Floor Wax vs. Floor Polish: Which Should YOU Use?

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 08/04/22 •  8 min read

Floor wax and floor finish both provide slip resistance, shine, and protection to your floor. They are commonly used to protect floors in places like hospitals, schools, grocery and retail stores and malls, office buildings and manufacturing plants

Although it’s no longer as in vogue as it once was — I vividly remember my silent-generation grandmother insisting on “waxing” her floors — can also take advantage of floor shining products in your home to make your floors pop.

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What’s the Difference Between Floor Polish and Floor Wax?

Despite the same results, and the same ease of application, floor wax and floor finish are different. That fact leaves us wondering, what is the difference between floor polish and floor wax anyway? The main difference is in the ingredients. Floor wax is generally made from carnauba wax, which is an extract from the leaves of Brazilian palm trees. Floor polishes on the other hand are synthetic and have several components that together contribute to the quality of the floor finish and can be tweaked.

The presence of natural carnauba wax is the only real difference between floor wax and floor finish. Both are great investments for keeping your floors cleaner, safer, and easier to maintain but they do have different properties.

Let’s take a look at each and pinpoint when it would be best so you can choose one for your floors.

What is Floor Wax and When Would It Be a Better Choice?

As I mentioned above, carnauba wax, the main ingredient in most floor waxes, is extracted from the leaves of Brazilian palm trees. It should come as no surprise that a plant that lives in a hot and humid climate and a demanding habitat would provide the most resilient wax.

Palm trees need to withstand extreme water, heat, sunlight and of course, the impact of rain and wind, and the wax extracted from them can do the same for your floors.

When you wax your floor, it will not only give you a nice shine and texture, but will also protect it from dirt and other materials, so it won’t become dull or scratched. Moreover, natural waxes typically last longer than polishes, so they’re a good choice if you’re looking to only shine your floors now and then.

Floor wax is ideal for almost any type of flooring accept shiny laminates and floors sealed with urethane. If your floor has this type of coating, you’ll want to stick with floor polish because wax can actually dull the shine, and cause buildup over time that yellows the floor.

Wax really shines (pun intended!) in high-traffic areas, and for sealing and protecting hardwood floors, especially given it’s moisture protection. Wax gives you a durable yet soft shine on hardwood and tile, and believe it or not wax also really great for concrete!

With that said, there are several hardwood specific floor polishes nowadays that are equally good, so let’s dive into the properties of floor polishes and when they might be best.

What is Floor Polish and When Would You Choose it?

As mentioned, floor polish (also called floor finish) is synthetic and has its advantages over traditional floor wax since it can be crafted for specific needs.

A floor polish consists of several components, such as acrylic polymers, alkali-soluble resins, surfactants, plasticizers, and wax emulsions, each of which contributes to the quality of the floor finish, from the shine to the slip resistance to the durability.

Here’s a brief look at what each of the typical ingredients found in a floor polish does:

Though you can get polishes that mix these ingredients differently for various floor surfaces and needs, in general, polish is best suited for low-traffic areas like bedrooms because it is capable of filling in and smoothing out small to moderate scratches and bumps on the surface, but it does not seal the surface, so it will not last as long as wax.

What Floors Can You Wax or Polish, And What Ones You Can’t

Thought waxes and polishes are great to add shine and durability to a floor, we have a TON of flooring options available to us today and not all of them can be waxed or polished. Here’s a quick table to tell you which floors you can and can’t polish:

Floor TypeWaxPolishFrequency
Hardwood (including parquet)BestGoodEvery 6- 18 months
Engineered hardwoodNoNoN/A
Wood laminateNoNo N/A
BambooNoNoN/A
Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT)NoNoN/A
LinoleumBestGoodEvery 6- 18 months
Ceramic TileNoNoN/A
CementGoodBestEvery 1-3 years
Terra-cotta (and other unglazed tile)BestGoodEvery 1-3 years
Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT)BestBestEvery 6-12 months

Applying Floor Wax

Unfortunately, waxing your floors is best when it includes stripping the old wax off of them and then applying a new wax with a quick buffing tool or even a floor buffer if you have the time and desire.

With that said, the average homeowner today usually doesn’t have that kind of time, so using a natural wax product that’s both a cleaner and a non-buff wax is ideal. I really like Lundmark Wood Floor Cleaner with Carnauba Wax (Amazon link), because you pretty much throw it on and it gives you a wonderful soft finish.

Here’s how to use a non-buff wax and cleaner, like Lundmark, moving in small sections until the entire floor is done:

Step one: Swiffer dust or vacuum the floor thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris. It’s important to keep the floor dry during this step.

Step two: Apply a thin layer of floor wax with a mop or microfiber cloth.

Step three: While the floor is still wet, wipe off the floor with a clean cloth, rubbing the surface to loosen and clean off any dirt. Scrub any serious dirt with a dry scrub sponge. Do not wipe the floor completely dry, just leave a nice coating on it and remove the dirt.

Step four: Let it dry and enjoy the results!

Bonus: For added shine, apply a second coat after 24 hours.

Applying Floor Polish

Applying a floor polish is generally about the same level of effort as applying a no-buff wax, but again, there are many formulations available and some may require special application techniques. Every product will be different, so just follow the instructions on the bottle.

The most important part is choosing the right product for your floor type. It is important not to use the wrong product when polishing your floors.

When choosing a product, consider the application instructions on the back and don’t buy anything that seems too labor intensive or beyond your reasonable time limits.

Since a floor polish, just like a wax, is meant to add shine and resilience to your floor, I recommend working in small sections just as you would a wax. Working in small sections until the floor is done makes it easier to apply an even coat of polish over the whole section.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a way to make your floors look shiny, clean, and beautiful, one of the best things you can do is regularly apply good quality wax or polish to it. Which one you pick depends on the condition of your floor, the type of flooring you have, and the results you want.

If you have a type of floor that is not recommended for wax or polish, like LVT or bamboo, this is because the flooring product has an impermeable finish. When wax or polis product can’t be absorbed into the floor it just sits on top and dulls the finish rather than adding a shine. For these types of flooring, it’s better to just clean them with a general cleansing product or steam mop them.

Where to Buy Floor Wax and Floor Polish

You used to be able to buy some good floor waxes at the local grocery store or Walmart, but as people have moved away from good housekeeping practices and onto floor steamers and Swiffers, floor wax and floor polish have become a bit scarce in the home cleaning aisle.

Today, the best places to buy floor wax and floor polishes are at Home Depot or online. Here are a few of our favorites:

Our Pick for Easiest to Use Floor Wax
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09/21/2022 05:50 pm GMT
Our Pick for Best Hardwood Floor Polish
Parker & Bailey Wood Floor Cream
$12.60

This oil-based polish is perfect for hardwood floors. It works well, has no odor, and economical because a little goes a long way with this stuff.


While it is some work to use (over straight mopping) the results are stunning!

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09/21/2022 04:01 pm GMT
Our Pick for Non-hardwood Floor Polish
Quick Shine Multi Surface Floor Finish
$11.57

Quick shine floor polish is very easy to use and is gentle enough for all sorts of floor finishes. There's a reason this stuff is so popular!

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09/21/2022 04:35 pm GMT

thewriteDuffy

At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.