Rubbing Compound vs.Polish Compound vs.Wax: What’s Difference?

Auto detailing enhances your car’s appearance. During the process, different substances are used. The most common ones are compound, polish, and wax.

Although most people use these names interchangeably, they are all distinct from each other. But what are they? Are they the same thing?

Find out their differences in today’s post: compound vs. polish vs. wax. We’ll also help you understand when to use them to give your car’s paint the best appearance and protection.


Paint correction of heavy scratches and blemishes

Removing mild scratches and shining

Protecting the paint layer

When To Use

Deep scratches beyond the clear coat

Oxidation, scuffs, and minor scratches

Dull paint with no scratches

How Often to Use

1-2 times a year

Once a year

Once every three months

The main difference between rubbing compound, polish compound, and wax is that rubbing compound is used to correct deep scratches and swirl marks. On the other hand, polish compound removes surface defects and adds a bright sheen to the paint. Meanwhile, wax creates a protective layer after you’ve finished correcting and filling in imperfections. 

You cannot use one product in place of the other because they complete different tasks on a car’s paint job.

Read more: How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Scratch on a Car?

What is a car compound?

A compound is a leveling agent that evens out the surface. It contains elements that cut into a vehicle’s paint job. The liquid is added to a polishing machine or rotating pad and acts as a fine-grit sandpaper. It slowly shaves down the clear coat surface.

Because of their abrasive nature, compounds are better left in the hands of a professional. This is because you can strip too much and cause more significant damage to the paintwork.

Think of a compound as the first level of handling and taking care of a car’s paint. They come in different grits to handle varying depths of paint scratches. While compounds do the heavy-lifting, polishes fine-tune the newly leveled surface.

When Should I Compound?

Compounding a car is what you need when you want a permanent solution to scratches that have reached the car’s paint layers. Because it eats into the clear coat, it eradicates the defect such that it won’t come back after a few car washes.

A compound is also ideal when you want to remove contaminants completely. You can easily remove tree sap, road grime, bird droppings, and dirt that can cause further damage to the paint coating.


Meguiar's G17220 Ultimate Compound, Color & Clarity Restorer, Scratch & Swirl Remover

Meguiar’s G17220 Ultimate Compound

What is a car polish?

Polishes are mildly abrasive liquids that smooth and enhance the sheen of a car’s paint. They act like even finer grit sandpaper that reveals a beautiful, highly polished surface.

Polishes remove the haze left by a rubbing compound. They leave a shining effect along with removing microscopic scratches and roughness from oxidation. Polishing products are best applied using a power polisher or orbital buffer.

Like compounds, polishes vary in levels of abrasiveness. Some are non-abrasive. Such products contain ingredients that do not rub the paint. They are easy to apply for both DIYers and professionals.Abrasive polishes, on the other hand, should be applied by a professional.
After restoring a vehicle’s shine, the next job is to protect it. And that’s where waxes come in.


Meguiar's G19220 Ultimate Polish,

Meguiar’s G19220 Ultimate Polish,

What is car wax?

Wax is the protective layer applied to a car’s paintwork. It protects the surface from fallout, acid rain, tree sap, and bird droppings. Most people tend to think of wax as a cosmetic need rather than a necessity. This is because they don’t last as long as polishes. And besides, you can’t use wax for paint correction.

However, wax also plays a vital role in car detailing. This is because it also contains color-enhancing compounds that add shine and depth to the color.Car companies have their formulations for waxes. But all of them contain protective polymers, gloss enhancers, and some natural wax-like carnauba or beeswax.

There are three types of waxes:

Spray-On: these are the easiest to apply, thanks to their practical packaging. Their spray bottles provide precise application. Being the most affordable, spray-on waxes are the least durable. 

CAR GUYS Hybrid Wax - Advanced Car Wax - Long Lasting and Easy to Use - Safe on All Surfaces

CAR GUYS Hybrid Wax-Spray

Liquid Waxes: These have a smooth texture that is easy to apply. Liquid waxes contain synthetic polymers and some natural ingredients. They provide a longer-lasting shine than spray waxes. Still, liquid waxes are the most popular in the car detailing industry.

Meguiar’s G210516 Ultimate Liquid Wax

Paste Waxes: These waxes are the hardest to apply but also the longest-lasting ones. They provide a high gloss and excellent water beading thanks to their natural oils. Paste waxes require a car buffer to apply for unmatched levels of shine. 

Chemical Guys WAC_201_64 Butter Wax

However, paste waxes do not last as long as sealants since sealants use all synthetic polymers. 

Ideally, you should apply a compound twice a year. This process will address minor damages and prevent scuffs and marks from worsening.

Recommended products:

Coating Thickness Gauge CM-205FN | Best Digital Meter for Automotive Paint Thickness Measurement | Resolution 0.01mils | F/NF Automatic Detection

Coating Thickness Gauge CM-205FN

MEGUIAR'S G3507 DA Compound Power Pads

MEGUIAR’S G3507 DA Compound Power Pads

Meguiar's G17220 Ultimate Compound, Color & Clarity Restorer, Scratch & Swirl Remover

Meguiar’s G17220 Ultimate Compound

When Should I Polish?

Read more: What Happened to Liquid Glass Auto Polish?

The ideal time to polish your vehicle should be when you start to notice problems like swirls, sun damage, and minor paint scratches. You will first want to wash your car thoroughly before inspecting the paintwork. If you see that some grime does not wash off, it’s time to polish your vehicle. This type of grime looks like it’s part of the paintwork. 

Sun damage, also known as oxidation, is easily identified by faded paint. You’ll notice it if your car was once bright, but now it has turned a shade lighter. For example, a red car can turn pinkish after baking in the sun for several years. 

Remember that polishes are a very fine abrasive, so you don’t want to use them on a dirty car. Doing that will drive the grime into the paint, damaging it further. Generally, you can polish your vehicle once a year. 

Recommended products:

Buffing Polishing Pads, SPTA 5Pcs 6.5 Inch Face for 6 Inch 150mm Backing Plate Compound Buffing Sponge Pads Cutting Polishing Pad Kit For Car

Buffing Polishing Pads

Avid Power Buffer Polisher, 6-inch Dual Action Polisher Random Orbital Car Buffer Polisher Waxer with Variable Speed, 3 Foam Pads for Car Polishing

Avid Power Buffer Polisher

Meguiar's G19220 Ultimate Polish

Meguiar’s G19220 Ultimate Polish

When Should I Wax?

Read more: Should You Wax A New Car?

Car wax is recommended once every three months. This is because waxes preserve the clear coat of a vehicle’s paint. Regular application prevents corrosion from elements such as snow, salt, UV, and many others. 

If you notice the paint coat has become discolored, you may want to apply wax if it’s not due for polishing or compounding. As a general rule of thumb, you should apply wax after washing. Even if it appears clean, there’s still a fine layer of dust. 

You can also apply wax to a new car if you want to intensify its shine while giving it an additional layer of protection. 

Recommended products:

CAR GUYS Hybrid Wax - Advanced Car Wax - Long Lasting and Easy to Use - Safe on All Surfaces

CAR GUYS Hybrid Wax

Meguiar's G210516 Ultimate Liquid Wax

Meguiar’s G210516 Ultimate Liquid Wax

Chemical Guys WAC_201_64 Butter Wet Wax

Chemical Guys WAC_201_64 Butter Wet Wax

Final Thoughts 

Maintaining your car’s shine is always a top priority. We hope we’ve given you clarity pertaining to the topic; compounds vs. polish vs. wax. Of the three, you’ll want to use a compound for deep scratches or the first step in restoring a car’s paint. A polish comes next as it adds shine while removing minor scratches. Lastly, the wax protects against damaging elements. 

Go on and shine your car using a suitable substance. The ball’s now in your court! 

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