Hand polishing your car is a very inefficient substitute for a proper paint correction. There are many DIY Youtubers who will tell you it’s a great idea, but the truth is, they don’t have the experience to back that up.
I’ve been polishing and paint correcting vehicles both personally and professionally for over a decade and can promise that you will not get anywhere near the same results as you would if you used even one of the cheapest DA polishers on the market.
Polishing your paint by hand instead of with a DA polisher will tire you out, waste a ton of your time, and the results will be minimal at best. You need the torque, consistency, and speed of a machine to do the job right.
Here are 3 reasons why using a polisher is a far better choice:
It will take much longer
Polishing a car by hand will take you a very, very long time. An average long-throw dual action polisher will spin up to 5,000 orbits per minute. Even with the best equipment, a complete paint correction will still require quite a few hours of your time.
Now consider how fast you can move your arm compared to the movement of the polisher. It’s not even anywhere near the same ballpark. It doesn’t matter how fast you are or how many protein shakes you drink, there is absolutely no way you’ll be coming close to the speed of a polisher.
Paint correction is a long, tedious process as it is. Attempting to do it by hand will stretch that time out exponentially.
You’ll get tired quickly
Polshing your car by hand might seem like a great idea at first. It might even seem like a good idea after doing the first panel or two. But eventually, fatigue is going to set in and it’ll happen a lot sooner than you’d expect.
Scrubbing your entire car by hand is hard on your shoulders. Your arms will feel like they’re going to fall off. Chances are, this will happen before you even finish one side of the car.
Many people complain of a sore back, shoulders, and arms after doing a paint correction with a machine. Imagine how much worse it would be if you had to manually scrub the entire thing!
It won’t do as good of a job
The results you’ll see after hand-polishing your car for hours (or even days) are likely to be heartbreaking. It just won’t do anywhere near as good of a job as polishing with a machine.
Most polishers have plenty of torque and can get a ton of work done in a small amount of time. A human can’t simulate that movement. A dual-action polisher will spin and oscillate at the same time (hence the dual-action name) which makes it very efficient at what it does.
One of the most important factors when it comes to getting great results with paint correction is consistency. Keeping the pad flat and with equal pressure at all times makes a difference, especially when it comes to finishing down soft paint without leaving any haze or marring.
Your arm can’t provide the same consistent pressure that a polisher can. Instead, you’ll be flailing around like a fish out of water after a few panels.
Using a towel to apply polish to your car will give you the least consistent pressure. Your fingers and palm will apply pressure unevenly no matter how much you try to focus.
Think of what happens when you use a clay bar. After a short amount of time, your fingers dig into the backside of the clay, leaving an imprint. That’s the same level of consistency you’re putting on your paint with a polish.
Hand polishing your car doesn’t offer enough even consistency and speed to be able to remove scratches from your paint. You can fill them in temporarily with the leftover polishing oils, but they’ll be coming right back after a few washes.
Another issue with polishing by hand is the chance of removing more paint than you would with a machine. Yes, paint correction does remove a small amount of paint in order to remove scratches.
Using consistent, downward pressure with a machine helps to ensure that you’re removing the least amount of paint possible. Using uneven pressure by hand can potentially scour the paint and remove more than necessary in some spots.
If you split a panel in half, did one side by hand and the other with a machine – the machine polished side will look a thousand times better and be done in a fraction of the time.
Even a quick 30 second pass with a polisher will look amazing compared to spending an hour doing the other side by hand. There’s no arguing about which method works best. The machine wins every time.
When does polishing your car by hand make sense?
There is one situation where polishing your car by hand makes sense. That’s in tight areas that are hard to reach with a machine. Places like under door handles, around letters in emblems, inside scoops and grills, or underneath spoilers are all good examples.
A great way to polish your paint by hand is with a towel wrapped around a small sanding block like these R.I.D. Stix from KXK Dynamics. These are intended for wet sanding scratches out by hand and are designed to help you apply consistent pressure.
The blocks are made out of acrylic and when wrapped with a towel can be very useful for hand polishing. After all, hand sanding and hand polishing are the same thing in terms of movement – you’re just replacing the sandpaper and water with a towel and polish.
Using a small block with a towel wrapped around it will allow you to reach into areas that are impossible to fit a polisher into. Small machines with tiny 1″ pads like the Rupes iBrid Nano are extremely helpful at polishing tight areas but there are some spots that even it can’t fit into.
A lot of times the height of the polisher is the problem if you’re trying to reach under a mirror or down into a vent.
Can I polish my car with a drill?
No, you shouldn’t use a drill to polish your car. While it does share a similar movement to a rotary polisher, the tool is not designed in a way for you to hold it and apply consistent pressure.
Combining inconsistency, rotary action, and high speed is a recipe for disaster. The right tool for the job exists for a good reason.
Can I use an All In One polish by hand?
All In One polishes like 3D Speed contain a polish and wax in the same product. These offer a minor amount of correction ability (although much less when used by hand).
They also act as a glaze and will help to fill in the remaining scratches. They’re aggressive enough to bring some new shine out of the paint and will cover up some of the scratches left behind. Although an All In One polish is safe to use by hand, it will still work far better with a machine.
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: