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Terms by A-Z

We want to help you to understand the process of car detailing, what is involved, and some of the terminology. We have put together different terms by category. You can also find the details in our A-Z glossary of terms as well.



Natural (silica) or synthetic (aluminum oxide) component used in compounds and cleaners, which cuts the paint surface to remove imperfections.


A chemical substance below 7 on a pH scale. Cleaning products containing acids must be used with care, following the directions on the label and using safety equipment.

Acid Rain  

Rain contaminated with airborne acid materials. Can cause damage to automotive paint finishes and glass.


How well a product bonds to the surface to which it is applied.


Working a product into a surface such as scrubbing a carpet cleaner into the carpet or mixing shampoo with a bucket of water.

Air Purifying

Using air purifiers or ozone generators to cleanse the air inside the vehicle, removing pollutants and allergens.


Substances above 7 on a pH scale classified as being caustic. Caustics (sodium hydroxide) are sometimes used in cleaning products such as engine degreasers, etc. Cleaning products containing alkalis must be used with care. Follow the directions on the label and use safety equipment. Also known as “Base” or “Basic”.

Alloy Wheel Refurbishment

Repairing and restoring damaged alloy wheels to their original condition, including fixing scratches and scuffs.

Appearance Reconditioning  

The cosmetic restoration of a vehicle to a like new condition.

Auto Detailing

The process of thoroughly cleaning, restoring, and finishing a vehicle to produce a show-quality cleanliness and polish.



The color coat of a basecoat/clear coat automotive finish. Specifically the layer of pigmented paint applied over the primer coat and usually measures about 1 mil.

Bath Tubber

A colloquial term used referring to a chemical manufacturer who mixes their own chemical products in large drums or “bath tubs”. Usually low-priced and poor quality.

Biodegradable – NB

There is no actual legal definition or universally accepted test for biodegradability. It commonly refers to organic material generally derived from living matter capable of being broken down into hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and less complex organic compounds through natural forces such as sunlight, bacteria, or enzymes.

Bird Dropping Etching

A pitted or mottled stain on the paint’s surface that has been caused by the acidic nature of bird droppings etching into the clear coat or paint.


New paint finish turns milky or cloudy shortly after polishing. Caused by the solvents not evaporating from the paint. Wait thirty days to rebuff.

Body Shop Safe

A term used to refer to products to be used in a body shop that contain no silicone or materials that can cause fish eyes and paint finish problems.

Buff Marks

Circular scratch marks in the paint surface. Also called “Buffer Marks” or “Swirls”.


A tool used by skilled technicians to apply products to a vehicle. Also referred to as a “High-speed Buffer” or “Rotary Buffer”.

Buffer Trails

Trails of hazing left in the surface of paint/clear coat caused by a rotary buffing machine. Also known as “Holograms” or “Rotary Induced Machine Marring”. In some U.S. states, can also be known as “Zebra Stripes”, and in Germany it’s known as “Polishing Veil”.

Buffing Compound

A chemical that contains abrasives designed to remove severe oxidation or other major finish imperfections from painted surfaces. Not all buffing compounds are compatible with all paint finishes (such as clear coats) and must be used carefully by skilled technicians.

Buffing Spur

A small hand-held tool with a spoked wheel, used to clean wool buffing pads of the accumulation of compound and/or polish.

Bug and Tar Remover

Specialized products used to safely remove bugs, tar, and other sticky substances from the vehicle’s exterior.


Remove paint from a vehicle using a rotary or high-speed buffer.


Polish with a tool to make the surface smooth or shiny by friction; increase a loss of the paint by smoothing.



Chemical Abstracts Services registration number.

Ceramic Clear Coat

A paint that contains microscopic ceramic fillers in the formulation that gives the clear coat a harder and more durable finish.

Ceramic Coating

A liquid polymer that chemically bonds with the vehicle’s factory paint, creating a layer of protection. It is known for its durability and high level of shine.

Checking, Cracking, Crazing

Paint looks like shattered glass. Paint dries and loses its elasticity. Extreme temperatures cause the paint to expand and contract and pulls the paint apart.


A term to categorize a group of products. i.e., Polishing Chemicals, Chemical Cleaners, Cleaning Chemicals.


A cleaning chemical that uses d-Limonene as the solvent.

Clay Bar

Polymer bar with the consistency of modeling clay. You rub them on your paint with a lubricating spray to pull out and abrade away contaminants that embed themselves in your paint.

Clay Bar Treatment

A procedure that removes contaminants from the surface of your vehicle’s paint, glass, fiberglass, and metal. Clay bar helps in achieving a smoother surface.

Clay Towel / Clay Mitt

A towel or mitt that is coated on one side with a special polymer that acts like a clay bar when rubbed on paint with a lubricant. The benefit to clay towels and mitts is they are washable, unlike clay bars which must be disposed of if they are dropped or get dirty. Clay towels also work quite well with a car wash soap as a lubricant, eliminating the need to have a specific clay lube product.

Cleaner (paint)

A product that contains a mild abrasive for removing light oxidation, scratches, and minor finish imperfections. Usually less aggressive than rubbing compound and offers little or no protection.


A product that removes light to medium oxidation and scratches from the paint surface and leaves a protective coating. Commonly known as a “One Step”.

Clear Coat

A thin, transparent layer of paint usually applied over a pigmented layer of paint (base coat) to provide a deep, rich, shiny finish. Most vehicles have 1.5 to 2.0 mils of clear coat.

Colour Sanding

Another term for “Wet Sanding”.

Combustible Liquid

A liquid with a Flash Point between 100ºF to 200ºF. See also “Flash Point”.


An abrasive product designed to remove heavy surface contamination and deep scratches. Can reduce paint thickness quickly. Can leave visible scratches (swirls) in the paint finish.


A product that requires thinning with an appropriate reducer, water, or solvent.

Conventional Paint System

Refers to a single-stage paint finish, either recognized as lacquer or enamel. Several color coats of paint are applied over the primer with no clear coat application.


A chemical compound of two polymers, which are compatible and stable when joined.


A heavy-grade petroleum by-product applied to automotive exteriors as a protective coating during transit of vehicles. Requires special chemicals and procedures to remove.



The process of removing the manufacturer’s badges and logos from the vehicle for a cleaner look.


A product capable of being broken down through exposure to heat, moisture, sunlight, or other chemicals. Resultant products of degradation may or may not be stable.

Detail Procedure/Processing

The steps followed to complete a detail job.

Detail Technician  

A skilled and knowledgeable professional in the art of detailing.


To clean each area or part of a motor vehicle until the desired results are achieved.

Detailing Brushes

Various sizes and types of brushes used for cleaning different areas of the vehicle, including exterior surfaces, wheels, and interior crevices.


Cleaning products for auto interiors and exteriors with different chemical formulations as the active cleaning agent. Differentiated by thickness and cleaning ability.


To reduce by thinning with appropriate reducer, water, solvent, thinner, etc. in accordance with directions.


The application of a coating applied to vinyl, leather, plastic, and rubber to protect or make shiny.

Dual Action Buffer/Polisher

An electrical or pneumatic tool that has a clutching mechanism attached to the spindle assembly, which provides a smooth shifting motion between random orbital and rotary by applying force to the tool.

Dual Action Polisher

A machine used for polishing and buffing the vehicle’s exterior, featuring an oscillating head that reduces the risk of damaging the paint.


The power of long-term resistance to deterioration or change.

Dwell Time

The time in which a product is allowed to remain in an active state on the surface. Many cleaning products require a dwell time to work properly.



A substance designed to add moisture or increase softness. Found in hand cleaners or leather or vinyl conditioners.


Commonly a mixture of two incompatible liquids where one exists as finely dispersed particles within the other.

Enamel Paint

Type of automotive paint used by auto manufacturers and collision repair shops. Sprays shiny.

Engine Bay Cleaning

A detailing service focused on cleaning the engine bay area to remove dirt, grease, and grime, improving the vehicle’s appearance and possibly its performance.

Exhaust Polishing

Cleaning and polishing the vehicle’s exhaust tips, often with metal polishes to restore shine.


An employee subject to a hazardous chemical in the course of employment, through any route of entry (inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, or absorption).


A machine used to clean carpets and fabric seats. Applies cleaning solution in a spray and removes moisture and dirt by vacuum suction. In car washing, a machine used to spin dry towels.


Fabric Guard

A protective coating applied to fabric interiors to repel liquids and prevent stains.

Fabric Protection

Applying a protective coating to the fabric surfaces inside the vehicle to repel water and stains, making it easier to clean up spills.

Fabric Protector

A product applied to cloth seats and carpets that repels moisture, thus preventing staining.

Fabric Upholstery Cleaning

Deep cleaning of fabric seats and other upholstered parts of the vehicle’s interior to remove stains and dirt.


Contamination that settles out of the air onto automotive paint finishes. Such things as airborne industrial fallout, brake dust, rail dust, aircraft fuel, and even volcanic ash. See also “Rail Dust” (below).

Fish Eye

Paint finish problem that occurs during painting when there is a presence of grease, oil, or silicone on the paint surface. Also known as “Detachment” in Chile.

Flammable Liquid

A chemical that has a flash point below 140ºF.

Flash Off

Dwell time for solvent to evaporate from the paint surface.

Flash Point

The temperature at which a chemical will combust. Also known as “Ignition Point”, “Combustion Point”, or “Reaction Point”.

Foam Cutting Pad

A less aggressive foam pad that is used with a compound to correct paint finish problems and clear coat finishes.

Foam Pad

A round foam disc made of various form textures for buffing, cutting, or polishing paint.

Foam Polishing Pad

A soft foam pad that is used with a swirl remover/polish to either remove buffer swirls or polish and smooth the paint finish.

Foam Wash

A car washing technique where a foam cannon is used to cover the vehicle in a thick, soapy foam, helping to lift and remove dirt more effectively.


Glass Cleaning

Cleaning the vehicle’s windows and mirrors to ensure clear visibility and a streak-free finish.


A body shop safe swirl remover or polish. It is considered body shop safe because it contains no wax or silicone.

Gloss Enhancement

Techniques and products used to enhance the gloss and shine of the vehicle’s paintwork.



Hazardous Material Identification System. A system of numbers, symbols, and letters that provide information about health, flammability, reactivity, and personal protection for chemicals and products.

Hard Water Staining/Etching

Surface contamination on the paint caused by hard water and/or heavy contamination in water. Also known as “Mineral Deposits”.

Hazardous Chemicals

Products or chemicals that pose a health risk to the user if used improperly or if safety equipment is not used. Read MSDS for each product you use. Warnings are normally written as if hazardous product were at 100% solution.


When a chemical product such as wax/sealant dries on the surface and appears dull or milky. A dull film caused by imbedded dirt, oxidation, or scratches on the paint surface.

Headlight Restoration

Restoring the clarity of the vehicle’s headlights by removing oxidation, yellowing, and scratches, improving both appearance and driving safety.

High-Pressure Rinse

Using high-pressure water spray to remove loose dirt and grime from the vehicle’s surface before the actual cleaning process.

Hi-Tech Paints

Refers to base coat/clear coat systems, tri-coats, fluorine clears, etc.


Trails of hazing left in the surface of paint/clear coat caused by a rotary buffing machine. Also known as “Buffer Trails” or “Rotary Induced Machine Marring”. In some U.S. states, can also be known as “Zebra Stripes”, and in Germany, known as “Polishing Veil”.


Health & Safety Executive. A U.K. government agency that sets standards for workers’ safety.



International Agency for Research of Cancer.


Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health.

Industrial Fallout

Airborne pollutants from industry, which settle onto automotive surfaces and become embedded on the paint and degrade the finish. As the particles oxidize/rust, they appear as orange specks on the paint. Requires special products and procedures to be removed. Also known as “Rail Dust”.

Interior Detailing

Cleaning the inside parts of a car, including leather, plastics, vinyl, carbon fiber plastics, and natural fibers. Techniques include vacuuming, steam cleaning, and brushing.


Lacquer Paint

Any of the various clean or colored synthetic coatings made by dissolving nitrocellulose or other cellulose derivatives together with plasticizers and pigments in a mixture of volatile solvents and used to impart a high gloss to surfaces. Also defined as a glossy, resinous material, such as the exudation of the lacquer tree, used as a surface coating.

Lacquer Thinner

A highly flammable solvent used to thin lacquer or paints and to clean various items on the vehicle.

Leather Conditioning

The application of special conditioners to leather surfaces in the vehicle’s interior to keep the leather supple, prevent cracking, and restore its natural feel and look.

Leather Repair

Repairing tears, scratches, and other damages on leather surfaces, followed by conditioning to restore appearance.


Matte Finish Care

Special care and products designed for vehicles with matte paint finishes to clean and protect without adding gloss.

Matte Finished Paints

Any paint that leaves a flat, non-shiny finish such as that used on side mirrors, etc.

Metallic Paint

A type of automotive paint that contains metallic flakes producing a glittery appearance.

Metering System

A system that automatically dilutes concentrated, water-based chemicals with water.

Micro Blisters

Tiny blisters in the paint’s surface caused by contamination in the painting process. Also known as “Solvent Pop”. In the UAE, this is known as “Pin Holes”.

Micro Scratches

Circular scratches left in the paint surface caused by improper or harsh washing technique. Also known as “Swirl Marks” and, in some U.S. states, known as “Spider Webbing”.

Microfiber Towels

Soft, highly absorbent towels made from microfiber, used in detailing to prevent scratches and ensure a streak-free finish.

Mineral Deposits

Surface contamination on the paint’s surface caused by hard water and/or heavy contamination in water. Also known as “Hard Water Staining/Etching”.


Where the paint appears streaked with light and dark areas. Caused by heavier film thickness in one area over others.


Material (or Manufacturer) Safety Data Sheets, which describe the hazardous ingredients in a chemical, safety measures, first aid procedures, etc.

Multiple Step Process

Where three or more steps are required to properly correct the painted surface of the vehicle.


Nano Coating

Similar to ceramic coating, this is a highly durable, chemical-resistant protection layer that bonds at the molecular level with the vehicle’s paint.


Odour Eliminator

Products or methods used to neutralize and remove unpleasant odours from the vehicle’s interior.


A viscous liquid of which are mixtures of terpene and simple esters or mineral oils which are mixtures of hydrocarbons, used in paint and auto polishes.

One Step

A process where the paint is corrected, polished, and protected in one step. Or a chemical product that corrects, polishes, and protects.

Orange Peel

The nubby, rough appearance on paint that looks much like the texture of an orange peel; surface lacks clarity of reflected image.

Orbital Buffer

An air or electrical tool with a pad that travels in ellipses instead of rotating on a fixed axis. Used when waxing to simulate the movement of the human hand.

Original Finish

The paint applied by the manufacturer (O.E.M. finish).


Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A U.S. government agency that sets standards for workers’ safety.


Substance such as paint mist that settles out of the air onto an automobile’s surface appearing as tiny specks.


Chemical substances within an automotive finish that collect and bond with oxygen molecules, causing the paint to become dry, dull, and faded. Typical of single-stage paint finishes.

Ozone Treatment

A process used to eliminate odors inside the vehicle by releasing ozone (O3) to oxidize and break down odor molecules in the interior.



Pounds Per Square Inch – A measure of air and water pressure.

Pad Washer

A mechanical device used to clean buffing pads of compounds, cleaners, waxes, etc.

Paint Burn

To literally remove paint from a vehicle due to the friction generated by a rotary buffer.

Paint Cleaner

A product that contains mild abrasive used for removing oxidation, light scratches, and minor surface imperfections from the paint surface. Normally less aggressive than rubbing compounds and offers no protection.

Paint Correction

A process that addresses and repairs imperfections in a vehicle’s finish, such as swirl marks, scratches, oxidation, and etching.

Paint Etching

Damage that can occur to a paint finish when an acidic substance rests on the surface “eating” into the paint.

Paint Film Thickness

The measure of the amount of film on the vehicle. Measured in mils, which is thousandths of an inch.

Paint Sealant

A protective product applied by hand or machine to automotive paint, which coats, seals, and protects the surface.

Paint Thickness Gauge

A magnetic or electronic instrument that measures the film thickness (primer and paint) on a metal vehicle surface (typically ferrous metal).

Paintless Dent Removal (PDR)

A method of removing minor dents and dings from the vehicle’s body without the need for painting.


Permissible Exposure Limit.

Pet Hair Removal

Specialized techniques and tools used to remove pet hair from the vehicle’s interior.

Petroleum Distillates

Compounds that are derived from crude oil through the refining process, capable of dissolving other substances.

Petroleum Solvents

Liquids that are derived from crude oil through the refining process, capable of dissolving other substances.

pH Scale

A scale from 0-14 to determine the acidic or alkaline nature of a chemical. 0-6 is acidic; 8-14 is alkaline; 7 is considered neutral. The lower the number the more acidic a chemical, the higher the number the more alkaline or caustic the chemical.


A chemical formulated to produce a smooth, bright, and glossy paint surface. It can also remove swirl marks. Can also be called a “Swirl Remover”.


Another name for a rotary or dual action buffer.


The action of a rotary or dual action buffer to remove swirls and/or smooth the paint to a high-gloss finish. The use of products containing abrasives to remove minor surface imperfections like scratches, swirl marks, and etching, enhancing the vehicle’s shine.

Polishing Pad

A sheepskin or foam pad that is used with a rotary or dual action buffer to remove swirls or smooth the paint.


From the Greek word “poly”, meaning many, and “mer”, meaning units. For example, “polyurethane”.


A catalyst type of paint known for exceptional durability.


Personal Protective Equipment.

Pressure Washer

A machine that uses a piston pump to increase water pressure to a psi of 500 to over 3000. Used to clear engines, wheels, and wash and rinse vehicles.


First step in preparing a vehicle for detailing, by removing dirt, tar, etc.


Material applied to the surface to seal, fill scratches, and improve adhesion of paint.


A person completely knowledgeable, trained, and skilled in all aspects of their profession.

Protective Films

Clear films applied to the vehicle’s exterior to protect against chips, scratches, and stains.



Degree of excellence or relative goodness of work performed.


Rail Dust

Small metallic particles that can settle on the surfaces of vehicles, which become embedded on the paint. As the particles oxidize/rust, they appear as orange specks on the paint. Requires special products and procedures to be removed. Also known as “Industrial Fallout (IFO)”.


A synthetic or naturally occurring polymer.

Respiratory Distress

A physical condition caused by inhaling toxic vapors, characterized by shortness of breath, inability to breathe, dizziness, and sometimes unconsciousness. This condition requires immediate medical attention.

Rinseless Wash

A chemical characterized by its ability to require little or no water to rinse off the vehicle.

Rotary Induced Machine Marring

Trails of hazing left in the surface of paint/clear coat caused by a rotary buffing machine. Also known as “Buffer Trails” or “Holograms”. In some U.S. states, can also be known as “Zebra Stripes”, and in Germany, it’s known as “Polishing Veil”.


Revolutions Per Minute – number of complete turns made in one minute.

Rubber Seal Conditioning

Applying conditioner to rubber door seals and trim to keep them flexible and prevent cracking or fading.



A synthetic product designed to protect the car’s paintwork, providing a longer-lasting protective layer than traditional wax.


A paint protection chemical applied by hand or machine to an automotive paint that coats, seals, and protects the surface. Normally contains amino-functional silicones to increase durability.


To brighten or increase luster of a paint finish.


Any group of polymerized semi-organic compounds comprised of silicone items, oxygen, and possibly organic compounds. Characterized by high resistance to heat and water. Silicone adds durability, lubricity, and enhances gloss. Silicone can create complications during repainting in body shops. Non-silicone products are preferable for body shop applications.


A substance, usually liquid, that dissolves or can dissolve another substance.

Solvent Pop

Tiny blisters in the paint’s surface caused by contamination in the painting process. Also known as “Micro Blisters”. In the UAE, this is known as “Pin Holes”.

Stain Removal

Techniques and products used to remove various types of stains from the vehicle’s interior and exterior surfaces.

Steam Cleaning

Using steam to clean and sanitize the vehicle’s interior surfaces, including upholstery, carpets, and other fabrics, effectively removing stains and odors.


Short Term Exposure Limit.


A compound that helps lift substances from a surface so they may be removed. Usually found in cleaners to improve rinsing.

Swirls/Swirl Marks

Circular micro scratches left in the paint surface caused by too abrasive a buffing pad, compound, faulty buffing technique, or improper/harsh washing technique. Also known as “Micro Scratching” and, in some U.S. states, known as “Spider Webbing”.


Tar Removal

The process of removing tar spots from the vehicle’s paintwork, usually with specialized solvents that dissolve the tar without damaging the paint.


Tagliabue Closed Cup – test used to determine flammability of a product.


A fluoropolymer patented by DuPont that is used in waxes and sealants to provide protection on paint finishes.

Throw Off

Chemical product that is thrown from the surface or buffing pad by force. Often appears as tiny speckles of product on other surfaces of the vehicle.

Tyre Dressing

A product applied to tyres to give them a glossy, wet look and protect them from cracking, fading, and aging.


Threshold Limit Value.

Transit Coating

A protective coating applied to auto exteriors prior to transportation to prevent damage to the exterior surfaces. Requires special chemicals and removal procedures.

Trim Restoration

The process of restoring and protecting the vehicle’s exterior plastic and rubber trim to prevent fading, discoloration, and aging.


Time Weighted Average.

Two Step Correction

A paint correction process usually involving two separate steps of machine polishing, typically a compound or cutting step followed by a finishing polish or refining step.


Ultraviolet (UV) Rays

A component of ordinary light that cannot be seen by the human eye. Deteriorates automotive surfaces by causing fading, cracking, peeling, and discoloration. Some products contain ingredients that guard against UV damage.

Undercarriage Cleaning

Cleaning and protecting the underside of the vehicle, removing dirt, grime, and rust-inhibiting materials.

Urethane Paint

A catalyst paint known for exceptional durability.

UV Protection

Products or coatings applied to the vehicle’s exterior to protect against ultraviolet (UV) light damage.



Removing dust, dirt, and debris from the vehicle’s interior, including seats, carpets, and hard-to-reach areas.

Vapor Steamer

A device that uses a small boiler to generate steam up to 200+ºF, which is then used to perform a number of cleaning functions.

Vehicle Inspection

A detailed assessment of the vehicle’s condition before detailing, identifying areas that need special attention.

Vinyl Wrapping

Applying a thin layer of vinyl film over the vehicle’s exterior, used for colour changes, pattern designs, or advertising, also offering paint protection.


Water Based

A product of which the primary liquid ingredient is water.

Water Soluble

Characterized by the ability to mix completely in or with water.

Water Spot Removal

The process of eliminating water spots on the vehicle’s exterior surfaces, typically caused by minerals in water that has evaporated and left residues behind.

Waterless Wash

A chemical that can clean a vehicle without water. It is sprayed on and wiped off.


A natural or synthetic element used in chemicals to protect the paint (i.e., carnauba wax).


Applying a protective wax coating to the exterior of a vehicle to protect the paint and produce a high gloss finish.


The change or failure in paint caused by exposure to weather.

Wet Sanding

A method used to remove deeper scratches and imperfections from the vehicle’s paint surface, involving a procedure of simultaneously sanding and rinsing an automotive finish to remove imperfections. Regarded as complicated and should only be attempted by professionals.

Wheel Coating

Applying a protective coating to wheels to make them easier to clean and protect from brake dust and road grime.

Window Tinting

The application of a thin film to the vehicle’s windows to reduce glare, heat, and UV ray exposure, enhancing privacy and protection.

Wool Cutting Pad

An aggressive 100% woven wool pad that is used with a compound to correct a major paint finish problem.