Polish Vs Wax: Which One Should You Use?

Polish Vs Wax: Which One Should You Use?


When you talk about detailing a car, it’s hard to avoid bringing up waxes and polishes. These two products are highly popular, but do you know which option is right for you?

In this guide, we’ll explore the functionality and purpose of a polish and wax. Our detailing experts will also describe some of the major differences between the two. By the end, you’ll know which option is perfect for your car.

Polish Vs Wax

Polish is an abrasive product designed to remove fine scratches and swirls.

Wax is a protective coating that also gives your finish a nice shine.

What Is a Polish?

Polishing is a process in which you remove a little bit of your car’s topcoat. This is done to get rid of small swirls and scratches that hurt the appearance of your vehicle.

It is applied by using a polishing buffer pad in addition to a polishing agent. Together, they create an abrasive surface that can uniformly polish down your car.


What Is Car Wax?

Car wax is probably a product you’ve used in the past. This is applied as a thin layer that goes on top of your car’s topcoat. Its purpose? To add a nice level of shine to your vehicle while adding a little bit of protection.

You can either apply it by hand or with a polisher. When it comes to selecting waxes, you can choose from a liquid, paste, or spray.

For a low-cost, entry-level version of wax, you can use a spray. It’s easy to use but not as durable and won’t give you the best shine.

For the best shine, you’ll need to splurge for a paste. It’s the highest-quality option that also lasts the longest.


Major Differences Between Polish and Wax

In order to understand which product to use, we should describe the major differences between the two. This section is all about how polish differs from car wax.

The Level of Shine

It seems a little counterintuitive, but a car wax will make your car shine much more than a polish. In regular language, “polish” is synonymous with a nice, shiny surface.

In this case, it doesn’t improve the surface finish nearly as well as a car wax. After all, the sole job of a wax is to make your car gleam and shine.

Ability to Remove Swirls/ Cutting Power

If you want to remove scratches, swirls, or minor surface-level defects, your only option is to use a polish. 

There are waxes that are advertised as multi-use options that will both polish and wax. The bad news is that these combination products never work as well as using both products individually. In other words, a combination wax won’t wax or polish as well as a polish and wax on their own.

That means that you should stick to a traditional polish if you’re looking to clean up minor scratches. A wax will just sit on top of the scratches.

Where They Fall in the Detailing Sequence

If you’re going through the whole detailing sequence, you’ll need to be careful about when you do different steps. Going out of order can wipe away the step you just did, wasting your time and money.

For a complete detail, you should start with a thorough wash. This involves using a high-quality microfiber towel and a nice automotive-grade soap. Completely dry your vehicle afterwards to avoid streaks and to get the best results in subsequent steps.

Then, you should do any polishing you want to do. Remember to use the right pad and compound. Afterwards, you should wipe your car down with a dry, clean towel. 

After polishing, you can choose to wax your car if you’d like to. It’s usually better to do both steps back-to-back. This ensures that your car is perfectly clean and dry for the application of wax, which is preferred.

If you polish after waxing instead, the buffer and polishing agent will completely remove your car’s wax. You might also notice that the swirls don’t go away. This is because the wax is getting in the way of your tool.

In addition, you can skip the polishing step altogether and go right to waxing your car. This is typically done when the car doesn’t have swirls or scratches that the detailer wants to remove.

Tools Required for Application 

A lot of people prefer to wax their car by hand, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It gives you better control and ability to work the wax across your car evenly.

With a polisher, you should only use a buffing tool. When it comes to evenly cutting into the topcoat, it’s almost impossible to do by hand. You’ll always get better results and spend less time if you use a dual-action or orbital polisher.

This also entails using the right buffing pads and speed.

If you look at the combination of equipment required, the price starts to add up. For one-off projects, it’s a lot more expensive to polish than to wax, simply due to the addition of the polisher and pads.


Which Product Is Right for You?

If you have scratches or swirls that you want to remove, then you’ll need to use a polish with a buffer. The cutting power will scrub down your topcoat a little bit in order to get rid of those unsightly defects on your car.

If you just want to get a nice shine on your car and add a little bit of protection, then a wax is right for you.

Truthfully, the best idea is to have both of these products at your disposal. To do a full detail on a car, you’ll need both of these plus a few other products. 

It’s also worth mentioning that neither of these products is reserved for professionals. Plenty of everyday car owners will use either or both products on their daily drivers. It’s a nice and easy way to take care of your car while making it pop on the road.


Polishes and waxes are very useful products if you want to make your car look great, get rid of small scratches, and add a slight layer of protection.

If you want to learn more about DIY detailing, be sure to check out the rest of our blog.

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