Many people actually do not understand the difference between a wax and a polish and because of this, they are often confused about how these two auto detailing processes work and thus they may not understand what product to use for what process. This is further compounded by the fact that different manufacturers of the detailing products label some products as waxes, polishes and others as both sealant/wax & polish. This leaves many consumers confused about the different auto detailing products.

Knowing the difference between waxing and polishing and the role the two products (wax and polish) serve is important as it enables car owners to know what product to order for what detailing job. It will also help them know what services to get when they take their vehicles for a detailing.

This article mainly serves to break down the difference between wax and polish and further explain the difference between waxing and polishing a car using a few illustrations. Basically, polish is used for repairing a damaged paint job while wax is used as a protective clear coat that protects the cars paint job from environmental damage. Therefore wax is applied on a cars surface (waxing) to act as an additional protective layer while polish is applied on a car’s surface during (polishing) to repair damage and to get rid of defects.

When a car is scratched, it may have medium scratches, very deep scratches, and light scratches. Other flaws that a cars exterior may have include stains and oxidations. Most of these defects can be removed using professional auto detailing tools and equipment. Some however cannot be removed by any such tools or processes.


The polish is applied on a cars surface to remove scratches and stains. Most often, the polish works by grinding the surface of the car (usually the clear coat) from top to the bottom removing stains, light scratches(wash marks) and oxidation and sometimes medium scratches. A second polishing coat can be applied to remove the medium scratches, swirls, and holograms (very light scratches on the surface of the car).

Although polishing can remove medium scratches, it cannot remove deep scratches. This is because medium scratches only affect the clear coat while deeper scratches go beyond the outer layer and affect the actual paint job and the color of the car. Deep scratches on the surface of a car can be felt by touch.


Wax, sealant, or coat is applied after polishing to restore the shine of the car and to act as an extra protection and hence protects the paint from further scratches and any other damaging elements that may cause or accelerate wear and tear. If the surface of the car is scratched, the wax acts as a shield and the wax coat is scratched instead of the real paint job. This prevents rusting before polishing can be done and keeps the car in good condition for a long period of time.

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