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Polish Vs. Wax - The Key Differences

If you ever encounter customers in your detailing work who seem to think polishing and waxing a car is the same thing, or if this is something you too believed to be true, then this is the blog for you.

Below are the key differences between the two actions, as well as some other tips and clarifications to help explain away some common misconceptions about polishing and waxing. Hopefully this will clear things up for you and for your clients!

Polish is for Paint Correction

When you’re polishing a vehicle, the actions of your polishers will remove surface scratches (on the clear coat) and help to restore the paint job to its original condition. This contrasts somewhat from waxing, where you’re applying an additional protective layer of wax or sealant designed to boost the shine and/or offer some scratch protection.

Yes, polishing will also bring out a whole new fantastic shine in your car’s paint, and that’s part of the reason people confuse polishing and waxing. There’s no abrasive element to waxes, which is why they’re no good for surface scratch removal. However, waxes can hide imperfections.

Cleaner Wax Is Abrasive

There has also been some confusion surrounding cleaner products, in particular cleaner wax which delivers a kind of 2 in 1 action, but rather than “wax and wash” as some people think those actions are, it’s more like “wash and polish.” Cleaner wax contains abrasives, and that’s why it’s actually something in between wax and polish. So, don’t be confused by these products, and know what you’re buying.

These products can be a real problem if you’ve invested in a paint protection measure like ceramic coating, because the abrasives in the wax can start to cut through that coating. That’s why polish doesn’t linger on your paint for any longer than it has to. Wax sits for a while before you remove the excess, but polish gets removed as you go.

“Please Don’t Overwax My Car” Vs. “Please Don’t Over-Polish My Car”

There’s a common misconception that waxing a car a lot will damage the paint. This isn’t the case. The only way “over wax” makes sense is when you’re referring to those people who wax their car all the time and it consumes all their free time. The only way waxing will damage your paint is if you do it wrongly, or use dirty or scratchy equipment. That’s why it’s usually best left in the hands of the pros!

On the other hand, you certainly can over-polish your vehicle. As we mentioned before, polishes are abrasive, so you should really only ever wait until you need to polish your car, for example when you have swirl marks that you want to try and remove. If you don’t have such damage, then you don’t ever “need” to polish, so don’t over-polish your car.


Here is a live example of the costs of a Polish service vs a Car Wax service.

Wax by Hand/Machine --- Polish by Machine

Another difference between polishing and waxing is that when waxing, you can choose to apply/remove the wax by hand, or using a machine like a rotary buffer. The machine helps speed up the process, and can help achieve a more even application, but some prefer doing it by hand because of the extra costs of the machine, or maybe they’re just used to it.

Polishing, on the other hand, really needs to be done using a machine. You need the added speed and power to get the abrasives to work as you need them to. Doing it by hand would be extremely difficult, much more so than waxing by hand.

Difference in Varieties

Finally, while there may be many different brands of polish, and some may boast some unique qualities such as fast drying or different viscosities, the essential polish makeup is the same in all products. It’s a different story when it comes to wax, where you have all these different types, such as natural waxes like carnauba, but also different synthetic waxes.


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