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  • Writer's pictureDave

Glossary of Auto Detailing Terms

2 Bucket Wash

This is a washing method where you use two buckets, one for rinse water, and the other for your clean, soapy water. The benefit is you keep grit rinsed from your wash mit in a separate bucket from the one you reload your wash mit with so that you’re not re-introducing abrasive dirt to your paintwork. I recommend using grit guards to the bottom of each bucket to add extra protection in keeping dirt off your wash mit once it’s rinsed off.



Products or substances that can scratch, mar, or microscopically remove paint and other surfaces. Often used to describe polishes and compounds since they make paint shinier by removing microscopic layers until the visible scratches are no longer visible and the paint is level.


Working a product into a surface such as scrubbing a carpet cleaner into the carpet or mixing shampoo with a bucket of water.

Alcantara / Ultrasuede

Synthetic upholstery commonly used in automotive interiors that resembles Suede. Made from microfibers instead of leather. Commonly referred to as Micro-suede or Ultrasuede, though to be called Alcantara it has to be made in Italy. Commonly used on steering wheels, shift knobs and boots, and seats. Extra care is needed when detailing this material.

All-In-One (AIO) Polish

A product that combines polishing and protecting in one compound. This allows you to correct minor scratches and then protect the paint saving the step of having to apply a wax or sealant afterward. While the polishing action in these products is mild and wont remove bad scratches and marring they will save you time on good condition paint.


Stands for All Purpose Cleaner. These are usually very alkaline cleaners that are meant to be used on a variety of surfaces to remove the widest range of dirt and stains. Some APC come concentrated so you can dilute them to suit what you’re cleaning.

Arm Speed

How fast you move your arms, and subsequently the polisher, when performing paint correction with a rotary or dual action orbital polisher.


Backing Plate

Attachment for rotary and dual action orbital polishers that helps hold the pad. One side has that spindle or arbor that attaches to the polisher. The other side has hook and loop (also known as velcro) to hold the pad. Backing plates are often flexible and can be purchased in a variety of diameters to match different sized pads. A good rule of thumb is to use a backing plate that is 1/4″ to 1/2″ smaller in diameter than the pad you’re running. This prevents the backing plate from making contact with the paint during use and leaving marks.

Base Coat

The layer of paint on top of the primer but below the clear coat on a modern paint job. In the case of a metallic or pearl paint job the base coat is often below metallic flake or pearl coat. It’s the coat that gives your car is primary color.

Body Shop Safe

A term used to refer to products to be used in a body shop which contains no silicone or materials that can cause fish eyes and paint finish problems.


There is no actual legal definition or universally accepted test for Biodegradability. It commonly refers to organic material generally derived from living matter capable of being broken down into Hydrogen, Carbon Dioxide and less complex organic compounds through natural forces such as sunlight, bacteria or enzymes.

Brake Dust

Microscopic particles discharged from your brake pads and brake rotors when you apply the brakes. Over time these particles build up on your wheels and other parts giving them a brownish black appearance. Brake dust is very corrosive and should be removed asap or it will pit and damage your paint and metal parts.

Bucket Dolly

Platform with casters that you set your wash buckets in so you can roll them around rather than having to pick them up and carry them.


When you polish through your clearcoat and hit the basecoat or primer. This is most common to rotary polishers since the pad moves at extreme speed in one direction and builds up heat at the outer edge which cuts through paint extremely fast. The wobling motion of dual action orbital polishers helps prevent this which is why they are a popular choice for beginners and experts that aren’t looking for speed.


Carnauba Wax

Wax that contains Carnauba which is also called Brazil wax and palm wax. It’s a wax of the leaves of the palm Copernicia prunifera, a plant native to and grown only in the northeastern Brazil. It is obtained from the leaves of the carnauba palm by collecting and drying them, beating them to loosen the wax, then refining and bleaching the wax. The wax is very hard so it’s mixed with other compounds to make it into either a paste or liquid. The wax increases the gloss and hydrophobicity of paint and other materials.

Ceramic Coating

A polymer coating that you apply to your paint that acts as a microscopic clear coat increasing the gloss of the paint and protecting it from the elements. Other names for these coatings are Quartz, SiO2, and Glass. The coatings are usually suspended in a solvent that evaporates allowing the coating to cure to the paint. Ceramic Paint Coatings are meant to replace waxing and sealants. Most coating longevity is measured in years whereas waxes and sealants usually only last weeks to months.

Clay Bar

Polymer bar with the consistency of modeling clay. You rub them on your paint with a lubricating spray to pull out and abrade away contaminants that embed themselves in your paint.

Clay Towel / Clay Mitt

A towel or mitt that is coated on one side with a special polymer that acts like a clay bar when rubbed on paint with a lubricant. The benefit to clay towels and mitts is they are washable, unlike clay bars which must be disposed of if they are dropped or get dirty. Clay towels also work quite well with a car wash soap as a lubricant, eliminating the need to have a specific clay lube product.

Cleaner Wax

Wax that contains solvents or abrasives to remove microscopic layers of paint to help clean and lightly polish surface while applying a layer of wax. Not needed on paint that has been corrected since the paint doesn’t need any more corrective work.

Clear Coat

The top coat on modern multi stage paint jobs. This is a very thin layer applied over the base coat (and any metallic or pearl coats) to provide UV, chemical, and abraisive protection. It also adds the gloss that gives paint that wet look.


Another name for an aggressively abrasive polish. Usually the word compound refers to the most aggressive polishes whereas the word polish refers to the less aggressive polishes.


A product that can be diluted, usually with water. Concentrated chemicals have the benefit of you being able to control the strength of the chemical.

Co-Polymer A chemical compound of two polymers which are compatible and stable when joined.

Cure TimeThe duration of the curing process, or length of time between application of a product and that product reaching a fully stable state

Cured PaintRefers to paint that is applied at either the factory (original finish) or a refinishing paint/body shop and is 30 days or older.


The level of abrasiveness of a polish. A higher cut means the polish is more abrasive and will remove paint, plastic, or glass faster. A lower cut means it is less abrasive.


The act of removing paint through polishing. Also a term for the stage of paint correction where you’re removing heavy scratches and other blemishes using an aggressively abrasive compound. Cutting is usually followed by “polishing.”

Cutting Pad

An aggressive pad that gets attached to a buffer to help remove noticeable surface imperfections in the clear coat or paint. Can be foam, microfiber or wool


DA (Dual Action) Orbital Polisher

Type of polisher that rotates the pad on an orbit instead of a perfect circle. These polishers build up heat at the center of the pad rather than the perimeter like rotary polishers. The center of the pad moves much slower than the outside of pad which lowers the risk of burning through the paint. DA polishers are much safer than rotary polishers in the hands of a novice. DA polishers with a foam pad can also finish out nicer than a rotary with less effort so many professionals use them as well.


Removing microscopic dirt and particles from your paint that have become embedded. Usually a chemical like an Iron Remover or  an abrasive like a Clay Bar are used to decon the paint.


Anything in the paint, glass, or plastic that shouldn’t be there. This includes scratches, marring, pitting, etching, paint runs, and chips.


Restoring and maintaining every aspect of vehicle to as perfect as possible. This is more than just washing the car. It’s making sure everything is clean, defect free, and treated for future protection.

Detail Brush

Generic term for many different kinds of brushes used to perfectly clean tight spaces such as between interior panels, between buttons, inside lugnut holes, stitching on leather, etc…

Detail Spray

A spray, usually containing a wax or sealant, that is used between washes to add a quick shine to paint and provide lubricity for things like clay baring and dusting. Also referred to as Quick Detailers.


Mixing a concentrated product with something else, typically water, to achieve a desired concentration. In detailing it’s usually diluting a cleaner to lower the cleaning strength so you don’t damage or discolor a surface while cleaning it. There are also protectants that you dilute to decrease their sheen and soaps that you dilute to decrease their sudsing.

Diminishing Abrasive

Abrasives inside polishes that wear down as they are worked and provide a lighter cut over time.


Product that you apply to surfaces to protect and restore their appearance and/or increase their shine. Commonly used on tires, rubber, plastic, and even leather.

Drying Aid

Product that you spray on your paint when drying that adds lubricity to protect it from scratches as well as reducing streaks.

Dwell Time

The time a product is meant to sit before being removing or washed away. Think of it as the time a product is meant to soak before or after you agitate it.



When a substance has eaten into the surface of paint, plastic, or glass. Commonly caused by bug guts, hard water, minerals, industrial fallout, and bird droppings. Much like a scratch, it’s physical damage that can only be removed by compounding and polishing the paint.


Fabric Guard

Chemical that decreases the absorption properties of fabrics in carpet and upholstery. Commonly referred to as Scotch Guard, which is actually the brand name of a particular fabric guard. Fabric guards make it harder for stains to set in and for liquids to soak in which makes cleaning them up easier.


Compounds inside some polishes, glazes, and waxes that fill in scratches to help hide them. Most commonly found in glazes. It’s generally better to remove the scratches by polishes than it is to fill them using a glaze since filling them is only a very temporary fix.

Finished LeatherThe process of applying a clear coat finish on natural leather to offer the long life durability. Leather is dyed, coated and embossed with a leather grain pattern for a natural looking finish. The majority of leather goods in the automotive and non-automotive industry are finished

Finishing Pad

Pad used to apply a glaze, wax or sealant

Fish Eye

Paint finish problem which occurs during painting when there is a presence of grease, oil or silicone on the paint surface.


The second step in correcting paint, after compounding. This step removes the micro-marring caused by the more aggressive compounds and pads.


When the solvents in a polish or paint coating evaporate.

Foam Cannon

A pressure washer attachment that mixes soap with water and foams it to leave a thick layer of suds.

Foam Gun

A garden hose attachment that mixes soap with water and foams it to leave a thick layer of suds. The suds produces by a foam gun are not as intense as those produced by a foam cannon on a pressure washer.

Forced Rotation Polisher

A polisher that forces the pad to rotate in one direction. You cannot stop the pad from spinning by applying pressure like you can on a typical dual action random orbital polisher.


Gel Coat

Protective coating applied to resin finishes. Commonly found on fiberglass boat hulls and campers as well as fiber glass and carbon fiber parts. It’s similar in appearance to clearcoat.


When a nearly invisible mark appears in or on the clear coat or paint. It is common to see ghosting when you remove a badge, sticker or decal because the clear coat underneath is preserved extremely well and the surrounding clear coat may be oxidized, creating a contrast.

Glass Coating

Glass coatings are usually similar to ceramic paint coatings and are applied the same way as a paint coating. Because of the durability of the product glass coatings often last over a year depending on driving conditions

Glass Sealant

A hydrophobic coating for Automotive Glass which enhance visibility by repelling water, dirt and oils making the glass easy to clean. Usually applied very similar to wax on paint and last several months depending on driving conditions.

Grit Guard