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Explaining the Choices

It would be hard to name another product category in our industry that has more vendors than compounds, polishes and waxes.

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Mark R. Clark is owner of Professional PBE Systems in Waterloo, Iowa. He’s a popular industry speaker and consultant and is celebrating his 32nd year as a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

In each case, the product manufacturer figures it has the best solution
to your problems, but as every painter well knows, there is a
difference in how the various brands perform. If you wish that
your current product stayed wet longer, cut faster or cleaned
up easier, then it’s time to try some other brand.

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Most brands have at least one product offering in the following
general product classes: compounds, cleaners, polishes, glazes,
waxes and sealants. What follows is some generic information that
may help you choose among them.

Compounds

These products are the most abrasive of the above categories.
However, just like lacquer thinner is the harshest class of solvents,
there’s a huge difference in the $15 gallon of topcoat lacquer
thinner and the $4 gallon of clean-up lacquer thinner.

A wide range of abrasive types and sizes are used in compounds,
which are designed to actually shave or cut the finish. This serious
abrasive action removes paint defects, heavy oxidation from long
exposure to UV rays and even fairly deep paint scratches.

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The abrasive itself can be made from a variety of things. For
many years, a common abrasive particle was pumice. Pumice is a
light, porous volcanic glass used for polishing and erasing surface
defects in many different industries. It’s quite soft, so it doesn’t
cut a hard paint finish very well; at the same time, it’s prone
to leaving swirl marks in softer finishes.

Fine sand (or silica) can be obtained in various degrees of hardness
and particle size to suit the abrasive purpose in other compounds.
Still, other abrasives are fabricated in the laboratory to do
just the shaving job required of them; these high-tech abrasives
are often very good at melting away with the heat of the polisher’s
action, creating a polishing effect.

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To be used, abrasives must be put into some kind of solution,
and the base of many of these products is an "oil" of
some kind. Most use mineral oil, mineral spirits, naphtha, kerosene
and assorted petroleum distillates in some combination. The combination,
of course, is the "secret" formula that makes each product
better than its competitors. Waterbased products are easy to clean
up, but the heat from the polisher evaporates the water pretty
quickly; most products advertised as waterbased also have a petrochemical
lubricant in them to keep them wet.

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Lubrication is a problem because the heat build-up from the wool
pad makes both the paint finish and the compound hot. To keep
the whole works mixed uniformly together, most products also include
glycerine, soap or silicone emulsions.

Cleaners

Products described as cleaners or combination products that also
"clean" the surface simply contain smaller amounts of
the same kinds of abrasive that compound products do.

These mild abrasive products actually remove very little of the
paint finish and do an acceptable job of removing very mild oxidation.
Oxidation describes the effect of UV rays on the resin that makes
up paint. These UV rays destroy the resin in the paint, leaving
just the pigment. When you can run your finger across a painted
surface and it comes away with color on it, that’s the pigment.
Cleaners remove slight amounts of this pigment from the finish
without doing much damage.

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In many cases, a clay bar will clean a surface just as well. These
hunks of clay (much like you used in grade school to make ashtrays)
do a remarkable job of pulling the contaminants off the painted
surface without damaging the finish itself. Use the clay bar with
a lubricant of some kind (like soapy water) to keep the bar from
dragging on the surface, and turn the bar over often and reknead
the bar to keep a clean side out. If you drop the clay bar on
a dirty floor, throw it away before you seriously scratch the
paint on the next car.

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Polishes

Products labeled as polishes are designed to get a nice shine
on the surface, but they don’t offer any protection against the
elements. Applying a polish to fresh paint results in a nice shine
without leaving anything on the painted surface that might affect
the paint cure.

The light cleaning action of these products often comes from a
soap or detergent in the product rather than an abrasive particle.
Most products designed to be used with a polisher (called machine
polishes) contain some sort of silicone emulsion to help prevent
heat build-up.

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Glazes

Much like polishes in their purpose, glazes often contain a small
amount of wax in them as well, which serves to create a nice shine
and offers some slight protection. It helps to only work on small
areas of the car with most glazes because they tend to dry out
on large areas, making that great gloss harder to come by.

Waxes

Waxes are a protective coating designed to be applied over a polished
or glazed finish. A good wax helps protect a painted finish against
acid rain, UV rays, bird droppings and industrial fallout, and
most people also expect a very high shine from their waxed vehicle.

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In many products, the repellent ability comes from carnauba, a
resin-like extract from Brazilian plant roots. There are also
several varieties of synthetic carnauba, but it’s generally agreed
that real carnauba is the most durable.

When wax describes itself as 100 percent carnauba, that doesn’t
mean the contents of the can are 100 percent carnauba. If they
were, they would be too sticky to apply and remove from the car.
One hundred percent carnauba refers to the chip of 100 percent
carnauba that’s melted into tallow and combined with other ingredients
– like mineral spirits, kerosene and silicone fluids – to create
the commercial wax product. Waxes that advertise they "contain"
carnauba use some carnauba and some other synthetic wax melted
into tallow. Waxes that don’t contain any natural carnauba are
often easier to remove from the car than those that do.

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When the wax "glazes up" or dries to a powder, it’s
easier to remove than while it’s still wet. When the wax powders
and is wiped off, the only thing that remains on the surface is
the carnauba or other protective repellent because the mineral
spirits, silicone emulsions and other solvents have flashed off
into the air.

A good wax will leave the paint finish with a very high gloss
and some measure of protection against the elements. No wax, however,
will withstand caustic acid rain or bird droppings for long.

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Sealants

Paint sealants are a popular sale for new-car dealers when closing
the customer on the car. These products are a variety of polymers
of silicone, Teflon or other protective coatings that – ideally
– cross-link chemically with the paint finish. They work best
when applied to a painted finish with no old wax or sealant on
it, and just like building a paint job, the best results occur
when you strip all the old repaints off and begin fresh.

Generally, these products work best if applied in very thin coats
– using more won’t leave any better protection on the car.

The difference between a good wax job and a paint sealant can
be in the luster of the products and the amount of protection
they offer. Waxes generally leave the finish with a higher gloss,
but paint sealants offer more protection against the weather.

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Tip: Only compound, polish or wax a cool painted surface. If
the paint is hot from the sun or from a force dry in the booth,
you can stain the finish.


Making Your Choices

If you’re not happy with your current products, buy pints or quarts
of several new brands to see what you’re missing. When you finally
find one that works for you, then buy a gallon.

Also, feel free to combine compounds, polishes and waxes from
different vendors. If you find a compound that suits your purpose,
don’t be afraid to glaze over it with another brand that suits
your needs.

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Writer Mark Clark, owner of Clark Supply in Waterloo, Iowa, is
a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

Check It Out

Most brands have at least one product offering in the following
general product classes: compounds, cleaners, polishes, glazes,
waxes and sealants.

  • Compounds are the most abrasive and are designed to actually
    shave or cut the finish. This serious abrasive action will remove
    paint defects, heavy oxidation and fairly deep paint scratches.

  • Cleaners or combination products that also "clean"
    the surface are mild abrasive products that remove very little
    of the paint finish and do an acceptable job of removing very
    mild oxidation.
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  • Polishes are designed to get a nice shine on the surface,
    but they don’t offer any protection against the elements.

  • Glazes often contain a small amount of wax, which serves to
    create a nice shine and offers some slight protection.

  • Waxes are a protective coating designed to be applied over
    a polished or glazed finish. A good wax will help protect a painted
    finish against acid rain, UV rays, bird droppings and industrial
    fallout.

  • Sealants cross-link chemically with the paint finish. They
    work best when applied to a painted finish with no old wax or
    sealant on it, and just like building a paint job, the best results
    occur when you strip all the old repaints off and begin fresh.

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