This article will cover everything you need to know about waxing your car to achieve an amazing shine and also the protection that goes with it!
If you need information about the best car wax to use — based on the needs of both you and your automobile — see our Car Wax Buyer’s Guide.
It used to be that you’d simply wash and dry your car, then pull out a can of Simonize (or other favorite cleaner/wax) to restore shine and wax protection.
Things are different now! Today there are hundreds upon hundreds of car wax products, but the choices all boil down to:
- Liquid Wax
- Paste Wax
- Spray Wax
- Wipe-on, Walk Away Clear Sealant
The car wax you choose is really a lifestyle choice. As funny as that sounds, it’s true!
For car enthusiasts, the pursuit of car appearance perfection will lead them to a multi-step, all-day, car pampering process. This may seem extreme for some but it’s pure enjoyment for car lovers.
At the other end of the spectrum are folks interested in vehicle care, but their time is precious. These people need a fast and easy solution.
Here’s the good news:
Many car wax products have evolved to the point where nearly everyone will be satisfied with the results. And it’s the same process for both fanatics and those interested in a quick wax job!
Start With a Squeaky Clean Finish
The reason Simonize and Turtle Wax paste waxes were so popular a few decades ago is because they were a single-step paint cleaner and car wax in one (e.g., “cleaner/wax”).
Today we have more choices but, no matter what, your car’s paint must be clean before waxing.
Warning: Never wax over the dirt! Use a quality clay bar to safely remove bonded contamination.
Clay bar detailing is a quick and easy process of removing bonded dirt and other contamination with a simple bar of detailing clay.
Use it after washing your car to remove all the loose dirt. The result is a squeaky clean paint finish that’s as smooth as glass.
For complete instructions, see our complete Clay Bar Detailing guide.
Cleaner/Wax vs. Clay Bar + Non-Cleaner Wax
Modern clearcoat paint finishes (most cars made since the year 2000 have a clearcoat finish) are much different than traditional paint systems without a clearcoat.
The truth is they are thinner.
Why is that?
To conserve weight (and our environment) and reduce cost. As a result, the use of abrasive cleaners and polishes for regular care is not advisable.
The safe alternative to a cleaner wax is detailing clay followed by a high quality non-cleaner wax (pure wax).
FYI: You can find out whether you have a cleaner/wax or a pure wax by simply reading the label. If the product claims to “clean” or “polish” then it is a cleaner/wax.
Polish to Remove Defects… Before You Wax!
The time to use an abrasive on your vehicle’s paint is when you have fine defects that need to be removed. Many people mistakenly believe that waxing will fix minor blemishes.
Waxing may temporarily cover-up some blemishes, but it will not make them go away.
By blemishes I’m talking about fine scratches, swirl marks, water spot etching and stains or burns from bird dropping. To solve these problems you must use an abrasive car polish.
Make no mistake: If your car’s paint needs reconditioning, you must have it done before applying wax.
Applying Automotive Spray Wax
Automotive spray waxes are the easiest paint protection products to apply.
A few years ago spray wax products were a joke, but today they rival some of the best liquid and past wax products.
What changed? In a word, polymers!
Polymer coating technology is getting so good that a product like Meguiar’s Ultimate Quik Wax offers the same level of protection as the original formula Meguiar’s NXT Generation Tech Wax that hit the market a few years ago.
Best of all, you can apply best-of-breed spray wax products in a matter of minutes. Many of them can be used in direct sunlight, although the most amazing results are always achieved in the shade.
To apply a spray wax thoroughly wash and dry your car.
With a microfiber buffing towel in one hand and your spray wax in the other, spray and wipe a small area at a time. Distribute evenly, then flip the towel to a dry side for a final buff.
It’s that easy!
NOTE: For perfect results, always give a final wipe with a clean, dry microfiber buffing towel that hasn’t been used to distribute product.
Applying Liquid And Paste Waxes
Many years ago paste waxes were preferred because they offered great results. Nowadays, manufactures offer liquid and paste versions of the same car wax formula.
So, what’s the difference?
It comes down to your personal preference and method of application. Wax is easier to apply by hand, whereas a liquid wax is necessary for machine application.
For both liquid and paste waxes, a basic rule applies: less is better. With modern polymer waxes, it’s not necessary to slather on a heavy coating.
Take it from me, a thin coat dries faster and wipes off easier.
For all liquid and paste wax products, follow these basic instructions:
- Work in a shaded area — out of direct sunlight.
- Use the applicator that is provided by the manufacture or one that they recommend. If the manufacturer does not make a recommendation, use a foam applicator pad to apply your wax.
- Work on one area at a time covering 2 to 4 square feet. Some products may allow you to coat the entire car before buffing off. However, most do not.
- Follow the wax manufacturer’s instructions on whether or not to allow the wax to dry (haze) before buffing.
- Use a small amount of wax at a time, and rub it in well. Use too much wax and you’re wasting the product and your time.
- Switch to a clean wipe towel if the wax residue does not buff off easily.
- Apply your wax in a back-and-forth motion, not in circles. You need to replace your applicator or towels if you are creating swirls.
After waxing, your car’s paint should feel slick and smooth, and be free of streaks and smudges.
What do you do if, after all this work, you still have streaks and areas that do not want to buff out perfectly?
There are several tricks, but the easiest is to park your car in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes. Let it get warm, but not hot, and then take it back inside the garage.
Next, use your favorite detail spray a fresh buffing towel to wipe down the affected areas. The warmth of the sun softens the wax, allowing it to buff out to a clear, high gloss.
If you are using an enthusiast sealant system, use the quick detailer made for the system.
Show Car Wax Tricks
Detailers who prepare show cars often tend to layer a carnauba wax on top of a synthetic wax. The synthetic wax acts as a gloss layer, while the carnauba wax adds depth and a wet-looking appearance.
A combination that works well is an initial coating of Klasse All-In-One Car Polish followed by one or more coats of Carnauba Wax by P21S. And with superior coating capabilities, multiple coats of the Optimum Opti-Seal product creates a dazzling finish.
When layering products for show, apply and buff the first coat of wax as you would normally. Be sure to allow it to cure for 12 to 24 hours before applying a second coat.
Please Note: The first coat must have time to cure. If the wax does not cure (harden), the second coat will not improve your car’s appearance or protection.
You will absolutely see noticeable improvement in depth, richness of color and gloss with properly applied coats of wax.
Applying a Clear Paint Sealant
The new breed of clear sealants have a completely new method of application. You literally wipe the clear sealant on, then walk away and allow it to dry.
When the paint sealant finishes drying it will be as gloss as it is going to be without buffing or wiping, and the surface has the best protection possible.
Your car must be clean and dry before applying a sealant. Clear seal products are very hydrophobic, so they usually do not mix with water at all.
Clear sealants can be applied to paint, glass, chrome and plastic trim. The most important thing is to apply an even coating and then leave it alone.
Do not wipe after application. Simply allow the sealant to dry (20-30 minutes).
Do this right and it can last up to a year, though I usually apply paint sealant twice yearly for solid protection.
Car Wax Summary
Regular waxing is necessary to protect car paint from the elements.
In addition to sealing and protecting, both waxes and sealants also improve the appearance of freshly washed and polished paint.
Follow the advice here and it’s not difficult!
Use the right products and you can successfully layer waxes and sealants to make your car’s paint look deeper and almost liquid.
Once your car is waxed, it’s time to move on to Car Interior Cleaning!