Car Waxing, Detailing & Polishing: What’s the Difference?

Updated Aug 17, 2022 | Same topic: Handy Maintenance Tips

Read on to know the difference between three car cleaning services and decide which one is needed for your car in this article.

Waxing, detailing and polishing are vital in keeping your car in great shape. However, a lot of car owners don’t know the differences between the three and some would often mistake one for the other. This confusion makes it hard for drivers to request for the service that they need for their car.

To help you overcome this problem, separated the three services and made a brief description of each to help you understand the differences.

I. Car waxing 

1. What is Waxing?

To fully differentiate waxing from what detailing and polishing means, let’s first discuss what the material that’s used in waxing. The term waxing is derived from the material that’s applied on the vehicle. The wax used on cars is typically made from the leaves of the carnauba plant.

Some brands use synthetic waxes while some use the wax that’s present in other elements like coal and palm trees. The natural wax from these sources is a naturally hard compound which makes the application to cars impossible.

Different solvents and possible additives are then studied and experiments are conducted to see if the ingredients make the creation of car wax possible. The ingredients are then mixed with other natural and chemical ingredients to ultimately create the wax used on cars today.

Man waxing the car

The term waxing is derived from the material that’s applied on the vehicle

>>> For further reference: Best wax for car in the Philippines: List of 6 recommended brands

2. What is car wax for?

A good quality wax acts as a barrier between your car’s clear coat and the bad elements from the environment. These damaging elements could be acidic rain, dust, UV rays and those tiny, harmful elements that come with air. Water is also an enemy that contributes to the damage on your car’s exterior, especially if it’s from the dirty puddles that you drive on.

Getting dirty water on your car’s clear coat is definitely unavoidable. However, wax makes it possible for the water to run off your car almost as fast as it got there.

Car wax is also effective in sealing the gaps in the clear coat. Most of these gaps are scratches caused by wiping the clear coat with a rough or non-microfiber cloth. The wax acts as a filler and covers the scratches while making a protective layer to protect the clear coat of paint on your car.

This is why car wax should always be the last thing you apply on your car.

Man waxing the car

A good quality wax acts as a barrier between your car’s clear coat and the bad elements from the environment

>>> You might like to check out: DIY car cleaning tips: Top 7 car wash equipment for drivers in the Philippines

II. Car detailing

1. What is Detailing?

Detailing is when one performs a thorough clean-up of the vehicle to make it as clean as possible. Cleaning the car involves making both the interior and exterior of the car clean. It involves a multiple step process that can vary depending on how the car detailer assessed the state of your vehicle.

The steps for detailing the interior would vary from how the exterior will be detailed. Every car detailer may treat their client’s cars differently but they usually have a similar set of tools for the task.

Man washing the car

Detailing is when one performs a thorough clean-up of the vehicle to make it as clean as possible

2. Detailing process

Some of the common detailing processes for the exterior are listed below:

  • Washing & Drying – Every thorough car clean starts with a nice car wash. It’s also hand-washed with mild, cleansing soap and dried.
  • Clay – After drying, most car detailers use a clay bar to remove watermarks and other traces of dirt that’s irremovable by washing.
  • Seal – The last step calls for sealant application. This coats minute scratches and even adds a glossy shine to the finished results.

different type of materials used in car's paint

Sealant application coats minute scratches and even adds a glossy shine to the finished results

Meanwhile, here are the most usual detailing procedures for interior cleaning:

  • Vacuuming – Interior car detailing starts with thoroughly vacuuming the inside of the car. This includes the glove compartments, the trunk and even under and in-between the seats.
  • Brushing/Shampooing/Scrubbing – This is where the carpets and mats are brushed, scrubbed and washed. Most car detailers who take pride in their work do the job with their bare hands. This is one way to make sure that they get to remove the stains that machine-washing can’t remove.
  • Wiping – The next task is to clean the windows and door panels. Cleaning it will require a good-quality cleaner and a soft cloth for wiping. This task will require small tools to help reach and clean small crevices.
  • Deodorizing – This is the final touch where the detailer sprays the inside of your car with fresh-smelling deodorizer. You can also be the one to choose the scent if you wish.

>>> Related post: Car detailing in the Philippines: 7 frequently asked questions

III. Car polishing

1. What is Polishing?

What most people don’t know is that polishing is actually a part of a good-quality car detailing. Polishing is when car detailers or car owners use products that contain paint-safe abrasives and wipe them on to the car to even out the small imperfections. This removes any element that doesn’t belong on the car’s surface.

Detailing 101: The difference between polish and waxes

2. How to Use Car Polish?

Car polish is applied after buffering but before waxing. The polish formula cleans the buffed area and cleans it for the next step which is waxing. There’s no specific way to polish a car since different cars are manufactured differently. Expert car detailers know how to treat different types of coats on cars and which type and brand would be best for yours.

For example, chrome surfaces need to be inspected first by an expert. He would need to determine if the surface is actual chrome, painted, coated or it’s just plated. The surface is then cleaned thoroughly using standard washing methods. A pressure washer is used to throw off brake dust, tar and other possible contaminants. Buff first and apply the recommended polishing formula, then wax for ultimate protection.

Man polishing the car

Car polish is applied after buffering but before waxing.

Aluminum, on the other hand, needs polishing more frequently because it can look dull after a while. However, it requires more caution due to the fact that aluminum is softer than chrome.

Plastic surfaces are the easiest to clean and requires little to no maintenance. For a thorough clean, you can simply use toothpaste or any plastic-cleaning product to do the job.

Hanna Sanchez

Hanna Sanchez


Hanna is one of the most competitive swimmers in the country during her day. It was not long before she discovered her passion for the automotive industry as well. Nowadays, she balances her passion through writing as well as coaching.

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