Doing any paint correction as part of your 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.
It does help if you have numerous pads to swap in and out on the job when they get dirty. It takes time to clean pads 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. In this post, I’ll cover how to both unclog and clean pads.
Let’s start with a few products you can use to clean (and 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)
Many of the cleaning methods are the same no matter the type of pad you prefer to work with. Since foam pads tend to tear apart, you’ll want to be careful with these.
Always defer to the pad manufacturer’s washing instructions not matter what type of pads you are cleaning.
How to clean wool pads
Wool pads (cutting pads) are great for compounding and removing scratches, but are probably the most difficult to keep clean since they require (and absorb) quite a bit of product.
Method 1: Use compressed air
A quick and easy way to keep your pads unclogged when compounding is to use 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 your polisher turned off, it’s really up to you.
Quick tip: blow out your pads 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.
You can find a simple pancake-style compressor like this one by Bostitch on Amazon for around $100 depending on the brand.
Method 2: Use a spur tool
For wool wads specifically, a spur tool is ideal for pads full of product or if your cutting pads are a bit flat. A spur tool 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 detailing pads
Microfiber pads tend to trap just about everything and so I recommend 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 microfiber pads, so stock up.
Method 1: Use a terry cloth towel or bristle brush
One of the simplest cleaning methods is to use a terry cloth or a microfiber towel as you’re working, (in between passes). The idea is to knock off excess until it’s time to change pads.
You can also use a small device called a bristle brush to prevent wax, rubber, or compound from building up on your pad.
A bristle brush will fluff the fibers (similar to a spur tool on wool); this is important since you want these fibers contacting your paint throughout the process.
Method 2: Use 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.
You may notice paint will cause white microfiber pads to remain the color of the vehicle, even after you wash and dry them.
Paint transfer 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.
If you’re considering using compressed air as part of your detailing routine, check out this post where I break down why detailers are using compressed air, and the types of compressors ideal for detailing.
How to clean foam pads
Whenever you clean foam pads, be careful not to apply pressure with your polisher on, because foam can heat up and break apart quite easily. You can use a soft terry cotton towel or a soft nylon bristle brush to clean foam, just be careful.
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) they are usually 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.
How to wash foam, wool, or microfiber pads
Even if you keep plenty of pads in stock, you’ll want to learn how to clean them to avoid always purchasing new ones.
How to wash foam detailing pads
To clean a basic foam pad, use a microfiber 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.
How to clean microfiber and wool detailing pads
To clean cutting pads that trap a lot of product (like wool and microfiber), consider getting 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 a little easier on the pads. You can also find products specifically designed for cleaning pads (but any multipurpose cleaner/degreaser should do).
How to dry detailing pads
For all types of pads, it’s best to simply air dry your pads overnight face-up on a drying rack, after wringing as much water as you can. Do not lie pads on the backing, as this can cause water to sit on the glue or Velcro and can damage the adhesive.
You can spin dry your pads on a rotary or dual-action polisher to remove most of the water.
I don’t recommend using a dryer for pads, but it depends on what the manufacturer recommends.
For foam pads, you can wrap them in a towel; be careful not to wring or squeeze them too tight, as they can de-form into an oval shape over time.
Why clean pads are important in detailing
Dirty pads can cause issues like swirls, holograms, and pigtails in paint no matter what kind of pad you use. Whatever wax, compound, or residue that’s embedded in your pad will grind into the surface you’re buffing or polishing which can cause problems.
If you try to remove 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!
This post was updated on September 5, 2022.