One of the many questions any detailer will come to ask, should I polish (or wax or compound) this vehicle by hand or by machine? Do I want to use good ol' elbow grease? Do I want to use natural man (or wo-man) power? Or do I want to use a sturdy, powerful machine? Well, there are pros and cons to each of these options! And guess what? We are going to explain all of them!
How Often am I Going to Have to Ask This Question?
It may be easy right now to say, 'oh obviously I'm going to hand polish, it's more precise and I want my car to be perfect'. Well sure, that's easy to say if you only had to polish/wax/compound once But is it just once? The answer is no. You might not have to compound your car more than once a year, sure, but you could be polishing at least twice a year and find yourself waxing at least four times a year. Not only that, but you have to remember who you are waxing for. If you are just waxing your prized possession, you won't have to worry about this question too often. But if you are working on your daily driver, then it's going to be a question you have to answer more often. And boy, if you are a professional detailer, there is no limit to the number of times you will find yourself polishing, waxing, or compounding.
The Pros of Hand Polishing
Safer: If you are new to detailing or working on a delicate car, a lot of people tend to feel safer working by hand. There is far less possible damage to be hand working by hand than by machine. There is not a possibility of your applicator burning through the paint like with a polisher, for example.
Gets the 'hard to reach' areas: Your hands can reach a lot of spaces a large polisher can't get. Not only are there spaces in strange areas that it is not beneficial to hold a polisher in, but you also have smaller panels where your hand will do a much better job than a machine.
Connection: Okay, so this one may be silly and not everyone will feel this way, at least not like Queen when they wrote their song 'I'm in Love with My Car'. But anyway, if you feel similar to Queen, then you want to take the extra car and attention to really work with your vehicle, giving it the delicate care, you feel it deserves. More so, you enjoy working on your car, so why not take the extra time to work by hand?
Budget Friendly: The thing about hand polishing? You don't have to buy your hands; you already have them! So, instead of going out and dropping some dough on a polisher that could run anywhere from $150 to $750, you can work with a foam applicator for a dollar or two.
The Cons of Hand Polishing
Time: Hand polishing obviously takes a lot more time. In this case, hand polishing wouldn't work if you were on a strict timeframe or have a line of cars waiting to be detailed. Effectiveness: Hand polishing honestly is NOT as effective as machine polishing. Machines move at higher speeds so that they can abrade the clear coat more efficiently and evenly, resulting in more consistent results.
Where Hand Polishing Works Best
Smaller areas, door handles, trim, hard-to-reach spots, odd shaped panels, sensitive paint, antique vehicles or single stage polishing.
The Pros of Machine Polishing
Quick: Machine polishers work a lot faster than your hands. After all, a machine is always going to be faster than your natural speed. In this case, machine polishers are great if you're short on time or work for a company where you have to do multiple cars in one day.
Efficient: Machine polishers provide professional level work. You get to control how quickly the polisher spins, so you can control how quickly the clear coat is being abraded. A machine provides consistent results and is easier to apply the right amount of pressure.
The Cons of Machine Polishing
Learning Curve: It takes time and practice to really learn how to use each machine polisher. They can be heavy and difficult to maneuver. This means you can't just pick up the polisher and get to work on a 100k car. No, you have to practice and always do a test spot, among other things.
Spot Specific: Polishers are big and heavy and therefore, they can't reach every spot on your car. So, at some point, you will still have to let your hands do some work.
Expensive: Polishers are professional tool, so they don't run cheap. They can range anywhere from $150 to $750, sometimes even more. It's not an impulse buy and you have to make sure you do your research to get the one that will work best for you.
Where Machine Polishing Works Best
Larger areas, on serious swirls and scratches, darker painted vehicles.
So, in the end, it really is a matter of preference, availability and/or usability. There are certain scenarios where it makes sense to put in the time and effort to go by hand and other times it's better to spend the cash on a fancy polisher. Either way you decide to go, just make sure you take your time and follow the directions of how to properly apply the product you are using.