Differences Between Polishing & Waxing

I wasn’t sure if I was to split this post into two or not. I eventually decided to keep it all in one place. It might be a bit of a long post but I think it’s worth it. As a follow up to my mega wax comparison test the write up for my comparison of Dual Action polishing pads is now completed. This post has taken me many, many hours to collate and put together, not only for my own sanity of product comparison all in one place, it will hopefully be a help for you as well. That’s regardless of being a Professional Detailer or a Weekend Washing Warrior like me.

There is a huge minefield out there when it comes to buffing pads by various manufacturers for similar products. Although they may look the same they can perform very different tasks. They can do the same things but are different colours, it’s all very confusing. It drove me mad, so what I have tried to do here is create a chart of the most well known manufacturers and their Dual Action pad products. I chose the ‘Dual Action’ variables for a couple of reasons;

1) I have a Meguiar’s MT320 Dual Action tool.

2) Rotary tools and pads are for the experienced user or professionals. Incorrect use can damage your paint job. You have been warned!

I am a weekend washer as I mentioned, I’m not quite up to the professional detailing standards yet, but I keep trying. If I take my car to show or just taken out for a drive, I clean it via quick detailer product when I get to where I’m going. When I get home the car gets a full waterless wash before it goes in the garage and covered up again.

I found many charts and explanations from many sources, but none that done a full comprehensive comparison side by side. My Pad Guide which I collated below is for reference and you really should get the right pad for the right job. The chart here is also downloadable in High Quality PDF as well. 🙂

I have tried to provide links to each manufacturer and the descriptions of their own pad products below. If you find any others that may be of use, just let me know and I will try and add them.

Clicking on the individual links below will take you to that company’s website for more details. Some are great pages with lots of info, some are rather shabby to say the least. I honestly recommend having a look at the links as they will explain in greater depth why you should use their products and for what tasks.

  • Lake Country Products and Charts click here.
  • Meguiar’s Products and Charts click here.
  • DoDo Juice Products and Charts click here.
  • Chemical Guys Products and Charts click here.
  • Mitchell & King Products and Charts click here.
  • Auto Finesse Products and Charts click here.
  • 3M Products and Charts click here.
  • Shine Mate Products and Charts click here.
  • Gyeon Products and Charts click here.
  • Menzerna Products and Charts click here.
  • Scholl Concepts Products and Charts click here.
  • Sonus Products and Charts click here.
  • Vertool Products and Charts click here.

I found a couple of images from the net (below) that are pretty good to explain some of the terminology of this coveted detailing skill. There are many, many books out there and plenty of ‘how to..’ videos on YouTube as well, so I won’t duplicate them here who are much better qualified to explain it than me.

Marks on the paint can be from poor washing routines, bird lime, tree sap, third party damage such as keys or car park dings, damage from hedges when driving to close or stone chips etc. These sorts of damage can spoil the look of your car may require the polishing step. The easiest way to remove these marks are with the DA pads.

First the misconception of ‘Polishing’ and ‘Waxing’ are the same thing! They’re not.

Polishing Pads or Cutting Pads or Compounding Pads,: Choosing your correct pad and polish combo is critical, using a waxing or ‘finishing’ soft or super soft pad won’t do much at all, and you will be there a while wasting your time. The courser polishing pads or ‘cutting’ pads are designed to work the product to the paint and not just apply it.

Waxing Pads or Finishing Pads: Most of the waxing or ‘finishing’ pads are soft or super soft, they are designed primarily to apply the product to the surface and not ‘work’ the product into the paint as such.

A little common sense; before you decide to polish, you must wash the car thoroughly. I won’t go into the full details of how to wash your car, but I will touch on the main points before the polish and the eventual choice of pads. You can use waterless washing if you want of course, but applying waterless washing tends to add an element of protection to the paint.

An ideal prep for a polish is to use a pre washing “Snow Foam” first if you can. This tends to remove the worst of the debris on the car as a touchless process. If you don’t have access to a snow foam, then at least rinse the car first and then wash the car using the two bucket method with a wash mitt, not a sponge. Remember that a good quality shampoo should nourish the paint and prepare it for a wax layering process, it shouldn’t remove the wax that is already on the paint surface. The least amount of contact with the dirty paint is desirable.

Remove any wax that is on the surface of the car’s paint. This is a separate step after washing using a specific product just for that wax removing job. However, some of the cheap and nasty car washing products will also remove the wax at the same time as washing, saving you that extra wax stripping step. Use a proper de-wax wash product like Chemical Guys ‘Clean Slate’ to leave the paint bare to the elements. Don’t be tempted to use cheap washing up detergents to wash the car, as they themselves can also be abrasive and often contain salt.

Once the car is washed clean, there is a step that is often overlooked before polishing; the ‘Clay bar’. This is as it sounds, a piece of soft clay which is flattened out into a thin pad and rubbed over the surface of the paint using fingertips. This clay lifts the stubborn contaminates and they in turn stick to the clay. Use the clay with a recommended lubrication and turn frequently to a fresh piece of the clay when it becomes dirty. If you drop the clay bar, Never Ever pick it up and re-use it on the car, get a fresh piece and continue. If you dive straight into the polishing stage you could end up dragging these foreign particles over your paint making things worse. It’s always best to try and get the paint as smooth as possible first before you tackle that polish stage. I have review links to a great clay bar from Bilt Hamber here and pretty poor clay bar from Auto Finesse here. Choose wisely, not all clay bars are the same, some work and some really don’t. A Clay Bar will also remove wax as well. Rinse the car and dry thoroughly.

Tip: Polishing is an acquired skill and shouldn’t be taken on with a slap dash approach. Go to a scrap yard, get an old fender or hood and practice on that first. Practice on an old car, or a favour to mates old car. With a heavy cutting compound, or an overly abrasive pad along with undue pressure being applied during the polishing process, there is every chance that such an abrasive combination could take the paint of your car. Rule of thumb is that a polish cleans the paint with mild to very abrasive product.

Some polishes are known to have fillers to hide imperfections and to give a richer look to the surface paint of the car. Auto Finesse ‘Tripple’ is such an example or Meguiar’s ‘3 in 1’.

Another step than can be used instead of a polish is a ‘Glaze’. This can be applied by hand or a DA machine. This product is a filler for fine scratches or swirl marks. This will only mask the problem of damaged paint. It certainly won’t cure or fix the problem like a proper paint correction or polish would.

What is Polish and Polishing?

Depending on the paint condition this will determine the pad and polish product you will need to use.

Polish, or sometimes referred to as a ‘compound’ is usually in the form of a liquid which contains a varying degree of abrasive content. The polish abrasiveness is also referred to as it’s ‘Cutting’ strength. During a polish you are in effect removing microns of your paint, the harsher the abrasive or cutting, the more of the paint or clear coat will be removed. Polishing can also restore the shine of the paint on your car from a faded or neglected surface. If you see some slight discoloration, damaged paint from bird lime or similar, or when you think there is a lot of dirt that has got stuck on the surface that won’t be removed after a wash with a good shampoo, it may be better to go for the polish. Small scratches can be reduced or removed after a polish. This can also be known as a ‘paint correction’.

The majority of the time a Polish will require multiple applications of finer or less course cutting polishes and softer pads to obtain that smooth mirror like surface. Rule of thumb, start soft. If nothing is happening go heavier and work back to the light combo again. If the paint is getting to hot – STOP. Many experienced detailers and car body work painters just know what they need to use.

Why Polish?

Simple answer is that if you see scratches or swirls the polishing step could remove them depending how bad they are of course. This would leave a mirror looking paint if done correctly.

How does it work?

The light hits our eyes at strange angles, which shows up as a scratch, blemish, swirl etc. on the paint work. If the paint is smooth with no marks the light is bounced in an even manor. This is explained a lot better with the help of a little diagram towards the end.

What is Wax (ing)

Wax is just a protective coat to protect the paint of your car from the elements, prolong the longevity and lustre. There are two main products, natural and synthetic. Natural tends to offer the best shine with not much longevity. Synthetic offers the best longevity but not quite a good a shine. There are of course mixtures of the two and hybrids. Some of the ‘hybrids’ are now incorporating the ‘ceramic’ technology which is creeping into the consumer market. Natural waxes are often found at high quality car shows or concours events to show the paint to it’s full extent. Synthetics are for generally for daily cars who also want a nice shine. Waxes have moved on with technology, these waxes often come with UV protection to help stop paint fading in sunlight. They last longer, apply easier and offer great value for money, well in most cases anyway.

There is also another step that can be applied, that is ‘Sealer’. this is applied before the wax as it says coats the paint job to protect it better than a wax – so it’s said. Sealers do one job only and not designed for pure shine. More to protect what you already have before the shine is applied.

Waxes come in two main application forms; liquid or paste.

Paste wax or hard wax, is more of the traditional method and often classed as old school. Often requiring application, curing and then buffing to a shine, often repeated to build up the protection or shine. Usually the enthusiasts or connoisseur’s choice. These products are best applied as ‘a little goes a long way’.

Liquid wax or soft wax, is the modern approach. They tend to be quicker, easier and generally don’t require cure time or additional applications, also know as ‘wipe on, wipe off’ products. The down side is that you tend to use more of the product.

Why Wax?

Waxing protects the car from elements and even sunlight. It also makes the car look good and helps to retain the vehicles value.

How does it work?

The wax forms a protective barrier between the paint job and the elements.

There is no right or wrong for the type of waxing you take, what ever suits you. I have it on good authority that there are no differences between the paste wax and the liquid waxes apart from composition. The only real choice you have is what you want the wax to do, last, shine or a bit of an all rounder?

Understanding the paint problems

I found these various diagrams to show what the polishing is designed to do. Make the paint as smooth as possible, then protect it with wax (or sealer).

They say a picture speaks a thousand words and I think these pictures do just that to explain it better way than I ever could.

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Some examples of things that can damage the paint and how badly, and yes that does say ‘fingernails’!

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As I mentioned earlier on how the eye sees the light. If light reflects badly and is distorted instead of a bouncing straight back, that is when you get to see the marks on the paint as shown here:

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Various way to fix this is the buffing with pads to get to the bottom of the damage to leave a smooth even reflective area. As I have already explained, things likes glazes, sealants and waxes can help along with disguising these areas of damage to make the light reflect in a much more uniform manor. Thus making the surface look smooth and shiny again.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is paintlayersscratch.jpg

Then we get a little more techy with the thicknesses of paint and how the paints are applied. Of course the different applications of paint (Single coat, 2 pack, water based, cellulose etc.), amount of paint applied, types of paint; solid, metallic, pearlescent, matte, special mix custom. The type of primer, fillers, top coats, clear coats all need their own types of care. For some one product may not work the same on another manufacturers paint etc. Some manufacturer paints are known as hard paints, while others are considerably softer. This diagram shows the generic application of thicknesses, these vary wildly depending who done what. Some respray jobs cost £2,000 and others £20,000 and that’s for a good for a reason.

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The ‘basics’ of the paint application;

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Don’t worry that is as technical as it will get about paint and the theories behind it. After all we are just looking at the comparison of pads to ‘fix’ the paint, according to my very own comparison chart above.

When I mentioned the combination of products and pads above, this is the visual representation of just that.

Not all these DA pads are for polishing or cutting alone. Oh no, Many people use the much softer pads to apply the waxes to the car for a much easier, smoother and even application of wax. I have a link here on 10 wax comparisons in a mega test.

About One man and his Mustang

I'm just a man with a Classic 1966 Ford Mustang Coupe and a collection of tools that just keeps getting bigger in order that I could do the job right. When I first started this blog this is what I wrote: "I had bought a project car, that had been neglected, set fire to, rusted and abused. As a result of that she needed a bare metal strip down, a nut and bolt restoration." Four and a half years later the car was completed, on the road and shown at the UK's premier Classic Car Show, everything that was done to that car is documented here. I now have the privilege to drive one of America's most recognised cars and a true Icon, the Ford Mustang. I'm still sane after the blood, sweat and tears, so would I do it again? Oh yes!
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11 Responses to Differences Between Polishing & Waxing

  1. tonzerp says:

    Great Post !
    I’ve shared it in our monthly Newsletter (Ayrshire Classics Car Club) – hope this is ok!
    Best article of this type I’ve seen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kkessler833 says:

    Great, helpful post!

    Like

  3. Reblogged this on Customs -N- Classics and commented:
    For those who are interested in knowing more about why we wax our cars.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great reference. I am going to reblog for my readers, maybe this will help them. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Differences Between Polishing & Waxing — One Man And His Mustang – Voices From The Garage

  6. Great post. perhaps people who go to these car shows where we show our cars need to read this. Just how delicate paintwork actually is.

    Liked by 1 person

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