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Terms by category

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.

General Detailing Terms

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.

Appearance Reconditioning  

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


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 Technician  

A skilled and knowledgeable professional in the art of detailing.


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


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


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


Degree of excellence or relative goodness of work performed.


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


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.


Time Weighted Average.

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.

Detailing Process

Detail Procedure/Processing

The steps followed to complete a detail job.


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


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

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.

Multiple Step Process

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

One Step

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


The action of a rotary or dual action buffer to remove swirls and/or smooth the paint to a high-gloss finish.


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

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.

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.

Wet Sanding

A procedure of simultaneously sanding and rinsing an automotive finish to remove imperfections. Regarded as complicated and should only be attempted by professionals.

Detailing Equipment


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

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.

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.


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.

Foam Pad

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

Foam Cutting Pad

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

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.

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.

Pad Washer

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

Paint Thickness Gauge

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


Another name for a rotary or dual action buffer.

Polishing Pad

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

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.

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.

Waterless Wash

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

Wool Cutting Pad

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

Products & Chemicals


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.


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”.

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.

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.


Chemical Abstracts Services registration number.


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 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”.

Combustible Liquid

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


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.


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.


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.


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.

Fabric Protector

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

Flash Off

Dwell time for solvent to evaporate from the paint surface.


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

Lacquer Thinner

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

Metering System

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


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.

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 Sealant

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

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.

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.


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”.


From the Greek word “poly”, meaning many, and “mer”, meaning units. For example, “polyurethane”.
Primer Material applied to the surface to seal, fill scratches, and improve adhesion of paint.


A synthetic or naturally occurring polymer.

Rinseless Wash

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


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.


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.


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


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.

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.


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

Paint & Defects


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


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.

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”.

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”.


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.

Ceramic Clear Coat

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

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.

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.

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.

Enamel Paint

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


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.

Hard Water Staining/Etching

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


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.

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”.

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”.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

Orange Peel

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

Original Finish

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


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.

Paint Burn

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

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.


A catalyst type of paint known for exceptional durability.

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)”.

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”.


To brighten or increase luster of a paint finish.

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”.

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”.

Urethane Paint

A catalyst paint known for exceptional durability.


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

Health, Safety, & Wellbeing

Environmental Protection Agency

Government agency that protects the environment. Has jurisdiction over the manufacturer through the end user of a product.


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

Flammable Liquid

A chemical that has a flash point below 140ºF.

Flash Point

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

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.


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.


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


Health & Safety At Work Act.


International Agency for Research of Cancer.


Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health.


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


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


Permissible Exposure Limit.


Personal Protective Equipment.

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.


Short Term Exposure Limit.