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What is a Rubbing Compound?

Sometimes also referred to as a cutting compound, a rubbing compound is a product that is used to restore the finish and appearance of a vehicle’s paintwork; but you will only get the results you want if you know how to properly use a rubbing compound.

The product usually takes the form of a thick liquid or paste and comprises of an abrasive compound suspended in the paste which is used to rub or polish the paint surface in order to get rid of mild abrasions, slight scratches and scuffs and to improve the general dull appearance that vehicle paint can acquire in daily use and with exposure to the elements.

In essence, the rubbing compound removes a microscopically thin layer of the paint’s surface, revealing fresh bright paint from underneath. Rubbing compounds are also used for “rubbing in” new areas of paintwork – blending in the old paint with the new – and for removing “overspray.”

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Man with orbital polisher

How to Choose the Best Rubbing Compound for Your Needs

Your choice of which rubbing compound to use on your vehicle will depend to a large extent on the level of damage to the paint surface.

If the paint surface is free from scratches and scuffs but the finish has gone dull and lifeless then you probably only need a relatively light rubbing compound to restore the paintwork to showroom condition. On the other hand, if you need to get rid of minor scratches and scuff marks then you may need to use a more abrasive compound, possibly finishing off with a lighter variety. Heavier marks and scratches may also need a machine to apply the compound with whereas less serious jobs can be done by hand if no machine is available.

It’s best to be realistic about the use of rubbing compounds, they are not a substitute for the somewhat more expensive option of retouching or repainting the damaged surface – or the whole vehicle if necessary. We are talking about rubbing compounds as a solution to the problem of minor surface blemishes and dullness of appearance due to normal wear and tear. Anything more than this will probably need retouching, in the case of a minor piece of damage, up to a complete respray if the damage is more widespread but this ca be a much more expensive alternative and not one to undertake lightly.

What Else do I Need to Buy to Properly Use a Rubbing Compound?

Once you have chosen your rubbing compound, having taken advice from the supplier as to whether it is suitable for your vehicle’s paintwork, there are a few things you will need, including:

  • A means of applying the compound – this can be a cloth, which must be absolutely clean, soft and totally free of foreign matter such as grit or grease. Various proprietary applicators are available specifically for this purpose and you are well advised to spend a little extra in getting the right tool for the job.
  • A good quality car shampoo with which to clean the paint prior to starting the work
  • If the Damage is more than superficial, or if the area to be treated is large, for instance if you are treating the whole vehicle, then a machine applicator really is a must.
  • A respiratory mask to remove any fine particles released by the process and for removing fumes that might be given off by the compound itself.
  • Eye protection, in the form of a pair of goggles or protective glasses, is strongly advised, especially if using a buffing machine or machine applicator.

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Hand with a wipe the car polishing

Here’s Our Checklist for How To Properly Use A Rubbing Compound

Step One: Preparation

  • Make sure that you have all required items to hand and that you are preferably under cover – if that isn’t possible choose a dry day, but not too sunny, as the paint surface may get hot in very bright sunlight making application more difficult.
  • Clean the car, or at least the area to be treated, and let it dry thoroughly. Some manufacturers supply specially impregnated cleaning wipes to do this and these are highly recommended, especially for smaller areas.
  • If washing by hand you are advised to fit a grit guard to your water bucket – these devices prevent grit and dirt from being picked up by your sponge and re-applied to the paint, possible causing more scratches.
  • It is essential to ensure that there is no grit or dirt on the area to be treated. If there is a problem, you may need to use a “clay bar” to remove any contaminants.

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Step Two: Application

  • If applying the rubbing compound by hand, then put a small amount onto your cloth or applicator and begin to rub the affected area with a gentle circular motion.
  • If the area to be treated is large you are advised to start at the top and work down.
  • If using a buffing machine, then be sure to familiarise yourself with its use and any safety precautions that are advised. Practice on a small hidden-away area first or on a piece of scrap material if you have one, to get the hang of the way that the machine works before unleashing it onto your precious paintwork.
  • Only use a little at a time because if there is any excess compound and it dries it is more difficult to shift and the job will take you longer.
  • Buff away with a microfiber towel, or similar, as you go, applying more compound if the desired result is not achieved.
  • Once the area to be treated is finished then apply a coat of good quality vehicle polish and buff to a showroom shine, preferably with a machine buffer.

These steps should be repeated until you have the finish you require. Once that is achieved it is strongly advised that you apply further coats of polish at regular intervals in order to protect the newly exposed paintwork. If you take the time to properly use a rubbing compound the results can be truly impressive and give a new lease of life to your vehicle’s paintwork.

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Source:

  1. How to Sand and Polish a Car so the Paint Looks Good as New – Axle Addict
  2. How to Use a Rubbing Compound on a Car – Wheel Zine

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