Car Wax vs. Sealant vs. Polish: What’s the Difference?

Car owners with little experience can ruin their vehicles without even being involved in a traffic accident. As a matter of fact, you can bring damage to your car without even participating in traffic.

If there’s one assumption that can destroy your car’s paint job, it’s the one that car wax, sealant, and polish are the same thing. They are not.

I have a simple yet detailed guide to car products for you. Once you collect the following information, you’ll be ready to take proper care of your car. In addition, you’ll also be able to protect it from outer influences like weather, pollutants, and UV rays.

Car wax vs. polish vs. sealant: How do they differ?

Car Polish

What Is Car Polish?

Although there are some similarities between car wax and sealants, a polishing product is not even in the same category. Many car owners who used polishing products for waxing are now aware of that fact.

Being that a car polish is basically an abrasive, you should use it to remove the top layer of your car paint.

Some polishing products contain oils. Thanks to oils and the shiny after-effect, car owners believe that polishing products leave a protective coat. However, that isn’t true.

Therefore, it’s very important to know that a polishing product doesn’t leave a protective layer behind. After you apply it, your car will be naked in a way — weather conditions and UV rays will be able to cause damage to it.

When to Use Car Polish

If you notice there are small scratches or irregularities on the surface of your car, you should use car polish.

However, have in mind that a car polish product works similarly as sandpaper. For that reason, you should use it to smoothen the top layer of paint or to remove a layer of wax, for example.

Yet again, you should know that a polishing product works only if scratches are on the surface. In case you have deeper scratches that reach the metal layer of your car, polishing products won’t be able to make them disappear. So, you should use polishers just for irregularities on the first layer.

The Right Way to Use Car Polish

You can employ two different methods to apply polish to your car. You can either do it by hand, or you can use a polishing machine.

If you decide to do it by hand, my suggestion is to use a microfiber cloth. The soft fabric will protect your car while polishing it simultaneously.

Moreover, it’s quite important that you apply the same pressure during the polishing process. Find a balance — you shouldn’t pet your car but you also shouldn’t press too hard.

To achieve the best possible effect, apply the polish by moving the microfiber cloth in small circles. You should do your best to make the circular movements as even as possible.

On the other hand, you can also use a polishing machine. However, before you do so, make sure to educate yourself on how to use a polisher properly. As I mentioned, you should make sure to apply the same pressure throughout the polishing process using a cloth only. When using a polisher, this part is crucial — uneven movements can ruin the surface of your car.

You might also want to read: Can You Use a Random Orbital Sander for Polishing?

Car Wax

What Is Car Wax?

We came a long way since the 19th century when animal-based products were used for shining carriages. Back then, carriage wax was mostly animal fat. Fortunately, we’re dealing with far more elegant solutions today.

Car wax of the 21st century can contain natural ingredients, oils, and/or chemicals. However, as the wax is normally in a solid state, products you can find are usually a mixture — the exact list of ingredients depends on the brand.

Depending on what the product contains and what it does, we can categorize car wax into three groups.

If you’re looking for a natural product, most commonly used wax that you’ll find in both stores and at your mechanic’s are made of:

  • Carnauba
  • Montan
  • Paraffin

The most popular among them is carnauba because it can give your car a memorable, brand-new-looking finish. Aside from that, the wax is also doing a bit more — it gives your car a protective layer.

Furthermore, you can also find stronger products that contain chemicals aside from wax. Other than shining up your car, a chemical-based product like this also cleans it.

Finally, the third category of car wax is just for that shiny finishing touch. This type of car wax doesn’t protect or clean your car — it simply gives it a polished look.

Being that you don’t want your wax product to expire, make sure to find out how to store it properly.

How Often Should You Use Wax?

Considering there are three different types of car wax products, the answer to this question depends on your choice.

In case you’re using a wax product that’s just for polishing, you can apply a layer of it to your car after every wash. Of course, this isn’t necessary, but there will be no harm done to your car if you polish your car regularly.

On the other hand, if you decided to go with chemical-based wax, you should be careful. Considering that these products contain cleansers, using them often may damage your paint job. Therefore, you should apply chemical-based wax a couple of times per year only.

Finally, you can use wax made of natural ingredients more than three times a year. However, there’s no need to spend your time on constant car polishing because this type of car wax will stick on for a while. The exact duration depends on three factors:

  • Car wash habits
  • Climate conditions
  • Paint job problems 

The Right Way to Apply Car Wax

First of all, have in mind that the process of applying car wax isn’t a quick one. Therefore, it’s better to leave this task for when you actually have time for it. In case you try to speed up the process, your car won’t be properly protected nor evenly shiny.

Moreover, you’ll need a quality microfiber cloth — with it, you’ll be able to get the best results.

Now, once you get everything you need prepared, apply a generous amount of wax to the cloth. The key is not to go overboard and not too be too stingy with wax. You’ll get the hang of it after a few repetitions.

For the finest effect, you should make small circles with the cloth. Make sure that the circles are approximately even. This way, the surface of your car won’t have any irregularities once you’re done.

Car Sealant

What Is Car Sealant?

Up until quite recently, car wax and car sealants were the same thing. However, the category has been divided into two as the technology advanced. Before, a sealant was just a waxing product that also contained chemicals.

Today, car sealants are silica-based products. You shouldn’t get confused if you also hear terms like ceramic coating, SiO2, or some other variation of these names — they all actually mean car sealant.

the Difference Between Wax and Sealants

Car sealants and car wax have a few things in common — both of the products are designed for polishing and protecting your car. However, car sealants are a bit more powerful than wax.

Once you apply a layer to your car, sealants will connect with the paint. This reaction happens because of the chemicals that are inside sealant-based products. As a result of that bond, sealants will have a healing effect on your car’s surface.

Due to the healing properties, sealants can fix scratches and other irregularities more efficiently than wax could.

Other than that, silica-based products are more durable than car wax is. While car wax is susceptible to harsh weather, UV rays, and even soap, a layer of sealant will stay on your vehicle for a noticeably longer period of time. Sealants bond with the surface of your car and thus get firmly attached to it, and as a result, your protective coat will stay on longer.

The Right Way to Apply Car Sealant

Unlike with wax, where the instructions are quite straightforward, I can’t really tell you how to apply sealants properly. The reason behind it is simple — different sealants require a different approach. Therefore, it’s best to consult the instructions that come with the package.

However, I can tell you that the process lasts longer than regular waxing. The polishing part won’t take too much of your time, but you need to leave your car to rest for up to an hour. As I explained, the chemicals in sealants bond with the surface of your car — that process requires time.

In some cases, the process doesn’t take longer than an hour — sometimes it’s half as much. Anyway, it’s important to remember that you need to keep your car in the shade during the waiting period. In addition, make sure that your car doesn’t get wet until the sealant dries up completely.

Car Wax vs. Polish vs. Sealant: What Goes First?

The answer to this question depends on the overall condition of your car. In case a serious makeover is long overdue, you should take the following steps:

  • First of all, you should thoroughly wash your car. A thorough wash is actually quite important if you expect to see noticeable results. In case you wash your car carelessly, every action you take afterward won’t be as effective. The remaining dirt will stand in the way of a nice polish.
  • After you’re sure that your car is clean as it can be, it’s time for polishing. We already went through details on how to properly use a polishing product. Remember, apply equal pressure in even circular movements.
  • As you now know, a polish product won’t protect your car. For that reason, it’s time to apply a protective layer. It’s time to choose between wax and sealants.

In case you want to protect your car permanently, you should use wax. Wax will leave a nice coat that will smoothen the surface of your car and protect it from pollutants and weather for a while. However, remember that soap and rain will wash the wax coat off.

On the other hand, sealants provide long-lasting protection. Because the product actually binds with the paint, it will give your car a stronger coat that will last for a couple of months.

Final Verdict

Contrary to popular belief, polish products and sealants are not to be compared. Each of them has a different, equally important, use. If you want to preserve your car and have that fresh-out-of-the-salon, you should use both products.

On the other hand, you can use wax as a substitute for sealants. Although wax doesn’t provide as much protection, your car will be safe and sound for a while. So, if you decide to use wax, make sure to apply it regularly.

In Conclusion

When you’re in doubt, you should always consult your mechanic. Although I did give you fairly detailed instructions on how to polish and protect your car, you still need to decide on a product. Even if you choose sealants as your favorite, you’ll need some time to find the best one.

Once you find yourself in a store that sells these products, you might have difficulties deciding on the right one. As we mentioned, some waxes act like sealants. In addition, some polish products are stronger than others. Furthermore, some sealants act like polish products.

Naturally, you can always check with the store’s employees and see if they can offer you some advice. I would definitely advise that — employees in stores like that have experience and they can usually help you make a decision.

In the end, it’s quite important to have all the information before you apply a product to your car. That’s the only way to know that you’ll actually improve the paint job instead of destroying it. In fact, if you see a car that looks great, there’s a good chance that the owner actually made that happen in their driveway. This type of car maintenance is far easier than it looks like — you just need to know what you’re doing.




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