How Often Should You Polish Your Car? (When Is Too Much)

Image Credit: prostooleh via Envato Elements

Image Credit: prostooleh via Envato Elements

How Often Should You Polish Your Car? (When Is Too Much)


Machine polishing or hand polishing is a common practice in car detailing. Despite this, many detailers might be confused about the difference between polish and car wax.

A paint sealant or carnauba wax coat sit on top of your car’s paintwork while polish and a polishing pad are used to grind it away ever so slightly.

Polishing compounds are slightly abrasive and are used to restore paintwork to a like-new shine. If you just wax your car, you can cover up some of these light scratches but they’ll still be there after the car wax wears off.

Let’s go over many of the questions car enthusiasts have about polishes as it relates to car detailing.

How Often Should You Polish Your Car?

A car should only be polished when necessary. Polishing removes a thin layer from the top of the clear coat on your car’s paintwork. Automotive manufacturer’s add clear coat as a sacrificial layer on top of the base coat to protect the paint color from ultraviolet rays and give it a glossy shine.

There is only so much clear coat on your paint finish and each time you polish your car you make this layer thinner and thinner.

What Does Car Polish Do?

Polishing literally removes a thin layer from the top of your car’s paintwork. The polishing process wears away at the clear coat to remove scratches and swirl marks from the surface of your finish.

Polishing your car or truck is safe to do and auto manufacturer’s add enough clear coat to make it possible to polish out scratches 4 or 5 times over the life of your car or truck.

Polishes come in different levels of coarseness. There are mild polishes that will remove very little from the top of your finish, while there are much more aggressive polishes, commonly referred to as compounds, that can speed the process up for heavily neglected paintwork.


Car Polish Vs Wax

Polishing is often confused with waxing. Polishing is the process of grinding away paint while waxing is the process of applying a protective layer on top of paint.

Polishing should be done only when necessary, however you really can’t wax your car too much. Wax will also help prevent the need to polish as frequently in the future.

When To Polish Car Paint

You should only polish your vehicle when you need to do so to remove minor scratches, damage from bird droppings, oxidized paint, and other minor surface damage to the clear coat.

Why Polish A Car?

The only way to properly remove light surface scratches and paint defects is by polishing them out of the clear coat. Modern cars have a thick clear protective layer of paint on the top of the paint finish that is specifically designed to be able to be polished to remove these light scratches and swirls.

Surface scratches accumulate over time as car owners use their car or truck daily. Damage from environmental contaminants is unavoidable and this buildup of road grime, tar, dirt, and grit invariable ends up making it easy for scratches to appear on the paint surface.

Often, these scratches happen by not properly washing your vehicle with proper wash techniques. Using the two bucket method is an ideal way to wash your car while minimizing the chance of grit getting trapped in your wash mitt and the grit getting rubbed across the whole car while you’re washing it.


How Long Does Polish Last On Car Paint?

To be clear, polish isn’t applied on top of your paint and left there. It is rubbed until it grinds away a layer from the top of the paint finish and is then removed. Sometimes people confuse polish and wax.

That said, the effects of polishing are permanent. The problem is that if you don’t properly protect your car’s paintwork from future damage you may need to polish out fine scratches and swirl marks again as the accumulate over time.

Can You Over Polish A Car?

Yes. Over-polishing is called burning the paint. This happens when you polish all of the clear coat away and the base coat of color paint is exposed. It will stand out since it doesn’t have the glossy clear coat on top of it and look like a large blemish in the paintwork.

It’s important not to over polish your car and to know how much clear coat you can remove before you begin to risk removing too much of the clear coat.

You can practice safe polishing by getting a paint thickness gauge and measuring the thickness of your paint where you’ll be working. Next measure the paint thickness in your door jamb. Subtract the thickness in the door jamb from the thickness in the area you’ll be polishing to determine how much you can polish your car. You can learn more about this process in our article discussing how thick is clear coat.


Does Polishing Remove Clear Coat?

Yes. Car polishing removes light scratches by removing the top layer of your finish. It doesn’t remove very much so this shouldn’t be a big concern, but it does mean that you can’t polish your car once a month for years without wearing the clear coat completely away.

Is Polishing Good For Your Car?

Car polishing is great for restoring your paintwork to a show room quality state. It can literally transform a weathered finish and bring it back to life.

Removing surface blemishes form your paint finish can improve your resale value and turn a daily driver into a winning show car.

Polishing can’t remove deep scratches or rock chips though. It can only remove the light surface scratches that create a spiderweb-like appearance in your finish.

Is Polishing Bad For Your Car?

No, but over polishing is bad. There is only just some much clear coat applied to cars and trucks at the factory and this amount will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

It’s usually considered safe to polish a car 4 or 5 times before you should consider getting a paint thickness gauge to make sure you’re not going to remove more of the clear layer than is safe to remove.



Hopefully you know have a good grasp of the benefits of polishing and when you should perform this car detailing task. There are lots of great detailing products you’ll want to consider such as a DA polisher, polishing pads, and various grades of compound and polish.

Read up on all of these products to get a good grasp of how to use them so you can restore the high shine your car or truck had when it rolled off the assembly line.

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