Polish vs Wax: What’s the Difference?

May 9, 2018 | Detailing, Guides

If you are a car owner, you may start to notice small imperfections on your car. Naturally, you will want to remove them as soon as you can. But, that is where the question pops up. Polish vs wax, which is better?

If you ask a random person on the street, they might not even know the difference. There are also manufacturers that make these products and will sell you wax with a label that says “polish.” It’s come to the point where people generally use these terms interchangeably.

However, the difference is incredibly significant. In fact, polish and wax are almost opposites in nature. Allow us to explain, starting with car wax.

Car Wax

The purpose of car wax is to leave a layer of protective material on your car. It helps your vehicle look good and protects it from all sorts of contaminants. Most of them will even protect your car’s paint from the UV rays that the Sun delivers.

The most common car wax is carnauba or ‘Brazil wax’. The natural properties of this vegetable wax make it perfect for the job. So, what is it that makes this palm-leaf wax ideal?

waxing car

It doesn’t dissolve in water very well, meaning, it’s going to stay on your car even after heavy rain. The second valuable property is that it doesn’t melt easily either. The melting point of carnauba wax is over 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Essentially, it won’t melt even during extremely hot summer days. And lastly, it gives an excellent finish to your car. Not only is it incredibly tough, but it also gives that glossy finish we all love to see. We would recommend waxing your car 2-4 times a year, depending on how you use it.

Car Polish

On the opposite end, we have car polish. A lot of people will wrongly believe that it is just another word for wax, but, it is the literal opposite. Car polish is actually an abrasive material that will help you remove the top layers of protection on your car. Of course, it works in a very fine and gentle way so that it won’t destroy your paint.

polishing car

You can use car polish to make sure the surface is smooth and that it will give a good reflection. Thankfully, like everything else, the manufacturers have been improving polish over the years. Newer formulations have abrasives that will gradually become smaller as you work with them. That way, the abrasive gives a finer and progressive effect.

Of course, that is something you would do even before. However, you would have to buy multiple products and take it step by step. Now, you can simply use a single product and get a perfect “polished” look. Even the cleanup is minimal as it seems that the abrasives just vanish into the paint. Also, most newer polishes will contain certain oils to help you get the shine you are after.

Car Polish and Wax Compared

As you can see, the differences are quite notable. You can use car polish to enhance the appearance and remove the dirt that simply won’t go away. You can also use it to smooth the surface out and remove any paint oxidation.

before and after polishing car

In essence, a car polish is an abrasive product that you use to remove the top layer of paint or “clear coat.” So, if you have scratches on the surface, you can remove them with car polish. Just bear in mind, it only works on the top layer of paint. If the damage penetrates it and actually reaches the color coating, you might have more work on your hands. And lastly, make sure not to overuse the car polish.

Again, polish doesn’t protect the paint. That is where car wax steps in. You use the car wax when you want to protect the paint job. In fact, you use it right after you polish the paint to preserve the effect. But, it can help with a lot more than that. If you get a very slight scratch, you can actually wax it away. It will also protect your paint job from the sunlight.

In the End

So, answering the actual question of “Polish vs wax, which is better?” is pretty much impossible. The main issue is that they are two completely different things. In the end, it is not about polish vs wax; it is about polish OR wax.

Richard Reed

Writer for TheVehicleLab.com

The Vehicle Lab

Sign up for our newsletter to get new reviews each week.

By clicking "Accept All Cookies," closing this banner, continuing to navigate this site, or clicking a link you agree to the storing of first and third-party cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.