What Are the Different Types of Polishers and Buffers for Your Car?


    What Are Polishers and Buffers?

    With use, a car’s exterior starts to show signs of age. You may see scratches and other imperfections that may diminish the car’s look. This is a sign that you need to purchase a car buffer to help restore your car’s paint job. 

    A buffer’s job is to smooth out the car’s surface and restore its paint job. By doing so, you can remove any imperfections and even add a layer of shine, making your car look as new as it did when you bought it.

    Most people do not need to use a buffer, but if your car is old, you may want to upkeep its appearance and have it look presentable. Cleaning and waxing your vehicle regularly allows it to have that wet look that makes it look brand new and well taken care of. 

    Although you can still smooth out your car’s paint without a buffer, it will require a lot of labor to work the polish into the paint. You can easily save all that time and effort by purchasing a hand buffer. 

    Buffer vs. Polisher

    Buffing and polishing are the exact same task of working a product, such as a polisher, into a surface. If you are searching for a device that will do so, you can search for either a buffer or a polisher because both will do the same task. They are simply two different names for the same tool.

    The Construction of a Polisher

    A basic automotive polisher has four main parts. These include the motor, the spindle, the backing plate, and the pad.

    The Motor

    The polisher motor is what makes the spindle spin. These motors have variable speed capabilities, meaning you can easily change the speed. They can be pneumatic or electric. Pneumatic motors are run on compressed air. 

    The Spindle

    The spindle of a polisher is attached to the motor that holds the backing plate. The spindle is either free spinning or has a fixed drive.

    The Backing Plate

    The backing plate of a polisher is either a rubber or a plastic plate. This plate is attached to the spindle and holds the pad. It is often flexible and may also have a hook and loop on the side. This allows it to hold the polishing pads.

    The Polisher Pad

    The polisher pad is where you apply the polishing compound. It can be made of microfiber, foam, wool, or even a combination of all of them.

    Different Kinds of Polishers

    Man wearing gloves using a polisher on a silver car.

    There are two different kinds of buffers and polishers available on the market. These different types and their names refer to the way the pad rotates around the motor. They are called rotary buffers and orbital polishers. The latter is subdivided into three different kinds: fixed orbital, Dual action random orbital, and Dual action forced rotation.

    Rotary Buffers

    A rotary buffer differs from other kinds because its pad and spindle rotate together in one direction. These buffers don’t orbit, oscillate or vibrate. Rather they rotate. Their rotation is circular, and the axis is at the center of the spindle. They are driven by their motor and only rotate in a single direction. Such buffers have variable speeds, and the outer diameter is designed to spin faster than the inside.

    These buffers are primarily used to remove moderate to heavy defects, sanding marks, and swirls, and they can also be used to spread wax. The pads on rotary buffers are usually wool, foam, or microfiber. 

    Rotary buffers are usually more challenging to use because it takes time to learn how to use them properly. There is also a high chance of damaging the paint if you are a beginner, and perfecting it takes a lot of time and practice.

    Orbital Polishers

    Standard orbit orbital polishers are the most common kind and can be easily found in stores. They lack strength and capabilities, which is why they are not used in professional settings. These polishers are easy to use and can help you apply wax much quicker than if you were to do it manually.

    In an orbital polisher, the spindle and the pad move about a different axis, causing the pad to oscillate, vibrate or orbit. You can use these to remove light to moderate defects. If you need to remove heavier defects, you will need to attach advanced pads. These polishers can also be used for wax application and removal.

    Orbital polishers are a much safer option than others because of the pad motion. They are also straightforward to use, and it only takes a few minutes to familiarize yourself with this tool. The chances of damaging your car’s paint are also low, meaning they are beginner-friendly.

    Fixed Orbital Polishers

    Fixed orbital polishers are also known as wax spreaders. They are pretty recognizable as they have top-mounted motors and a bell shape. They are often labeled as random orbital polishers. These polishes have low speeds and low amperage, using which the large pad on them oscillates around a fixed axis. This motion mimics that of hand waxing.

    The pads on fixed orbital polishers are not removable and rely on bonnets that are attached to the pad. Although these tools are excellent for applying and removing wax, they don’t work as well for polishing and compounding. Their low speed, power, and lack of rotary movements do not allow these polishers to do more than remove minor defects. 

    Dual-Action Random Orbital Polishers

    Dual-action random orbital polishers are the most common kind of machine polishers used for compounding and polishing clear paint. They are called dual-action because of the pad that spins on an axis. This axis is offset from the axis where the spindle spins. 

    The pad on such polishers is free spinning, meaning that it spins because of the whipping action of the backing plate and not the motor. By having such a mechanism, the pad moves in a looping pattern relative to the paint. 

    This tool is extremely safe to use because of its free-spinning nature. You must be careful when using it because if you apply too much pressure, the pad will stop spinning and harm your paint. 

    Dual-Action Forced Rotation Polisher

    Dual-action forced rotation orbital polishers are designed to have a pad that spins on an off-axis from the spindle. These polishers differ from dual-action random orbital polishers because the pad does not spin on its own. Instead, the pad is driven by a gear set. Thus, no matter how much pressure you apply when using it, the pad will not stop.

    These polishers are easier to use since you do not have to be mindful of the pressure you are applying. You can also use larger pads without affecting the performance of the machine. Instead, the more pressure you apply and the more aggressively you use it, the better you can cut into the paint and remove defects.

    What To Consider?

    Worker wearing gloves polishing the roof of a car using a polisher.

    When purchasing, there are several factors of polishers and buffers that you need to keep in mind. By doing so, you will be able to buy one that fulfills all your needs.


    Many polishers and buffers have motors with variable speeds. Having a range allows you to target deep and surface-level scratches. You must ensure that you are not using the buffer at the highest speed because it can cause friction, and the polisher may start heating up. The best speed is around 2000 rpm to 4000 rpm.


    To use polishers and buffers, you must lift them up and move them around the car. This means that they should be lightweight so you can pick them up without straining yourself. You should also ensure that it is easy to maneuver so that you do not need to move your wrist in awkward positions to reach a particular scratch that needs to be smoothed out.

    Spin Type

    Before picking a new polisher, you should consider the two types and decide which kind you want. The two spin types include rotary and random orbit or dual action.

    Spin Type Usage
    Rotatory These polishers are designed to spin in a clockwise direction and repeatedly buff the same area. These are used by professionals because they are challenging to use if not mastered.
    Random Orbit or Dual Action These polishers are excellent for beginners. They have large pads that rotate in large and small circles, and such motions prevent you from overworking an area. Dual Action polishers are easier to use and use up less power. 


    The power of the motors used in polishers and rotators is usually measured using either revolution per minute (RPM) or orbits per minute (OPM). If you want to get the job done quickly, you should purchase one with a more powerful motor. On the other hand, lower amp motors are also capable of a thorough and lost-lasting job. 

    You may also want to look into a motor with variable speed control, as such polishers are long-lasting and conserve energy.


    Another feature you should look out for when purchasing a polisher or buffer is its accessories. One of the most common accessories includes polishing pads or bonnets. You should ensure that these are suitable for your purpose and that different kinds are included. If you plan to apply wax, a foam pad will serve you best and bring out the shine in your project. On the other hand, if you want to remove scratches, you will need a pad made of rougher material, such as wool.


    Polishing requires a lot of patience, and you must bear through the vibrations that the polisher produces, but they can get tiring quickly. To avoid such a situation from happening, you should choose a polisher that has an ergonomic design. The more comfortable the tool is to hold, the longer you will be able to use it.

    Additionally, ensure that the body of the buffer is lightweight. A forward-balanced model is the best kind, as you do not need to put weight and pressure on the buffer pad. Good ergonomics also includes the controls being within reach but not in a position where you could accidentally press them. 

    Car Polishing Tips

    Professional wearing gloves buffing a car using a buffer. 

    Polishing a surface, like a car’s exterior, seems simple. Still, if you want your polish to look professional, you should follow these tips.

    Patience is Key

    The best tip for polishing any surface is to take your time. You need to be extremely patient and work in small sections. Know that this job will take a long time if you want to do it correctly. Ensure that you spend plenty of time on each area.

    Choose the right Polishing Pad.

    Many different kinds of polishing pads are available on the market, and each serves a different purpose. Depending on the kind of job you intend to do, choose the correct polishing pad. 

    Wear Gloves

    Gloves are essential when you are working with a polisher that vibrates. The vibrations can get tiresome after a while. Since polishing takes time, wearing gloves helps minimize the feeling so that you can work for longer. 


    A polisher with a large pad buffing a car.

    When choosing a polisher to purchase, choosing a less expensive model may be tempting, but those will most likely not last long. If you have the budget, you should invest in high-quality polishers from reputable brands such as DeWALT, Milwaukee, and Porter. They are made using high-quality materials and are also comfortable to hold and easy to use. 


    DeWALT’s polishers/buffers are designed to be incredibly powerful and easy to use. Their motors offer variable speed control, meaning you can adjust speeds and use the buffer at an rpm that feels most comfortable.

    Polishers from this brand also have an ergonomic design, meaning they are lightweight and effortless to hold and use. They also do not require much maintenance, meaning they are beginner friendly. 

    Some popular models from this brand include the DeWALT Car Buffer, the DEWALT Buffer/Polisher with Variable Speed, Soft Start, 7-Inch/9-Inch (DWP849X).


    Milwaukee polishers are known to be the best in the field of cordless power tools. They are designed to be ergonomic and have excellent weight management and speed control. All three of these features make these polishers a delight to use. 

    Polishers from this brand are also easy to use and are thus a favorite among DIY car care enthusiasts and even professionals because of how powerful they are. Some popular models include the Milwaukee 2738-20 M18 FUEL Polisher and the Milwaukee M18 Fuel Cordless Variable Speed Polisher.


    Porter-Cable’s polishers are made especially for beginners. They are designed to be light and compact, meaning you can use them for extended periods without getting tired. Polishers from this brand are powerful but easy to use, making them perfect for professionals and newbies. Most models also come with a warranty in case any issue arises. Some popular models include the PORTER-CABLE 7424XP Variable Speed Polisher and the Porter-Cable Variable Speed Polisher.

    Difference Between the Different Kinds of Polishers and Buffers

    Type of Polisher Pros  Cons
    Standard Orbit Polisher They are inexpensive, easy to find, and easy to use. They have weak motors, can be used for waxing only, and cannot perform paint corrections.
    Forced Rotation Dual Action Orbital Polishers They are stronger than random orbit polishers and safe for beginners. They can be used for limited tasks because of fixed rotations and backing plates.
    Random Orbit Polishers They are beginner friendly and easy to handle and use. These polishers are also very affordable. They are not as strong as other kinds of polishers.
    Rotary Polishers They have excellent capabilities and are stronger than all other kinds of polishers. They are extremely difficult to use and can damage paint surfaces if used incorrectly.


    1. What kind of polisher is better, rotary or dual action?

    It would be best if you always chose a polisher based on the tasks you intend to use it for. If you want to remove marks from paintwork, then a rotary polisher will be the better option. In contrast, a dual-action polisher is a better option for spreading max and other less intensive tasks.

    2. What polishers do professionals use?

    Professionals usually use rotary buffers as they are more powerful. These polishers are also known as circular polishers because the motor powers a gear system that forces the spindle to move in a circular direction.

    3. What RPM is best for polishing?

    The best RPM depends on the task you are performing. Lower RMPs cause less friction and subsequent heat build-up. Ideally, you should stay between 1750 to 2400 RPM when compounding. When finishing, you should lower it to 1200 to 1750 RPM.


    Keeping your car tidy inside is necessary for its longevity. Cleaning the inside of the car is easy as you can use a car vacuum to clean up the dirt. The exterior, however, is difficult to tackle because scratches and dents are not as easy to fix. 

    To revive your car’s exterior and give it a new life, a polisher or buffer is an excellent device. This tool is essential for every home mechanic who likes to take care of their cars themselves.

    You have many options of polishers or buffers to choose from, and with such a large array of choices, choosing one can be difficult. To make the correct choice, you must know all the different kinds of polishers/ buffers. You must also consider the ergonomics, speed, motor, and spin type to ensure you get one that will fulfill your needs.


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