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Car Polish vs Wax

A collage of two images about polishing and waxing cars.

We live in a car obsessed culture with many people opting to take care of the service needs of their own vehicle rather than rely on someone else to do it. There is nothing wrong with that, and many will tell you that this is commendable. even points out that 73% of Americans admit that they service their car more often than they go to the dentist!

However, it is also true that many people don’t necessarily know the definition of certain terms, and that is why we are going to look at the difference between a car polish and a car wax today. 

What is Car Polish?

A man polishing the black car until it shines.

The use of car polish is what people should do before they move on to the car waxing stage. What they are attempting to do during the polishing stage is remove the dirty, grime, and other debris from the vehicle. It can also help in removing some scratches from the surface of the vehicle.

That is important to a lot of people who want to keep their vehicle looking as visually pleasing as they possibly can. After all, the resell value of a vehicle often comes from how it looks on both the inside and outside alike.  

What is Car Wax?

Man waxing a gleaming black car.

Car wax is a natural (or sometimes synthetic) product that one applies to their vehicle after they have applied car polish. The car wax is used to provide a protective layer over the vehicle to help protect it from some of the dirt and debris that may otherwise collect on it. The car wax is also great at adding a little extra shine to the vehicle, and that is something that matters a great deal to many people.

How Do These Products Differ?

Car polishes and car waxes may seem like they are the same thing in the minds of some people, but that is simply not the case. They are actually different from one another, and it is important that we all recognize this in order to help determine what makes each one unique and why we should focus on each type of product when we are looking at what they can do for our vehicles. 


Car Polish

Car polishes are meant to be used first and foremost on the vehicle before the car wax is applied. The polish can come in different levels of abrasiveness depending on what the vehicle owner wants and needs for their vehicle. They may have specialized needs in terms of getting dirt and grime off of the car.

Non-abrasive car polishes are preferred by most as they pose less risk to the vehicle in general. The abrasive car polishes that some people use are far riskier in the sense that only those who truly know what they are doing with them should use these at all.

The dangers are just too high for the rest of us. Abrasive car polishes can potentially peel away at the paint of the vehicle if they are not used correctly. That is a danger that no one wants to face down, and this is why everyone should be extra careful about how they select the car polish that they need. 

Car Wax

Car wax is meant to be applied to the vehicle only after the car polish has been put on it. This material is also meant to help improve the look and protection of the vehicle, but it works in a different way compared to car polish. It adds a protective coating that helps to smooth over the scratches and damage that may otherwise exist on your vehicle. 

Most car wax products are made from a mixture of both natural and synthetic products. Car owners are encouraged to look over the various of car wax products that are available to them before settling on a specific one that they will ultimately decide to use. 

Benefits of Car Polish and Car Wax

Male's hand wiping a shiny car with a white towel.

A few of the benefits of car polish are pretty obvious and include: 

  • Removal of scratches/damage – You can remove, or at least cover up some scratches and damage that is sustained by your vehicle over the years if you use car polish properly. You will at least be able to help yourself not have to see those terrible scratches all over your vehicle as frequently. This is something that makes people want to buy car polish in and of itself. 
  • Paint Correction – Have you ever heard someone say “watch the paint job”? They are saying this as a half joke about their desire to keep their vehicle in perfect condition. Much of that condition comes down to how the paint on the vehicle looks.
    Therefore, it is somewhat telling when someone says that line because it means that they are thinking about how something could potentially damage the paint on their vehicle.
  • Adding Shine to the Paint Job – There is something to be said for adding a shine to the paint job on one’s vehicle. It makes it look better for one, and it can also increase the value of the vehicle simply because people want to look at something that is attractive to the eye. If they use car polish, then they can bring out that quality. 
  • Color Rejuvenation – There are some who really care about how the color of the paint of their vehicle looks. For those people, a car polish job is about making sure they bring out the best color in the paint that they possibly can. Using car polish is probably one of the easiest ways that they can make this happen, and that is why so many people lean into that when they are thinking about the upsides of car polish. 

The benefits of a car waxing are pretty similar to a car polish in a lot of ways:

  • Save Yourself Money – You can do the car wax job all by yourself at home if you would like to do so. The key factor here is that you will save considerable amounts of money compared to if you attempted to have this work done by someone else. You will simply need to follow some commonsense guidelines about how to get the job done for it to make financial sense, but that is certainly possible. 
  • Make Your Car Prettier to Look at – Here is another thing that you probably don’t think about until you start the process of getting a car wax job, but it is really important that your car looks pretty. Sure, you can’t see it for yourself, but it will make a big difference when you go to sell the thing. If you have a vehicle that looks outstanding, then you can probably get a lot more money for that vehicle than you ever could if it wasn’t so easy on the eyes. Keep that in mind when thinking about why car waxing matters.
  • Protection of the Paint – The paint that is on your car right now needs to be protected. You won’t be able to count on that happening unless you have some reason to suspect that you might be able to keep it safe. One great way to make that happen is to focus on car waxing as a means of protecting the paint that you have on your car. It can really get the job done. 

History of Car Polishing and Waxing

Male hand holding a bottled wax for the car.

Everything has a history to it no matter what, and that includes polishing and waxing. These two things may not seem like they are all that important, but they actually are. If you don’t know a little about the history of each, then you are going to find that you simply don’t know much about why you are bothering to do this process at all.

You may become discouraged and not seek out the answers that you need. Instead, take a moment to learn a little of the history with us here. 

In 1944, the first bottled car wax product was introduced to the market. It would eventually become known as the product that we call Turtle Wax today. This product is obviously very popular and well-known with many people at this time, and it all began back in 1944 when they first put it out. 

Dupont introduced a polymer sealant product in 1969 that was the first commercially available product of its kind to be brought to market at that time. In the 1990s, delaying clay was brought to the US markets. It had primarily been used in Japan prior to that time. 

Finally, in 2007 clear paint sealant products were invented and brought to the market. Now, these are the types of things that can be found on store shelves virtually anywhere that you shop for auto products of any kind. 

Similarities Between the Products

A view of several auto detail products on display at a local department store.

You may have already noticed that there are a lot of similarities between car wax and car polish products. They are both designed with the goal of helping automobile owners get the best from their vehicles, and they are both designed to be highly useful as far as bringing out the value and shine in the vehicle. Thus, there is a lot of crossover between these two types of products as they are certainly very useful for maintaining the value of one’s car. 

The main thing to think about when reviewing this is the fact that you should use the car polish before the car wax. They are meant to be complimentary products, and that is exactly what they are designed to do. You will see that they are similar to one another in many ways, but there are some small differences between the two that we have detailed above that you should be aware of as well.

Just try to keep all of these ideas in your mind at the same time and realize that car wax and car polish are both very important products to use for the good looks of your vehicle.

Pick Up Car Wax and Car Polish

You can pick up both car wax and car polish products whenever you want when you stop in at your favorite auto store. You just need to be sure that you spend some time reviewing all of the options that are available for these products. It may be best for you to go for a name-brand option in some cases, but that is not a guarantee.

You should review this based on the specific needs that you have for your vehicle, and you should try to get what makes sense for your budget. 

Don’t forget, car wax and car polish can both add an extreme amount of value to your vehicle, but it is not a guarantee until you have taken the time to apply the car wax and car polish to your vehicle as designed.

Related: Car Sealant vs Car Wax