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Should You Wax or Polish First? – Car Care Made Simple

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If you’re a beginner at car detailing and you’re unsure which should come first: car wax or polish, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll discuss what is car wax and polish used for and which one should come first.

What Is Car Wax and What Is It Used For?

To put it simply: car wax is a mix of oils and waxes, which are designed to serve as a thin protective layer of a car’s paint. Car waxes are divided into two categories: natural and synthetic.

Natural Car Waxes

Natural waxes, often called Carnauba waxes, are obtained from Copernicia prunifera palm trees and mixed with additional natural waxes such as turpentine. 

Once a natural wax is applied and buffed into a car’s paint, it hardens and creates a shiny thin protective layer.

Synthetic Car Waxes

Also known as paint sealants, synthetic waxes are made from synthetic polymers that also provide a thin protective layer.

However, synthetic waxes are usually more durable and easier to apply than their natural counterparts. On the other hand, natural wax produces a better shine than synthetic.

What Is Car Wax Used For?

Car wax is designed to protect the car’s paint from outside elements and mechanical stress. Applying wax to clean paint creates a thin protective layer, which keeps UV rays, road salt, water, bird poop, and other contaminants away from the paint.

Water droplets on waxed car paint
If the water beads up into individual droplets, your car’s wax is still doing its job.

Another benefit of car wax is that it gives a car more shine. So, if the paint on your car looks a bit dull, a coat of Carnauba wax will bring it back to life temporarily.

The paint on the body of the car is not 100% flat, there are various micro-scratches and imperfections. Those imperfections are enough to make the paint appear dull.

Since car wax creates an additional thin layer on the paint, wax fills in most of these imperfections and makes the surface more even, thus the paint appears more vibrant.  

However, if the paint on your car is in a bad condition, waxing may not be enough to bring the shine back. That’s where car polish comes into effect.

What Is Car Polish And What Is It Used For?

Unlike car wax, which fills in small paint imperfections, car polish is a gentle abrasive material that is used to remove paint defects such as scratches, swirl marks, water spots, and small chips.

Polishing is usually carried out using a special machine – polisher (also known as a buffer), which spins a polishing pad. The polishing pad works the car polish (cutting paste to be more precise), which is used to remove a very thin top layer of the defected clear coat.

Once the very fine top layer of the defective clear coat is removed, you’re left with a glossy and even finish, which makes the paint shine and stand out better. Because of that, there is a finite amount of times you can polish a car before you completely remove the clear coat, but you shouldn’t worry about that if you’re only polishing your car once a year.  

Wax or Polish First?

Here is the long-awaited answer: first polish to remove the imperfections, then wax to protect the newly corrected and smooth paint.

If your car’s paint is in good condition already and you just want to make the paint more vibrant there is no need to polish. Applying wax should be enough to make the paint appear livelier.

But if the paint is oxidized and scratched up, you’ll need to polish the paint to bring it back to life.

4 thoughts on “Should You Wax or Polish First? – Car Care Made Simple”

  1. I would like to appreciate the author that this post has cleared all misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding car polish and wax. People usually take polish and car wax as the same thing but that’s not like that. This post has covered both polish and wax in such a good way that there will be no more misconceptions. By the way, paste carnauba wax is more effective and long-lasting as compared to any quick detailing wax spray.

    1. Thank you for your question!

      You can definitely apply wax on top of sealant, but it’s not necessary.

      An extra layer of carnauba wax would fill in any leftover spiderweb micro-scratches and should make the car shine even more, however, you will lose the characteristics of paint sealant until wax wears off in 1-2 months. At that point, you would have to remove the wax, but that would also negatively affect the paint sealant, which is still going strong.

      Paint sealant is by far the most durable product, therefore it’s not necessary to cover something long-lasting with something temporary. However, if that’s something you want to do, there’s no harm doing it – it’s just not a good use of money.

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