Car waxing vs car waxing: what’s the difference?

You would be forgiven for thinking that waxing and car waxing are closely related, or maybe even the same thing. However, this is not the case. In fact, polish and wax are very different, but can be used together – or rather, one after the other – to clean your car, remove scratches, and add paint protection.

Simply put, polish is used to remove light scratches and clean your car’s painted surfaces, then wax is used to give a glossy finish as well as protect the surface from future scratches. For the ultimate cleaning, you need to wash your car, then polish it and finally apply the wax.

Here’s a quick rundown of what polish and wax do, and why they’re different.

What is car polish?

Although it looks and feels like a smooth paste, car polish is actually abrasive, but only very lightly. The abrasive nature of automotive polish means that it can be used to remove a very thin layer of the clear coat applied to your car’s paint. This helps to remove light scratches, because when the clearcoat area around a scratch is removed with an abrasive polish, the depth of the scratch in relation to the surrounding areas is reduced to zero.

Previously, different types of varnish with different levels of abrasion were required to remove scratches from a car. But today’s car polish uses an abrasive that breaks down as it is incorporated into the paint, producing a gradual polish when you rub it with a pad or microfiber cloth. These polishes are known as decreasing abrasives because as they break down their abrasiveness is reduced.

It’s important to remember that polish doesn’t add any protection to your car’s paint or clearcoat. Instead, it actually scrubs the top surface, flattens scratches and imperfections, while also removing dirt and producing an attractive shine. Some polishes also contain gloss enhancing oils to help give your car the kind of showroom finish your neighbors will be jealous of.

Your car does not need to be polished with every wash. If you’re doing a good job (and sealing it with wax, more info in a moment), a simple wash with car shampoo should be enough to keep your car looking its best. You should only need to polish your car a few times a year, or less if you are using a polishing machine.

What is car wax?

Now that the car has been washed and polished, it’s time to wax. Where the polish removes a very thin layer of clear polish to remove light scratches, the wax works in the opposite direction, filling in imperfections. This has the effect of smoothing the surface of your car, while adding a thin protective film to the paint.

Browse the car wax shelves at any auto store and you’ll likely see references to carnauba, also known as Brazilian wax or palm wax. It is the wax from the leaves of Copernicia prunifera, a plant native to northeastern Brazil. In addition to car polish, carnauba is used in shoe, floor and furniture polish, and is often mixed with beeswax or turpentine.

A key property of this wax is that it is not water soluble, so it will not wash off easily when it rains or when you wash your car. It also has a high melting point and is not damaged by UV rays, which means it can protect your car’s paintwork from the sun as well as general road grime and grime.

Car wax usually comes in a box and is applied by hand, in small amounts, with a cloth or swab. Some waxes are available in bottles and can be sprayed on painted areas of your car. Apply the wax in slow, circular motions and apply extra pressure to the scratched areas. Once rubbed on the car, leave it on for 10-15 minutes, then buff with a clean microfiber cloth to achieve a high shine. The key here is to rub the wax over the surface of your car until it is no longer visible.

How often you need to wax your car depends on how it is used, where it is stored overnight, and the local climate. But generally speaking, waxing a few times a year will help protect the paintwork and keep it looking its best for years to come.

Finally, a major difference between car polish and wax is the price. A bottle of car polish from an established brand typically costs between £ 15-20, while car wax starts at around £ 30, but can run well beyond £ 100 and even up to £ 1,000 for only 200 ml.

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