Having a clean car is great but keeping it clean isn’t always easy, but there’s no better and easier way to add a protective layer over your paint and improve its gloss and clarity than by using a quality wax.
With the right product properly applied, it will give your car a lasting shine and slickness while the hydrophobic properties keep water and other contaminants from sticking to the surface, sort of like a suit of armour. Better still, consistent care can theoretically preserve your car’s paint to look fresh and like-new indefinitely. What’s not to love?
A Nasty Reality
We’ll assume you’ve got your car washed and it is squeaky clean, which is great and a nice first step to keeping your car looking top notch for longer. However, there are so many sources of dirt and contamination that will immediately start to bombard your car’s freshly cleaned paint as soon as you start driving.
- Leaked brake and transmission fluid, garbage water, petrol, diesel - all collected in puddles.
- Acidic bird droppings and tree sap that can etch itself into the paint surface.
- Iron and tar particles being thrown up by other vehicles from the road.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of a much longer list of contaminants, but just imagine all the gunk that could be lying on our road surfaces and, chances are, your car has had to deal with that being smeared onto its paint to some degree. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Unless your car’s paint is clearly in dire straits, there’s no need to lose sleep over how much nasty stuff is resting on your car. All modern cars have a layer of durable clear coat that rests over the base layer of paint. This layer is what takes the punishment so that the actual colour (basecoat) of your car isn’t impacted.
However, with sustained abuse, how much can the long-suffering clear coat endure before it’s worn down entirely? Having some form of paint protection is essential to keep it fortified, letting that layer of wax or sealant take the punishment instead.
The Sea Of Choice
What Are Waxes, What Are Sealants?
Essentially, there are 3 types commonly accepted forms of paint protection: Wax, Sealant, and a Ceramic Coating. That said, the steps and requirements needed to properly apply a sealant are identical to a wax. In fact, sealants are often marketed as ‘wax’ to not confuse customers despite their differences in classification.
Ceramic coatings, while more durable and longer lasting, require more preparation and is less forgiving if applied incorrectly, which is why most are applied by professionals. For those reasons as well as some others, we won’t be covering that category of paint protection today.
Wax: Traditionally, a wax has been defined as a protective layer formulated (or based on) from materials that are naturally derived. Carnauba, an extract of palm trees found in Brazil, is well known as a main ingredient for high end automotive waxes due to its smooth and hydrophobic surface characteristics as well as its tendency to boost the clarity, saturation and depth.
Many - if not all - exotics and concours show cars will use a carnauba wax because of its unique look, described as a warm glow. However, organic-based waxes like this aren’t especially durable with a paste or liquid product lasting between 2-6 weeks before a reapplication is called for, especially in tropical climates such as ours. This is why many pure waxes have been fortified with inorganic polymers to increase longevity.
Sealant: As technology progressed and to get around the shortcomings of naturally-derived waxes, man-made synthetic alternatives were developed. With much improved chemical and high temperature resistance over traditional waxes, they are definitely hardier and more suited to the pure task of paint protection, easily lasting several months and even up to a full year, but have historically not been able to deliver the visual enhancement of organic (specifically, carnauba-based) waxes. However, the most cutting edge in paint sealants technology is getting better at mimicking the sought-after look of high grade carnauba.
Paste, liquid, or spray: When dealing with a wax or sealant in spray form, the general trade-off is diminished longevity and durability due to it requiring many emulsifiers and solvents to keep it in a thin water-like liquid state, taking down the actual content and concentration of wax or sealant base ingredient. On the upside, application can be much quicker and easier compared to products in a hard paste or creamy liquid. Generally, the thicker it is, the more concentrated the protection is and the more durable and lasting the protection will be.
The Down and Dirty - Just Wash and Apply It, The End:
There’s a lot of noise about how exactly to apply a wax and the potentially dire consequences of messing it up. The truth is, there’s really not all that much to it. Once you’ve established what works best for you, waxing your car can be downright relaxing, even therapeutic.
In all instances, applying a wax needs to be done on a clean car, meaning one that has been freshly washed and dried. Applying on a dirty surface means rubbing in the dirt and contamination already resting on the car, and that’s the easiest route to a scratched-up mess. Secondly, always apply in the shade and on a car that’s already cool to the touch.
We’ll start with spray waxes first (using ‘wax’ and ‘sealant’ interchangeably from here on out). All you’ll need is a medium sized microfibre towel or two. The most direct method would be to spray a few spritzes on the panel before using the microfibre to spread the product and buff it dry, flipping the towel as necessary.
Alternatively, and to conserve product, you could spray onto the towel itself. It’s also important to change towels if you feel it’s heavy and saturated with product, nullifying its ability to buff dry, making this second method a little safer for beginners. If in doubt, always err on the side of using less product rather than more.
The ‘less is more’ approach also applies to liquid and paste type waxes, even more so because leaving an overly thick layer upon application can make the process more difficult than it needs to be. You’ll still need a couple of microfibre towels for later but application should be done with a dedicated applicator pad made from either foam or soft microfibre. These are usually circular for easy handling in your palm, but also to fit into the paste wax tin.
Once you’ve applied a few dabs from the paste medium (or drops of liquid wax) onto the applicator pad, systematically massage the product into the panel, taking your time and using minimal pressure to leave a thin and evenly coated layer. This can be done either in circular or straight patterns, but the name of the game is to leave a thin and even coat.
It’s recommended to work panel by panel, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the product and its behaviour, as every wax product has different recommendations for how long it should be left to cure. Removal follows this step, usually after the wax layer has hazed up and doesn’t smear upon lightly rubbing a finger across a small area. If the haziness is removed to reveal the clear coat beneath, it should be ready for removal.
Again, use minimal pressure and a clean microfibre towel. Some products are inherently more user friendly and will be absolutely effortless to remove while others might call for some elbow grease. Should an area be proving difficult, use a quick spritz of your favourite spray wax or quick detailer to add some lubricity and emulsification to the hardened residue.
With the wax removed and the process repeated on all painted surfaces, your car should be looking like it’s fresh from the showroom - or even better than new. Congratulations, you’ve taken your first step into a larger world….of car detailing.
Brownie Points: It’s All About The Prep
Most waxes will be perfectly fine if applied onto a car that’s freshly washed, but the bond between the clear coat (or painted surface) will not likely be as strong. To ensure maximum durability and gloss, it’s always recommended to perform a paint decontamination as well as a light polish first.
Extracting the maximum potential of any wax or sealant requires application on a ‘virgin’ panel, one that’s free of bonded contaminants, stray chemicals, and even leftover oils from past waxes. If you’re experiencing lacklustre performance from your new wax product, a strong bond may not have been achieved if you’re laying the wax atop a surface that’s already gunked up with other products and contaminants.
Proper preparation is a multi-step process and, depending on the condition of the vehicle, can require special attention to achieve a surface that’s totally clean and pristine that’s ready to accept the new layer of wax protection. We’ll cover this in a future tutorial, hopefully, a video to really get the message across.