ProCarReviews is reader-supported. We may earn commission on sales through our links at no extra cost to you. View policies.

Compound vs Polish: What’s The Difference?

Compound vs Polish

When it comes to paint correction, you will need to use an abrasive product such as a compound or polish. They both tackle imperfections within your cars paintwork such as swirl marks, light scratches and much more. Many people that are just getting into detailing often confuse compounds and polishes as the same thing.

Depending upon the condition of your cars paintwork will determine whether you require a rubbing compound or a polish.

Table of Contents

Rubbing Compound vs Polish – Short Answer

In short, a rubbing compound targets uneven surfaces with an abrasive formula whereas a car polish adds to the smoothness and shine of the paint.

If you are someone that polishes their car on a regular basis, you will want to do so with low abrasive car polish. This is because a car polish won’t take any layers of the paint/clear coat off whereas a rubbing compound will.

Rubbing Compounds

Unlike car polishes, a rubbing compound has a more heavy duty formula for tackling more severe defects. These paint imperfections can be anything from tough water spots to swirl marks. Most brands offer the compounds in several different grades for treating certain types of defects found in the paintwork of your car. They are often given a “grit” equivalent rating, which indicates its strength when tackling certain types of paint defects.

All compounds use a synthetic formulation and are best applied using a rotary or DA polisher. Although some may be suitable for hand application, you may find yourself using extra effort and not being able to achieve the same results.

Benefits of using a rubbing compound include:

  • Permanently removes defects
  • Available in multiple strengths
  • Restores old or neglected paintwork

Potential drawbacks of using rubbing compounds:

  • Most require a polishing machine for application
  • Incorrect technique may cause marring marks to appear
  • Many require the use of a clay bar beforehand

If it’s your first time using a rubbing compound, we highly advise using a low strength formula and test it out beforehand. The last thing you want to do is to cause further damage to the paintwork due to using the incorrect technique.

Car Polishes

One of the most popular detailing products used throughout the world is a car polish. They are designed to remove minor defects and clean the paintwork without removing any of the clear coat. This means you can polish the paintwork as much as you want without causing any damage to the paintwork.

The polish itself comes in several forms with many brands offering “all-in-one” products that fill in any defects. This is great as a temporary fix but after washing your car a number of times, the defect that was “filled in” may reappear. The only method of removing the defect completely is to use a rubbing compound.

Benefits of using a car polish include:

  • Cleans the paintwork without removing any layers of paint/clear coat
  • Suitable for removing or filling minor defects
  • Prepares the surface prior to using a car wax
  • Can be applied by hand or polisher

There really isn’t many drawbacks of using a car polish apart from the fact some defects may reappear. The “filling” of defects is only a temporary fix as most polishes can only remove very minor defects in the paint. Apart from that drawback, a car polish can be used regularly to keep your paintwork gleaming all year round.


Both compounds and polishes are essential products for maintaining your paint but do so in a different fashion. In order to permanently remove defects within your paintwork, you will want to use a rubbing compound. If you want to clean and restore the lost shine, using a car polish is the best option that is safe to use on a regular basis.

When correcting the paint of your car, most people will begin with using a clay bar kit to remove contaminants. Once the paintwork is prepared, a rubbing compound can be used to remove the defects and then a polish can be used to increase shine. When used together, they can completely restore your paintwork to a showroom standard.

procarreviews author

Written By Dan

About the Author

Dan is an automotive journalist and owner of over 10 cars ranging from supercars, tuned cars, classics and your good old beater cars. He always likes to get his hands dirty with nut and bolt restorations or detailing sessions using the best products on the market.

More About Our Team →


Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved.