Car Polish vs Wax - When to Use What

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Car enthusiasts love to show off their cars. For them, it's much more than just a means to transport from one location to another. Unfortunately, paintwork starts deteriorating in a minimal time. The car paint might get affected due to scratches, oil stains, and dust or simply because of aging. So to maintain a tip-top shining appearance, the drivers have to choose between car wax vs polish to treat their cars regularly. 

Most people think polish and wax are the same, and they buy any of them depending upon the price difference. Even though these terms are used interchangeably, but they are very different from each other.

Remember, here we are talking in the context of automotive paintwork. The word car polish gives people the wrong impression like it is the same as nail or furniture polish and gives it shine. 

Most people have a limited budget and cannot afford both of them at the same time. If you are going to buy only one, which should it be? Should you go for car wax or car polish? Listed below are some of the differences between these two products that will help you choose what works best for your car surface.

Car Polishing

When looking to minimize scratches, swirl marks, stains, or other blemishes, car polishing is optimal. Car polishing removes a very thin layer of the color and blends these minor flaws perfectly with the paint job. This is the main difference between car wax vs polish.

Car polish uses an abrasive to remove that thin layer of color along with the scratches. Do not panic hearing the work abrasives as they are just enough potent to hide the flaws and do not erode the exterior of your car.

Polishing can also restore the sheen when the color becomes dull due to oxidation. But regular use of polish is not recommended as it uses abrasives and can damage the exterior of your car. Normally a polish can deliver results that last for 6 months to a year.

Car Waxing

Waxing is more like nail polishing as it also covers the surface with a protective layer. It smoothens the surface of a car. Professionals use car waxing to add an extra protective and smooth layer after polishing the car. It can be considered an ideal complement to polishing but it doesn’t replace car wax vs polish.

Carnauba or Brazil Wax enhances the smoothening effect and is a vital ingredient in most waxes. Here are some of its properties:

  • It is water-resistant
  • It protects against UV rays and is heat resistant
  • the glossy appearance of cars has a lot to do with it.

Waxing can be performed every quarter of a year.

Car Polish vs Wax- When to Use What

#1: What do these two have in common?

Car wax vs polish share many similarities that give way to confusion amongst most drivers about their usage and purpose.

Both of them contain cleaners and protectants in order to make the paintwork look better. Let's take a closer look:

  • Wax is also used as a cleaner because it contains an abrasive compound that can remove light dirt from the paint surface.
  • Wax is a protectant as well because it forms a layer on top of the paint to shield it from any other contaminants.
  •  Polish, on the other hand, also contains abrasives but they are less likely to scratch the car surface. Therefore, if you have a fresh scratch, use a polishing compound before applying wax over your car's paintwork. In the same way, polish your car first and after that apply wax for better results.

#2: What are the differences between wax vs polish?

Now let's come to the major difference between these two products – durability. Wax goes deep into the pores of your car's surface which makes it last longer but also gives temporary protection. Polish, on the other hand, just fills up minor blemishes for a short-term solution. Therefore, you have to apply wax more frequently than polishing your car.

In the long run, wax definitely outranks polish because it offers a great deal of protection from contaminants. However, if you don't want to go through the trouble of reapplying wax on your car's surface frequently – just use a glaze before applying a coat of wax. To be honest, people might think this is confusing but there is nothing complicated about it. As long as you know which works best for your paint job - nothing else matters.

Top Car Wax Brands:

  1. Mothers
  2. Meguiars
  3. Turtle Wax
  4. 3M
  5. Zymol

Car Polish Brands:

  1. Menzerna 
  2. Autosol
  3. Presta Chromes

Car Glaze Brands:

  1. AutoGlanz
  2. Rejuvenator
  3. Nu Finish
  4. Maguiars Glaze

#3: How do you choose between wax vs polish?

If you don't know how to determine which works best for you – go with a product called "glaze." It is not only an ideal cleaner and protector but also a good job for either wax or polish.

Glaze works better for polishing your car because it contains little to no abrasives. It is meant for that purpose. Simply put, polish helps in removing scratches or swirls while glaze takes care of the paint job only by filling in imperfections and protecting the surface with a polymer sealant.

Before making a choice wash your car clean thoroughly using water. Dry the vehicle and run your hand or, more precisely, your fingers to feel your car's paintwork. Doing this will make it clear if your car has rough spots and scratches or is smooth. 

If the surface is smooth, you only have to apply wax but if the surface is irregular, then polishing the car before waxing will yield the best result.

#4: How to use each product?

Step 1 - Clean your car properly with mild soap and water. Make sure you remove all the dirt, dust, mud, or any other contaminants from the surface before waxing it. Wash your car with a proper wash mitt that has microfiber circles to avoid swirls or scratches on the paintwork. Always use clean water for rinsing the suds off your car after washing it with detergent.

Step 2 – Dry up your car completely by using chamois leather (available at most auto parts stores). You can also go for absorbent towels but make sure they are free of any chemicals because these will damage the paint job.

Step 3 - Apply wax on your car's surface with circular motions. Use an applicator or apply it by hand but make sure the wax covers every square inch of the paintwork for maximum protection. Let it dry up completely before you take a towel and wipe off excess wax in a smooth, clean motion. Finish up by using another chamois leather to give it that extra shine look.

Step 4 – Polish your car if you want to get rid of minor defects like swirls, scratches, blemishes, etc. Simply apply polish on any affected area and rub it down with circular motion until it becomes smooth again. After polishing is done, use masking tape to mask all other surfaces except the one you are working on at the moment. Remove tape after 10-15 minutes or when it becomes dry enough to hold on its own.

Step 5 – After you are done polishing your car, take a towel and wipe off any excess wax that might have not been removed by the polish. Now apply glaze over the paint's surface with a circular motion to fill up minor scratches or take care of other imperfections. The glaze is meant for this purpose alone so don't use it without polishing first because it will just be a waste of time and effort.

Step 6 - Once you are done with glazing your car, use another microfiber cloth to remove all residues from the surface in one quick pass only. Afterward, if required, buff your car with a soft cotton cloth to bring out the shine and luster.

#5: A bit of advice

If you want your car's paint job to look good for years together, waxing is definitely the way to go. Use polishing only if you want to remove minor scratches or blemishes from the surface before applying wax for maximum protection. The glaze is meant for filling up shallow defects in the paintwork but it's not meant that it will last long on its own. Only use glaze after you have washed, dried, and polished the area properly. Otherwise, there won't be any point in one at all. Lastly, if you want your car's paint to look shiny and attractive, use a good quality wax and not glaze. It should be clear as daylight that glaze is meant for minor defects but it shouldn't be used as a substitute for wax. Not even close!


When it comes to choosing between car polish vs wax, there is no rocket science involved. If you just want protection from dirt, dust, and other small contaminants, go for a good quality wax – nothing else will do the job better than that. On the other hand, use polishing or glazing only if you need to remove some minute scratches and/or blemishes from the surface before applying wax (like we said even above). Always remember that nothing beats a good quality wax that forms a protective barrier over the car's surface. It is the best way to make your paintwork look new and attractive for years together.

That all about car polish vs wax! This article was written with the intention to provide you with accurate information about products available on market, so you can choose what is right for your car. There are many options available out there, and we do not claim that ours was the perfect choice for everyone or every situation. We just wanted to give this info as we found it. From this discussion, one thing should be clear for you now that car polish and wax are different and serve different purposes. Even though both can be used independently, the ideal way is to use both as complementary products.