Washing and waxing is an essential part of standard car care. Whether you pay for the service at the car wash or tackle it DIY style, keeping your automobile’s finish shiny not only provides visual appeal but also protects the car’s paint.
In fact, the real reason waxing a car is important is to create a protective barrier for your car’s exterior. Think of it this way. Paint protects your car’s frame. Without it, the elements would eat right through the metal.
Wax, on the other hand, protects the paint. Without it, the paint degrades, followed by degradation of the car’s surfaces.
So when it comes time to apply wax, how do you know what products are best? Well, first you should understand a little about your options.
1. Paste Wax
Paste wax is the ubiquitous option that has been around for generations. It’s your standard wax in a metal or plastic tub, typically sized for standard wax application pads. Some even come with a pad inside the container.
Paste wax is a natural product. It comes from nature and replicates how plants protect themselves. Specifically, carnauba wax seeps out of Copernicia Prunifera, a Brazilian palm tree. During processing the wax is often mixed with bees’ wax or turpentine.
The resulting soft paste is applied to the surface of the car’s paint, allowed to harden, and then buffed away leaving behind a protective, yet invisible, coating.
Paste wax is the original car wax, relied on by millions of car owners since the invention of the car itself.
There are two common types of carnauba paste wax on the market. Most people pick up a white paste wax since it’s at a lower price point. This ubiquitous wax is easy to find and use, providing a few months of protection with each application.
The second type of wax is yellow. This is a more expensive, more natural option.
When looking for the best paste wax for your purposes, it’s important to note that while most waxes include the same ingredients, they offer different qualities and quantities.
Like with all products, the quality of the ingredients impacts the performance of the product. Obviously waxes in the paste category will include carnauba wax. It’s at the center of this natural product because palm trees rely on it to protect their leaves. By mirroring the marvels of nature, the wax also protects billions of cars.
The carnauba wax is then blended with another natural wax--beeswax. We all know where beeswax comes from and understand it has many uses. In the case of car wax, beeswax is used to help the carnauba wax adhere to the car’s paint.
Many paste car waxes also contain natural oils that add additional shine and protection to the surface.
In fact, one primary reason to use paste wax is because of its ability to provide exceptional shine. Paste wax is also a very strong protectant, blocking out damaging UV rays and buffering the finish against light scratches.
Using natural paste wax also reduces exposure to chemicals and is an environmentally-friendly product.
As for cons, paste wax is more expensive than other options. Plus, it needs to be reapplied more often than the alternatives.
Note: Your car’s protective wax coating will be better protected inside a garage or even under a carport where it won’t receive direct stress from the sun, rain, snow, hail, wind, and other elements.
One more consideration to ponder is that natural paste wax is more time-consuming to apply. While some people find the process enjoyable and perhaps even therapeutic, reapplying more frequently adds up to more car maintenance.
2. Liquid Wax
The other wax found at a commercial level is liquid car wax. This type of wax is in squeeze bottles rather than tubs.
Liquid wax is easy to apply by squirting a stream of the product onto the surface of the car and using a rag or pad to work it into the surface.
Liquid wax isn’t technically a wax at all. Instead of being made from organic, natural materials, liquid wax is produced in a lab. The synthetic wax is actually a polymer that acts in the same way as natural paste wax.
Liquid wax offers longer protection than paste wax, requiring reapplication after six months or so.
Liquid wax is a very popular option, for understandable reasons. First, these products are easy to apply and are cheaper than paste options. Plus, the protection lasts longer.
However, liquid wax takes longer to dry after application. It also fails to produce the ultra shiny finish of a paste wax.
3. Spray Wax
Another application option comes in a spray bottle. This type of spray wax is applied like the other options, by spraying it onto a soft rag or microfiber pad. From there it is rubbed in and buffed off like other options.
Liquid and spray waxes have been developed as an alternative to natural paste waxes. These are constructed from synthetic polymers, meaning they’re made in a lab and are a type of silicone or plastic.
Many people like this type of alternative because the protection lasts longer. However, it also produces less of a shine, which is one reason many people are motivated to wax their cars.
Petroleum distillates are another ingredient in many synthetic waxes. They are made from crude oil and are added to make the wax easier to apply. Finally, synthetic waxes often contain resin, which is like plastic. Inasmuch, it ensures higher durability than natural waxes.
From an environmental standpoint, natural paste waxes are a clear winner since they contain no petroleum products or other synthetic chemicals.
Spray wax basically has the same benefits and disadvantages as liquid wax.
So Which Car Wax Is Right For You?
There are many factors to consider. If you’re passionate about the environment, paste wax is a clear winner.
On the other hand, if you’re more focused on saving time, liquid wax will be a better option.
Liquid wax is easier and less messy to apply, plus many argue it’s gentler on the coveted clear coating on new vehicles.
For older vehicles, the carnauba wax and additional oils are a nurturing prescription. Paste wax offers deeper protection and a better shine finish.
That’s partly because of the product and supported by a loving, circular application with a soft cloth that not only applies the wax but also cleans and balances the surface of the paint.
On all vehicles, paste wax produces a more uniform finish.
One thing to note is that both paste and liquid wax should be removed before adding a new layer. This is a more laborious process with paste wax than with liquid or spray wax.
If your vehicle is stored outdoors, natural paste wax may be the best option to offer UV protection. However, if it’s a concern, many liquid and spray waxes also contain carnauba so you can likely find a product that offers shelter from sun damage in a more preferable form.
While we’re on the topic of climate and weather, while the paste wax is the best option for warm climates (carnauba wax does come from Brazil after all), cars in colder climates will probably benefit from the advantages of synthetic waxes.
Also, if you live in a dusty climate, paste wax offers better protection than synthetics.
When it comes to scratches and scrapes, paste wax is a clear winner. If you’ve heard the phrase, “we can buff that out” it’s with the knowledge that a deep fill with a carnauba paste wax, followed by a buff, disguises many scratches without a trip to the body shop.
The purpose of any car wax is to protect the surface of the paint and the metal below. Regardless of the type of wax you decide on, proper application will yield the best results.
Step 1 - Prepare the Surface
Car wax needs to be applied to a clean and dry surface. Thoroughly wash your car before every application of wax. Allow it to dry completely.
Step 2 - Check the Temp
If you’ve been inspired by a sunny summer day, it’s likely too warm to apply car wax in the sun. Once your vehicle is dry, move it to a shady location or wait until the sun goes down to begin the task.
Better yet, tackle the project on a cool, but dry, overcast day. Don’t try to wax your car when it’s raining, even if it’s just a drizzle.
Step 3 - Apply the Wax
One of the most important parts of applying car wax is working in small sections. Applying wax properly involves several steps so rather than covering the entire car with wax, work in an area about three-feet square or less.
Follow the directions on the car wax you’ve selected, which generally direct you to apply the wax to a microfiber cloth or pad. For paste waxes, this means dipping the pad into the container.
In the case of liquid or spray waxes, you squeeze or spray the wax onto the cloth.
Once the applicator is dressed with wax, rub the wax onto the surface of the vehicle using circular motions. Move across the surface as you work, reapplying wax as necessary.
Step 4 - Wipe Away
After a few minutes, you’ll see the wax turn a white color. This is when it is ready to wipe away. Be sure to use a clean rag and turn it often. Start where you first applied the wax and work in circular motions, removing excess wax with the cloth.
Step 5 - Continue
Once you’ve completed one section, move on to the next section. Continue repeating the steps until you’ve applied and removed wax to the entire surface of the vehicle.
Step 6 - Buff
To remove any remaining wax and bring out the shine in the finish, buff the surface with a clean, dry, cloth. You can do this by hand or use a buffing machine made specifically for this task.
Other Car Wax Options
As the market changes, there are new options to consider.
Originally offered by professionals, paint sealants are basically liquid wax on steroids. They are strong protectants that can remain on duty for about one year before another treatment is required.
In today’s world, paint sealants are available at the commercial level so any DIYer can easily find and use them.
Ceramic coatings are easy to find and less expensive than graphene coatings. However, this type of finish may not perform as well in some categories.
While it’s widely accepted as a superior product to traditional paste and liquid waxes, the application is a bit more precise, making it less approachable from a DIY standpoint. The effort might be worth it, though, since ceramic coating offers protection from two to five years.
Graphene coatings are a premiere service that is relatively new and more difficult to access. It also costs about twice what ceramic coatings do. However, graphene coatings offer low effects from water spots and durable protection from all other elements. It also offers an enhanced five to seven year protection.
Both ceramic and graphene coatings are best applied by a professional since both applications require a thoroughly prepared surface and a temperature-controlled environment.
The Car Wash Wax
Finally, we have the wax option as you roll through the car wash. It seems like a nice add-on in order to avoid a weekend afternoon of manual application.
In truth, it’s not bad. The car wash wax is basically a spray-on protectant. Obviously it’s not rubbed into the surface like via the manual application, but it’s better than nothing.
The car wash spray wax offers protection by coating the surface with a water-repellant. The faster water rolls off the surface, the better the protection. This is known as the hydrophobic level.
This protectant also keeps dirt from adhering to the surface. In addition, the ‘wax’ provides a shiny finish. While this resembles the look of a freshly waxed car, it lacks the same level of protection.
In summary, car wash wax is a decent, very short-term option that will provide reasonable protection for a few days.
Buff out some more information on the topic in our related articles 5 Car Wax Detailing Tips and Spray Car Wax vs Standard Car Wax.