Most Car Owners Don’t Know the Difference between Polishing and Waxing… Do You?

If one is to consider oneself a car or automobile detailer, the first question that he or she must be able to answer is the difference between waxing and polishing a car. It's surprising how many are confused, even more surprising that articles are being written by confused people. However, it is understandable why people get confused - this is due to the existence of numerous consumer level products that promise the benefits of both actions - although many of them can hardly deliver satisfactory results. This article will clarify what polishing and waxing really mean, and explain how getting it right is important to attain that showroom shine.


We start first with the term polishing, simply because this is the essential foundation that makes a car look good before it is waxed or coated. In simple terms, polishing is the action of making a surface smooth by abrasion or rubbing. To some it might sound harmful, but a limited amount of polishing is necessary (and is done in the factory even before a car is sold) to bring out the shine on a car's bodywork. Besides, modern clear-coat or lacquer, that is factory applied on most new cars, are really designed for polishing. Scratches, contaminants, defects and freshly applied paint or clear-coat (with their orange peel effect) makes for uneven surfaces that scatter light and dulls the reflections off the bodywork. Proper polishing removes the unevenness, including light scratches, by wearing down ever so slightly the clear-coat, resulting in minimal scattering and maximum reflectivity of light, just like a mirror.

Figure 1: Contamination and uneven surfaces dull and scatter light reflections

Figure 2: Restored surface reflects light strongly and evenly

For most people, scratches are by far the main problem of a dull looking ride, because they cannot be removed by cleaning and requires some mechanical way to wear down the paint slightly for effective removal. The image below is a perfect example of what a good polishing job can do for you. On the right side is the unrestored surface, full of tiny scratches that scatter light, whilst on the left is the restored surface, which reflects light evenly and is obviously much better looking.

Photo 1: 50/50 Comparison before (right) and after (left) paintwork restoration with Sensha Scratch Cut 

Hence, polishing (some also call it compounding) is no rocket science, so don't be swayed by "miracle" products that oversell (and possibly under-deliver) scratch and defect removal - they are simply polishing compounds and they have been around for a while. Polishing restores car paint, not only making it look good but also helps keep a car easier to clean since smooth paintwork simply means that contaminants would not adhere well. Polishing is hard work, since you need to abrade material off - machinery and rougher polishing compounds may help for heavier defect and scratch removal. Yet at the same time polishing is also an art, to get that mirror finish at the end - this is where training and high quality polishing compounds, divided into various grades like Sensha Scratch Cut, can really make a difference.

Note however that polishing isn't applicable on matte finishing, which is designed to scatter reflected light to appear the way it does.


So, what does waxing mean? Technically, wax is applied only for protection, providing the paintwork with a sacrificial hydrophobic layer that helps keep the paintwork away from contaminants. While the surface of wax can also be smooth and reflective, applying wax does not remove scratches, contaminants, defects or unevenness that makes a car look dull. The word "wax" came from the earlier days when carnauba wax is the sole option for paintwork protection, and the term stuck.

Photo 2: Old school wax on, wax off

Photo 3: High tech 9H coating (Sensha Crystal Glow)

Whoa, wait, just hang on there Mr ProCarCoatings, what do you mean protection only? I could almost swear that my car looked shinier after I waxed it!

The reason is because you likely did not apply pure 100% carnauba wax (I think they don't even exist). Many car waxes contain solvents, cleaners, abrasives and even fillers to help remove a limited amount of contaminants and fill fine scratches. Even if they are "purely wax", they would contain solvents or chemicals to make the wax workable, and these added material do help clean the car some. So what you got is a limited amount of polishing action when you applied your wax, evidenced by the amount of energy you had to put in and your sponge applicator getting dirtier as you waxed.

​So waxing is a good thing right, since you get both polishing and protection? Generally speaking, a dual purpose polish and wax (i.e. cleaner waxes), while convenient, is at best a compromised and does not provide the best polishing results nor the most lasting protection, compared to dedicated polishing and waxing. Furthermore, with the availability of synthetic coatings today, the short-lived protection provided by carnauba wax is no longer the only option for car owners. Spray coatings like Sensha Fine Crystal are much easier to apply whilst hard 9H glass coatings like Sensha Crystal Glow provide permanent protection and long lasting hydrophobicity that outlasts the best waxes by years. Soon we will even see the expansion of self-healing paint protection films. 

Figure 3: Wax provides a thin layer of protection against the elements

Figure 4: Hard 9H coatings provide thicker, tougher and more durable protection

Hence, in summary polishing and waxing are really two very distinct detailing steps. Polishing offers restoration and the shine, while waxing offers protection - although today, wax is superseded by coatings that provide better protection and durability. Naturally, proper polishing and paint restoration precedes protection, since it helps with adherence (whether wax or coatings) and the idea that you don't seal in any defects behind a strong coating. In the same way protection naturally follows polishing, since a freshly polished surface would have its previous waxes and coatings removed, and hence is exposed.

Indeed we could go much deeper into the subject of polishing and coating, but perhaps that's best to be left for another day. For now, I only hope this helps clear the air a little!

Why Sensha Scratch Cut and Coatings?

Performance: ​Sensha Scratch Cut is bread and butter for car detailers around the world. The formulation is unlike typical oil rich polishing compounds that fill swirls and scratches - in other words, when you work with Sensha Scratch Cut what you get is real, permanent, scratch removal.

Value: ​Sensha Crystal Glow comes in a range (which indicates the hydrophobic durability), so you pay only for what you need. Remember, glass coatings are permanent even if the hydrophobic effects are not - this makes Sensha Crystal Glow 1 year coating a real steal! And yes, you can apply it on your own.

​Support: Finally, our product comes with the support of the manufacturer, auto detailers and car enthusiasts with hands-on experience and vast technical knowledge, to help you bring the best out of every product.

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Sensha Scratch Cut Application Video

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