How to polish and wax a car

How to wax and polish a car…it’s something I have been getting a lot of emails and questions about recently from a lot of very happy people that my “how to fix deep scratches” guide has helped out- many of them asking me questions on how to properly maintain the paint of their car through the means of waxing/polishing it. Similarly, in person, many people who compliment me on my Camaro (those who aren’t familiar with the models of Camaro’s) are always shocked to find out my car is 14 years old with 155k on it just by the way in which it has such a deep shine and luster. So, I decided it is time to make a guide to help everyone!

What you will need: (links to products I used in blue)

  • Access to a hose/water
  • A water bucket with a brush or Mitt
  • Car Wash Soap 
  • Swirl Remover
  • Polish 
  • Wax 
  • Clay bar / Show and Shine liquid Spray 
  • 3 Applicator Pads
  • 4 Microfiber Towels and a chamois
  • Painters Tape 
  • Cold Beverages for your consumption (I used beer)
  • A Polisher Machine ***Optional as you can do this all by hand

Step 1) Pull your car out of the direct sunlight into some shade and get ready to wash her down. I poured 9 Oz of the Turtle wax Max-power into my car wash bucket and added water. Why is this important? Because the Max-power stuff with a 9oz mixture removes all the old wax from your vehicle which is an important step in making this a success and not caking more wax onto your old stuff. If you already have a ton of carwash and don’t want to spend the money, dawn dish soap is ok to use as well in this step to remove the wax, although it may lead to some swirling if you aren’t careful. Fill your bucket, spray your car down and wash it clean from top to bottom. If you have never washed your car by hand before, take a gander at our “how to properly wash your car page” for some help. Once washed, you will want to dry it with a chamois / microfiber cloth combination.

Step 2) Take your fingers and run them gently along the paint of your car- you should feel little bits of grit here and there that you can’t see, but you can certainly feel…this is what the clay bar is going to clean for you and what is going to lead to that very deep shine (this is the secret step of a good wax / polish) A half a clay bar will last you 2-3 years if you don’t drop it- I like to split the cost with a friend or two and get everyone together for a few drinks and a clay bar / polish / wax party – I’m a car guy though…we’re weird like that.

Anyways, Crack out your clay bar – break your bar in half and wrap the half you aren’t going to use back up and store it safely- this is your back up piece, or piece for next year. Start tearing and smushing that half that you are going to use in your hand- you want to make it pliable and mound shape like.

Once it looks like the picture below and you have “played with it in your hands” for a minute or two, you’re ready to start. ***Take note right now– if you drop your clay bar, it is garbage- DO NOT use it again on the car even if it looks clean as you will scratch the surface. Throw it out and get your backup piece!

Mothers Clay Bar wax

Pull your showtime spray out and begin at the top of your car and spray a small section at a time (maybe half square foot at a time) and run your clay bar back and forth across the area you sprayed. When you think you have cleaned the area with the clay bar, run your hand across the section to feel for any “grit” – the section should feel as smooth as glass. Do this step across your entire car, your windows / windshield included!

Note that as you finish sections with the clay bar, your paint / windows will have the appearance that a child with dirty hands just slobbered and put their hands all over your windows and car panels- that’s ok, this is 100% normal. You’ll also find your clay bar gets ‘blackend’ like below- every few sections just pull apart the clay and smush it back together like you did at the start.

dirty clay bar wax

Step 3) Once you have finished with the clay bar, go back and wash your car again- this time you don’t need 9 oz of Turtle Wax, you just need enough soap for a regular car wash. Wash the car and dry it off.

Step 4) Painters tape- Take note here- if you use the turtle wax products I mention at the beginning, you do not need to tape off your plastic / rubber moldings as their product will not leave a horrid white residue on your trim panels- however, if you plan on Polishing the car, or using any other products, you DO need to tape your trim pieces off (around your windows, headlights, plastic around your windshield/windshield wipers, tail lights, etc) or you will see a while stain on your trim for at least a few years (been there and done that when I was younger, no amount of car washes takes it off). Keep this in mind because even if you tape it off this time because of the polish, come time to just “wax” the car mid summer, the turtle wax stuff will allow you not to tape your trim saving you a good 30-60 minutes. 

So, with that said, tape off your trim pieces around the car like my picture below

car tape detail

Step 5) Pull out your Swirl Remover- in my case it was the Turtle wax speed compound. This stuff helps get rid of little swirl marks, very very minor tiny hair like scratches and it helps restore oxidized paint. Don’t apply this stuff to your windows, just the painted panels of your car. You can either apply this on your applicator pad by hand, or if you have a polisher, apply it to your polisher on a pad and apply to each panel of your car.

***Note if you are using a polisher, unless you are experienced with a polishing machine, please only buy/use a “random orbital” polisher as it is far far far less likely to burn your paint if you leave it in one spot too long. When you use a polishing machine, ALWAYS keep it moving, never stop the machine on your paint while depressing the trigger as non random orbital polishers WILL BURN through your paint. Also keep it away from any sharp corners on the body of the car.

For those of you worried about the outcome using a polisher vs by hand…I dropped my polisher on the ground after I did one panel and it stopped working…so I essentially did the entire car by hand and you can see my end result at the bottom of this page and judge for yourself! It’s just as good just takes a little longer to do.

Let the swirl remover (speed compound) dry to a haze before taking a microfiber cloth and wiping it all off.

Step 6) Get your polish out, in my case this was the Nufinish stuff. Apply it the same way as you did the speed compound in Step 5 except make sure your applicator is slightly damp(use a new applicator though whether you are doing it by hand or with the polisher). Again, apply this to all of your painted panels only, let it dry to a haze and wipe it off with a microfiber towel or bonnet on your polishing machine.

Step 7) Get your wax out, in my case I used the Turtle wax liquid wax – the liquid stuff is very easy to work across the car. Again, use a new Applicator when applying your wax. You can apply your wax across your windows, mirrors and all painted body panels- actually I recommend that you do your windows / windshield / mirrors. If you ever wondered what makes products like “rain X” work so well on your windows, it’s because it is like a wax and helps bead the water off when it rains and lets your wipers glide easier.

Let your wax dry to a haze and wipe it off with your microfiber cloth.

You’re done! Take a step back and enjoy your hard work- it was well worth the time and will last this way until next year. I do these steps once a year, usually at the start of spring. I’ll wax the car (wax only!) midway through summer and towards the end of fall leading up to winter…it is far too cold up here in Canada to wax the car over the winter! Enjoy how water will bead off your your car the way it was meant to.

turtle wax beads

F-body waxed up

Last step – if you’re happy with your results, share this information with family/friends using facebook, car forums, etc. Good help is hard to find and I’m always happy to know I could help other car enthusiasts.

Check out some of our other articles such as:


Also make sure you stay tuned for the following related articles to come soon!:

  • Guide to cleaning the interior of your car
  • Guide to polishing your rims