Do You Have to Wax a Car After Polishing?

Waxing and polishing are two terms in the car world that are very often confused. They actually do completely different things to your car’s paint, and it’s really important to understand what they are, and perform the steps in the right order.

In this post, I’ll explain why you should always wax your car after polishing, and why it’s so important. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

You should always wax, seal or coat a car as soon as possible after it has been polished. Polishing will remove all paint protection on your car, so waxing afterwards will add a layer of protection to shield your car’s paint from UV damage, dirt, tree sap, acid rain etc.

What Does Polish Do?

Firstly, it’s really important to understand what a polish does.

Polish is abrasive. This means that it cuts away a layer of paint on your car. Your car has several layers to it’s finish. Check out this diagram.

The two most important layers you need to worry about, are the base coat and the clear coat.

The base coat is also known as the colour coat and gives your car it’s actual colour. The clear coat sits on top.

The function of the clear coat is to protect the base coat from UV rays which cause fading, acid rain, and other potential sources of damage.

The clear coat is quite susceptible to damage though and can get tiny little scratches from washing improperly, for example using a sponge. Check out this post to find out why you should never use a sponge to wash your car.

So in reality, your clear coat isn’t smooth which causes it to look duller.

However, you can remove these scratches using a polish, either by hand or using a machine, to flatten the paint surface and make it shinier. Take a look at this diagram to demonstrate.

Before polishing

After polishing

You should be careful not to over-polish your car, or you’ll be left with very little clear coat, and therefore protection on your car. Take a look at this article I’ve written about when you should polish your car.

What does Wax Do?

Waxing has a totally different purpose compared to polishing. Waxing doesn’t remove any paint on your car’s surface, instead it adds a layer of protection.

Wax essentially forms an invisible layer of protection from UV rays, bird mess, acid rain etc., on your clear coat to help it last longer.

This way, the base coat (colour), is also protected for much longer. It’s super important to wax your car frequently, to make sure there is always a layer of protection.

Which Comes First?

So which goes first, polishing or waxing?

It’s very important that you perform the wax step after the polish step. If you polish a car after waxing, you will polish all the wax away and be left with no protection on your car’s paint.

That’s because, as well as polish having the ability to remove a layer of your car’s clear coat, it also removes whatever else is sitting on top. In this case, the wax.

Wax is of course much weaker than your car’s clear coat, so it can be easily removed using a polish, either by hand or machine.

Unless you specifically intend to remove the wax you’ve applied, then definitely do not polish it afterwards.

If you want to polish your car to make it look glossier, and remove some of these clear coat scratches, then do this before the wax step instead.

Do You Always Have to Wax After Polishing?

You should always wax your car, or apply another form of paint protection such as a sealant or ceramic coating after using a polish.

Polishes remove all the previous layers of wax on your car, leaving you with a bare and unprotected paint surface.

It’s important to apply some paint protection, like a wax, to make sure your car is shielded by things like UV rays, acid rain, bird mess, tree sap, and dirt. This way, your car’s paint will last longer, and stay shiny for years to come.

How Soon After Polishing Should You Wax?

It’s important to wax your car after polishing as soon as possible. This ensures that the paint remains protected, and no dirt is allowed to settle on your car. Try and wax immediately after polishing.

Of course, keeping your paint protected is super important, particularly if you store it outside or are planning to drive it.

But it’s really important not to let dirt and dust settle on the car before waxing. If this happens, when you come to waxing, you’ll essentially be grinding it into your paint. This causes tiny scratches and clear coat damage (exactly the thing you were trying to remove by polishing).

If you can’t wax your car immediately after polishing, then wash it before you perform the wax step. This way, you’ll remove the dust layer on your car before you apply the wax.

Take a look at this article I’ve written on how to properly prepare your car for waxing to make sure you get the best results.

Do You Have to Polish Before Waxing?

This is another big question that car owners ask. Now you know that you should always wax after polishing, does that mean you should always polish before waxing? (I know right, it gets a bit confusing).

It’s not always necessary to polish a car before you wax it every time. Polishing removes a layer of your clear coat, so it should only be done when you want to remove damage and scratches.

Of course, polishing helps prep the surface by stripping old layers of wax, but you are also very likely to cut away some paint, even if you only plan on removing the wax.

That’s why I like to use what’s called a pre-wax cleanser instead. This removes old wax layers without harming cutting away the paint.

My favourite is called R222 Paintwork Cleanser. It’s really nice to apply and buffs off very easily. You simply apply it either by hand or machine using a foam or microfiber applicator, wait for 10 minutes to allow it to dry, and then buff it off using a microfiber towel.

It does a great job at stripping old wax and prepping the surface and increasing the level of gloss and shine, without removing any clear coat.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog to learn more about making your car look its best.



Heather is a professional car detailer & valeter based in Cheshire and the owner of Auto Care HQ. A familiar face in the car detailing community, she has written over 200 car detailing guides on and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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