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Waxing vs. Polishing... what's the difference?

Orange buffing pad getting prepped for exterior auto detailing with the best mobile detailing company, Wings Mobile Detailing

In the world of car detailing, the terms "Waxing" and "polishing" often get thrown around interchangeably, but they actually refer to different processes with distinct goals and techniques.

Let's break it down:


What does Polishing do?

  • Polishing involves using a machine to aggressively remove defects from the car's paint surface. This could include scratches, swirls, or other imperfections.

  • Machine Use: Polishing typically requires the use of a machine polisher, such as a rotary or dual-action polisher, to achieve the desired results.

  • Aggressive Approach: Compounding is considered a more aggressive approach to paint correction, aimed at tackling deeper imperfections in the paint.

  • Old School Techniques: Historically, buffing was synonymous with using heavy-duty rotary polishers, which required skill and experience to avoid damaging the paint.

Wings Mobile Detailing training manager, John, in a black baseball cap, wipes polish onto a green microfiber towel and begins to apply it to the stainless steel framing on the boat he is currently detailing


Why Should I Use Wax on my vehicle?

  • Wax is a refinement stage that comes after polishing, that's if you were to polish your vehicle, which is different because it focuses on protecting the finish and enhancing the shine and clarity of the paint or stainless steel surface after defects have been addressed. In essence, it protects the surface. That is the main difference in buffing vs. polishing, you only polish to correct and enhance shine, not to protect.


  • Refinement Stage: Polishing is all about achieving that final, glossy finish by smoothing out any remaining imperfections and maximizing the paint's shine.

  • Detail-Oriented: Waxing is often considered the last step in the detailing process, where attention to detail is paramount to achieve a flawless finish.


Key Differences: Waxing vs. Polishing

  • Intensity: Polishing is more aggressive and focused on defect removal, while waxing is about a layer of protection.

  • Machine Choice: Polishing often involves heavier-duty machines like rotary polishers, whereas waxing can be done by hand, using an applicator pad, to apply.

  • Outcome: polishing aims to correct imperfections, consequently enhancing a deep gloss shine vs. waxing which aims to protect.

Going the extra mile with a full paint correction:

What is paint correction?

Paint correction is the process of removing deeper imperfections from a vehicle's clear coat. Check out the video above with Wings Mobile Detailing owner and CEO, Andre Mezalira, performing a paint correction. While this doesn't specifically address the main discussion of waxing vs. polishing, this precise three-step process involves using an electric polisher, a microfiber buffing pad, and a specialized cutting compound. The detailer—or you—will polish the clear coat until the scratches are smoothed out or completely eliminated.


Understanding the distinction between waxing vs. polishing is crucial for achieving professional-grade results in car detailing. While buffing addresses imperfections, polishing adds that final touch of brilliance and protection to t surface. Both processes play essential roles in the pursuit of automotive perfection, whether you're a seasoned professional or a DIY enthusiast looking to elevate your detailing game.

Drive on,

Wings Mobile Detailing logo - maroon circle with a navy blue circle inside


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