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When To Polish vs Compound vs Wet Sand

When To Polish vs Compound vs Wet Sand

What is the difference between polishing, compounding and wet sanding? And when should you use one over the other to repair varying degrees of scratches on your vehicle?


Car polish is a mild abrasive and generally used for smoothing the paint. The polish has the ability to leave a shiny and smooth effect on the paint surface. However, polishing alone will not remove any paint scratches or defects, but it will remove the dullness from the paint. Polish alone, cannot protect the paint work for a long time, you may need to use paint protectant to ensure your car’s paint stays shiny.

Benefits of Polish:

  • Provides a natural appearance to the car’s paint work
  • Delivers the required shine and gloss to the paint work
  • Provides durable finish
  • Does not require stripping
  • Can be applied by hand


Rubbing Compounds are used to level the uneven surfaces on the car’s paintwork, caused by scratches. (It is also called ‘levelling compound’ as it levels the uneven surface caused by scratches). The rubbing compound will shave down the paint and level it by smoothing the sharp and rough edges of a scratch. As rubbing compounds are quite aggressive, they can be purchased in varying degrees, from 1000 grit to 5000 grit. These different grits handle the different depths of paint scratches. The deeper the scratch, the higher the grit value of the rubbing compound required to do the job.

Benefits of Rubbing Compounds:

  • Easy to use
  • Quickly fixes the unevenness from the scratches
  • Requires minimal cleaning work
  • Restores old paintwork
  • Vanishes or conceals the car’s scratches
  • Is an abrasive material and therefore can be applied in variant grits


If the paint condition is severely scratched, wet sanding is the most effective means for removing surface paint defects and scratches. The catch is; it should only be done by someone with proper training. Skilled professionals use a paint gauge to first check the thickness of the paint and clear coat to ensure it will support a wet sanding procedure. Body shops use wet sanding to even out new paint, to smooth out small paint runs and sags, or remove debris that fell on the paint while it was wet. By following up the wet sanding with a rubbing compound, the paint will virtually come back to life and give the vehicle a smooth, glassy look.

Benefits of Wet Sanding:

  • Removes deep scratches
  • Evens out new paint
  • Levels touch-ups for easy polishing