You know when your car’s paintwork needs a little loving care and attention – perhaps there’s some marks you want to remove, or you just want to make it look like new again (or better!), then you need to spend a few hours prepping and polishing the paintwork. It’s labor intensive, even with a polishing machine, but it’s so worth it when you’ve finished.
A buffing pad attaches to a polisher, also called a buffing machine, and it helps to work in the polishing compound or wax – distributing it evenly, all while maximizing the effect of the product. And then it’s simply a question of removing the product and buffing it up – again using a buffing machine.
It’s worth clarifying that buffing pads can come in a few different styles, depending on exactly what you want to do with them; some are designed to help cut through any tarnishing or faded paint, some are to distribute the wax / sealant / cutting compound, while others are for the final finish – cleaning off and polishing the final process of detailing.
How Do They Work?
Typically, they work in the same way whether you’re using them to cut or polish paint, but as cutting paint is more intensive, I’ve used that as an example.
A buffing pad has been designed to be coated in a paste – be that polishing or cutting, which it holds at the surface of the pad, effectively giving the surface of the pad some form of abrasion (think of it like a super-fine abrasive paper), which then rotates to clean / cut / polish the paintwork.
The majority of pads are made from foam that they’re flexible enough to follow contours, dips, hollows and high spots. They apply even pressure on all, rather than more pressure on the high spot (which could lead to thinning the paintwork more in that one area).
The other by-product of using foam (in particular) is that it’s an excellent way of managing the thermal effect – absorbing heat while remaining relatively cool, which helps to keep any product from drying out, or hardening.
What Are The Different Types?
Typically, there are three different types of buffing pads; wool, microfiber and foam. All of them can be used on a machine like a DA (Dual Action), just ensure that you have the correct backing pad to suit your application.
Of course, once you’ve understood the materials, you then have to work out that there are a number of other considerations such as how aggressive or coarse they are – heavy duty paint correction needs something more aggressive, while smoothing over needs something much less aggressive. If you’re planning to go through the whole process for the perfect finish, you’d work through from the most aggressive to the finest – which gives you all the cutting power you need, followed up with the smoothness for the final finish.
A range of foam pads usually works through the whole process; compounding (cutting the paintwork), polishing (polishing the corrections) before the final step of finishing – quite literally, the final finish that can be applied to make the paintwork as smooth as possible.
As a rule of thumb, the stiffer the foam, the more abrasive it will be, but it’s possible to create a compromise if you really need to – using a different product (let’s say polishing) on a mis-matched pad (finishing) will give a step between the two pads.
Textured pads, also known as CCS, Waffle and Hex Logic tend to last a little longer than regular pads thanks to their thermal efficiency. However, they typically need a little more controlling when used in a polishing machine – the textured pattern tends to bite in a little more, which can lead them to ‘walking’ across the surface.
Defining the differences between microfiber pads isn’t eas. It would seem that no one brand or company has created a ‘standard’ version, which leads to some confusion when ordering differing pads between brands.
In general, microfiber pads typically come in two varieties – cutting & compounding or polishing & finishing. And if you stick with one brand, you should soon learn how their system works.
At first thought, you might think that a big, soft, smooth wool pad would be the ultimate in finishing, the final step to creating the ultimate in smooth paintwork, but the reality is that these are more of an all-rounder that work well. It would still require you to use a separate finishing pad for that glass-like smoothness.
The Best Buffing Pads
1. TCP Global Buffing Kit with 6 Pads and Backing Plate
This really is the ultimate starting out kit – it offers five different waffle foam pads, one woolen buffing pad and the backing / drive plate to use them with your buffing machine. Everything you need to get started, all in one kit.
They’re also color coded, and on the reverse of the pads, it tells you what color is for what job – black for final finishing, red for heavy cutting, orange for medium cutting, blue for light cuts and green for a soft polish – you really can’t go too far wrong with these buffing pads.
Each pad is supplied with a hook & loop fastening system, and they attach to the (included) 5/8” threaded backing plate, and the fasteners hold the pads firm … there’ll be none of the slipping off that you may find with other kits. Thanks to the variety, you’ll find that there really is very little that you can’t polish – pretty much any hard surface from heavily oxidized paintwork through to hard clear coats and any light swirling.
The foam pads themselves are open cell, and waffled, which helps to maintain a thermal efficiency by improving airflow through to the contact area, and the design also helps to reduce ‘sling’ of the product. I also like the fact that at 8”, these pads are pretty sizeable, which makes the task of polishing a complete car, pretty easy and fast, although some may find them a little too large when it comes down to smaller nooks and crannies – it’s a trade off to be honest.
#1 starting kit, for pretty much all your polishing, cutting and waxing needs.
2. Chemical Guys Hex-Logic Buffing Sampler Kit
The title says it all really – a sampler kit of the Chemical Guys best selling buffing pads, and a 16oz bottle of CGs polishing pad cleaning compound to keep them in tippy-top condition.
The pads themselves measure up at 5.5”, the usual suspects all make pads that are 6” though. This must be the ‘Guys’ trying to differentiate themselves, or making you invest in their equipment. Even being slightly smaller, you can still get away with a 6” backing plate, providing you’re a little more careful.
These hex-logic pads have been designed and engineered to satisfy the needs of professional detailers, and the open cell foam allows for maximum airflow to the surface, meaning great thermal control, and partly less sling. Three different grades come in the kit – orange is for medium to heavy cutting, white is light to medium polishing and the black pad is for finishing on all surfaces with all compounds.
If you already have the backing pad, then this is a useful kit for tackling a number of jobs, or prepping a car start to finish; it goes through the cutting to final finishing. It’s a great kit, at a good price, and the pad cleaning and rejuvenating fluid is an added bonus that will help you get more life from the pads.
3. 3M 05723 Foam Compounding Pad
8” diameter, foam compounding pad that’s used on any standard rotary polisher. Want more? Ok then …
These 3M pads are used for light defects and surface scratches, although they do offer fast cutting ability, I think this is one of those products that might benefit from a little mix & matching with various compounds for best results.
The shaped and convoluted foam face easily conforms to the various shut lines, panel curves and body lines that you’ll find on pretty much any vehicle. The open cell foam helps to keep the pad cooler when in use, and accepts just the right amount of polishing or cutting compound without any sling off.
The pads also have a hook & loop backing, but you need a backing plate to attach them to. This is purely for two compounding pads, which makes them quite highly priced, but the 3M equipment is legendary in the automotive world, so for me, I’d see these as something extra to add to an existing kit, just to back up the service that I could offer.
4. Griot's Garage Foam Waxing Pad
This is rather a specific product, but Griot’s do a range of these pads, this just happens to be a waxing pad that I’ve chosen for the review – if you need something else, it’s definitely worth checking out the other pads in this range.
The reticulated foam reduces build up of heat, but does seem to absorb more product than other pads here, even with that absorption rate, sling isn’t too much of an issue with the Griot’s pad. It has a completely flat face, and when used correctly, it produces a shine that’s hard to match – this really does look to the #1 pad for shine production.
The Griot’s pad uses a high quality open cell foam that seems to be more tear resistant than other foam pads, it’s been thermoset bonded to the backing, which means there will be no issues of it coming loose from the backing (which is actually quite common). This pad is completely machine washable and reusable that offers great value for the money.
Same with most of the other products here, you’ll need a separate backing pad, but to be honest, if you didn’t already own something like this, it’s doubtful you’d be looking at individual pads in the first place!
5. PORTER-CABLE Lambs Wool Polishing Pad
A very thick, yet pliable covering of lamb’s wool which adapts to contours and body lines with no issues whatsoever. Porter-Cable say that it delivers an unrivalled shine to any paintwork or gloss surface.
It will fit on any 6” hook & loop backing pad, and will work with any random orbital or dual action polisher. It’s machine washable which also means reusable, but you do need to be careful when washing it – personally speaking, I’d hand wash it and line dry it.
It’s virtually impossible to cause any damage with this woolen pad, providing that it’s used correctly, but there some people that say that lambs wool pads don’t deliver the 100% glossiest finish of all. I think you’d need to be a professional detailer to know the difference.
For this type of money, and with Porter-Cable’s reputation, you really won’t find a wool polishing pad that can equal the performance or value for money, and that’s why it’s in the list of the best buffing pads.
6. Viking Car Care Microfiber Applicator Pads
Little blue pillows of soft goodness … strictly speaking, these aren’t ‘buffing pads’, but you know what … they offer such good value, and can do so much, they’re definitely worth considering as an alternative to a traditional buffing pad.
There’s no method of attachment to a backing pad for them to be used in a machine, these are hand use only. However, these pads are great inside, outside, on the wheels, in the garage, in the home … if you have need to wipe anything, apply anything or polish anything, reach for one of these blue pads and they’ll make a huge difference to the job … for the money. I’d buy a few packs of these and just keep them scattered around the home.
So, it’s a 5” diameter pad, there’s 6 in each pack and of course, you could class them as double sided … that’s a huge amount of surface area for cleaning or applying creams and products. It’s a very soft microfiber, they feel quite plush to the touch, and they soak up products quite well, which means an even distribution.
Completely machine washable and reusable, although as with all thing’s microfiber, you need to avoid softeners and the like, because that can ruin microfiber.
7. Griot's Garage Glass Polishing Pad
Another product that’s not quite a buffing pad, or at least not as we’d expect it, but I feel it deserves a place here because the glass bits of a car often get overlooked, and just get wiped over with a towel once they’ve been rinsed.
The purpose of the glass polishing pad is similar to that of the other buffing pads – it’s not there to remove deep scratches and damage, but to buff out minor imperfections like swirl marks and everyday wear & tear, and when use in conjunction with the Griot’s Fine Glass Polish, this pad works remarkably well.
It’s a reasonably stiff, woven synthetic material, with a flat face for perfect polishing, and it’s pretty aggressive (do NOT mix this up for a bodywork pad). Griot’s say that it’s great for ‘bug jerky’ removal (which I’ve not heard that saying before, I likey very much) and that the water will bead of the glass ‘like a beaver’ – they’ve got some great marketing guys at Griot’s.
The pads are reusable and washable, and are best cleaned with the GG’s microfiber and foam pad cleaning kit, which should help them last for many a time. The hook & loop backing works with most backing plates, and for anyone with a car that’s seen a few seasons and is in to detailing, these are a must have.