Compounding Vs Polishing: Core Differences

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When it comes to beautifying your car or removing scratches from the paint, it’s either you polish or compound the body. Compounding and polishing are similar but not the same.

When you compound a car, it means to level uneven surfaces and eliminate scratches. But polishing means adding shine and smoothness to the paint.

In this compounding vs polishing article, we’d address everything you need to know about these two auto detailing techniques. But quickly, you should know that some people still polish their cars after compounding; this tells you that compounding and polishing don’t serve the same purpose.

What is Compounding?

Compounding means using a “rubbing compound” – applied onto a polishing machine or buffer – to fix light surface damages on a car’s paint. This auto detailing technique is usually applied when you’ve got scratches, distortion, or annoying swirl marks showing on your car’s paint.

Compounding can fix paint problems that polishing won’t do. Rubbing compounds contain abrasive formulas that cut through light defects and make your car’s body to be even. There are different types of compounding formulas with varying levels of abrasion for fixing light to deep paint defects.


  • Guarantees smoother, even surface
  • Fixes most deep scratches and defects
  • Used to revive old paint jobs
  • Easy to apply


  • You may need to polish the compounded surface after compounding

What is Polishing?

Polishing means to “Polish” your car’s paint, so it shines better and brighter; now, that’s a layman’s definition. Professionally, polishing a car means removing light paint defects that have dented the shiny, glossy appearance of the car. The defects could be scratches, swirl marks, bird chippings, and others.

When you polish a car, the result is always a shiny, silky surface free of any form of dents. But polishing compounds are not typically abrasive, so they can’t really fix deep scratches or help to even the car’s paint. Polishing is done with “polishing compounds,” and they are many of them on the market.


  • Easy to apply
  • Makes your car paint shine brighter and slicker
  • Fixes light paint defects


  • Cannot fix deep scratches and defects

Compounding Vs Polishing: The Differences

When you compound a car, you may also need to polish or wax the car afterward to achieve a much better result.

On the flip side, sometimes, you may intend to polish a car, only to discover that you need to compound it first, before proceeding with the polishing. Hereunder are the differences between these two techniques.

Comparing FactorsCompounding Polishing
Best forFixing scratchesImproving shininess
Ease of applicationEasyEasy
Application methodUsing bufferUsing Buffer or No-mint towel
End resultEven smooth surfaceShiny, glossy surface

Fixing Light Scratches

Both compounding and polishing can help to hide light scratches from a car’s body. However, most auto detailers would go with polishing if the scratch never went deep. Also, polishing is the best for fixing swirl marks caused by pretty many reasons, including how the car is being washed when dirty.

Recommended Technique: Polishing.

Hiding Deep Scratches

Deep scratches or defects refer to paint problems that cut through the wax layer/clear coat and get to the primer or base coat. These kinds of defects can never be polished out, regardless of the polishing compound you bought.

When it comes to dealing with deep scratches, the most effective solution is compounding. The high abrasive nature of rubbing compounds (used for compounding) can help to level out or hide deep scratches to the extent that they’re no longer easily visible to the eye.

However, after compounding to hide deep scratches or bird chipping defects, polishing is done to make the compounded surface look as bright as the rest of the car’s body.

Recommended Technique: Compounding.


For compounding, you have to apply the rubbing compound onto a buffer or orbital sander and then apply it to the affected surface. You may need to compound an affected surface many times to achieve the desired result.

For polishing, the procedure is quite the same; you will need to pour the polishing compound onto a polishing machine, buffer, or no-mint towel and apply it onto the affected surface as many times as possible to achieve the desired result.

When Should You Compound or Polish?

Compounding is recommended when dealing with deep scratches on your car’s body, and polishing is best when the scratches are minor/light. You can still compound to fix light scratches if the car’s body got distorted/uneven due to the scratch.


Compounding vs. polishing? The two work hand in hand, mostly. When you compound, you would most likely need to polish the compounded surface, and sometimes, before polishing is done, the surface must be compounded to become level.

The level of defect on your car’s paint is what determines whether you need to compound or polish it.

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