Car Polishing & Waxing: A How-To Guide

Read on to discover helpful car care tips, and a simple guide to car polishing and waxing.

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Car polishing and waxing are an important part of caring for your vehicle. They help to prevent environmental wear and tear, and with a good auto wax and polish, you can really make your vehicle look fresh and new.

However, for a novice, polishing or waxing your car 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 to discover some helpful car care tips, and read our simple guide to polishing and waxing car exteriors that covers everything from how to get the best results to things to avoid!

A scrap of newspaper used with a homemade cleaner mix of water and white vinegar is the perfect, natural cleaner for your car windows to provide a streak-free finish.

What is the difference between car polishing and car waxing?

When you are polishing your car after washing it, you are not protecting the surface, rather you are correcting it. Polish works to remove minor imperfections such as scratches or oxidisation stains. Car waxing, on the other hand, is used to add not only a layer of shine to your car but protection too! Wax works as a sealant, which is why it is done after washing and polishing, to prevent sealing dirt or stains to the surface of your car.

Dos and don’ts of polishing and waxing car exteriors

There are a few important dos and don’ts when it comes to polishing and waxing your car:

  • DO wash your car first, then polish, then finish by waxing your car.
  • DON’T use wax if you haven’t cleaned and polished first as you can seal dirt and stains onto the car.
  • DO cover metal areas when polishing plastic and vice versa. This will prevent the polish from damaging or removing paintwork or eroding the plastic. 
  • DON’T use metal polish on plastic or clear coat areas of your car as this can cause it to erode and create problems later on.
  • DO polish in a circular motion, this will help to buff out minor imperfections.
  • DON’T use too much wax as this can actually damage the paint.
  • DO check the manufacturer's guidelines, as some polishes and waxes cannot be used on all types of car.
  • DON’T be afraid to put in some elbow grease. After all, with a little hard work you can have a shiny car to be proud of.
  • DO ask for advice if you’re not sure. A specialist will be able to point you in the right direction to get products that will work for you and your car.
  • DON’T forget that sometimes speciality products are best. For example, chamois leather is un-abrasive, absorbent cloth great for drying your car off without damaging the paint.

What do you need for polishing your car?

When it comes to car polishing there are a few things that you will need:

  • A polishing sponge or cloth
  • Metal polish
  • Plastic polish

Top tips for polishing your car

There are a few easy steps that you will need to follow when polishing your car to have the best results at the end. Once you have got your cleaning supplies together, follow this guide:

  • Check for plastic and metal. 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 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.
  1. Test to see which parts of your car are metal.
  2. If you’re not sure if a particular part of your car is metal or if it has a clear coat finish, then dab some metal polish onto your sponge or cloth and lightly apply it to the area you want to polish.
  3. Inspect your sponge or cloth. If the surface is actually polished metal, you’ll see a distinctive dark grey residue.
  4. If you do not see this residue, you’re dealing with a clear coat.
  5. Remember: Do not use metal polish on clearcoat as it will cause it to erode.
  • 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.
  • Don’t forget the headlights. Thoroughly polish your headlights and indicators with plastic polish. This will remove the layer of dirt that often settles on headlights after prolonged use.
  • Clean up your wheel hubcaps. The final stage of polishing your car is to polish your wheel hubcaps. The best way to do this is using a specialised wheel cleaner. However, if you know the surface is real metal (you can check using the trick described above), use metal polish.

Top tips for waxing your car

After washing and polishing your car, it’s time to wax. Car waxing used to be a rather time-consuming 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:

  1. Read the manufacturer’s instructions. Always remember to check the manufacturer’s guidelines on what products you can and can’t use with your particular car.
  2. Clear coats need special products. If your car has a clear coat (use the test above to determine), make sure you only use a product that is explicitly marked as being suitable. Non-suitable products are often too abrasive and may damage the surface.
  3. Choose an auto 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 while waxing your car.
  4. 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 car wax for a detailing spray. This approach will keep your car protected, without needing to put the time in to fully apply wax.

Now you have an easy guide to polishing and waxing your car, as well as important dos and don’ts to get the finish you’re after. With our tips, having a flawless, shiny car is easy – give it a try!

  • Polish helps remove minor imperfections such as scratches or stains.
  • Wax adds shine and protection.
  • Wash your car first, then polish and wax to finish.
  • Always use the right polish, whether metal or plastic.
  • Protect alternative areas from the polish you are using (metal from plastic polish and vice versa).
  • Originally published