There’s nothing like the look of a new car. Even with regular car washes, though, it’s only a matter of months before the shine fades. But if you know how to wax a car, it’s possible to maintain that new car shine with a few supplies and some elbow grease.
Waxing a car isn’t difficult, but you need to know what you’re doing. If you don’t, you could permanently damage the protective paint layers. Let’s look at what car wax is, why it’s important and how to wax a car.
What is car wax?
The term car wax refers to compounds used to coat your paint and bring out your car’s shine. It also acts as a protective layer to help avoid damage from UV rays, bug guts, acid rain, bird droppings and rail dust. Wax turns back the hands of time and temporarily halts oxidation.
Carnauba wax is the most popular variety. It’s made from Brazilian palm tree leaves and a blend of other synthetic and natural substances to protect your paint. It’s more cost effective than other synthetic waxes and achieves a brilliant shine. The downside is that it needs to be applied more often.
Synthetic waxes are also available, although they’re usually called paint sealants rather than wax. They use polymers and silicones that bond to the paint better for more protection. On the other hand, they typically don’t achieve the same level of shine.
Why do cars need to be waxed?
The harsh environment takes a toll on your paint and clear coat. Dust and dirt act as abrasives against the surface as you drive, leaving microscopic scratches that dull your paint. Winter salt treatments can be corrosive, and all year long sun rays beat down and accelerate oxidation. Bird droppings, bug splatters and tree sap are all acidic and can eat into the paint. Car wash brushes leave swirl marks while they sweep away the dirt. The effects are noticeable after just one season, and they don’t wash away.
A paint job has microscopic pores that leave the finish susceptible to a wide range of materials in the environment. A wax treatment erases the evidence of the damage and protects against it getting any worse. To be clear, it doesn’t remove the scratches—you need to polish your paint to do that. But waxing a car fills in the voids, seals the finish from further damage and leaves it looking shiny.
How to wax a car
The general process of waxing a car involves laying a thin coat of wax over all the painted surfaces, then buffing it to a high shine. You want to start with a completely clean car to avoid rubbing aggregate material into the paint, causing more scratches than you originally had and having it trapped in the wax, showing up as streaks. It might not be hard, but the end result depends on taking the time to go through each step without cutting corners. And don’t skimp on the products and tools you use either.
- Car wash soap, bucket and water
- Car wash mitt
- Microfiber cloths
- Wax applicator pad
- Shelter for your car
- Clay bar
- Spray bottle
- Detailing brush
- Masking tape
- Orbital buffer (optional)
- Your choice of wax
Choosing a wax can be confusing. There are dozens of products on the shelf at different price points, and each claims to be the best. Options include carnauba liquid wax, paste wax and spray wax for common consumer-grade products, and each has its own benefits.
- Liquid waxes are fantastic at cleaning the surface during application.
- Spray wax products are super easy to apply and leave the least residue on plastics.
- Paste waxes protect the longest and are easier to use than liquid wax.
You need to choose the wax you’re comfortable with but the application process is basically the same across the board.
1. Wash the car
Now’s the time to practice your car detailing skills with a superb exterior wash. Give your car the royal treatment with warm water, high-quality car wash soap and a clean car wash mitt or cloth. Get into every nook and cranny where you’ll be putting wax, which should be every painted surface on your vehicle including body seams, door jambs and handle areas. Rinse the soap off thoroughly after.
2. Dry it completely
Remove all the water from your paint with a chamois or a clean microfiber cloth. You’re looking to prevent water spots and give the wax a perfectly clean and dry surface to bond to.
3. Remove any stuck-on bits
Bug guts or tree sap and other contaminants that didn’t come off in the wash will be sealed under the wax unless they’re stripped off first. Use the clay bar on any areas that have stuck-on stuff. It should come off without much effort, although you may need to spot clean the area or rewash your car completely.
4. Mask your working area
Wax can be tricky to remove from plastic trim and badges. Protect those areas by masking them off with tape. If you plan to use a power buffing tool, it’s even more important because it can fling droplets onto unintended surfaces.
5. Read the instructions
Wax products will have instructions on the bottle or tub, and it’s crucial you follow those steps for the best finish. They detail the flash time as well as the best process for application and cleanup including optimal conditions to apply the wax.
6. Apply the wax to your paint
Once your car is prepped, find a place that meets the conditions required for applying the wax. Typically, a clean, cool and shaded area like a garage is best so the sun doesn’t bake the wax onto the paint before you’re ready to remove it. And if there’s even a remote possibility of rain, the droplets could ruin your wax job.
You can apply car wax by hand, or you can use an orbital buffer the way the pros do it. The steps are somewhat similar, but there are differences between the application and buffing processes.
How to wax a car by hand
Learning how to wax a car by hand shouldn’t be intimidating. It’s straightforward and yields awesome results as long as you follow the instructions.
Begin by applying a small amount of wax to your applicator. A quarter-sized dab is plenty to start with. Wipe the wax onto a panel in a tight circular motion, methodically covering the whole panel. No need to press hard because you’re only looking to apply a thin layer on the surface. Overlap your coverage edges as you go.
After applying wax to every panel, wait until the wax is dry. The flash time should be listed on the bottle. One rule of thumb is to swipe the wax with a finger. If it comes off easily and is white and powdery, it’s ready to be wiped off.
Like applying the wax, there’s no need for a ton of pressure to remove it. Use a clean microfiber cloth folded twice to wipe it clean. You’ll be able to see and feel the wax come off with less resistance on the cloth as you wipe the wax. Keep using a fresh area of the cloth when it gets saturated with residue.
How to wax a car with a buffer
Nearly all the steps are the same, but if you don’t know how to wax a car with a buffer properly, you can damage the clear coat or burn the paint. Keeping the buffer at low speed to prevent it from overheating the paint is crucial. That’s accomplished by keeping it moving, whether applying or removing the wax.
Apply a small amount of wax to the foam pad on the buffer in a few spots around it, then smear it onto the panel before powering up the buffer. On low speed, guide the buffer over the whole panel without any added pressure. You’re essentially just speeding up the process of doing it by hand. Go over the whole car this way.
Next, let the wax dry according to the instructions. Then, use a microfiber attachment on the buffer to remove the dried wax. Simply guide the buffer over the paint and remove all the dull, powdery residue. Again, stay on low speed at all times and keep the buffer moving.
7. Touch up the trim
Did you get any wax on areas you didn’t intend? Use a soft-bristled detailing brush to get it off now. If you wait until later, it might be hardened and almost impossible to remove.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does a wax job last on a car?
How long wax lasts is affected by your environment, how frequently you wash your car and how durable the wax is. You can expect car wax to last anywhere from about four weeks to five months.
How long does it take to wax a car by hand?
From start to finish including a car wash, expect it to take between two and four hours to get a hand wax done on an average-sized car. It could be more if you have a large SUV or truck.
Is waxing a car difficult?
If you take the time to study how to apply wax on a car, it’s not a tough task to perform. However, you need to be cautious with an orbital buffer since you can seriously damage the paint if it’s used incorrectly.