Doing any paint correction type of detailing work? You need clean pads. A clean pad gives you a more consistent finish, less money spent on replacements, and more efficiency with your DA or rotary tool. But I will say, it does help to have numerous pads you can swap in and out on the job when they get dirty. It takes time to clean these things properly, and time is money.
Using water and soap is really the best way to get your pads 100% clean, but keeping them unclogged on the job is equally as important, which is why I wanted to cover how to both unclog and clean them.
In this guide, I’ll cover a few products you can use to clean (and eventually wash) wool, microfiber, or foam pads.
What You Will Need
- Spur tool (Wool)
- Small bristle brush (All types)
- Air compressor (Optional, all types)
- Microfiber towel or terry cloth towel (Microfiber pads)
- Cleaning solution (All types)
- Pad Washer (Optional, all types)
One thing to note is that many of the cleaning methods are essentially the same no matter the type of pad you prefer to work with. That being said, a couple of tools you don’t want to use on foam pads, since they can tear apart. Always defer to the pad manufacturer’s washing instructions if you have them.
How to Clean Wool Pads
Wool pads (cutting pads) are great for compounding and removing scratches, but probably the most difficult to keep clean since they require (and absorb) quite a bit of product in order to properly remove deep scratches, for example.
Method 1: Using compressed air
A quick and easy way to keep your pads unclogged when compounding different sections is by using compressed air. Just use a blower nozzle attachment and apply compressed air across the pad while it’s spinning.
You can also apply air with the device off, it’s really up to you. You may also want to do this over an empty bucket or trash can to avoid making a mess.
If you don’t already have an air compressor as a detailer, they really do come in handy for cleaning door jams, dusty cupholders, and for use cases like cleaning pads. I used to think most were several hundred dollars until I found a few pancake-style compressors like this one by Bostitch on Amazon for much less.
Method 2: Using a spur tool
For wool specifically, a spur tool is great to use for pads that have flattened out and full of wax or compound. This not only cleans your pad but it helps to separate any matted fibers. Simply point your rotary or polisher away from the vehicle, anchor it against your body, and work from the inside out, allowing the spur tool to spin on the surface of the pad.
This is a great way to unclog a wool pad without washing it with water, just be careful not to apply too much pressure.
How to Clean Microfiber Pads
Microfiber pads tend to trap just about everything and so it’s really recommended that you keep them as clean as possible when working if you don’t have several to swap in and out. For an entire car, it’s not uncommon to go through 4 or 5 of these.
Method 1: Using a terry cloth towel or bristle brush
One of the simplest cleaning methods is to use a terry cloth or a plush microfiber towel as you’re working, (in between passes) to knock off excess product until it’s time to change pads. You can also use a small device called a bristle brush, which will help to remove some of the wax, rubber, compound, or whatever sticks to your pad.
This helps to fluff the fibers (similar to a spur tool on wool) which is important since you want these fibers contacting your paint throughout the process.
Method 2: Using compressed air
Compressed air is another great way to clean microfiber pads. Just like with wool pads, you will want to do this away from the vehicle and point your nozzle a few inches from the pad. Even when washing with water (and after they dry) you may notice paint will cause white microfiber pads to remain the color of the vehicle. This is common for older cars that don’t have a clear coat, but compressed air should help to remove the excess paint transfer that is responsible for this discoloration as long as the pads are dry.
How to Clean Foam Pads
With foam pads you have to be careful with when applying any kind of pressure with your polisher on, because they can heat up and break apart if you’re not careful. There are a few tools that can make it easier to remove excess, like a soft terry cotton towel or a soften nylon bristle brush.
I actually recommend cleaning foam pads by hand since they can tear quite easily. Since foam pads are used when polishing (and not really for compounding or cutting) most of the time they are easier to keep clean, due to the fact they don’t trap substances in fibers like wool or microfiber pads can.
Again, using compressed air also is great to use throughout the polishing process.
Washing Foam, Wool, and Microfiber Pads
So cleaning them is one thing (to avoid using 100 of them on a single car!), but washing pads is essential as well.
One of the most effective ways to clean a basic foam pad is by using a microfiber terry cotton towel, a 5-gallon pocket, and a simple all-purpose cleaner. Fill your bucket to about halfway with clean water, spray your pad with a good coating of all-purpose cleaner, and use the wet towel to work the product out of your pads.
Washing pads by hand is the best way to prolong their use, but a towel or brush can speed up this process, especially if your foam pad has grooves in it.
Microfiber and Wool Pads
If you’re consistently using pads that trap a lot of product (like wool and microfiber), one option to look into is purchasing a pad washer. One of the most common on the market is the Grit Guard Universal Pad Washer. This is a special bucket designed to be used with a spinning pad. After filling it with liquid cleaning solution, you use the grate and grit guard for removing substances.
I thought this DIY option on YouTube was a great idea and little easier on the pads. You can also find products specifically designed for cleaning pads (but any multipurpose cleaner/degreaser should do).
Tips for Drying Your Pads
For all types of pads, it’s best practice to simply air dry your pads overnight on a drying rack, after removing as much water as you can get out of them before lying them face up. Do not lie pads on the backing, as this can cause water to sit on the glue or Velcro and can damage the adhesive.
Spin drying pads on a rotary or dual action polisher is what many people do to remove most of the water from them.
I don’t recommend using a dryer, but it depends on what the manufacturer recommends. For foam pads, you can even wrap them in a towel, being careful not to wring or squeeze them too tight, as they can de-form into an oval shape over time.
One Last Note – Why Clean Pads are Important
Whether you’re using wool, foam or microfiber, dirty pads can lead to a number of issues like heavy swirls, holograms and pigtails in your paint. Essentially, whatever wax, compound or residue that’s embedded in your pad is going to grind into the surface you’re buffing or polishing.
Ultimately, the key to maximizing your polishing pads is consistent cleaning. By tackling excess product before it sets into the pad, you’ll save yourself time and money, and you’ll generally find that your pads won’t wear out as fast. Let me know if you have another method that works for you.