I come from a background of servicing / repairing huge CNC's, so I may be skipping some steps that woodworkers consider normal and go straight to the fast and effective way to clean up a semi-precision surface.
I take an angle grinder with a wire wheel to the surface of table saws / shapers / etc to get all the rust off quickly and easily. If the surface material is of decent quality, this doesn't cause any noteworthy abrasions, but does cause a minor visible pattern of feathering.
Then use acetone to wipe down the surface (this degreases it thoroughly without leaving behind any residues). If your towel/paper towel are leaving behind fluff, you can finish by using a coffee filter to dust it off. Avoid getting acetone in your eye, that is a bad time.
After that, I prefer to apply paste wax, let it dry, then buff it out. There are many great surfacing options other than paste wax, but it is what I like most.
Note - after you get the surface clean with the wire wheel and acetone, brush your hand over it. If there are any protruding imperfections, use a flat stone to work the surface until it is perfectly smooth. I think sandpaper might work for this, but I have only ever used a dressing stone. After that, re-clean with acetone.