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Is Buffing a Car Bad for the Paint? (Quick Answer)

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Photo by Mathew Bedworth

Recently, there has been quite a fuss about buffing being bad for your car.

On one side you have guys saying that buffing is bad for your car and will ruin your paint, while on the other side, you have internet articles telling you that buffing is very important and should be done regularly.

Well, who’s right and who’s wrong? Is there something else doing more damage to your paint?

What Does Buffing Actually Do to Car Paint?

Car paint mainly consists of 3 layers.

The first layer is the primer. The primer is a bonding agent used between the metal body panels and paint. The primer adheres to the bare metal surface of the body panels, giving a good surface for base coat application.

The second layer, called the base coat, is used to give the car paint it’s color. The clear coat is the last layer and it’s used to protect the base coat from outside elements and to give the paint shine.  

Here is a crude graphic of fresh car paint:

Illustration of fresh car paint
Fresh Car Paint

Fresh paint has a perfectly smooth clear coat and light is reflected evenly. Because the light is reflected evenly, we perceive the paint as shiny.  

After some time, clear coat gets damaged by outside elements, such as rocks, acidic liquids, acidic bird poop, and improper washing procedures.

Illustration of worn out car paint
Worn Out Car Paint

A once smooth clear coat is now rough and covered in millions of scratches. This uneven surface reflects light differently, thus giving off a clear pattern of damage.

By buffing the paint with a buffer and a cutting paste, we remove a tiny amount of damaged clear coat. Now, the clearcoat is much smoother and is reflecting light more evenly, in turn making the paint shiny again.  

Illustration of car paint after polishing
Car Paint After Polishing

Is Buffing Bad for Car Paint?

The answer is NO, unless you’re buffing too often and too aggressively.

Every time you use a buffer to correct your paint, you’re cutting away a part of clear coat that is protecting the paint and there is only a finite amount of it.

Now, that doesn’t mean that buffing is bad for car paint – it just means that you shouldn’t do it too often. By now, you’re probably asking – how often should I buff my car’s paint to be safe?

Well, there is no set answer because it depends on the thickness of your car’s clear coat but once a year is more than enough in most cases. It’s possible to have a car that looks okay, but as soon as you start buffing, the clear coat just disappears. That’s why it’s so important to properly evaluate the finish first!

In my opinion, there is something even more important – taking care of the reason we have to polish our cars in the first place.

Related: Should You Wax or Polish First?

Improper Car Washing Does More Damage Than Buffing

I can’t stress enough how important it is to learn proper washing and drying techniques.

I’ve kept my little Honda absolutely scratch-free for two years!

Did I mention it’s also my daily driver and has never been parked in a garage? And, that it was exposed to harsh winters?

It’s already been 4 years since the last time I’ve buffed the paint and the car still looks pretty good.

I know I’m pretty much bragging at this point, but you can go years without buffing if you wash your car properly.

Washing a car with a sponge
Using a sponge on your car is a big no-no!

It’s very easy to scratch your paint while washing your car. Any bit of dust or even a rough towel could cover the paint in thousands of microscopic scratches. Scratching the clear coat means removing a piece of clear coat. If the scratches are deep in the clear coat, you’ll have to remove more clearcoat when buffing to make it shine again.

Buffing uses a specially engineered buffing machine, in combination with a very specific polish in order to remove a tiny controlled amount of clear coat. However, unlike buffing, a scratch could be as deep as the whole 3 layers of paint.


That’s my take on the whole “is buffing a car bad” debate!

I hope that now you have a better understanding of what buffing does to car paint and that it’s much more important to prevent damage to paint in the first place.

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