Marine Waxes and Polishes

Knowing the right type of wax or polish for your boat can be a bit confusing.  And, if you make the wrong choice, it could even damage your vessel.  In this article, I explain the different types of boat wax and polishes to help you understand the key differences and manufacturer terminology.  Plus, I have included a link to my product selector tool to help you identify the right boat wax and/or polish for your particular needs.

Please note that I have included links to some of the products referenced in this article for your convenience.  If you click on a link and buy something, BoaterInput will receive a small commission to help defray some of the cost to maintain this site. 

Key Terms

Manufacturers often use the terms “cut”, polish and wax to define products designed for different stages of the preparation or waxing process.  Unfortunately, these terms are sometimes used inconsistently.  Here is a brief description of each.

Cut (or Clean)

This term typically refers to products designed to fix moderate to major imperfections in a hull due to things such as oxidation or scratches.  Think of it as a medium to heavy grit sandpaper to scrape away some of the gel coat to remove the oxidized layer or to level the surface (in the case of scratches).  The brand Collinite uses the term “Cleaner” to refer to its cutting product.  Others tend to use the words “Compound” or “Oxidation Remover” for this same purpose.

Often companies use terms such as “Medium Cut” or “Heavy Cut” to designate the aggressiveness of the product.  Products with more of a lighter “cut” are frequently referred to as polishes.

It is important to remember that you should always use the least aggressive product that you can get away with to avoid prematurely aging your hull.

Polish

This term refers to products that are usually a precursor to waxing.  Typically, these are products with finer abrasives to remove medium to light oxidation or defects. They are also recommended as a “second step” solution after a more aggressive “cutting” product has been used.

However, some brands use this term a bit differently.  For example, Meguiar’s uses it to describe a product (High Gloss Polish) that adds oils to nourish your gel coat to help it shine but does not contain any abrasives.  Starbrite, on the other hand, appears to use the term “polish” to differentiate their synthetic waxes (polymers) from a natural wax (made with Carnauba).  One of their polishes (Starbrite Marine Polish) contains some fine abrasives to help treat minor oxidation/defects while, at the same time, providing a protective polymer (wax) layer (and so it is really a multi-purpose product which I will describe a little later).  Their other polish (Premium Marine Polish) contains little, if any, abrasives and is essentially a synthetic wax (single purpose product).  Confusing, isn’t it?

Wax

The term wax is always used to describe products designed to protect the boat’s finish (from the environment, UV rays, etc.).  There are two basic types of waxes – a natural wax made from Carnauba trees found in Brazil, and synthetic waxes (also called Polymers).

It is generally believed that a natural wax (made with Carnauba) will produce the very best shine whereas a synthetic wax (polymer) will provide longer lasting protection (2-4x longer).

Of the natural waxes, many consider the Collinite 885 Fleetwax to be the gold standard.  This product also received the highest rating in my previous study regarding the best boat wax.

In terms of synthetic waxes, both the Starbrite Premium Marine Polish and the Meguiar’s Flagship Premium Marine Wax are extremely popular and receive excellent ratings on Amazon.

Multi-Step Products

Several manufacturers offer multi-purpose products for convenience.  While a single purpose product (e.g., wax) will likely give you a better result, these combo products will save you considerable time.  Here is a brief description of the more popular multi-purpose marine products.

Wash and Wax

As the name suggests, these products will both wash your boat and apply a wax (typically a synthetic wax) at the same time.  kind of like driving through an automatic car wash.  What is unique about this type of product is the “Wash” portion is designed in such a way as to avoid stripping any existing wax from your boat.  For this reason, a Wash and Wax is a great way to keep your boat looking nice during the boating season after you have applied a protective wax coating previously.   In contrast, if you wash your boat with something like Dawn dish soap, it will remove the wax from your vessel leaving your finish unprotected.  This is fine provided that you plan on waxing your boat afterwards.

Cleaner Wax (or Polish + Wax)

While a Cleaner Wax sounds like it would do the same thing as a Wash and Wax, it is actually quite different.  The “Cleaner” in this case refers to polishing (i.e., lightly sanding) the surface to remove light to moderate oxidation in addition to providing a synthetic wax coating.  As such, you should never use a Cleaner Wax or a Restorer Wax (discussed below) for a hull that is like new.

Restorer Wax (or Compound + Wax)

A Restorer Wax is similar to a Cleaner Wax except it is slightly more aggressive.  It has a heavier grit to remove medium to heavy oxidation while, at the same time, provides a protective wax sealant.

Product Form

Marine waxes and (some) polishes come in three forms and there are distinct advantages and disadvantages with each.

Paste

The thicker paste form will likely give you the best overall results but is more difficult to work with.  If you decide to use a boat wax or polish in paste form, you might want to invest in a random orbital polisher to help save your arms and shoulders.  Here is the product I use.  It is a fairly basic, inexpensive model but works well for the 1-2 times a year that I use it and receives high marks on Amazon.  Just realize that this is a corded model and so if you may need to upgrade if you prefer to go cordless.

Liquid

Liquid waxes and polishes are very popular because they are much easier to use.  However, many believe that liquid waxes do not last as long as a paste wax of the same type (e.g., natural waxes).  You can largely negate this deficiency by going with a liquid synthetic wax (polymer) which bonds better to the hull surface.  If long-lasting protection is of the utmost importance to you, then you might want to try this product from Meguiar’s which is both a paste AND a synthetic wax.

Spray

A number of manufacturers provide a wax in a spray bottle.  These are intended to quickly and easily touch up your boat and keep it looking nice after a day on the water.  They are not designed for long-lasting protection.  The Lucas Oil Marine Slick Mist is extremely popular and received high ratings in my previous Best Boat Wax study as well as on Amazon.

Now that you understand the different varieties of boat wax and polishes, if you are in need of some for your boat, check out my Boat Wax and Polish Product Selector Tool.  Just set your criteria in terms of your goal (protect finish or restore finish), hull condition, wax type, etc. and it will sort through dozens of brands to find the right boat wax or polish for your needs.

Jerry Mona - BoaterInput

About the author

Jerry Mona is an avid boater and angler and long-time boating industry insider. With over three decades of experience, he is often considered to be the leading research expert with boaters and has helped numerous manufacturers and trade associations to understand the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of boaters. He now shares many of his insights about boats and boaters for free on his BoaterInput.com website.

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