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Old 04-17-2009, 05:07 AM
DanClark's Avatar
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Default Polishing Your Car With Rotex - Part 1

Although there are many woodworkers in this forum, consider Festool products as "Woodworking" products is VERY limiting.

One of the issues that I've encountered is the lack of knowledge on the topic of car detailing. Invariably the first "newbie" question is, "What is the best wax to make my car really shine?" The correct answer is, "You're asking the wrong question!"

My purpose for this post is to help folks ask the right questions, understand the overall detailing process, show how the RO150 fits in the process, and give them sources for more info and products. To accomplish this, I've categorized the topic into four sub-topics below:
  • Car Detailing FAQ
  • Overall Detailing Process
  • Using the RO150 for Detailing
  • Additional Resource Links
Please understand that this post combines my experience in detailing my cars with my Porter-Cable buffer plus lots of great detailing forum feedback plus specific reviews from detailers using the current and prior RO150. The aim of this post is to suggest what you SHOULD do, not what you COULD do. That said...

Two major caveats:
  • This is "in my opinion...". If you have a detailing process that works, please ignore this. If not, at least it's a good place to start.
  • This is related to automobiles and automobile paints only. The information may NOT be useful for polishing wood.
I hope you find this useful. Please take a look and let me know about anything that could or should be changed. This includes errors, differences of opinion, grammar and spelling changes, and anything else.

Best regards,


p.s., A quick story... Acouple of years ago, I parked my 2002 Audi A4 right next to a brand new, same color, 2006 Audi A4 with the temp tag still on it. A fellow I worked with walked by, looked at the new Audi and then at my Audi, said, "Wow, brand new Audi?" (indicating my car). I said, "No, it's four years old, hasn't been waxed in 8 months and hasn't been washed in three weeks." His mouth popped open and all he could say was, "Wow!". (I love it when they do that.) ;-)

p.p.s. Since I wrote this, Zaino (my favorite auto protectant company) has come out with some new products that have some amazing properties. I'll post a follow-up when I have some experience with them.

EDIT: In Balrog's followup post, he made some very nice additions. Be sure to read his post!


Car Detailing FAQ

What is the best wax to make my car really shine?

It isn't the "wax" that makes a car shine. It is the paint preparation. The paint must, repeat MUST, MUST, MUST(!!!) be clean and free of defects. "Clean" means more than just washing and "free of defects" means more than just "like new" paint.

Which "wax" should I use?

"Wax" typically means "Carnauba Wax". For pros that want the absolute best and don't mind spending two hours each month applying and buffing off the wax, that's fine. For the rest of us, a sealant is better. Good quality sealants like Zaino Z2 Pro or Z5 Pro will typically last 6-8 months before the protection starts degrading. (Other products such as Klasse AIO and Menzerna FMJ work well too.)

My car has never been "waxed". What should I do?

In general, you need to wash your car carefully with Dawn dish washing liquid, remove sap with sap remover, clean with detailing clay, wash again (to remove all traces of cleaners), polish with a good quality polish, than apply sealant twice. See "Overall Detailing Process" below. The Car Detailing Tips & Complete Car Detailing Guide and Detailing Tips has good info.

I washed my car. Why does the paint feel rough?

The air has contaminants (pollution, brake dust, rail dust, etc.) Even with new cars, these contaminants embed themselves into car paint. After washing, they MUST be removed with good detailing clay (e.g. Zaino Z18, Sonus SFX ). See Using a Clay Bar to Remove Paint Contamination or the "Pre-wax Cleaning" section of Detailing Clay & Pre-wax Cleaning - for more info. (Note - I much prefer Zaino clay. I do NOT like some of the other clays and never use store-bought clay lubricants!)

I like to clay my car and its wheels every 6-8 months when I reapply sealant. With a good sealant (like Zaino Z2 Pro), contaminants will not adhere to the car's surface very well and the car stays cleaner.

Tip - Think your paint is clean and smooth? Get a thin sandwich baggie (not a ziplock), place it over your hand and then run your fingers lightly over the surface. Feelo those bumps like you feel when you haven't shaved for three days? Still think your paint is clean?!?

WARNING: In Balrog's followup post, he pointed out a cardinal rule that I believe in but neglected to include: Never, EVER, and I mean EVER reuse clay that you've dropped on the ground!!! ALWAYS throw it away!

Clay lubricant seems expensive. Anything cheaper?

Pour about an ounce of good quality car wash (e.g. Zaino Z7) into a 16 oz spray bottle. Fill with water. Works great and inexpensive! I personally like Zaino Z7 to make lubricant.

I see very fine scratches in the paint. It looks "fuzzy". Why?

Assuming that you've washed and clayed your car, these are probably "swirls" or "spider webs". They MUST be removed it you want a nice finish. Get a good quality polish and sponge pads, and use your RO150 (or PC) to remove them. Normally, the 150's RO mode, a white polishing pad, and a lighter grade of polish (like Menzerna Final Polish II) will remove many problems. For tougher problems like haze and deeper scratches or marring, you will need to switch to a stronger polish (like Menzerna Intensive Polish), more intensive, yellow or orange sponge pad, and/or switch the RO150 to Rotex mode.

Note - AFAIK, NO other product combines RO and Rotex modes to give you both mild cleaning and power polishing in one tool like the RO150.

What are the best products available from my auto-parts store?

Another trick question... Answer? Probably none! Most mass retailers and auto-parts stores are like the BORG - aimed at the "unwashed" mass market. The customers want "cheap" and the retailers want to maximize profit. So, they skimp on quality. Go into your local HD or Lowes, and ask for a high-quality chisel or plane and see what you get. You might get good quality IF you know what you are looking for. Online vendors and specialty car products vendors are the best choice for quality products.

What's the best cotton towel to use for drying and buffing my paint?

NONE! Cotton holds contaminants and will scratch your paint. Use only micro-fiber towels on your paint. Use waffle-weave towels for drying, and plush towels for polishing and cleanup.

For microfiber towels to buff your polish or for drying the car, try Wash & Dry and The Benefits of the Chamois Towel, Microfiber Waffleweave Towels, and Other Great Microfiber Towels (good info on what it is, the types, and how to care for). For cheap micro-fiber towels to clean your door jambs, dust the dash, etc., Costco and Sams club have a 20 pack for about $12. (Don't use these for polishing or drying the surface paint.)

What's the best way to wash and wax my wheels for protection?

When prepping your car for a sealant, wash and clay your wheels too. The will probably be covered with wheel dust. Then use a good sealant (like Zaino Z2 Pro) on the wheels.

Do NOT use a "wheel" wax or other wax-based product. Wheels get hot and melt the wax within days. A good sealant makes the wheels look great, but more importantly, it seals and protects them. During you weekly washes, you'll notice that the brake dust washes off with a few swipes of a wheel brush.

What's the best way to "wash" the car?

There are two types of cleanings - regular (weekly, bi-weekly) and polishing/sealing prep. The wash portion is the same in both cases. When prepping for polish/sealing, you need to wash, then clay, then remove sap and caked on gunk, then wash again. The second wash is critical prior to polishing and sealing to ensure that all cleaning agents are removed. (Otherwise polishes may not work well and sealants won't adhere properly.)

To wash the car, here's my process:

1. Use a sheepskin mitt (check the vendors I've listed) is the best way of washing your car and NOT scratching it. (Don't buy a mitt a local auto-supply house. I did once and it was junk. It matted and the wool fell out in clumps.)

2. Wet down your car.

3. Use a foam gun to apply a good quality car soap (e.g., Zaino Z7). Apply foam to a section, scrub lightly with mitt, then rinse mitt.

A decent foam gun costs about $50, but it allows you to apply uncontaminated soap to the paint. (Same foam gun: Pinnacle Quart Foamaster Foam Gun, Wolfgang Quart Foamaster Foam Gun delivers a thick layer of foam to your vehicle to give the paint maximum lubrication as you wash. Enjoy a safer,, Foam Gun video post: Foam Gun video - This looks like the gun I use. It works well. Make sure that the gun has a BRASS foamer and NOT a plastic one. The cheapies are garbage.)

4. After doing a section (e.g., hood, top, upper side), rinse out the mitt in a 4-5 gallon rinse bucket. (I use two - one each side of the car. The cheap orange buckets from HD work great.) Rinsing out the mitt is critical because it removes the grit and dirt well.

5. Work from top of car to bottom. For the sides, back and front, I recommend doing the upper portion (which is cleaner) first, rinsing you mitt, then doing the lower side (which is dirtier). Then, for the very bottom use a soft car brush (e.g. Oxo wash brush: OXO Feather-Tip Wash Brush) to attack the real gunk. Make sure that you rinse the brush often.

6. After the paint portion, wash each tire then the wheel. Use a stiff tire brush the tires and a soft wheel brush for the wheels. (Some details here: Wheel Cleaner, Tire Cleaner, Tire Dressing, Chrome & Metal Polish.) I use an OXO wheel brush and an OXO tire brush, but the new Mequier's brushes look very interesting (Meguiars Wheel Spoke Brush - Waxes and Rim Care).

Unless the wheels have no sealant applied and are very gunked up, do NOT use a wheel cleaner. With a sealant applied, the wheels wash as easily as the paint. A little foam and a few swishes with a soft wheel brush is all that's necessary to get them clean.

7. What's the best way to dry the car?

First, to get most of the water off the car, blow-dry it with an electric leaf blower. (I use and older version of the Toro 235 mph electric blower Toro Ultra 12 Amp Variable Toro Ultra 12 Amp Variable Speed... . About $80 at Lowes.) It sounds nuts, but works great! It's especially good at getting water out of the cracks and crevices of the car. Grills and wheels are dry in a few seconds.

I keep my blow dryer plugged into a live extension cord and hanging next to the garage door. I can pull it down, dry the car and hang it back up within 5 minutes.

After the car is blown dry, use a waffle-weave microfiber towel to DAB away the few remaining drops of water on the car. Do NOT wipe with the towel, just dab.

8. Are paints different?

Yes. Paints differ (sometimes radically) between car lines. German paints are considered harder than paints from other countries. Audi paints are considered some of the hardest and most difficult to polish. Aggressive polishes and buffers (like a rotary buffer or the Rotex 150 in Rotex mode) are necessary to remove some paint blemishes.

9. Can I use the sponge pads that came with my buffer?

In general, the answer is almost always "NO!!! Absolutely NOT!". Virtually all people who detail cars (both amateurs and pros) use sponge pads purchased from a quality vendor like Lake Country, Sonus, or Edge. AFAIK, only the 6" Lake Country pads (which use a 6" backing plate) can be used the RO150.

Continued in Polishing Your Car With Rotex - Part 2.
"You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’" George Bernard Shaw

Last edited by DanClark; 04-18-2009 at 09:21 PM.
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Old 04-20-2009, 02:36 AM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Plainfield, IN
Posts: 101
Default Re: Polishing Your Car With Rotex - Part 1


Thanks for the great info. I'd like to see you add this and part 2 to the Festool Library.
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