What’s the Difference Between Car Polish and Wax & Should You Polish Or Wax First?

It’s time to put the car polish vs. wax debate to rest!

Car polish and car wax are automotive terms that are frequently interchanged by excitable owners who want to keep their rides always sleek and shiny.

The misconception might have been born out of the fact that both similarly have important roles in regards to your car’s paintwork. But, the two serve very different purposes.

To get the best care your beloved car deserves, you should learn what these two products offer. Keep in mind that there are many different kinds of polishes and waxes.

Read below to find out what makes them different from each other, and why they’re both needed in the repair and maintenance of your car.


Car Polish vs. Wax vs. Compound: They all work together but they do different things

Everyone wants a dazzlingly presentable car, and a lot of people make it a habit to wash their rides regularly. But, your simple soap and water routine wouldn’t increase your car’s longevity nor would it offer your car better protection from other elements like oxidation. That’s where the two products enter!

So, in this article, we’ll explore:


What is Polish?


It is made up of abrasives and its abrasiveness ranges from medium to ultra-fine. An abrasive is a material used to smoothen out another material. Think sandpaper! Ultimately, you use it acts as a remover of microscopic surface imperfections like a swirl, scratches, and scrapes that make your auto’s finish look dull and dirty. They come in many different forms, from paste and creams to liquids. You can apply it to smooth out and level the surfaces of your ride.

A compound can be explained as more aggressive and is used prior to polish. There will be instances where dirt and grime stick so closely that no amount of product polishes it out. That’s when you use a compound.

It’s good to remember that both of these must be used with care because polishing your car too much can take off the paint and expose its undercoat!
Although car polish is an important part of detailing and it serves as a great way to liven up the paint, it doesn’t give your car any extra coat of defense.


What is Wax?

It is a type of paint sealant that creates a layer of shine and gives your ride added protection. It is usually made up of more natural components like vegetable or animal wax mixed with other solvents and other waxy substances. Some products use beeswax but the most common and most preferred kind of car wax is made from carnauba.

It is a type of vegetable wax that is ideal for detailing as it is highly insoluble to water—meaning, it can withstand lots of washing and rainy days! It also has a high melting point (at around 80° to 86°C) so it wouldn’t melt right off, even during hot summer days. Best of all is that it creates the much-loved glassy, water effect that looks stunning in cars!

Car wax not only gives your ride that awesome glaze that makes it look good. It also has UV ray inhibitors that protect your car’s finish from dulling under the sun’s influence. Think of it as your auto’s very own sunscreen!


Wax or Polish First?


Now that you know what the answer to the debate is, the logical next question to ask would be: polish or wax, what first?

After washing your car, feel its surface for bumps and flaws. If there are any, it’s time to take out your buffing machine and start polishing. This is important as scratches can cause holes in your car’s paintwork. If left unattended, it can turn rusty and you wouldn’t that. If you don’t feel any scrapes, then it’s okay to skip this step.

Next is to apply the car wax over its paint to give it that ultimate shine you’re going after. It’s best to do this regularly to keep your car looking brand-new for many years to come.


How to Polish A Car by Hand?

If you don’t have the budget to bring your car to a professional, you can always learn how to polish a car by hand (and how to wax it as well!). Of course, doing these tasks manually would take longer so the first thing you need is time. Next, make sure you’re not working under direct sunlight. In their informative video below, Mike and Mike suggest doing the following a garage.

Using a soft-foam pad, generously apply the compound to your car’s problem areas, and start to buff in a circular motion. Make sure that you apply it evenly with a gentle pressure and try not let it get to any rubber, chrome, and glass parts (like the headlight!). Once the dirt and scrapes on the exterior are flattened, put some polish on a clean pad and do the same again.

Once you’re done, get another clean, soft-foam sponge and start applying wax. Make sure to apply it evenly. It’s best to finish a small part of your car first before removing the wax, just to let it set.

Some waxes set longer than others so make sure to read your product’s instructions carefully. When the wax is set, get your microfiber cloth and gently wipe it off until the paint is gleaming and it glazes like a brand-new car.


How Often Should I Polish My Car?

Now, I’m sure your car is looking awesome and shiny! But you’re left with just one other question: How often should I polish my car?

Since polishing removes a thin coating of finish from your car, it’s recommended to do this just once every year. But if you live somewhere more humid, you might need to do it twice or thrice. Polishing isn’t something you need to do all the time because it can do more harm if done often.

Waxing, on the other hand, can be done once every three months. Just make sure that there aren’t any bumps on your car’s exterior before adding the product, or it would be sealed in the paint as well. Waxing can be done more often without causing any harm to your ride since it only creates another clear sheet of protection. So don’t be afraid to keep your auto waxed with your favorite paint sealants! If you’re looking into new products, Meguiars is a good brand to try.

Now that you know the difference between the two products, and that they need to work together for optimal auto care, all that’s left to do is to try out all that you’ve learned!


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  • Updated January 6, 2019
James Evans

As a passionate outdoorsman and an automobile enthusiast, James spent most of his time in his garage tinkering with cars and bikes. During his free time, he loves to hike and blog about the things that he has done to keep his ride in tip-top condition.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 3 comments
Fred - June 13, 2019

I have a couple of Toyota SUV and they are DIRTY. Actually road grime is packed on. What can I use as a cleaner to get down to clean paint. Thank you.

    James Evans - June 13, 2019

    Hi Fred. You got to wash it clean first. Then use one of the grime removers to remove the stubborn stain. After that, if there are light scratches use some polish to buff off the scratches then only apply wax to complete the detailing process.

Arlie Day - June 24, 2019

Car polish is different from car wax. Every operative wants to show off their intermediary. But when it gets dirty, it leaves no reason to be well-pleased. The exterior paint is getting aged day by day. No doubt, aging is a natural process. You can’t stop aging. But you can control the speed at which it is occurring. Both waxing and polishing can keep your speed machine looking great for a lasting spell. Waxing is quite similar to polishing the nail. But it is not as effortless as it seems. That’s why this errand has to carried out under the supervision of a sure-footed car professional.


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