Difference Between Rubbing and Polishing Compound

Updated April 17, 2017

Bringing a car's finish back to its original lustre with compound is a challenge, but if you choose the wrong compound you could do serious damage to your paint job or get poor results.

Rubbing Compound

Rubbing compound is a gritty, abrasive product used to remove oxidise paint from a car's finish. It is the strongest compound available.

Polishing Compound

Polishing compound is often used before waxing to eliminate scratches and light oxidation. It is much less abrasive than rubbing compound.

Which Compound Should You Use?

If your car's finish is very dull and has a good deal of oxidation, then rubbing compound would be a good choice. Polishing compound can be used to remove scratches or to restore a slightly dull finish. Test an area of paint first.

Compounding the Car

Compound should only be used after the car is washed and dried, and be applied to a one-foot-square area with a damp cloth. As soon as it dries, it should be removed.


If you use rubbing compound, it is important to wax the car after compounding. Some polishing compounds contain wax, but it never hurts to give the car an extra coat.

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About the Author

Nicholas Salvatore is a twenty-five year veteran of the television broadcast industry who has extensive experience as a reporter, anchor and network field producer. He's also done play-by-play for college basketball and minor league baseball. He has received awards for reporting from Associated Press and United Press International.