Cleaner Wax vs Polish vs Clay Bar – Which Is Best For Your Car?

Taking care of your car requires tons of work. If you're a new vehicle owner, there's a lot of information to learn. For example, what are cleaner wax, polish, and clay bars? More specifically, which one is the best for your car? If that's your concern, let's go over the details. 

Each cleaning product has its specific purpose. So, one is not better than the other. When you wash a car, polish and wax are customary. You re-apply them after taking off all the dirt and grime. Clay bars are a different case. 

Learning the difference between the three is the first step toward maintaining a clean car. You might wonder, why are clay bars a different case? Some would suggest clay bars aren't always necessary. If you'd like to see a detailed analysis of the three, keep reading. 

Worker polishing a car with an orbital polisher, Cleaner Wax Vs Polish Vs Clay Bar: Which Is Best For Your Car?

Establishing the Differences

New car owners will see lots of terms thrown around. So, it's easy to see why it can get confusing. When it comes to car cleaning, polish, wax, and clays are some products you'll quickly become familiar with. 

Worker polishing a car with a small applicator pad

What are they? And what do they do? Let's establish the differences between the three. 

Car Polish

Click here to see this car polish on Amazon.

Car polish is a product that comes before a wax. It does not compete against it. Instead, they usually go hand-in-hand. 

This cleaning product contains abrasives. People and professional detailers alike use it to eliminate surface scratches, swirls, oxidation, dirt, and other minor blemishes.

In essence, it's there to smooth imperfections and add a little more shine before applying the wax. This way, the wax won't seal contaminants and marks. Polish comes in many forms. There are creams, sprays, and liquids. 

It allows the car paint to shine through. The downside to only using car polish is the lack of protection. Polish is good at adding shine and removing minor imperfections, but it doesn't cover the surface. 

Car Wax

Click here to see this car wax on Amazon.

Usually, the wax comes after the car polish. They add a layer of shine to the car. What's more, it adds a layer of protection. You can think of it as a sealant. 

It's a product that protects and enhances a car's paint coating. The competitor to wax is ceramic coatings.

Cleaner Wax

Click here to see this cleaner wax on Amazon.

While waxes don't compete with polishes, there's a variety that does. It's known by many as cleaner wax. They function as a 2-in-1 product. 

Cleaner waxes lightly polish the surface of your car. So, it smooths out minor imperfections, like a car polish. The advantage this product has over polish is that its wax. 

Hence, a separate car polish product isn't necessary. It can make cleaning jobs much quicker since it eliminates the prep stage. Though, like shampoos, multiple products in one container aren't always a good idea. 

Disadvantages of Cleaner Wax

Mixing two products that serve different purposes usually comes at a cost. With a cleaner wax, it reduces the level of protection. So, it's not as durable as a standard car wax product. 

That's not to mention the chemical composition. It's strong enough to produce stains on plastic trim. And removing those blemishes isn't easy. 

It's your choice to decide if quickly finishing the job is more important than using dedicated products. 

Clay Bars

Click here to see these clay bars on Amazon.

On a surface level, your car may appear clean after a car wash. It isn't until you run your fingers through the surface that you notice it's not. The surface should feel smooth. If it doesn't, contaminants have likely embedded into the clear coat. 

So, simple car washes aren't enough to remove them. This situation is where clay bars come in. It has a putty-like consistency that helps it pick up contaminants. Clay bars come in handy to get rid of dirt like brake dust, sap, bugs, and other grime.

You'll usually see detailers recommend polishing and waxing your car a few times a year. Applying clay is a different case. Some detailers would compare it to going to an emergency room. 

You only use it when you need it. Hence, it can't compare to polish and wax. It's a tool that most detailers will use it as a last resort. 

If you need to use a clay bar, it's one of the best options for removing contaminants. Although it's worth noting, there's an emphasis on need. There are alternatives you can try before resorting to a clay bar. 

It's a cleaner tool through and through. Clay bars don't add shine or protection to a car. Here's a YouTube video explaining this product in detail:

The Downside of Using Clay Bars

Like towels, clay bars can potentially leave scratches on your car. It's not tough to figure out why it can happen. Clay bars pick up contaminants. So, it will drag them along with it. 

Clay bars can scratch your car under two conditions. If the car paint is soft, it will leave scratches. More than that, you shouldn't use clay bars alone. You typically need to use them along with lubricant

Click here to see this clay bar lubricant on Amazon.

Lubricants allow the clay bar to move across the surface effortlessly. It's never a good idea to rub a dry clay bar along a dry surface. 

What's the Verdict?

There's a lot of information at hand. So, let's go over a recap. Polish and wax rarely compete with one other. However, cleaner wax is one product that competes with polish. It cuts down on cleaning time because it's a 2-in-1 product.

However, it's not as effective as a separate polish and wax. On the other hand, clay bars are effective surface cleaners. They remove contaminants that have embedded themselves into the clear coat. 

Although they're effective, they should only be a last resort tool. You should try alternative methods to remove grime before reaching for the clay bar. 

If you have to choose between the three, polish and wax come first. Cleaner waxes are optional. They're there if you need to cut down on cleaning time. Clay bars come in last. 

You use them when a simple car cleaning can't remove contaminants. You can run your hand through the car surface to identify a contaminated surface. Though, it shouldn't happen often. 

How Often Should You Polish A Car?

Car auto detailer polishing a car using an orbitall polisher

Now we know the differences between the three. It leads us to other concerns. For example, how often should you polish a car?

Polish only removes minor scratches and wear. It also adds more shine to the surface. Thus, you can consider it mildly abrasive. Polishing the car wears away at the surface coating. 

So, you shouldn't do it often. Ideally, the car would need polish once or twice a year. Of course, that depends on several factors. So, it's up to you to adjust how often you should polish the car. Follow the polish up with a wax.

This way, you can re-add the protection a polish can remove. 

How Often Should You Wax A Car?

High gloss finish wax perfect for polishing car

The answer to this question depends on the wax. If you're referring to cleaner wax, it's about the same timeframe as polish. The reason is that it's a polish and wax in one product. 

If we're talking about finishing wax, it's tough to say. People have their ways of maintaining a car. Some might need it often, and others can hold off longer.

You should wax your car every three months. Also, you can adjust this timeframe according to the product you use. Some waxes don't hold up for that long.

How Often Should You Clay Bar A Car?

Car owner wearing gloves and washing his car

It's tough to give a general recommendation for claying a car. Some people can hold off as long as 2 years before even considering using a clay bar. Some detailers would recommend claying your car twice a year.

In time, only you can determine how rough and bumpy the surface is. When you wash the car and notice it's not getting clean, it's time to consider the clay bar treatment. Some detailers refer to this process as car paint decontamination.

Is Ceramic Coating Better Than Wax?

As mentioned, ceramic coatings are the competition for a wax finish. So, you might wonder what makes them better. In general, you can't go wrong with either.

But ceramic coatings offer better protection and last longer. They're more durable because it doesn't act like wax. More specifically, it doesn't sit on the surface. Instead, it creates a chemical bond.

Though, sometimes you don't have to choose between the two. Some people like using both of them to protect the car.

Still, it's not recommendable to mix them. Ceramic coatings would go on the surface first. But, once it dries, it can be difficult for the wax to adhere to a ceramic surface's slickness.

In Closing

Worker polishing a car with an orbital polisher

Establishing the differences is the first step to getting into the mind of an auto detailer. This way, you won't confuse them by using incorrect terminology. Cleaner wax and polish can compete, but clay bars can't. They serve a different purpose. 

Before you go, do you need other product comparisons? What about spray-on bed liners? For more information, check out:

LizardSkin Vs Raptor Liner: Which To Choose?

Would you like to learn more about car waxing? To learn more, check out:

How Often Should You Wax Your Car?

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