There are many different types of polishing compounds and each one is used for a specific purpose. Some polishing compounds have a higher level of carbide than others. Carbide is used in diamond blades and the highest levels of carbide are usually reserved for commercial use. Other polishing compounds will use higher levels of tungsten carbide. These compounds are more commonly found in electronic devices and aerospace products.
In order to understand which polishing compounds you should use on the car of paint you need to determine what the polishing compound will do. The compound will either remove the bare metal layer or it will polish off the bare metal layer. If you only want the bare metal layer removed then you need to use a compound that will not carbide the finish. The best compound for this purpose will be one that does not carbide the finish but will wear the finish as the polishing compound removes the bare metal layer.
The top compounds will have small amounts of nickel or zinc in them so they will wear the finish and leave a good clear picture. The compound that leaves the best clear picture however, is the compound that is made up of one part nickel to four parts zinc. This compound is called Clean & Polish and can be found at most auto parts retailers. This is one of the best polishing compounds on the market today and will give you a very good shine between rubbing compound vs polishing compound.
Another way to determine the right compounds for the polishing your vehicle's paint is to determine how much sparkle you want after the finish has been applied. If you want more sparkle in the picture then you would apply a high amount of Clean & Polish to your car's finish. Polishing compounds that are too high will make the vehicle's finish appear dull and if too low will give the dirt away. Higher concentrations of these chemicals can be used than Clean & Polish as they are heavier so they take longer to dry so you will need more time between coats and that will affect the final shine on your paint job.
With most polishing compounds there is an option to apply them with a rag or shop towel. You don't want to use an abrasive cleaner like the dish soap that is usually suggested but instead use a nice baby oil like Vaseline. Using a rag will give your paint more protection but allow it to glide onto the surface of the vehicle and not scrape and damage the paint. Using a shop towel will give your paint more protection but may take longer to absorb the product and get a good shine on your vehicle.
Many people believe that using polishing compounds or rubbing compound when there is some sort of scratch in your finish is the best solution for removing the scratch. This is not true and will not remove the scratch in the very least. Polishing compounds are used for smoothing out the imperfections and areas of discoloration. They do not remove small scratches like those found on vinyl replacement windows.
Another misconception regarding the use of polishing compounds or rubbing compounds is they will improve the brightness and shininess of an aluminum or stainless steel surface. It has been scientifically proven that the minerals found in stainless steel and aluminum do not deteriorate over time and are in fact highly resistant to corrosion and spots. The only time aluminum and stainless steel surfaces are better off without protection from polish and compound is if they have been factory finished or dipped in an epoxy resin. There are special cleaners available that are specifically intended to restore the puddle of corrosion-resistant aluminum or stainless steel to its factory finish and will not scratch acrylic or fiberglass paint.
Polishing compounds are very harsh and should only be used as a last resort to remove scratches and small abrasive marks left on an aluminum or stainless steel surface by aggressive cleaners or car repair workers using equipment with high-pressured jets. Automotive polishing compounds are not an appropriate substitute for shop-quality automotive abrasives and cleaners. The use of synthetic polymers or alumina abrasives in the application process for most surface conditioning applications is simply unnecessary. Polishing compounds will quickly dull or destroy any surface conditioning application.