Basic waxing & polishing guide

  • Many, many people confuse wax with polish and the 2 perform completely different functions - a POLISH is in short an abrasive, which will either 1) remove old, “dead” paint, revealing fresh paint beneath or 2) fill in scratches and swirl marks/holograms using a combination of oils and chemicals to fill the scratch and also to round off the edges, muting the defect’s appearance.

    WAX is a generic term, and can refer to both carnauba and synthetic waxes. These products are usually non-abrasive and do not clean your paint, they simply protect it against the elements.

    To confuse you further still, there are also “glazes” and “cleaner waxes” – more on this in a sec….


    As most people opt for hand polishing I’ll concentrate on how to achieve the best results using easy to obtain products and simple to learn methods. I’ve provided an appendix later on listing the right products for the job)

    There are 2 absolute rules to remember.

    1. ALWAYS start with the least aggressive product – remember, you can always remove more paint, but once it’s gone, it’s gone and you can’t replace it without repainting.

    2. 99% technique, 1% product – if you simply slap an expensive product onto the car without any real knowledge, you’ll achieve very little improvement. Prepare the paint properly and concentrate on your
    technique – this will give you the right results!

    Firstly, you need to know how to evaluate your paint and determine what the problem is, otherwise you’ll spend a lot of blood & sweat for nothing.
    You also need the right tools for the job – I’d suggest a few microfibre towels & applicators and some foam applicators.

    Here’s how to determine what the problem is and the best route to rectify it.

    Oxidisation – this is caused usually by exposure to sunlight and extreme conditions. Most modern paint finishes have UV blockers built in to minimize the effects of exposure to the elements, but older paints tend not to.

    Features – colour fading, spots appearing, milkiness to paintwork

    Remedy – the dead paint on the surface needs to be removed and the fresh paint beneath. Use a mild polish initially such as Poorboys Professional Polish or Meguiars Deep Crystal Stage 1.

    (You can use either a foam or microfibre applicator for applying the polish. I find that the microfibre ones work better as they’re slightly more aggressive and give the product a bit more bite).

    ALWAYS follow the product instructions – you’ll usually need to use a bit of elbow grease to work the polish into the paint and remove the defect. Remove with the microfibre towel and then protect with wax or sealant.

    Swirl Marks – look at your car in either direct sunlight or use a halogen work light – you’ll see lots of tiny circular scratches. These are caused by either 1) car washes (think nylon bristles rotating around and around on your paint), 2) incorrect use of a buffer or 3) poor washing techniques (think grubby yellow sponge etc etc…..).

    If swirls are mechanically present (i.e. buffer or car wash) then it’s unlikely you can remove them by hand and I’d usually suggest you find a friendly and professional valeter who will machine polish your car.

    Features – tiny scratches usually only visible in bright sunlight or artificial lighting. Appearance is similar to cobwebs or long swirly scratches/scuffs.

    Remedy – the swirl either needs to be removed (usually buffer only) or filled in. to achieve this, you need to use a product that will fill the swirl and also round off the edges to stop light reflecting and enhancing the defect. Again, use a mild polish specifically for swirl marks, such as Meguiars Scratch x .

    Scratches – can come from a variety of sources really! Poor parking,driving in the hedgerow, and a key and so on – the list is endless.

    Features – error, how long have you got?! Can be anything from a small scuff to a deep scratch.

    Remedy – firstly, rub the scratch with your fingernail. If you can feel it, then even machine polishing may not remove and you need to look at wet sanding or repainting. If not, then you may be able to do something to improve matters. Start by cleaning as much of the area as you can – use paint cleaning clay, tar remover even meths to clean up the scratch as in many cases whatever had contact with the paint will leave residue on the paint, making the damage appear a lot worse.

    Use any of the products previously listed to remove as much of the scratch as you can.


    Now that you hopefully have paintwork mint paintwork you need to protect it. Polishing will improve your paint and remove/hide defects but it won’t protect so you need either a wax or sealant.

    Firstly wax – when I say “wax”, I’m talking about paste waxes in tins/tubs and made from carnauba. This is a natural wax and is refined from its natural state to a workable paste form, using in most cases a variety of chemicals and solvents to soften it.

    The general thinking is that the higher carnauba content, the greater protection the wax will offer –
    Apply using a foam applicator pad and remove with a microfibre towel. A good tip is to have a spray bottle filled with distilled water handy. If your wax goes streaky, simply spritz and wipe. If you want to get a bit silly, chill the distilled water in the fridge – gives an even deeper shine!

    In my experience, MOST carnauba waxes simply add a bit of bling to your paint and some protection – most last maybe 8 weeks and then they’re finished, which is where synthetic sealants come in…..

    Basically, these are manufactured waxes – no natural ingredients.

    They are manufactured to provide much longer lasting protection for your paintwork and can be both acrylic or polymer based. There’s a lot of fancy science involved here which I don’t claim to understand but virtually all of these products will last 6 months plus. Some of them also use chemical cleaners to remove/reduce defects and also protect and I class these as cleaner waxes (clever, innit?!)

    Examples of cleaner waxes are Autoglym Super Resin & Klasse All In One/Carlack 68. you can then add a pure sealant on top – Autoglym Extra Gloss or Klasse Sealant Glaze – in layers to build up ever more protection

    In terms of application, simply use a foam applicator and wipe the sealant on, again following instructions. The main rule here is keep it thin – thick coats are a bugger to remove and have never been proven to add any durability, if anything you’re just wasting money and effort!

    Some sealants work a panel at a time, others half or whole car. Some work in sunshine but generally most are better applied out of direct sunlight. Wipe with a microfibre towel and you’re done.

    You CAN use both to give you both durability and looks – simply apply your synthetic sealant first, buff off and then apply a wax over the top.

    A glaze is, to me, a VERY mild polish and usually very rich in oils which give gloss & depth to your paint. It will not remove defects but will hide anything minor. If used after polishing, it will add a huge amount of glossiness and reflection to the paint. Waxing simply enhances this.

    I hope you all find this guide helpful.


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