remember, you can’t fix what you can’t see. You might think it looks perfect under your garage lighting, but the direct sun at high noon could prove otherwise. Get some decent work lights or at least a swirl finder flashlight. Now you can inspect the paint to find everything you’d like to fix.
For most one step corrections, I like to use Meguiar’s M205 with white Lake Country polishing pads. This combination is very versatile. I find that M205 has enough cut to remove the light imperfections but still finishes down nicely. It’s got a long working time so I can adjust my technique to suit the specific paint I’m working on.
Much like M205, the white pads from Lake Country tend to work well in most situations. They aren’t hard enough to make finishing difficult but they’re firm enough to correct the paint.
It’s easy to skimp on buying pads (especially when you’re just starting out) but I’ll let you in on a secret. The more pads you have, the better your outcome will be. After a few passes, your pad will get clogged with spent polish and clear coat. This will greatly reduce the way they perform.
Sure, you could buy a fancy pad washer and clean them on the fly, but in my experience, it’s cheaper and more efficient to simply swap them out. A good rule of thumb is to have a new pad for every larger panel of your car. In most cases, 6-10 pads will be enough. I strongly believe that failure to do this is the main reason people don’t see the results they want. If you stick with one single pad, you’ll wind up doing nothing more than chasing your tail after the first few panels.
It’s always a good idea to start with a test spot somewhere on the car.
This will tell you how well your polish and pad combination will work and give you an idea of how easy the paint is to fix. If it’s not removing all of the marks you hoped it would, this is a good indication that you’ll need to step up to a full two step correction. If you’re happy with the results in your test spot, it’s just a matter of working your way around the vehicle in 2’x2′ sections.
Double check your work periodically with your lighting to make sure your results are consistent. This will take a good amount of time to do properly, but once you get in the zone you’ll find time flies. You’ll probably be late for Sunday Dinner though.
Now that the paint is looking awesome, it’s time to protect it. I like to apply a wax or sealant by hand with a foam applicator unless I’m pressed for time – then I’ll use a finishing pad on my DA machine.
I have a few paint sealants that I like to use, but my favorite is Wolfgang Deep Gloss 3.0. I’ve also been using Jescar Powerlock lately and it’s been great as well. You’ll need to follow the directions on the bottle of whatever product you choose, but I can typically make my way around the entire vehicle before buffing the remaining sealant off.
This is an Acura NSX that I performed a one step polish on. I had given it a full correction a couple years ago so it just needed some minor swirl marks touched up before a show. I topped it off with a coat of Jescar Powerlock. You can see how deep and wet the original Berlina Black paint looks in the photos. Apparently, the judges of the show noticed as well, and this car ended up winning its class!
Typically you can expect a 60% to 80% correction with a one step polish. I would say the upper end of that is the point where the vehicle will look nearly flawless under anything but the harshest lighting. The majority of vehicle owners will be more than happy with this level of correction. Those of us with a more critical eye will likely benefit from a complete multiple step correction.
Although you will save a lot of time by skipping the initial compounding step, a proper one step correction will still take a while. You move much slower with the machine and you’ll constantly be going back to check over your work with the light.
It also requires a decent amount of skill. Knowing what paint defects you can fix and what ones you can’t only comes with experience. You might waste a bunch of time going over something that simply can’t be removed with a polish alone. This will add even more time to the job.
Aside from a complete paint correction however, there is no other way to get these kind of results. A perfect paint finish requires time, skill and finesse. There is no substitute.
What is an All-In-One polish?
Now that we understand that a one step correction actually consists of 2 separate steps, this one will make more sense. An AIO polish combines a finishing polish (the 2nd step in a correction) and a wax or sealant (the protection step in a correction) into one product.
This is the product you will use from the moment you pull your machine out to the point where you’re buffing off the sealant. One product, and one type of pad. When you wipe it off, it’s polished and protected.
How I use an All-In-One polish:
Once again, you always need to wash and clay bar your paint before you touch it with a DA machine. This is no different with an AIO polish. That’s where the similarities end though.
If you aren’t experienced with a DA machine, you might still want to tape off any rubber or plastic before you start.
We won’t be focusing on getting close to the edges this time though. The whole concept of an AIO polish is to go over the car quickly to add shine and gloss – we’re not aiming to correct the paint. In this situation, whatever it fixes with a quick pass is what it’s going to fix. If you want to focus more on removing defects, you’ll need to switch to at least a one step correction.
My favorite AIO polish by far is HD Speed. This stuff is awesome. I’ve used it outside in direct sun and it was still easy to work with. I like to use orange Lake Country cutting pads with it. You may be surprised to hear that I use a pad originally designed for compounding for a process like this, but since HD Speed has such a mild cut I find that it helps get some defects out without sacrificing the finish. Just like any other type of machine polishing, you’ll want to switch out multiple pads with this too.
Remember we aren’t trying to “fix” everything in the paint this time. The idea is to work quickly around the car to bring out a bunch of shine and gloss. That means we can get away with working on larger areas at a time instead of a 2’x2′ section. We can also use a much quicker arm speed when moving the machine. This cuts down on time a lot. Even more time is saved by not needing a separate protection step. Sometimes I’ll add a little extra protection with a spray wax like Meguiar’s X-press wax, but it’s not required.
This Subaru Outback is an example of a car that I used HD Speed on. It had been fairly neglected over time and the owner wanted it spruced up before he listed it for sale. HD Speed was a great solution in this case. If you look closely in the photos, you can see that the deeper scratches are still noticeable, but overall the paint has a nice deep shine. This car would have required moderate to heavy compounding to achieve better results.
An All-In-One polish is a huge time saver and a great way to spruce up your paint in an afternoon. Saving time means you’ll be sacrificing results though. It’s simply not going to remove scratches like a proper one step polish will. The small amount of sealant mixed into the product doesn’t have the same protection and longevity that a stand alone sealant does. These are the tradeoffs that we face. An All-In-One polish is a great option if you want to make your vehicle look really good without spending days on it.
If you do choose to use an AIO polish, try to use a quality spray wax with every wash afterwards. This will boost the protection and help it to last longer.
Hopefully this has cleared up any confusion you may have had about an All-In-One Polish vs a one step correction. As you can see, these completely different processes require different products and produce different results. If you just want a shiny vehicle without spending a lot of time on it, an AIO polish is for you. If you’d like to take your time and get better results and protection, you might want to do a one step correction. Happy buffing!
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: