Keeping a smooth, glossy finish on your car, truck, boat, or trailer’s surface is important. Not only does that shine look great, but it also helps protect the finish. When the paint or the clear coat is smooth, dirt, grime, salt, gunk, and other substances aren’t able to hang on and cause damage.
But to really take your car detailing prowess up a notch, adding the one of the best orbital polishers to your tool kit is a move worth making. These electrical tools help apply waxes, buff out scratches, and polish the clear coat or the painted surface to a slick finish that you can see yourself in.
- BEST OVERALL: Makita 7″ Polisher
- RUNNER UP: Torq Random Polisher Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: WEN 6010 6-Inch Waxer/Polisher
- UPGRADE PICK: DEWALT 20V MAX XR Cordless Polisher
- BEST CORDLESS: Milwaukee 2738-20 M18 18-Volt Cordless Polisher
- BEST FOR BIG JOBS: WEN 10PMR 10-Inch Waxer/Polisher
- ALSO CONSIDER: PORTER-CABLE Variable Speed Polisher
Before Buying an Orbital Polisher
Polishers are more flexible than they might seem. While the overwhelming majority of polishers see use in the automotive and marine industry, they’re also useful for some household uses. DIYers can use an orbital polisher to buff marble, granite, and stainless steel countertops. They’re also helpful for polishing concrete or wood floors, and they’ll speed up the process considerably over doing the job by hand.
Many of the best orbital polishers can also double as sanders, particularly the 5-inch and 6-inch models. The only downside is that a polisher won’t have a dust collection bag, so users might have to stop to clear sawdust from under the unit more often.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Orbital Polisher
The best orbital polisher should cut the amount of time it takes to wax and buff a vehicle by a considerable amount. But just because orbital polishers work quickly doesn’t mean you should rush to decide on one. The following sections contain some of the most important considerations to keep in mind when choosing one of these tools to add to your detailing toolkit.
Orbital polishers are available in two main varieties: rotary or single orbit, and random orbital (also known as dual-action, or “DA” by the pros). These designations refer to how the buffing pads spin.
- Rotary or single orbit polishers’ pads spin around a single axis, similar to how a wheel spins on an axle. It’s one tight, consistent orbit. These polishers are usually the least expensive option.
- Dual-action polishers spin like rotary polishers, but they also use a random orbit which creates a looping buffing pattern. Essentially, it’s an elliptical buffing path, covering more surface area than a standard orbit. They’re faster and more efficient, and they also reduce the chances of swirl marks. But, they are more expensive.
Choosing the best orbital polisher might come down to speed. Some models have set speeds, while others have variable speed settings that users can choose from, and manufacturers express these speeds in OPM (or orbits per minute).
Most orbital polishers feature speeds between 2,000 and 4,500 OPM. While higher speeds might seem like they’d get the job done the fastest, they’re not always recommended. For instance, if you’re applying wax with your polisher, 4,500 OPM might sling excess wax onto the windshield or plastic trim.
But, with the correct pad, a high-speed polisher can make faster work of scratches and buff the finish to a mirror-like finish.
Just as there are different speeds available, the best orbital polishers are also available in a few main sizes: 5-inch, 6-inch, 7-inch, or 9-inch. There are even 10-inch models. Keep in mind while reading this section that many of the best orbital polishers can handle multiple sizes.
For smaller vehicles or those with sleek curves, a 5-inch or a 6-inch polisher is usually ideal. This size allows the DIY detailer to work into tighter body lines while still covering plenty of surface area for a quicker job.
For larger vehicles like trucks, vans, boats, and trailers, a 7-inch or a 9-inch polisher might be a better fit. The lack of dramatic body lines means the 9-inch pad isn’t too large, while the increased size makes covering a lot of surface area in a hurry a breeze. Ten-inch models might be too big, but they can cover a lot of paint in no time.
To the uninitiated, it would appear that an orbital polisher isn’t performing any heavy-duty work. But if you consider the speeds at which they spin and the friction they create, power can be a concern—just not in a typical sense.
It’s not about horsepower or torque as much as it’s about amperage. It’s common to find orbital polishers between .5-amp and 12-amp variants, and this designation refers to how much stress the motor and electrical components can take before overheating.
For a smaller vehicle, a lower amperage polisher is typically fine. The job doesn’t take that long, so the motor will normally stay cool. For larger jobs, such as boats and trailers, higher amperage is almost a necessity. The amount of time and friction required to buff these big vehicles will burn out a smaller buffer.
Weight may or may not be a consideration, and it depends on use. If you’re only going to be buffing your vehicle once a year, weight is less of a factor. But if you plan to use your polisher several times a year, weight can be paramount.
A heavy polisher absorbs vibrations and will maintain a bit of friction of horizontal surfaces without much effort from the user. This can go a long way for ergonomics. But when it comes to the vertical surfaces, a heavy polisher can wipe you out. It will put stress on the lower back and can cause fatigue and inconsistent results.
Luckily, most modern polishers weigh just a few pounds (roughly around 6 or 7 pounds), but be sure to keep weight in mind if you’ll be doing a lot of polishing.
Ergonomics and Ease of Use
Weight is obviously an important factor in ergonomics, but there are more points to consider. For instance, some orbital polishers feature grip positions that might be more comfortable to a particular user than to others. There are models with specific handles, others with longer designs similar to a grinder, and others designed to fit the user’s palm. Choosing a handle style comes down to the user’s preference.
Other points to consider are cordless polishers and those with vibration reduction. Cordless polishers might be a little heavier than a standard corded model, but the fact that there isn’t a cord to drag across a nicely buffed surface could be a benefit. And vibration reduction will make a big difference in fatigue, as the hands and arms will have to absorb less of the high-speed wobbling.
Our Top Picks
That might be a lot of information to sort through, but choosing the best orbital polisher doesn’t have to be difficult. The following list should help smooth out the process, as it contains some of the top orbital polishers on the market. Be sure to keep the top considerations in mind when comparing these polishers to one another.
Home detailers or pros looking to minimize the amount of wax they’re slinging about should check out Makita’s 7-inch polisher. Not only does this polisher feature a variable speed trigger and adjustable speed ranges, but it also has a soft start for fighting against slinging wax.
This rotary polisher features a speed range between 600 and 3,200 OPM, allowing users to choose their preferred speed. It also features a large, rubberized loop handle that allows the user to find a comfortable grip in most positions. Aside from the loop handle, a side-mounted screw-in handle attaches to either side of this buffer for control and leverage. The 10-amp motor is up for heavy-duty tasks, and the kit comes with several pads and a carrying case.
DIY detailers looking for the same orbital polisher that the pros use should check out this option from Torq. This random orbit polisher adjusts between a low speed of 1,200 OPM for applying wax and 4,200 OPM for fast buffing. Speed adjustments come via the thumbwheel mounted on top of the handle for on-the-fly adjustments.
The Torq polisher 5-inch pad features a hook-and-loop design for quick pad changes between applying and buffing. Also, the ergonomic design allows the detailer to maintain control over the unit, and the light weight makes it comfortable for buffing vertical surfaces.
The kit comes with several pads for applying wax, buffing, and finishing, as well as an additional backing pad for flexible applications. It also comes with two microfiber towels and the shampoo and conditioner needed to clean the pads.
For light-duty buffing or small jobs, consider this compact orbital polisher that features a palm-grip design, allowing users to control the tool with one hand. The WEN also features a 6-inch pad with a random orbit design, so even budget-minded shoppers can avoid swirl marks.
This random polisher features a .5-amp motor, which is suited for light-duty buffing and polishing on small cars and the like. It also features a lockable on-off switch, allowing users to turn this polisher on and maintain a comfortable grip without holding a button down with a finger for improved ergonomics.
Detailing pros and DIYers alike might appreciate what DEWALT’s cordless polisher has to offer. This polisher offers three hand positions, including a screw-in handle, a molded grip over the pad, and the rubber over-molded handle for improved control, grip, and vibration reduction. It also features a variable speed trigger with a range between 2,000 and 5,500 OPM, allowing users to tailor the speed for the job at hand.
This random orbit polisher features a 5-inch backing pad, allowing it to work into tight body lines and curves. It also uses the brand’s established 20-volt batteries, allowing users already invested in the line to make a tool-only purchase and benefit from a high-quality polisher.
When it comes to getting a heavy-duty project polished, such as a truck, a van, or a boat, this cordless polisher is well worth considering. This tool uses 18-volt lithium-ion batteries to produce up to 2,200 OPM of speed from a 7-inch backing pad. One 5 amp-hour battery (which must be purchased separately) can complete a full-size car.
This rotary, single-orbit unit features an adjustable-speed wheel built into the handle and a variable speed trigger, allowing users to apply a coat of wax without slinging it everywhere first. There is a screw-in handle that attaches to either side of the polisher, as well as a rubber over-molded handle for comfort and vibration reduction.
Vans, trucks, SUVs, boats, and trailers have a lot of body panel surface area to cover, and a smaller polisher simply won’t cut it. For those sizable jobs, this WEN polisher might be just the ticket. With its large buffing pad and simple design, users can cover those big vehicles in half the time of a smaller polisher.
This unit features a single-speed design that operates at 3,200 OPM, providing enough speed for polishing but not so much that it will make a mess while applying wax. While the motor only features a .75-amp rating, the larger application and polishing surface should be able to wrap up the project before overheating. The kit comes with two applicator pads, two polishing pads, two wool pads, and a washing mitt.
Not all truly capable orbital polishers have to be heavy-duty, burly tools. This PORTER-CABLE option features a 4.5-amp motor and a speed range between 2,800 and a blazing 6,800 OPM, with a thumb wheel at the base for easy adjustments and plenty of buffing capability from a modest tool.
This orbital polisher features a random orbit to reduce the appearance of swirls and cover a bit more surface area. It comes with a 6-inch backing pad and a dual-position handle that screws into the left or right side of the polisher. And at just 5.5 pounds, it won’t wear out the user’s back or arms.
FAQs About Orbital Polishers
Even with all that background on choosing the best orbital polisher, some new questions might pop up. The following section aims to buff those questions out so the answers are crystal clear, as it’s a collection of some of the most frequently asked questions about orbital polishers.
Q. What is the difference between a dual action polisher and a random orbital polisher?
Dual-action and random orbital polishers are one and the same. They vary from single-orbit or rotary polishers in that the pad of the buffing path is oval, whereas single-orbit polishers feature tight and consistent orbits.
Q. Can a random orbital polisher be used to sand a surface?
Yes, in fact, many brands market their polishers as sander/polisher combos.
Q. When should a polishing compound be used?
When using a polishing compound, it should be used after using a rubbing compound or a wax cleaner.
Q. Why choose a random orbital polisher over a high-speed polisher?
Random orbital polishers are more user-friendly, and they’re less likely to leave swirl marks behind.