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What's the difference between wax and polish?

Thursday, 27th November 2014

When people talk about detailing their cars, the words ‘polish’ and ‘wax’ seem to become interchangeable. However, it is relatively important to know the difference.

To put it simply

Step 1- Wash
Step 2- Polish
Step 3- Wax


Polishing paint

Polishing is used to smooth out paint defects. Although some people polish by hand, most car detailers use a polishing power tool to get an even and professional finish. Polishes use chemicals to clean the surface and remove light scratches, contaminants and imperfections in the paint. These light polishes are great for those who detail regularly and have no major issues with their paint. For more difficult defects like swirl marks, you will need an abrasive polish.

Abrasive polish

Abrasive polishes have tiny little abrasives suspended in the liquid, this is what helps to cut through thick contaminants on your paint. Different car polish brands offer many different grades of abrasives. You can find light abrasives for light scratches and swirls or use a harsher grades to cut through tougher marks.  Abrasive polishes need a polishing power tool to reach good polishing results. You may need to use caution with abrasive polishes as they can often leave damage to your paints clear coat. Clear coat is not designed for heavy abrasive polishes and requires extra care! If you are unsure, you may want to take it to a professional car detail shop. Otherwise, California Custom Products offers its very own M-Ron Deep Clean

Can’t decide if you want to polish yourself or send your vehicle to a professional detailer? Read our blog about the pros and cons of DIY detailing vs professional detailing 

Polishing Metal

Most vehicles will have a certain amount of metal, whether it be wheels, bumpers, bull bars or more. It is important not to forget these in the polishing process! Metal gets very dull very easily. You want your chrome to shine just as much as the paint. Although some normal car polishes will work on metal surfaces, the best results are found with metal polishes.

For touch ups on the chrome, use our Purple Metal Polish. This product will make your metal surfaces look like a mirror!

Metal with some oxidisation will require a deeper clean. Try our Aluminum Deoxidizer before using the Purple Metal Polish to clean off all cloudy marks, rust, bugs and pretty much anything else.


The last step in the washing and detailing process is the wax. Once you have polished off the surface of your paint and buffed out all imperfections, waxing your car will give it a protective layer to seal it off. Waxes create protection from environmental factors such as sun damage, rain, and even dust.

There are 2 main types of waxes which people use. Natural and Synthetic.

Natural waxes usually consist of carnauba wax and provide a thick and warm glossy shine. They don’t last as long as synthetic waxes but provide a deep conditioning to your paint.

Synthetic waxes are a type of chemically engineered paint sealant. The shine is more reflective than natural waxes and lasts much longer due to the polymers in the compound. However, they don’t provide the same level of protection and conditioning which natural waxes do.

For more information about the differences between Natural and Synthetic waxes, read our blog HERE


Filler waxes

These waxes contain things called fillers which fill swirls and scratches, but does not fix them. The fillers also tend to dull the paint rather than create a great shine. These fillers are good for quick and cheap fixes but will not give lasting or professional results. 


Combination waxes

There are a few combinations which can save you time and money if you choose the right ones.

Hybrids- These have a mix of both natural and synthetic waxes present. This is a good compromise- the durability of the synthetic wax and the protection of the natural wax. However, you won’t get the best of both worlds with this option.

Cleaner/wax- This options provides polish cleaning properties with a natural wax protection layer. California Custom Products Australia offers the M-Ron Glass- Cleaner wax. 100% clear coat safe.

Cleaner/sealant- This option is the same, providing polish cleaning properties but with a synthetic wax shine layer.

Make sure you know what your vehicle requires before using the product. You may find that your paint is in top shape and will only require a clean and wash. On the other hand, you may have some tough marks which will require a deeper polish. Whatever your need, you can find the products you will need at your local car care retailer