Carnauba Paste Wax Prologue
I originally wrote this article on carnauba paste wax vs. paint sealants back in March, 2005. I decided to resurrect it with the addition of this prologue and an epilogue because I've made a complete switch... again! Read this from my point of view in 2005 and my new point of view in the epilogue.
I started my annual garage cleanup last week. It’s never a fun chore, but it’s always revealing. When I got to my detailing supply cabinet I noticed something very telling. In fact, it was so blatantly obvious it made me think “…is this happening in other garages?” What was so obvious is that all of my cans of Carnauba paste wax had migrated to the back of cabinet. Even my beloved Pinnacle Souveran and P21S Carnauba Wax were on the back row. Has Carnauba wax become a Dinosaur?
I grew up washing and waxing the cars with Dad using a can of Turtle Wax paste wax. Back then, everyone knew that Carnauba paste wax was what you used on your car to protect it. When I got my first car in 1976, I continued the tradition of cleaning and protecting the paint with paste wax. At the time, synthetic waxes (sealants) were not common on retail shelves or they were seen as Snake Oil products.
I’m not really sure what caused the paste wax phenomenon. If you look back at the history of two car care giants, Turtle Wax and Meguiar’s, both companies started by making liquid polishes. The original Turtle Wax product, called Plastone, was a synthetic protective paint polish invented by Ben Hirsch, the founder of Turtle Wax® Inc. Ben changed the product name to Super Hard Shell and the business name to Turtle Wax in the 1950’s to convey the idea of a hard, protective shell.
In the 1960’s the paint polish products (what we now think of as a liquid cleaner/wax) were pushed to the side by paste wax products containing “pure Carnauba wax.” Interestingly, many (if not most) of the liquid car polishes also contained Carnauba wax, but it was rarely used in marketing the product. As if by magic, Carnauba wax suddenly became the wonder component of the car wax industry. In reality, Carnauba wax is a minor component in most paste and liquid car waxes due to the cost of the wax in its purified form.
Paste wax marketing from the mid-1960’s through the 1980’s gave car owners the impression that Carnauba paste wax was the only way to truly protect your car with a durable barrier. Men throughout the Western world began this love-hate ritual dance on their weekends by paste waxing their family car and the hotrod. Holding that can and swirling the applicator around became part of the feel-good nuance of Carnauba paste wax.
The Perfect Shine
Back in 1999, I wrote an article called The Perfect Shine, which outlined how I prepped and finished the paintwork on my cars for a show car shine. I had developed the procedure over a number of years experimenting with various polishes and waxes. The basic procedure involves cleaning, polishing, sealing and waxing. The final step of applying a topcoat of show car wax has become quite a phenomenon in car enthusiast circles.
Since I first wrote The Perfect Shine, I have watched the word spread and the enthusiasm grow to the point that national car care brands, like Mothers, have embraced the idea with new products. While I’d like to boast that it was my novel idea, my good friend Jim was quick to point out that Autoglym had the idea some 26 or so years ago when they updated Super Resin Polish and invented Extra Gloss Protection. Autoglym Extra Gloss Protection is a British concoction of hard resins and synthetic waxes that can be layered to improve gloss and depth of shine.
I’m now forced to re-think my own ritual. If all of my favorite Carnauba show car waxes have been relegated to the back row, what has changed? I pondered this question while filling a 45 gallon trash can with dozens of old wax tins and jars. My neighbor Charlie looks on like I’m some kind of wacko wax junkie sorting my stash.
I Can See Clearly Now
When I first started using Carnauba paste waxes, my cars had a traditional, single-stage paint (no clearcoat or metallic). My favorite colors were “attract-a-cop red” and “you-must-be-speeding yellow.” I hand polished the paint on my bright sports cars to a mirror-like finish, but the paint lacked depth until I added a coat or two of a quality Carnauba show car wax. These expensive Carnauba waxes are blended with oils that wet the paint and keep it looking wet until the wax evaporates or washes away.
I always remember standing back admiring my work after the final coat. My Guards Red Porsche, in particular, just glowed and radiated energy. The Carnauba wax gave the paint an almost liquid look that could not be matched. It’s funny, though, how your memory plays trick on you.
I recently buffed out and waxed a buddy’s 1987 Guards Red Porsche 911. I love the color and, after working out a few surfaces scratches, the paint buffed out to its original quality. My friend wanted to finish off with a coat of wax from his $120 jar of Zymol Concours that he saved for special occasions. The final result was a huge improvement, however, I could not help but notice how the older 911’s finish paled next to my new vehicle. The clearcoat finish on new vehicles creates the depth and high-gloss shine that I once labored to achieve. Is Carnauba wax a relic on new car finishes?
When I purchased my Porsche Cayenne S nearly two years ago, I literally stopped using Carnauba wax. The finish on the Cayenne is wonderful, and it does not take a lot of maintenance to keep it looking great. What I really started to notice is how quickly surface contamination makes the paint finish loose its intense shine. Yet, all I have to do is wash and use detailing clay to get back the finish clarity.
The Mystery of Carnauba Show Car Waxes
Getting back to what I wrote in The Perfect Shine, it’s no small coincidence that using a Carnauba show car wax as a last step product creates results. Most of these waxes are loaded with oils and silicone polymers that create incredible gloss. The gloss comes at a cost, however, as these wax finishes are not durable. Car enthusiasts who use these soft waxes do so at the expense of time and money. In normal use, high gloss Carnauba show car wax finishes rarely last more than a couple of weeks. The wax is too soft and simply burns off from exposure to sun and wind.
Unless you are preparing your car for show, your time and money are better spent applying a high-gloss, durable synthetic wax (sealant) that can be applied in multiple layers for improved gloss and durability. For show cars and extreme detailers, a Carnauba show car wax on traditional black and red finishes will continue to be the winning ticket until someone figures out how to build the same jetting (wet finish look) qualities into a synthetic wax.
What Do Clearcoat Finishes Really Need?
If the purpose of the clearcoat is to add depth and gloss to the final paint finish, wouldn’t it be counterproductive to apply anything that does not buff out to be as clear as the clearcoat itself? Carnauba wax in its natural form is not clear. It creates a dull, milky white film on the leaves of the palm tree from which it is harvested. Have you experienced the white stain residue most Carnauba waxes leave in cracks and crevices after waxing? It follows that Carnauba wax will distort the perfectly clear appearance of a new or well-maintained clearcoat finish.
What the modern clearcoat finish requires is proper cleaning, light polishing to remove fine cobweb scratches and swirl marks, and clear, durable protection. Carnauba wax cannot meet this demand.
Will Carnauba Paste Wax Survive New Regulations?
I have previously written about the changes in automotive paint technology (see “Modern Paint Care”). The U.S. and other responsible governments are demanding significant reduction in the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in manufacturing processes and consumable products. In January, 2005, new VOC regulations hit the U.S. car care industry like a ton of bricks. As of this time, car care products may not contain more than 15% VOC by volume. This is bad news for Carnauba waxes, which all use a significant quantity of light solvents, like mineral spirits, to soften the Carnauba wax from its original rock-hard form into a workable paste or cream.
Some car care manufacturers went back to the drawing board to redesign their products and others simply dropped products that could not effectively be re-engineered. Meguiar’s, as an example, dropped their #16 Carnauba Paste Wax and replaced it with NXT Generation Paste Wax, which meets U.S. VOC regulations, but does not contain Carnauba wax.
Several small wax makers confided that they are struggling to make their Carnauba paste waxes comply with VOC regulations. As a result, we may see many carnauba paste wax manufacturers quietly remove Carnauba from their marketing and formulas, and allow newer polymer-based wax technologies to take over. Some small wax makers may even continue making their original formulas until government sanctions force them to stop. Currently, the industry is largely self-regulated.
Carnauba Wax is Dead… Long Live Paint Sealants
So let me, once a huge fan of Carnauba show car waxes, publicly proclaim Carnauba wax as dead! Long live the new king, paint sealants and synthetic waxes. Sure, we’ll continue to see the Carnauba Dinosaurs on the shelves at the local auto parts store, and in the hands of extreme enthusiasts, but they are quickly being shoved to the back row by modern synthetic waxes.
Carnauba Car Wax Epilogue
Perhaps I was a bit too eager to kick carnauba to the curb. Or, maybe I was a little too enthusiastic about paint sealants. One thing is for sure, I completely missed the resurgence of the carnauba specialty wax market.
Today we have at least a dozen car care specialty brands making -- in some cases by hand -- very limited and specialized carnauba paste waxes. Sure, names like Zymol, Pinnacle, One Grand, and P21S are top of mind, but there are many more. Newcomers include Autoglym, Dodo Juice, Poor Boy's, Sonax and Wolfgang, to name a few. Between them there are more than three-dozen carnauba wax formulations.
As I was preparing to write this revision I ran across a Sonax marketing video for their new paste wax. What struck me about the video is what they seemed to want to get across to the viewer, and that is a sense of connection with the vehicle when you use their product. It took me back to the good old days of my youth when car lovers everywhere spent a couple hours on the weekend washing and waxing their favorite car. There was a sense of connection in that ritual, and the favorite can of wax was a big part of it.