How to Polish a Car With a Rotary Buffer

Updated February 21, 2017

If you take pride in your car, you always want it looking its best. For exterior car maintenance, few tools are as effective as the rotary buffer. Also called a circular polisher or high-speed polisher, rotary buffers are most commonly used by car care professionals to remove small paint discrepancies or imperfections, but can also repair damage such as light scratches or swirls in the clearcoat of your car. A rotary buffer in the right hands and combined with just the right amount of wax or polisher can keep even an old car looking good as new.

Select a compound or swirl remover from an auto body store. Product type will vary depending on the depth of damage; if you have questions regarding a specific product, consult an expert at your auto body retailer.

Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and water in a spray bottle.

Apply the compound directly to a light cutting pad, and attach the pad to the rotary buffer.

Spread the compound over the affected area without turning the buffer on. Apply more compound as needed.

Start the buffer at 1000 RPMs and move in a horizontal, side-to-side motion across the compound. Gradually work your way up through 1200 and 1500 RPMs to really work the compound into the surface. When you have covered the whole area horizontally, move in vertical up-and-down motions until the compound is worked into the surface.

Turn off the buffer when the compound begins to dry (it will turn clear). Spray the surface lightly with the water-alcohol mixture and buff clean to remove residual compound and get a good look at the results.

Repeat buffing as necessary to remove all swirls and scratches.

Select a finishing polish and apply directly to the surface of the car. Polish will remove any haze left behind by the compound on the car.

Fill a spray bottle with plain water. Attach a polishing pad to your rotary buffer.

Spray the pad lightly with water, just to add a little moisture. Spread the polish around the hazy area with the machine turned off.

Run the buffer at 1000 RPMs flat on the surface in a figure eight to spread the polisher around. Increase to 1200 RPMs if necessary to properly work the polish into the surface. Turn the buffer off after the polish is worked in and drying.

Spray the surface with plain water and wipe clean with a soft cloth. Repeat polishing if necessary to remove all haze and restore gloss to the surface.


When possible, start with the lightest cutting pad and finest compound, and only advance to the more aggressive materials if needed. This will prevent you from damaging the surface of the car while you are trying to fix it. Always keep the rotary buffer moving in even strokes across the car's surface to avoid applying too much heat or pressure in one place and damaging the clearcoat. If you want to wax or seal the surface after polishing, do so by hand, without using the rotary buffer. The heat from the machine can melt wax onto the surface and damage paint.


Circular polishers can produce a lot of heat, which can damage the paint on your car if applied incorrectly. If you are not experienced with the use of a rotary buffer, consider contacting a professional, or using a dual action buffer, which requires less precision and experience.

Things You'll Need

  • Rotary buffer
  • Compound or swirl remover
  • Soft cloth
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Water
  • Finishing polish
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About the Author

Samantha Volz has been involved in journalistic and informative writing for over eight years. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with a minor in European history. In college she was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and completed a professional internship with the "Williamsport Sun-Gazette," serving as a full-time reporter. She resides in Horsham, Pennsylvania.