Keeping paintwork in tiptop shape isn’t easy; blaring sun, road salts, stone chips, tree sap, wind, dust, and don’t forget bird poop. Your paintwork needs all the help it can get.
So, is it necessary to polish a car before waxing it? No, it isn’t necessary to polish your car before waxing unless your paintwork :
- Has swirls
- Is grubby
- Is sun damaged
- Has paint scratches
In this post, detailing pro, “Steady Eddie” shares some of his paintwork detailing secrets. When it comes to paintwork, he’s a touch fussy. His personal wheels – A navy blue Jaguar, the car is a modern classic, but you’d never guess by the paintwork; years of love and protection have paid off.
Eddie recommends washing your car thoroughly before polishing or waxing. The reasons are twofold, even if your car looks clean, it will still have dust particles on the surface of the paintwork.
Rubbing or polishing the surface without washing will lead to microscopic scratches. Eddie says, “It’s like using very fine sandpaper to buff your car.”
Repeating this process will damage the paintwork over time; eventually, the paintwork will lose its shine and develop swirl effects.
So if you have swirl effects in your paint already, you’ll need to polish before waxing. Roads can be a harsh environment for paintwork, oil sprays together with a cock-tale of car fumes, especially in cities, can lead to grubby paintwork. You know, the kind of grime it doesn’t wash off; it’s like it’s in the paintwork.
That kind of grime would benefit from a polish and waxing. Sun is a pain killer, especially the color Red. Sun damage is known as Oxidization, and it causes the paint to fade. A once vibrant red car turns pink after years of basking in the sun.
If your car suffers from oxidization, it will need polishing before waxing. Check out this post, “How to restore faded red car paint”.
Car scratches will, without doubt, need the help of car polish. And if the scratches are deep, they’ll need a heavier grade polish known as white paste, it’s a compound used in paint refinishing. Check out this post, it’s all about removing car scratches “How to remove car scratches”.
Wax Or Polish – What’s The Difference?
I find most people I know use both words “Polish and Wax” to describe the act of shining the car’s paintwork. While it’s true both polish and wax will shine the paintwork, they are totally different products that do different things.
That said, I totally understand why one might use the words interchangeably; in recent years, polish-wax hybrid products have become popular. Try walking down the detailing aisle of your auto parts store – decision paralysis.
Polish is a very fine abrasive, you might think that strange. Why would you want to rub an abrasive on the delicate paintwork of your car? Polish, as with the whole family of graded compounds, removes micro-layers of dead or damaged coatings.
The heavier the paint damage, the heavier the grade compound you’ll need. In very bad cases of sun damage, a process known as block flattening is used.
It’s a process where fine-grit sandpaper on a flat block and sudsy water is used to rub down, usually by hand, the paintwork surface. It removes heavier layers of damaged coatings, then successively lighter grades of the compound are used to bring the paint back to life.
A buffing machine is used when polishing; although it is possible to polish by hand, a DA buffer does produce better results. I wrote a post about my DA buffer, you can check it out here “What is a DA buffing machine”.
Cars built since the 2000s will likely have a water-based paint coating. These types of paints and coatings are lighter and better for the environment. The downside is they don’t respond as well to the heavier compounds because the paint’s thinner.
Wax, as you know, shines the car, but its other function is more important. It puts a protective shell over the paintwork. It protects it by preventing grit, bird poop, and the like from sticking to it.
The sun is reflected off the shiny surface, which helps keep it cool, and the rain is repelled, which prevents any contaminants from attacking the surface.
Wax choices are endless; I haven’t obviously used them all, but here are a few helpful tips about wax choices. Car wax is either natural or synthetic.
The best natural wax in the business is Carnauba wax. It’s produced from the leaves of the Brazilian Palm tree. It’s prized for its natural ability to repel both heat and moisture. It’s a hard wax and can be difficult to work.
Carnauba wax is often blended with other wax to make it more workable. A rule of thumb here, the harder the wax, the better it works.
Then there’s the synthetic wax, made from polymers. They are designed for convenience and often come in spray form, basically a spray and wipe. These types of waxes are great for a quick instant shine but don’t last long and don’t offer your paint much protection.
This is the first step in the process of paintwork care. A good automotive detergent is preferred to household suds. Household detergent is too harsh for auto paintwork, it strips off previous layers of protective wax coatings.
Eddie says he prefers to power-wash the car before sponging it down. The power-washing removes heavy road grit and prevents your sponge from gathering crap and damaging the paint.
He also adds, when hand washing, change the suds bucket at least twice and rinse the sponge really well regularly. Avoid making contact with the bottom of your bucket; that’s where the grit goes. The pros use a special auto detailing bucket with a grate at the bottom to catch the crap.
Eddie leaves washing the wheels until last; he says, you don’t want brake dust particles on the paintwork. He also avoids washing the car in the heat of the sun; it causes the detergent to dry on the surface before you can rinse it off.
I don’t have shade available; he advises washing one side of the car at a time. Eddie uses a Squeegee and a Chamois leather to dry the paintwork after a thorough rinse down. He says you can let the paint dry naturally, but if your water is hard, it leaves watermarks on the paintwork and glass.
Clay bar – Before beginning, any paintwork refinishing, most pros will use a clay bar to remove any loose grit from the surface. The clay bar is rubbed across the paint surface and picks up any contaminants before polishing begins.
Polishing is, as you know, a paintwork repair compound. It was developed to remove paintwork blemishes by removing microscopic layers of damaged coatings, revealing the fresh paint below.
Polish isn’t designed to shine or protect the paint; that’s a job for wax. However, as you know, the line between polish and wax has blurred in recent years, and hybrid products have now become popular.
A DA buffing machine is generally used when polishing; it’s not essential but does produce better results. Buffer machines aren’t expensive or hard to use, and they have other household uses; I wrote a post about my buffer here “What is a DA buffing machine?”.
The process is simple, fit a sponge head to the buffing machine, have a spray bottle of water to wet the paint surface, and help lubricate the pad.
Apply the polish directly to the pad and move across the paint surface in a systematic way. Two passes do the job, then using a soft microfiber cloth, remove the excess. Polishing by hand is very similar, but the cloth should not move across the paint surface in a circular motion; up and down is best.
It’s worth noting all car paints aren’t all the same; modern car paints are thinner and water-based, which means they’re softer than their predecessor, oil-based paints.
I wrote a complete post about buffing here, “How to restore faded red paint”.
For best results, rub a clay bar over the paint surface to collect any grit before the waxing process begins.
Finally, in the waxing stage, the purpose of wax is, as you know, twofold, to create a beautiful shine and also to seal the paintwork creating a protective barrier against harmful sun rays, road salts, grit, bird poop, etc.
Wax won’t clean dirt from the paintwork; it will only seal it. So any dirt on the paint surface will need to clean with polish first.
Waxing can be done by machine but is more commonly done by hand. There are many top-quality waxes on the market; the better ones will have a blend of Carnauba wax. The P21S is one of the very best, but it is expensive, and you can check it out here on Amazon.
Synthetic liquid sprays are popular for instant shine but don’t last.
Eddie shares some basic tips for applying car wax.
- The paintwork must be clean and dry.
- Use a clay bar on the paintwork before waxing.
- If you’re using Carnauba wax, heat it first, makes it more workable.
- Dampen your wax applicator.
- Avoid applying wax in the sunshine, it will bake the wax and make removing difficult.
- Work a manageable area at a time.
- Don’t apply too much wax, but do get a even coat.
- Read wax instructions, most need a minimum amount of time to cure.
- Use a micro-fiber towel to final finish.
You can check out all the cleaning products I use on the Car cleaning tools page.
Does polish damage car paint? No, polish is a really fine compound and won’t damage your paint. It’s used to remove grime and dirt from the paintwork.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.