Cleaners and Polishes

What’s The Difference Between A Polish And A Cleaner?

Here are some 3M definitions:

 POLISHES are blends of oils, solvents, water and minerals designed to remove minor paint  surface imperfections such as fine scratches, light oxidation, water spots and swirl marks  left from rubbing compounds. Polishes may, or may not, contain waxes or silicones. Can be  applied by hand or machine.

GLAZES are polishes that are safe for fresh paints. Fresh paint is defined as less than 30 days old (after that they call it cured paint). 3M Imperial Hand Glaze’s primary use is to enhance surface gloss and lustre on fresh paints. It needs to be re-applied frequently until the paint is cured and can be waxed.

3M has a good web site with many more definitions. The address is:


[A/H] Glaze or Polish? Simple test: Put a small dot of the product in question on your thumb nail and rub the other thumb nail on top of it in a circular motion, then wipe both nails and look at the gloss. The "Glaze" will not "grind" any of the surface of your nail and the "Polish" will make a dull spot.


[GM] Polish: By this I mean the pre-wax cleaner step that gives the paint its shine. I think 3M Perfect It #05997 is better than anything else for this.


[KS] The Red color NSX has a tinted clear, that means that the clear coat over the color also has color in it. When polishing the car you will remove some clear coat and it will look red/purple/pink on your polish cloth. Most aftermarket paint suppliers suggest a clear over the tinted red when doing repairs so a repaired red panel may not show up red on your cloth. The tint in the clear is not the same color as the base color coat. The tint is a purple color and the color coat is an orange color. When polishing out any scratches it is possible to remove more clear in one area than in another. This will create a splotchy look of red and orange. It doesn’t look good. All the colors have clear coat, White, Black, Red, Silver, Green, Purple, and the new Blue, dark Silver and Yellow.


[GM] If you get Zymol HD Cleanse, be aware it gets gummy and harder to apply after 12 months. Keep it in the fridge to double the shelf life.


[2001/7/3 – HPA] The products I’ve been using are Meguiar’s Pro line, especially the body shop pro line, and the 3M pro line equivalent to those 3M products Gary Milgrom tested awhile back. The main difference in pro and what you get at Pep Boys and the like stores is they come in gallon sizes as well as quart size squeeze containers. I refill the quart squeeze bottles from the large containers since I use a lot of the stuff.


[2001/7/21 – HPA] Meguiar’s Gold Class Trim Restorer, Metal Restorer and an apparently reformulated liquid Gold Class wax. These are squeeze bottle creams. I was detailing the engine compartment of one of my projects.

I used the trim restorer on anything black or rubber, including rubber seals. I like this better than Mother’s Back to Black or Zymol’s rubber treatment. Excellent results!

I was using the metal restorer on bolt heads and other metal parts in the engine compartment. Some white residue, but using a terry cloth it comes off easily. Awesome job on chrome items. A tooth brush and Q-Tips take care of the details. Didn’t try it on SS braiding (yet). It’s a very mild polish; nothing HD.

I used the Gold Class liquid on anything with paint on it. Typical haze residue but it comes off easily with a terry towel. More shine for the effort. Seems like they improved the formula. I’ll have to try it on the body tomorrow and a buddy’s car since one’s dark and the other is light colored for a comparison.

 How Can I Remove Swirl Marks?

[LL – 99/4/10] We live in an age where very frequently manufacturers themselves and their primary markets don’t know just how their products do perform. I’ve been flabergasted at the quality of info I’ve gotten from high up folks at 3m and Meguires. Pro detailers switch and mix products so much, A/B comparisons are very difficult, and they don’t live with their products for the most part. >From my considerable experience, the best Pro detail men I’ve seen are not quite as good as the average show car guy. Reputations in the detailer arena are not hard to aquire. My advise is to listen, then verify.

IMPERIAL hand glaze removes NO scratches, it is a filler only. Yes it looks like they disappear, but they are only filled. Perfect-it Hand glaze or Perfect-it foam polishing pad glaze(or swirl mark remover in small size)are the desirable products. You can use Imperial over the top if you feel you have to, but it slightly HAZES the finish, especially if you rub briskly. Done this comparison several times. Imperial was the first Glaze used by show car folks(I’ve used tens of gallons)to remove/mask surface film from the drive to the show. It’s still OK for that, but there are many many detailers now that are better because they require less rubbing than Imperial, and that means less scratches.

Remember 3m foam polishing pad glaze(which affords the best finish IMO)leaves the finish "dry" and needs an emolient wax right away, so comparing raw 3m glaze with Imperial is not a proper comparison. Imperial IS an emolient. You have to compare all polishes after emolients, which can be a glaze like Meg’s #7 or a good wax like any of the Zymols. You can use Imperial as the final overcoat, but it only lasts one wash or 1-2 weeks.

Perfect-it Hand Glaze does have a little wax in it, so it feeds the finish(the function of the emolient-which equates to shine), but it needs more feeding thus requiring mixing of feeders which can bring about compatability problems.

My advice is strip wax, use 3m foam polishing pad glaze my machine or hand and follow with Zymol of your choice(I’ve had good results with the "sport-ute" Titanium). No more than once a year, two steps and I guarantee you’ll have a show quality finish, after the skills grow of course. My car is just now needing a re-polish after 4 years.


[KS – 99/4/4] One of the principles you’ll want to use in dealing with these scratches is to use the least abrasive material you can. For example, you’ll want to start with something like Meguiar’s Swirl Remover (#9, I think) or Zymol HD-Cleanse. If that doesn’t get the scratches out, THEN you try something a bit more abrasive, like a fine compound. If that doesn’t work, then you try something a bit more abrasive, etc. Once they’re out, you work your way back through the same materials, following each step with the next LESS abrasive material.


SCRATCHES: First thing to take into consideration, do not cause any more scratches when trying to remove them! This means to ensure once again that not only the car but the materials you plan to use are as clean as possible.

Items you will want to have handy:

A good orbital buffer, preferably a 6" or 9" or both. I use a 9" for broad area’s (hood, doors, roof,) and do everything else by hand. I ONLY use a buffer if there are a lot of swirls or it’s the first time I have detailed a particular car. 

Wax Applicators. Don’t let the name fool you as you will use these things for everything! I prefer the soft cotton covered sponges that are about 4-5" in diameter and have the seams on the inside. This prevents the edge from causing a scratch. They can be found in bags at your local parts department for a couple bucks a bag. Get as many as you can handle! The better quality ones can be washed and reused quite a bit before they decompose. NEVER USE THE SAME APPLICATOR BETWEEN PRODUCTS!!! It will contaminate the finish and defeat the purpose! Rotate them frequently.

Toothbrushes: 3-4 toothbrushes, preferably new, with long bristles. You will want to take all but one of them and run it over sandpaper until the edges turn into a very soft and flexible tip. The last you will want to leave firm for digging out any dirt, build-up or debris from between badges. It never hurts to have a few Q-tips around as well.

A few large cotton towels with soft deep knap. The softer they are the less likely they are to scratch your car. The deeper the knap the better the chance of any dirt or build-up staying with the towel instead of working itself along your paint finish. You will want to have a few handy so that you can rotate them frequently. Again, never use a towel with one product on it with the next product as it will contaminate the finish.

A small spritzer bottle/spray bottle with distilled water. Make sure that the bottle has been thoroughly cleaned inside and out and that no other chemicals have ever been inside. Set it on a fine mist.

The products themselves:

I will admit that I am biased to using some of the Zymol and Apple Polishing products.. However, those that I like to use are generally very expensive and take a high degree of skill to get the most out of.. however, in the case of Apple Polishing they are not even available to the public. In their absence, Meguires gets the nod from me due to ease of use and the ability for most anyone to get top-notch results with a little time and practice. These results are also very consistent and they are priced better than Zymol for most of their products.

However, I will never and do not ever recommend a detailer to use any multi-products or crossover products. (example: Cleaner+Wax, polish+wax). Why? If you have a cleaner IN the wax you will wax that cleaner into the finish. If it’s weak enough not to damage the finish when it’s waxed in, the odds are it’s not strong enough to clean to begin with! Also, ALWAYS use the softest and weakest products that you can get away with even if it means you have to apply them several times to get the job done.  Now to the list:

You will want to clean and prep the surface. You have a few swirls? No problem. Meguires #2 Fine Cut Cleaner (tan bottle). Shake the bottle thoroughly and apply just a little on the surface of the car making sure that the surface is clean and cool to the touch. Using the buffer you will work in smooth and steady lines applying a little more pressure than the weight of the buffer itself. Let the buffer do the work for you, but keep it flat. Avoid getting closer than 1" from any edges, gaps, badges or trim. You can go back and get these areas by hand and it’s not worth the risk of burning your paint (most common mistake). NEVER let the buffer sit in one place and NEVER turn the buffer off while it’s still in contact with the finish!!! When you have one section done let it dry to a haze and then wipe it down with one of those nifty cotton towels. Make sure you turn the towel frequently. When wiping, make sure you wipe it linearly, preferably in line with the car from nose to tail. Use as little pressure as possible and run Q-tips/toothbrushes around the badges or other area’s where you have any buildup.

Mist the surface and clean it with the distilled water and wipe it down again with a clean towel.

Put on a fresh clean pad for the buffer!

Now that the surface is rough-cleaned and the majority of the scratches have been taken care of, it’s time to get the rest of the finish repaired. Using Meguires #9 Swirl Remover (tan bottle). Shake the heck out of the stuff to ensure that there are no hard or gritty particles. Go over the car two to three times in the same manner as you did with the Fine Cut Cleaner. Use very light coats and spread them evenly. Again, make sure you run the buffer in line with the car (as you did with the cleaner) avoiding any edges, etc. Three light coats will go a heck of a lot further than one heavy coat (which can actually put more swirls back into the paint). Be sure to put on a new pad between each coat!!! As before you will want to buff off the finish between coats with a clean soft towel rotating it frequently and clean detailed area’s with the Q-tips and toothbrushes to avoid build-up.

Mist the surface and clean it with the distilled water and wipe it down again with a clean towel.

Now we get to the hard part. The next step is the biggest pain in the butt but makes the most difference in your paints finish and how long it will stay that way. The Polish. This is known as the Character Builder.. If you don’t kill your car with a sledgehammer you will discover character! <grin> Okay, it’s not that bad, but it can be a pain in the butt if not applied properly:

The best polish off the shelf that I have found for modern finishes is Meguires #2 Deep Crystal System Polish (red bottle). This stuff smells funky and must be shaken until you can’t shake anymore! Using a fresh bonnet on your buffer you will want to apply a VERY small amount of the polish to the bonnet itself and work this into the finish thoroughly. If you start to see little dots that are a pain to remove you will discover you have used too much product. Don’t fear, just keep working them and they will go away. The biggest problem is to keep the layers even across the car and consistent. If you don’t, you might notice that some parts of the car look darker or "Wetter" than the others. Three very light coats worked well into the finish of the car will make the sucker glow in the dark! At this point you should not have any swirls or scratches left to worry about. Wipe off as before.

Mist the surface and clean it with the distilled water and wipe it down again with a clean towel.

Now we are almost done with the exterior of the car. The swirls and scratches are gone and the finish has been given a liberal coat of oils and protectants from the polish. It should be pleasantly bright and very slick to the touch. Now it is time to seal in the protectants and to protect the surface itself. It’s time to wax the car.

The last step probably left you wondering what you had done to deserve such torture, this step is not only easy but is insanely fun to do! It’s the wax itself that is such a joy to work with. The wax of choice is the Meguires #26 Professional Hi-Tech yellow Wax in the gold tin. I don’t use the liquid wax since this is so much easier and more consistent (and just plain fun) to work with. There is no buffer used in this step. You shouldn’t need it and it’s a waste of time. You will want to moisten the applicators a bit (not soak, just moisten) with the distilled water. I have no idea why but it seems to work much more effectively. Apply it in very light and smooth circles with the hand applicators being sure to do each section very evenly. It doesn’t matter if you let it dry or not between application and buffing as this is the most easy going product on the market. When you do buff the finish, be sure to do so very lightly and again in line with the car while turning the towel frequently. Three light coats will go a heck of a lot farther than one heavy coat. Clean again around the badges with the Q-tips/brushes. While you have the wax out, grab a piece of soft (clothlike) paper towel and run a light coat of wax around the door jambs, the edges underneath the hood, the trunk, etc. It’s cheap insurance against rust and corrosion and will help to protect the surface and make spills/etc. easier to clean.

Mist the surface and clean it with the distilled water and wipe it down again with a clean towel. Some people have had great success with using Meguires Quick Detailer on the finish after waxing to further enhance the glow. If you do, make sure to use it sparingly and to wipe it down carefully.


[GM] 3M makes the product "Perfect-it swril mark remover for dark or light" cars. In my case my car is Red, so I went with the dark. You mind as well buy the one you need so you can also do the car as well. Note that these products are the same except for the coloring agent. To minimize residue appearing on the paint 3M decided dark cars should use dark products and light cars light colored products. The active ingredients are identical.


[] I discovered that 3M part number 39009 (dark car swirl remover) followed by PN39007 (Imperial Hand Glaze) followed by Zymol "Japon" wax completely eliminates fine scratches and swirls and leaves a deep dark pool-like finish on my black ’91. I tried the 3 products in various combinations and found the above method works best – better than anything I’ve ever used before.


[GM] A number of people have told me they cannot find 3M Perfect It Hand Glaze. I called the 3M company (800-414-4000) and received the following info. This product is still available, but needs to be special ordered. The part number I’ve been using (05997)is for the 32 oz bottle. The part number for the 12 oz. bottle is 05965. Both of these are located on pg. 69 of their catalog. Try NAPA or Car Quest and be persistent! Don’t let the counter guy tell you it’s the same as another product, or discontinued etc.

 Rubbing Compound

[HS] Use of rubbing compound by newbies can result in rubbing *through* the clear coat. Caution advised.


[GM] I learned something important the past weekend – don’t be afraid to use rubbing compound on fine finishes.

I was working on a 94 black Mustang (beautiful paint by the way) and it looked great except for the hood. The owner suggested we needed something more abrasive to get that part as shiny as the rest. I was unsure if this would help or make things worse. I had already polished the hood with 3M Swirl Mark Remover.

We proceeded using 3M FINE Rubbing Compound. The hood came out looking much better, and after polishing with SMR it looked superb! After waxing it looked like black chrome – the owner was very pleased.

I remember other cars where the hood did not look as good as the sides or rear after the fine polish I use (SMR or Perfect It Hand Glaze or Zymol HD Cleanse). I don’t know why the hood should need more attention, maybe all the heat cycles it goes through. But I realize now that the FINE rubbing compound is really fine and helps these situations a lot.

3M also makes medium and heavy duty compounds which work well for removing deep scratches. After using you must follow with all intermediate steps, just like using graded sandpaper. You can’t skip a step (grade) if you want a deep glossy finish.


[DG] While I agree with Gary, I urge those trying this to exercise extreme caution.>I too used this product (followed by 3M’s Swirl Mark Remover and Perfect-It Hand Glaze) to repair a pretty serious scrape over the wheel arch on my NSX,
and I actually went TOO far! Even with careful, slow, progressive hand application, I went to the underlying primer for a very small distance (less>than an inch, only about 1/4 inch wide). The polishing pad I was using gave no advance warning (i.e., I saw no build-up of black paint before I broke through). Fortunately, a careful application with touch-up paint fixed my goof, and the end result was flawless.

Perhaps a more "generalized" application of this compound has less of a risk than using it to repair a discrete scratch or blemish. In either case, I agree that the combo of 3M polishes is tough to beat.


[AT] A trick I use to do with some fine polishing compounds was to thin them out a little with water to reduce the abrasiveness. It works greatand gives you a little more room for error.


[CMC] I’ve found the product "Safe Cut", from the WAX SHOP to work exceptionally well, and is mild enough to allow for "goofs".

 Clay Polishing Products

 Removing Paint Overspray

[LL] The clay works the fastest, but you risk a few deep scratches as the smallest piece of dirt in between the clay and the finish is bad news, and as you stated you will have to rub out afterwards. You can literally ruin your finish with the clay, damage is unlikely with compounds/polishes, especially by hand. So you may as well just rub it to start with. I did three cars last year that had this malady. Start with 3M perfect-it foam polishing pad glaze(swirl-mark remover)by hand. If that doesn’t cut it(and it probably won’t), the next step would be 3m’s Perfect-it II rubbing compound. If this doesn’t cut it, it should really be done with a power buffer. The power buffer can work with a less aggressive compound than the hand job will require.

From my experience, Prep-sol type solvents generally won’t cut it, and thewax didn’t help. Certainly don’t let these pro-cleaners on the paint for more than 30 seconds or so.

One of the cars I did that got Olympic fence stain on it took a fairly aggressive PRESTA brand 800 grit compound to get it clean. I then had to follow that with 3m finesse-it and then Perfect-it.

Another car I got a high polymer exterior stone sealer on had to be wet-sanded, I wouldn’t recommend doing this yourself unless you’re very experienced. Hopefully your plight is less severe. Good luck.


[HPA] You can purchase Meguiar’s clay and some of their Final Inspection to DIY. Wear rubber disposable gloves and follow the directions, particularly about doing the work in the shade and keeping the paint surface wet. Auto stores also sell Clay Magic as a kit for ~ $25. I wouldn’t recommend any form of color sanding. Buffing is an option. Doing it by hand is better. Whatever you use for a polish should work after you’ve cleaned the work area, then wax it.

I’ll assume you had some form of wax protecting the surface. The over spray hopefully bonded to the wax and not the actual paint on the car. You can purchase some wax and grease remover and use it (e.g., PPG’s DX-330; DuPont and others make similar products). As it dissolves the old wax it’ll create a milky haze on the surface and might be able
to get under the over spray where you can wipe it off. You’ll have to wipe it down at least twice. Avoid runoff by using the liquid sparingly. It’ll remove the oils from your hands, too, so you might consider wearing protective gloves. I use Tork (lint free) disposable rags. I follow with a clean, fabric softener free terry towel. If it passes inspection I then wash and "wax" the area. Read and follow all the instructions on the can of whatever you purchase.


[CM] Once you’ve finished with the clay, wash the car thoroughly. Use a mild polish (I used 3M Perfect-It Hand Glaze) to remove all of the small scratches in the finish. The key with the clay is not to let any dirt particles get between the clay and your paint. It becomes trapped and scratches even deeper in the paint. Put on a good coat of wax immediately after polishing.


[GM] You are correct that a clay bar is the best way to remove overspray. Follow with a polish like Zymol HD Cleanse or 3M Swirl Mark Remover to remove any scratches the clay may create, then wax. Remember to use straight line motions with all these products.


[EG – 99/11/16] Last week I apllied the California Clay followed by Meguiars Gold Class liquid wax. Previously I had used others and the results had been pretty dismal. This time around the car looks better than I have ever seen it, feels inredibly soft and smooth to the touch. Even my wife that usually does not care for those things commented on the great looks ft the car. It did take about 6 Hrs. to do the whole thing, but certainly worth it.


[CSK – 99/11/14] The clay really strips away all the old crap you didn’t even know was on the vehicle. Smooth as a baby’s behind!


[BZA – 99/11/16] At the Silver State NSX Classic in Vegas Jeff Brown from Meguiar’s demoed the clay and stressed something: You MUST lubricate the surface with something like their Final Inspection BEFORE using the clay. Jeff soaked, I mean every inch, of the panel with FI before the clay hit the surface on the demo NSX. After claying the panel he also stressed folding the clay over a few times to take the contaminants inside. When the bar gets dirty you throw it away. The Meguiar’s bar is intentionally white so you can see the dirt loading up the bar.

When we got home from Vegas I couldn’t find the Meguiar’s clay in my locale so I bought the Mother’s clay bar. The Mother’s kit includes a bottle of Showtime Instant Detailer as the lubricant. 3M Gloss Enhancer will probably work just as well (notice how the numbers on the Meguiar’s products match the last 2 digits of the 3M part numbers). The clay pulled off grit I could not get off any other way. Afterwards the panels I used it on were smooth as glass. I’m sold on the stuff.

 Removing Tree Sap

Obviously the firs tthing to try is just regular car wash soap and water.  That will take off some types of sap, especially if they are fresh.

I did a little experiment on tree sap removal this evening and may have found a cheap, easy, and safe way to get rid of tree sap on your car.


  • a small, thick towel (like a wash cloth)
  • some hot water (not TOO hot!)
  • a bowl
  • a turkey baster (or a coffee mug would work)


Fill the bowl with hot water. Not boiling, but hot enough that you say "hey, that’s hot!" if you stick your finger in it. If you use water that’s too hot you may damage the paint. I didn’t have a thermometer, but I’d guess 130-140 degrees F.

Put the towel in the bowl of hot water.

Go out to your car, remove the towel from the bowl and lay it on the tree sap covered part of the car.

Using the turkey baster or coffee mug, keep adding more hot water from the bowl to the top of the towel every few seconds so it never has a chance to cool down. After that, the sap came right off with gentle rubbing from the towel.

1-2 minutes was all it took, though older sap that’s really hardened on may take longer (or may not work at all!)


[GM – 98/8/24] Try 3M Adhesive Remover. Other good solvents are Wurth’s Cleans All and Mineral Spirits. I’d stay away from nail polish remover – many of these contain acetone which may remove paint. If none of these work go to a fine polish like Zymol HD Cleanse or 3M Swirl Mark Remover.

3M Adhesive Remover is available from Griot’s Garage (800-345-5789) or your local Napa store. Wurths Cleans All is available from Imparts (800-325-9043).

 Buffers and Other Machines

[2001/7/3 – HPA] 

The HD DA buffer Meguiar’s sells is a Porter-Cable (good brand in power equipment). I like it. You can dial in the speed you want from fast for compounding to medium for polishing and slow for finishing. (A DA or random orbiting buffer is safer to paint than a rotary buffer in most cases. I use rotary buffers to "wet sand" paint jobs on hobby cars if you’re not aware of the differences in a worst case scenario.) If anyone orders it it may take awhile (mine took 6 weeks to build and ship). Meguiar’s makes their own velcro hook backing plate in 2 diameters with their own threaded spindle to match the buffer, so you must (I highly recommend it; ready why below) order their backing plate. Meguiar’s also makes the best foam pads for compound, polishing and finishing around. It’s better than the 3M waffle pattern which rips apart in no time. Overall, foam is better than anything else in my experience. All three grades of foam pad are available in the 2 diameters they make (6 & 8 inch I believe). The small pads work well on small cars like the NSX while the large ones come in handy for doing land yacht size vehicles. But if you like putting weight behind a buffer (a no-no) then you might consider the 8-inch since it’ll distribute the weight slightly better. A word of cautionary advice: Securely attach the backing plate to the DA mechanism. A touch of light duty thread locker will do, so you can remove the plate with one hand while using the provided wrench with the other if you interchange between the 2 available size backing plates. That way you don’t torque out the backing plate spindle from the plastic it is imbedded in, but it still stays on and not spin off while in use. Drape the power cord over your shoulder so it never drags across the body of the car or get tangled up in the DA polisher.

Last fall I discovered the hard way on a DIY DA buffer I made with a similar, albeit slightly larger size Porter-Cable I got at Lowe’s homecenter, which I fitted with a standard steel arbor to fit a 3M backing plate, that the second the foam dries and grabs it spins loose very quickly. All I did was shift my weight. Still it was my fault. I polished in the sun and outside on a hot day where the liquid polish dried too quickly. If you apply any sort of weight on the whole thing that large coarse threaded 5/8-inch steel arbor makes a wicked ding in sheet metal. Take the lesson from me and not learn it on your own. For the purists on the lists: Don’t worry. It’s okay. It wasn’t an NSX. It was my little cousin’s brand new Altima so it didn’t cost much to repair. Getting back in her good graces is another story.

So far this OEM setup from Meguiar’s work great! Love it.

If you didn’t catch it above I’m suggesting the only way to apply polishes and waxes is in the shade when its not too hot. And, never, apply lots of pressure. Let the product you’re using do the work.

Car Care

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