3 Tips On How Often To Polish Car

Most of us like to have a car with gleaming bodywork, but when is polishing too often not so good?

Are you doing more harm than good when polishing?

Firstly we must define what "Polishing" is. As many people confuse polishing with waxing. The terms are used very lightly and often confused.

This can lead to the purchase of incorrect items that do little to polish the car, as you could be applying a wax sealant that will not even polish the surface! 

We must also know the different types of polishes that are best suited to what our car paintwork needs at the time of polishing. An older car with many deep scratches and swirls will need a different polish to a new car just out of the showroom.

How Often To Polish Car

Polishing and Waxing the differences
Polishing is what produces the shine as it removes the scratches and swirls that cause paintwork to appear dull.

The dull look happens because light is deflected off in different directions by the surface scratches, instead of travelling directly to our eyes.

Waxing is a protective coating applied to the paint work AFTER it has been polished. Its seals in the shine made by the POLISHING.

Wax provides a hard protect coating that seals in the shine but it will not really improve the actual shine of the paint. But it will help to deflect roadside debris and weather, so lessening the chances of more light detracting scratches.


So, now we understand what Polish is we will take a look at the different types of Polishes

Starting with the most abrasive and moving down to the least abrasive they are as follows:

  1. Aggressive Polishes and Cutting Compounds
  2. Medium Polishes and Moderate Swirl Removers
  3. Final Polishes and Light Swirl Removers

Aggressive Polishes and Cutting Compounds

These are very abrasive products designed to cut the layer of paint off that contains the swirls.

A cutting compound is abrasive particles contained within a paste. The amount of abrasiveness is determined by the size of and hardness of the particles. Larger harder particles will removed a layer faster by cutting deeper.

If the cutting compound has smaller grit particles it is classed as a "Rubbing Compound". This will remove less aggressively. The difference is easily noted in the words "Cutting and Rubbing".

Here are some examples a 

Meguiars Mirror Glaze Cutting Compound
Example of Cutting Compound
Another Example of a Cutting Compound
How Often To Polish Car example of car being polished

If either of theses types of products were used on a car over a period of time then a substantial amount of paint could be removed and substantial damage caused. This is why it is so important to know the types of polish

Below is an interesting video were they experiment on how many passes they can make with a DA polisher be before substantial paint is removed.

Medium Polishes and Moderate Swirl Removers

This category is less abrasive and many of these polishes utilise what is called "Diminishing abrasive technology". This means the grit particles wear down as the polish is applied to the surface.

Therefore they are less aggressive and frequent use is less likely to remove significant layers of paint. These are ideal to use after a cutting compound has been applied to attain a final high gloss shine before waxing.

Some examples of good Medium Polishes are:

Chemical Guys VSS Scratch and Swirl Remover
Meguiars Swirl X Swirl Remover
Bottle Of VSS scratch and swirl remover to show what to use as a medium swirl remover
Bottle of Meguiars Swirl Remover

Finishing Polishes and Light Swirl Removers

And finally we have finishing polishes and light swirl removers. Finishing polishes are often the last step in the polishing process.

These are very fine grade polishes that take off little more than the oxidation, marring and small imperfections.

This type of polish would do little damage to your car even if used frequently. They will leave a very smooth finish and are ideal for new cars with little surface imperfections.

On inspection of the ingredients of many of thses polishes they contain no abrasive grit but instead use a chemical component to remove the oxidation and marring. Therefore these these would be the wrong choice of polish if you were trying to eliminate heavy swirls or scratches. But would be ideal for frequent use on new paintwork.

These type of polishes are also often reffered to as

Typical polishes in this range are:

Meguiars Mirror Glaze Ultra Finishing Polish
Sonax Perfect Finish Finishing Polish
Example of a finishing polish
Example of Sonax finishing polish

3 Tips on How Often To Polish Car

As we now know the different types of polishes and the differing effects they have we will take a look at their uses and frequency.

This will enable you to choose the right polish for the type of bodywork, save time, save money and give you a better result. We will look at different examples of cars and suggest polish and frequency for each

Example 1.

New Car under a year old in regular use. Stored in garage.

Here you would need to be using a cleaner/finishing polish as the only work to be done would be the removal of oxidation and marring.

The car would be need to be just washed and dried before applying, as the surface would be near perfect.

We would say this polish method could be used more frequently than other due to the low abrasive properties of the polish.

Three times a year would be the ideal frequency.

New black car showing newly polished shine
Example 2.
 Car over two years old. In regular use and not garaged.

It is likely this car would have some UV damage along with swirls marks from rotary washes and some scratches from road side debris.

This car would need to be washed as before but then also could require clay barring to remove the surface imperfections.

Then a Medium Polish/Swirl Remover would be needed to remove the scratches and swirls.

We suggest this would be best to be carried out twice a year before a good wax is applied in the Spring and Fall.

Polish being applied to hood of Blue car

Example 3

Car over four years old which bodywork has not been maintained well. Suffered severe surface damage. Rarely washed never garaged.

This car would need a full wash and snow foam to remove the surface debris.

Then after rinsing off give it a full wash with a good shampoo and wash mitt. This would leave the surface free and clear for inspection.

The next step would be a good clay barring. Taking time to only work one square foot at a time to ensure a super smooth surface ready for the first polishing stage.

This would a definite case for a Cutting Compound to take back the damaged layers of paint. Followed by a finer polish to diminish the cutting compound marks and restore a great shine.

A final coat of a cleaner polish would leave the surface totally restored and ready for a coat of wax. A process we cover in our How to Wax Your Car

This would be a one off process but followed up with a couple of times a year with a lighter process as mentioned for the new car part 1 of this list.

Car with severe paintwork damage


Choosing the right type of polish for the state of the paintwork is the key to learning how often to polish car.

We estimate two or three times a year is the maximum amount of times you would need to actually "Polish" your car. This was if it was protected by a good coat of wax.

As once the paint is polished to a high shine the wax can provide the ideal protective coating. Then it is just the wax coat that needs maintaining throughout the year.

Inspection of the bodywork is the key to choosing the right wax. ask questions such as:

  • How severe are the swirls?
  • How old is the car?
  • Where is it stored?
  • Does it need clay bar (just run your hand over the surface)
  • Is a cutting compound needed?
  • Is it just oxidation and marring that needs removing?

Once the right grade of polish is chosen and applied then you should be able to estimate how often to polish car and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do!