Waxes, Glazes, Polishes: What’s’ the Difference?

The car care product aisle at your local retailer is a pure marketing bonanza.  There is this wax and that polish, and nano this and carnauba that.  No wonder every internet forum related to a specific vehicle make or model has a post titled- ‘What’s the best wax for my car?’

Unsolicited advice from a friend or family member adds even more chaos and obscurity to this mix.  You know what I am talking about.  The Uncle that swears by “Polish Y” and he has used it since 1989.  He proudly proclaims the product it is the best available and the fact that Polish Y is still on the shelves is testament to his bold statement.

Like a good nephew, you heed uncle’s advice and walk out of Parts, Inc. with Polish Y in hand ready to make your new truck look even better than the day you drove it home.  What you didn’t know was that product from the late 1980’s that happens to have a small but cult like following is not the paint protectant you or your uncle thought it was.  Primarily because Polish Y is defined today as a glaze and it happens to lack any environmental protection.

I am not saying the manufacturer of Polish Y is mislabeling the product.  What I am saying is time tends to change terminology and words.  What may have been a Polish meant for single stage paint systems and formulated in the 1970’s, now falls into a general category of glazes.  Now, fully understand there are no hard lines or industry standards for categorizing detailing products and car care manufacturers continue to blur the line between glazes, polishes, waxes, and sealants but hopefully the genres described below will help you find the right product when detailing in your own garage.

Glaze:

Car-Glaze-Dellingers-DetailingA type of car polish that can be applied to painted surfaces that will create a more uniform appearance.  The glossy appearance is attributed to their oily consistency and are designed to fill in the pores of the paint and hide very small defects.  Typically, a glaze has no inherent UV protection.  Hand glazes are meant for hand application and speed/ machine glazes meant for machine application.  Glazes excel when used on older, single stage paint systems.  On fresh paint, glazes can be used after aggressive compounding to help cover heavy marks left by a wool pad and rotary polisher in the buffing stage.  These products are typically not intended to remove/ correct paint defects or further refine paint because typically they lack abrasives.  There are some exceptions and that’s why if you have questions it is best to contact the manufacturer to acquire further information.   Glazes should be applied after any final polishing is completed and prior to waxing/ sealing the vehicle.

Wax:

A type of environmental protection for paint that largely originates from Carnauba, Montan, or other natural waxes.  Waxes also contains oils, some polymers, and carrier solvents.  A pure wax is to be applied as the last step in your detailing process.  Due to the oil content, it does have the ability to fill in the pores of the paint and hide very fine defects but not to the extent of a Glaze.  Waxes are good for both single stage and base/ clear paint systems.

Cleaner Wax:

A type of car polish and protectant built into one liquid.  Cleaner waxes can contain abrasives, chemical cleaners, organic waxes, carrier solvents, and oils.  Typically, cleaner waxes can be applied by hand or machine however be sure to read the instructions.  Cleaner waxes sold at the retail level are generally very mild (read- very safe to use) and save the user time by enabling the owner to polish and wax in one step.  Since cleaner waxes combine two products that somewhat defeat each other, environmental protection is short lived.  Pure waxes can be layered on top of cleaner waxes to extend their lifespan.  Layering cleaner waxes on top of cleaner waxes will remove the original layer due to the cleaners.  Cleaner waxes can be applied to single stage and base/ clear paint systems.

Sealants:

A type of environmental protection for paint that is largely derived of inorganic materials and polymers.  Sealants also contain oils and carrier solvents.  A pure sealant should be applied as the last step in your detailing regimen.  Due to the oil content, sealants have the ability to fill in the pores of the paint and fill very fine defects but not to the extent of a glaze.  Sealants work equally well on single stage and base/clear paint systems.  These products available at the retail level tend to outperform waxes in terms of durability given a properly prepped surface (wash/ paint decontamination/ machine polish.)

Polish:

Car-Polish-Dellingers-DetailingA type of car care liquid or cream that contains a light load of abrasives, chemical cleaners, and lubricants meant for refining minor paint defects and cleaning the clear coat.  Polishes are different from Glazes because they contain abrasives.  Polishes are not necessarily meant for filling in or hiding paint defects but can be used in this manner since some are oil heavy.  Polishes do not contain inherent environmental protection for paint systems.  These products available at the retail level are generally for hand application but a few can be used by machine.

Rubbing Compound:

A type of car care liquid or cream that contains a heavy load of abrasives, chemical cleaners, and lubricants meant for removing scratches/ heavy paint defects and cleaning the clear coat.  Most retail products are meant for rubbing by hand however, some can be machine applied.  Overall, most rubbing compounds available at your local big box retailer are antiquated technology that are best avoided but there are a few exceptions.  A rubbing compound should almost always be followed by a polish in order to remove haze created by this aggressive product.  Rubbing compounds do not contain inherent environmental protection.

If you didn’t want to do the homework and wanted to know what I recommend at the retail level, it would be the Meguiar’s Ultimate line of car care products in the black bottles.  A lot of these products receive trickle down technology from their professional line also known as Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze.  Hopefully, your next trip down the car care aisle will be absent of the deer in the headlights effect.  Happy detailing!