Car polishing and waxing: a how-to guide

If you're looking for car care advice, look no further - this helpful guide will help you wax & polish your car. Read on for car waxing & polishing tips!

Updated 24 June 2019

car keys with a mini yellow car keyring

Key Steps:

For car polishing, you will need the following materials:

  • A polishing sponge or soft cloth
  • Metal polish
  • Plastic polish
  • (Optional) additional polishing tools

It’s not all about cleaning your car: polishing and waxing the car is an important part of caring for your vehicle. It helps to prevent environmental wear and tear, and can make your car look fresh and new. However, for a novice, car polishing or waxing can seem a bit daunting, and there are some things in particular that you need to be aware of from the outset to avoid damaging your car. Read on for helpful car care tips:

After washing your car, it’s best to finish it off with some car wax or polish. This will act as a barrier against the elements, meaning the paintwork of your car will last longer.

How to Polish a Car

First, you’ll need to make sure which parts of your car are plastic or metal. Many modern cars have features that look like polished metal, but which are either chromed plastic or metal that has been painted and then covered with a “clear coat” to reduce the chances of rusting or scratching.

  • Test to see which parts of your car are metal. If you’re not sure if a particular part of your car is metal or if it has a clearcoat finish, then dab some metal polish onto your sponge or cloth and lightly apply it to the area you want to polish.
  • Inspect your sponge or cloth. If the surface is actually polished metal, you’ll see a distinctive dark grey residue. Otherwise, you’re dealing with a clearcoat. Do not use metal polish on clearcoat. It will cause it to erode, causing problems later on.
  • Apply the polish. Once you’ve worked out what bits of your car actually are metal, either use an electric polishing device (you can find these in specialist car care shops or online) or old-fashioned elbow grease to distribute your polish.
  • Thoroughly polish your headlights and indicators with plastic polish. This will remove the layer of dirt that often settles on headlights after prolonged use.
  • Remember to mask nearby areas when polishing the headlamps. This will prevent the polish from damaging or removing paintwork.
  • Polish your wheel hubcaps, either with specialised wheel cleaner, or, if you know the surface is real metal (using the trick described above), actual metal polish.

How to Wax a Car

Once you’re done polishing, the waxing can start. Car waxing used to be a rather torturous process, demanding the use of paste based, hard-to-shift carnauba wax over a period of what felt like several days. However, modern waxing products can be applied and removed with ease. Just follow the instructions on your chosen product, and consider the tips below:

  • Remember to check the manufacturer’s guidelines as to what products you can and can’t use with your particular car.
  • Clearcoats need special products. If your car has a clearcoat (use the test above to determine), make sure you only use a product that is explicitly marked as being suitable for clearcoats. Non-suitable products are often too abrasive and may damage the surface.
  • Choose a wax to suit the colour of your car. There are many variants on standard wax from different suppliers. Some waxes have been developed specifically for different colours of bodywork. This is particularly useful for black cars, on which regular wax may leave white streaks unless fully removed.
  • In a rush? Consider alternatives. If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, or are just performing a touch up, you can substitute wax for a detailing spray. This approach will keep your car protected.

With these tips, having a flawless, shiny car is as easy as pie – give it a try!

Originally published 19 July 2018