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Everything You Need to Know About Dual-Action Polishers

Mitch Avatar By: Mitch | Last updated June 16, 2021

Dual action polisher on car panel


When you purchase a brand new car, everything would look fantastic. The interior would be spotless, the engine would be immaculate, and the paint would be pristine. But all of that would change the minute you left the showroom. 

Give a couple more months and several hundred miles under a burning sun and heavy rain, then it won't be as perfectly shiny as it used to be. The inside may still look great but the outside, especially the paint, won't be as flawless anymore. There might be scratches appearing here and there. And the more you leave it alone the more they continue to appear. Even the paint might start to look dull, no matter what you wash it with.

So what to do about it? The answer is to polish it. You should polish your car regularly in order for it to always look fresh and get rid of those pesky scratches. But do keep in mind that different places might charge a different fee for their services and correcting paint is a laborious job, which comes with a big price tag most of the time.

Or, you could also do it yourself. Nowadays, there are tools readily available to help you achieve that flawless look on your car. And the best one to do that job is a tool called a dual-action polisher. This article would tell you all you need to know about this amazing tool, how to use it, and why you should think about getting one if you are starting to feel less than satisfied with the current luster of your paint.

Why should you polish your car?

Before we begin talking about the dual-action polisher, let's begin by answering the most basic questions. Why should you polish your car in the first place? Can't you simply let it be? How dangerous can scratches be? Is there even any long-term impact of not polishing your car?

Polishing your car has nothing to do with its performance. But it does heavily affect the appearance though. If you're not properly and regularly polish your car, it would look coarse and way older than it actually is. As for those scratches, minor ones that are not too deep might not pose any danger except making the color of your car look somewhat faded. But the longer you let them be and the more of those scratches pile up, the more dangerous it would be. 

For a general rule of thumb, if you could feel the scratches with your fingernail, then a more thorough job would be needed to fix it. If it's deeper than that, such as to the point of reaching the primer, then you might need to properly remove and repaint your car. So before you are faced with such expensive predicaments, be sure to properly polish your car at a regular interval.

What is a dual-action polisher?

As the name suggests, a dual-action polisher is a type of polisher that has two kinds of rotation working at the same time. With a regular polisher, there is only one part that rotates in a single way. In a dual-action polisher, however, there are two rotating movements happening in the head. 

The head consists of a small part that rotates at its axis and also spins around the outer layer of the bigger part. It is also often called the orbiter polisher because of how it mimics the movement of the earth. The earth is rotating on its own axis while at the same time, it also revolves around the sun, which is the main principle behind the dual-action movement. 

This mechanism provides a softer and gentler polishing while greatly reducing the heat and friction that usually occurs on a regular polisher. This makes dual-action polisher way easier to use than its conventional counterpart.  

So in basic terms, the polishing pad does a path within its normal circle of rotation. This reduces the possibility of it just doing the same spots over and over, which reduces the possibility of burning through your clear coat or paint. 

How to use a dual-action polisher

A dual-action polisher was designed to be extremely user-friendly. Even a total beginner could learn how to use it in no time. You can use it in these three simple steps:

  • Apply a sufficient amount of polish on the appropriate pad.
  • Make sure it is spread evenly all around the pad. You could even give two or three bean-sized polish for added measure.
  • Start the machine and gently polish your car with it. It is best to do it section by section before finally moving on to the whole car.

That's it. How simple is that? But that alone is not enough though. To make sure you achieve a greater result, you should do the following steps:

  • Clean your car properly beforehand. It is highly recommended that you always work on a freshly cleaned car. You could even use car shampoo for this step. 

  • Dry your car and then properly inspect the surface of your paint to know which side needs which type of pads. If you are unsure there are a lot of guides online and suggestions for pad and product pairings.

  • Apply polish/paint cleaner on the cutting pad on your dual-action polisher to remove the scratches, swirls, and other coarse surfaces following the steps above. Make sure to do it one section at a time.

  • And now it's time to polish. Attach your polishing pad to your dual-action polisher and polish away according to the steps above. Again, make sure to do it one section at a time.

  • Finally, attach the finishing foam pad, and apply the wax to your pad. And use your dual-action polisher to properly wax your car. Again, make sure to follow the proper technique mentioned above and do it one section at a time. 

It might seem like a hassle, but if you follow these steps properly, then it is guaranteed that the end results would look fantastic. You would be surprised at how shiny and flawless your car looks. But do keep in mind that when you use the double-action polisher, you need to clean the pad properly every once in a while and apply the cleaner/polisher/wax whenever you feel necessary. 

Are all dual-action polishers made the same way?

No, not all dual-action polishers are made the same way. Different brands produce different kinds of dual-action polishers. Some of the most obvious differences are regarding the wattage, minimum or maximum size backing plate, speed control, weight, maximum and minimum speed of rotation, shape, and the distance of the shaking motion, also known as the throw. 

That being said, most of the differences mentioned above won't make one machine superior to the other. Most of it comes down to the preferences of the users and how he uses the dual-action polishers. Some might prefer a lighter albeit less powerful machine, while others like a powerful, energy-hungry machine with lots of control options. 

But the most important difference that you should look for is the way the machine creates the dual-action movement. There are two kinds of movement, the forced dual-action movement, and the free dual-action movement. 

As the name implied, the forced dual-action movement forced the backing plate to stay still or simply move in an eccentric motion. This results in extra power that would be good for getting rid of deeper scratches and swirls. But it also has the risk of overheating and more friction which can damage the paint.

The free dual-action movement, however, has a bearing that links the dual-motion mechanism. This means the backing plate is free from the orbital movement. Of course, due to the centrifugal force, you would still feel the shake from it. 

This mechanism creates a such gentler movement and reduces the risk of extra heating and friction. On the other hand, it would also mean that it could only remove surface-level scratches and swirls.

Why dual-action polisher is better than a regular rotary polisher

Just like the forced dual-action movement, the regular rotary polishers also have a greater polishing power. That's why most professionals use this type of polisher machine when it comes to fixing a heavy paint job. Because other than the rotating pad, it could also build up heat that is necessary for that particular kind of work.

But if a beginner uses this machine to fix the light scratches on their car, more often than not, they would end up with even bigger damage than they originally suffered. Not to mention this machine is also usually bigger and heavier than a dual-action polisher. 

That's why for a beginner that mainly intends to polish their car at home, it is better to use the dual-action polisher than the regular rotary polisher. The orbital movement would prevent excess friction and build-up heat. Not to mention it is also lighter and easier to use. 

And the more you use it, the better you’d be. With the proper skill and experience, you will achieve the same result as you would get from a professional polishing service. Of course, you should also follow the proper methods as mentioned before to ensure the best result.

Features to look for in dual-action polishers
  • Variable speed. In general, if you get a dual-action polisher that is rated above 3000 RPMs, then it would be able to handle most jobs you would throw at it. But do keep in mind that you need different speeds for different purposes. That's why it is important to have a machine with an adjustable speed or also known as a variable speed. That way, you're not stuck to the same rpm forever. 

  • Speed lock. Sometimes, a wrong technique or application could lead to dangerous results. Speed lock is a safety feature that prevents accidental speed changes. When you turn on the speed lock, it would lock your dual-action polisher on a speed that you want and would prevent it from suddenly increasing or decreasing from that speed.

  • Automatic shutdown. Along with the speed lock, an automatic shutdown is also another safety feature that you should look for. As the name suggests, this feature will kick off whenever you use the machine in a wrong and harmful way, such as if you press it too hard to the surface of your car or if you approach it at the wrong angle. When turned on, this feature would shut your machine down to prevent any accidental damage.

  • Ergonomic design. Although a dual-action polisher generally has a reasonable weight, an awkward usage would lead to all kinds of hand or arm fatigue or even injury. That's why you should always pick a tool that has an ergonomic design that is comfortable to use.

  • Extra handle. Prolonged use of a dual-action polisher, even one with an ergonomic design, is bad for your hand and your arm. A machine with an extra handle is always a great option to have. That way, you could divide the burden to both of your arms. 

  • Cordless. Most dual-action polishers in the market come with a cord that needs to be plugged in whenever you use it. While there's nothing particularly wrong with that, using a cordless one would give you so much more freedom. You could move around however you want without having to worry about the length of the cord.

  • Ease-of-use. A dual-action polisher is always easier to use than regular rotary polishers. Most of them only required you to push a button to use it. But you should also look into how easy it is to change the pads, the battery, and sometimes even the extra handle. 

If you are looking for more features or to see which polishers we suggest looking at take a look at our list of best dual action polishers where we pit products against each other to see who is the best.

Final thoughts

No matter what you do, scratches and swirls would appear on your car. Given time, it would start to accumulate and get deeper and deeper. Along with it, the color of your car would also start to fade as those scratches will reduce the shine that your car puts off. 

As mentioned above, to prevent deeper scratches and swirls, you should begin to regularly polish your car. And amongst all polishing machines for first time users, the best and the easiest one to use is the dual-action polisher. It uses the rotating and spinning mechanism to deliver a double action that results in a softer and gentler movement while still powerful enough to do its job properly.

If you choose a dual-action polisher that has all of the essential features and fits your particular preferences, then you would be able to get a professional result from your home garage. Of course, you should also follow the proper steps and methods in order to achieve the best result.