• Dave

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

Plastic inserts placed into the bottom of wash and rinse buckets that act as baffles to keep dirt in the bottom of the bucket instead of letting recirculate through the water to be loaded back onto the wash mitt and, subsequently, the paint. For as cheap as they are, there is no good reason to not use them.


Stands for Grams per Square Meter. It’s a measurement of the density and plushness of fabrics such as microfiber towels.



Used to describe a foggy appearance to either a topical coating like wax or to paint, plastics, and glass. When waxing with traditional carnauba waxes hazing is a sign the wax is ready to be buffed off. To remove haze from paint, plastics, or glass you’re usually polishing.

Headlight Restoration

Removing the damaged clear coat (UV protective layer) on headlight lenses by sanding and polishing and then re-clearcoating them to return them to like new clarity.

High Spot

Excess sealant or paint coating on the surface of paint, plastic, or glass that needs to be buffed off to avoid altering the appearance of the coating as it dries. Once dry you’ll have to polish the coating the remove the high spot so it’s best to remove them asap.

Hook and Loop

Commonly referred to as "Velcro". Fabric that has either a hook or loop attached, when touched together they temporarily join together. Most common method used to affix a "buffing" pad to a polisher backing plate

Holograms / Buffer Trails

The remnants of improper polishing, most often with a rotary polisher. These are seen in paint as cascading swirls that you can see when looking at the paint from different angles.


A water repelling, low surface energy surface that resists wetting. This causes the ubiquitous “water beading” that many people desire from waxes, sealants, and ceramic paint coatings.


IPA Wipedown

Stands for IPA = Isopropyl Alcohol (rubbing alcohol). An IPA Wipedown is wiping down the paint of a car with a 50/50 dillution of IPA and water to removing polishing oils so that you can apply your last step product such as a wax, sealant, or paint coating.

Iron/Fallout Remover

Chemicals applied to paint that remove iron particles and industrial fallout that embed into your paint from brake dust, rail dust, and rain. These chemical help in the chemical decontamination of paint and are often referred to as “decons.” Most of the iron removers are formulated to change colors when they come in contact with iron to show that the product is working. Be careful, as these chemicals can stain concrete.


Long Throw Polisher

A type of orbital polisher that positions the center rotation point of the pad further out than the standard orbital polisher. Standard or “short throw” polishers are between 4mm and 10mm of throw. Long Throw polishers are typically between 12mm and 21mm of throw.


Nano PaintRecently introduced by Mercedes-Benz, nano paint utilizes the latest in nano technology to make paint more durable and chip-resistant. Also known as scratch-resistant paint, nano paint works by means of nano ceramic balls suspended at the top of the paint layer which provides the scratch-resistant finish. Began to appear on higher end Mercedes cars after 2004.


Orange Peel

Texture in automotive paint that resembles the surface of an orange. Most factory paint jobs will have some degree of orange peel to them. You can remove orange peel by wet sanding the top layer of paint, usually clear coat, but it leaves a very thin layer of clearcoat behind and should be done with extreme care.


Describes residue on a surface caused by the spraying of a paint or chemical (such as a quick detailer or paint coating) near that surface. Paint overspray is most commomly removed by claying the surface


When the surface of a material such as paint, plastic, or metal oxidizes or breaks down from exposure to the elements. Usually cases a hazing of the surface that needs to be removed by chemical or mechanical means such as polishing.


Pad Priming / Seasoning

Applying a thin layer of polish to a dry pad to prep it for polishing. This allows the first pass of polish to work into the paint longer without immediately being absorbed by the pad.

Paint Correction

Compounding and Polishing paint to remove as many defects as possible, restoring it to like new or better appearance. Paint correction’s are usually measured in percentages. A 90% correction means 90% of blemishes were removed. Some blemishes are too deep to safely remove so you’ll almost never see a 100% paint correction.

Paint Prep

Chemical that removes waxes, oils, and grease to prepare the paint for application of a coating or other lsp. Sometimes referred to as a wax and grease remover.


The measure of how acidic or basic a compound is. A measure of 0-6 is considered acidic. A measure of 7 is Neutral. A measure of 8-14 is considered basic or alkaline. Many car shampoos are marketed as pH Neutral which means they are designed to not eat away at waxes and other compounds you may have on your paint.


Product that contains microscopic abrasives designed to remove very fine layers of a surface to remove scratches and other defects. Both Compounds and Polishes are forms of Polish. They are just names people use to describe more and less aggressive cuts of a polish. The words Polish, Wax, and Sealant are not interchangeable. They are different products.

Polishing Pad

A medium grade pad designed to work with a polish to remove light surface defects. Often used after a more aggressive cutting pad & compound to remove micr-marring & refine the finish.

PolymerRefers to a synthetic compound. Polymers cover a wide variety of products. In the case of car care products it can refer to polymer acrylics, polymers in shampoo such as Perls Shampoo or polymer wax in Glanz Wax. In each case, the polymer means ‘man-made

Paint Protection Film (PPF)

Translucent film applied to paint to protect it from impacts and scratches. It acts as a sacrificial layer. You can apply PPF to the front of the vehicle and impact zones such as side mirrors and headlights and rocker panels as well as wrap the entire vehicle. While PPF isn’t cheap, it’s cheaper than a new paint job when you ruin yours with rock chips and scratches.


The use of chemicals such as tar removers, degreasers, iron dissolvers, or soap to help clean prior to starting the normal wash process



Stands for Random Isolated Deep Scratches. These are scratches that aren’t easily removed during paint correction because they are very deep. They do not appear uniformly on the car like the typical star bursts and holograms from improper washing and polishing. They usually stand out from the rest of the defects on the car.

Random Orbital Polisher

Another term for D/A (Dual Action Polisher)

Rail Dust Small metallic particles that can settle on the horizontal surfaces of automobiles which become embedded in the paint. As the particles oxidize/rust they appear as orange specks on the paint. Requires special products and procedures to be removed. Also known as industrial fallout. (IFO)

Rinseless Wash

Product designed to allow washing of a car without the need to rinse in order to leave a streak free finish. These products are designed with high lubricity and can even contain waxes and other compounds to enhance the finish after washing. Rinseless Washes are commonly concentrated so you can use them for a variety of things from washing the car to using it as a clay bar lubricant.

Road Grime / Road Film

Contaminants that build up on vehicles that are driven, usually in rain and other adverse conditions. The film is made up of all the pollutants that land and the ground and end up the rain water that sits on top and is slung onto cars as they are driven. These pollutants can be anything from oil and transmission fluid to brake dust, rust, rubber, and other nasty stuff. Road Film is most noticeable on windshields since it blurs your view and reduces your wipers ability to shed water from the glass.

Rotary Polisher

Type of polisher that spins in only one direction on a fixed axis. They don’t wobble about an orbit like random orbital polisher. Think power drill. They are highly effective at removing paint quickly due to the speed of the pad and heat generated at the perimeter of the pad. Though, with great power comes great responsibility. The high speed and heat can quickly burn through paint and leave buffer trails in the hands of a novice.


Section Pass

Describes when you move a polisher back and forth, or front to back on a surface with enough single overlapping passes to cover the entire section one time.

Sealants (Synthetic Waxes)

Sealants (also called synthetic waxes) are man made protective polymer barriers that are applied over a freshly polished surface. Sealants offer many advantages over organic waxes, such as ease of application, 6+ months of protection, UV protection, and an outstanding shine. Sealants can be layered multiple times, which will create an even deeper shine. They form a protective barrier which resists acid rain, bug stains, bird bombs and will last through many, many washes. Although sealants lack in depth over organic waxes such as carnauba waxes, they can easily be topped with an organic wax to produce both a bright and deep finish.

SiliconeA natural Earth element which comes in a variety of forms for varying purposes. As an ingredient in automotive application, it is used in polishes and waxes to make application and removal easy. Also enhances gloss, water-resistance, and durability.