Should You Polish a Car Before Waxing It?

There are two types of people: ones who always polish cars before waxing and ones who swear that polishing isn’t necessary. The truth is somewhere in between, and in this post, I’ll explain everything in detail.

Key Takeaways:

  • It is necessary to polish a car before waxing if the paint has some imperfections, such as swirl marks, scratches, or oxidation.
  • If you’re just re-applying waxes, there’s no need to polish a car.
  • When waxing new cars, you don’t have to polish them.
  • Polishing makes a car wax bond better to the surface, thus making the car look shinier, and the wax will also last longer.
  • If you’re in doubt whether it’s needed or not, I suggest at least doing a 1-step polish that will bring the original paint shine back.

Situations When Polishing is Essential Before Waxing

polishing a car before waxing, illustration

Although it may not be necessary to have your car polished before waxing it, it is essential to do so in most situations. Now, I’m going to show you in which conditions you should (have to) polish the car paint before you apply the wax.

Polish a car before waxing if:

  • If you see swirls on your car
  • If there are minor scratches
  • If the paint is oxidized (faded) from the sun
  • If you just painted some car parts (bumper, hood, etc.)

I bet that now you see the real reason why polishing is essential before you go and apply the wax. The goal is to make the paint as smooth as possible so the wax can bond to the surface properly.

If you need a step-by-step guide on polishing cars, check out my article on How To Polish a Car With a Machine Polisher.

Situations When Polishing Before Waxing is Unnecessary

In some cases, you don’t have to polish your car. You can go and wax your vehicle straight away (with some preparations, of course).

There’s no need to polish a car before waxing if:

  • If the paint still looks great, without damages (swirls, scratches, fading)
  • If you already have the wax on your car and now you want to reapply it
  • If you just bought your vehicle
  • If you just painted the whole car

That’s why I always suggest you take care of your car all the time, even if you have to spend 1-2 hours more per week on that. It’ll save you money in the long run.

What Happens If You Wax Without Polishing

waxing a car

Let’s imagine that the condition of your car’s paint isn’t the best, and you decide to wax it without polishing.

Here’s what will happen:

  • Car wax won’t be able to bond to the clear coat properly, and it won’t last long.
  • The shine of the car’s paint won’t be so deep and glossy.
  • Polishing also removes some contaminants from the paint, and without polishing, you’ll trap those contaminants between the wax and the clear coat, which is bad for the paint.
  • You will spend much more wax per application. Wax should be applied in a very thin layer, and when the paint isn’t smooth, you’ll spend way too much more wax than it’s actually needed because it’ll also fill those tiny paint imperfections.

Of course, the above doesn’t apply if your car’s paint is in perfect condition.

The Difference Between Car Waxing and Polishing

guy polishing a car

I see some people confusing polished and waxes. That’s probably because many car detailers use these words interchangeably because both polishes and waxes are used to shine your car.

Differences between waxes and polishes:

  • Polishes are fine abrasives that, when used on your car and buffed, will remove swirl marks and scratches, paint oxidation, contaminants, etc., to make the car paint smooth and shiny. Polishes don’t offer any kind of protection to the clear coat.
  • Waxes also shine the car, but they just improve the present appearance of the car. Aside from shining the car, waxes also offer protection from various external elements such as UV rays, heat, acid rain, bird droppings, water spots, and similar.

There is also a specific type of car waxes: cleaner waxes. They’re used to enhance the paint and also protect it slightly. These waxes contain abrasive particles, which will fix some slightest imperfections in the paint.

That’s some kind of mixture between wax and polish and is great for people who don’t want to bother with real car paint correction tasks.

Other Things You Should Do Before Waxing The Car

Polishing isn’t the only thing you should do before waxing the car. There are many other important steps that will ensure the best paint shine and extend the longevity of car waxes.

Whenever you wax your car, make sure to do the following:

  • Thoroughly wash your car
  • If you had wax before, make sure to remove it completely.
  • Remove bugs and tar.
  • Decontaminate the car’s paint.

By following this advice, you’ll always get the best results when waxing your car.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I wax without polishing?

You can wax your car without polishing, but if the paint isn’t in top condition, don’t expect miracles.

Should I wax or polish first?

You should always opt for polishing first. Polishing is used to fix paint imperfections, while waxing is used afterward to protect the paintwork.

Do I need to wax the car after polishing it?

It’s up to you, but if you want to keep the paint protected, I highly suggest you wax your car after polishing it. However, you can also opt for other paint protection methods such as ceramic coating, car sealants, or even paint protection films.

Final Words

Whenever you decide to wax your car (even if you’re just reapplying it), make sure to check the condition of the car paint.

Even if you had wax on your car, the car paint could still get damaged. Remember, wax isn’t the best protection for your paint and can’t protect your car from everything, and that’s why you should always check the clear coat condition, as I mentioned above.