How-To Wax A Car (Complete Guide & FAQ)

applying car wax

Gone are the days of giving your car a simple rinse with the garden hose. Now, when you wash your car there are many extra stages and products that you can implement into your washing regime to make your car look even better.

One of the post-wash stages is waxing. Car wax has been around since horse and carriages, I’m almost certain you’ve heard of it but what does it do? what type of wax exists? How do you apply wax to a car? are there better alternatives?

All of your questions and more will be answered below.

Why should you wax your car?

There are a lot of positives to waxing a vehicle but the biggest benefit of wax has to be its protective qualities.

Most waxes offer greater UV Protection. The harsh sun rays beating down on your vehicle will lead to paint oxidation overtime.

Unfortunately, the only way to completely avoid the sun is to keep your car in a garage for its whole life. If you live in an area that is always sunny, waxing your car will be a crucial step in maintaining the quality of your paintwork.

The second biggest benefit has to be the hydrophobic qualities that wax can offer.

Applying wax to your vehicle will give it extra hydrophobic qualities. This means when water lands on your vehicle it will not interact with the paintwork. Instead, the water will bead up and/or slide of your vehicle like a sheet of water.

The hydrophobic qualities also mean that dirt has a harder time sticking to your vehicle. This means it will stay cleaner for longer but you’ll still have to keep a regular maintenance schedule. It’s not a reason to neglect your car.

As you can see, the protective qualities of wax are no joke. Maybe now you’ll think twice about skipping the waxing stage.

Lastly, everyone wants to have a car that turns heads. Waxing your car will enhance the paint and make it even glossier. There’s no better feeling than seeing a mirror-like shine as you walk towards your car. Believe me.

If you want to know the best waxes on the market, I’ve compiled a list of products that will turn heads and keep your paintwork safe while doing so.

Types of car wax

Carnauba-Wax-Bar

If you’ve ever looked into or used wax before you most likely know about Carnauba wax. It’s the wax that everyone in the industry is most familiar with and as a result, it’s by far the most popular type of car wax.

Carnauba is a palm that is native to Brazil and is only grown in specific Brazilian states. In its purest form, carnauba flakes would be too hard and abrasive for your vehicle. Yet, once they are processed and mixed with beeswax it makes for very effective car wax.

The main properties of carnauba when mixed with beeswax are often used to treat and waterproof leather products. Carnauba wax also provides a high gloss finish and improves the leather hardness, giving it a solid thin layer of protection. It’s the same for your vehicle.

Carnauba wax comes in many forms, some sprays will even be infused with carnauba. If you’re looking for the purest carnauba wax, it will be a light yellow/caramel looking paste product. Waxes that have high carnauba content will often be more expensive.

The main downside of Carnauba wax is that it doesn’t last long at all. After 4-6 weeks or a handful of washes, you will have to reapply the wax so that it continues to protect your vehicle.


If you don’t want to pay the premium for natural carnauba wax, the only other option you have is a Synthetic wax. They’re also known as sealants. Synthetic wax uses chemicals that bond with the layers of paint on a car. This solution then provides your vehicle with an artificial layer of protection.

Sealants have some added benefits over natural waxes. The protective qualities of sealants last longer and are less effort to apply. That’s why may detailers choose sealants over carnauba wax.

While it may seem like sealants and synthetic waxes are cheaper to buy, they can actually end up costing you more.

Many people that use liquid wax still choose to put Carnauba wax on top. This is because most sealants cannot recreate the same gloss and shine that carnauba does, so they end up spending more money by using two products.

Whether you choose natural wax or a synthetic option, it’s going to offer more protection to your paint than not applying anything at all.

Forms of car wax

We’ve already discussed the 2 types of wax you can get, natural carnauba wax and synthetic compounds.
Now it’s time to understand what forms of wax you can get. There are 3 types, Paste, Spray and Liquid but which is best for you?

Paste Wax

This is the oldest form of car wax that you’ll find. It comes in small tins and depending on the age & purity of the product, it can be hard and abrasive when you first dip your applicator pad into it. In some cases, you may actually need to heat the product up. Though most of the newer pastes are softer and don’t harden when stored correctly.

Paste should always give you the best results as it’s the most natural, allowing the carnauba wax and natural oils to enhance the shine of your vehicle.

The downside of paste, as before mentioned, is that it’s more time consuming to apply and you need to stay on top of it.

Paste wax may need to be applied monthly, depending on mileage and car maintenance.

Liquid Wax (Sealants)

Liquid Wax

Quickly becoming the industries go to wax. Liquid wax was developed so that it’s less effort to apply and maintain the coating on your vehicle.

Liquid wax is a product that requires less effort. You don’t need to worry about rocks of wax drying to your car panels or the fact that you will have to spend 30 minutes every 4-6 weeks waxing your vehicle.

It may not get the results of paste wax, but I like to think it’s like choosing to marry a 6 because, in theory, she’s going to be way less maintenance.

The only thing you need to worry about with sealants is working against the clock. When liquid wax dries on a car it can result in hazing and other unsightly marks. You don’t want cloudy finish or leftover product drying on your vehicle, but if you work fast it will not be an issue.

(As a general rule: Unless it’s scorching hot you will be fine following the manufacturers’ recommendations)

The biggest downfall of sealants is that it doesn’t have the “filling” properties of paste wax. Nobody is buying paste wax to fill dents or major clear coat scratches but it may be beneficial to use paste wax on older cars. This is because paste wax will “fill” and smoothen a rough clear coat.

Spray Wax

Spray Wax

Most sprays in the detailing world act as a quick fix. They don’t tend to cost much but they also don’t offer the best results. It’s no different went it comes to wax.

Despite being the worst performing in pretty much all areas there are still reasons why this product exists.

If you regularly wash your car, you may find that quickly applying spray wax after each wash is better than going the whole hog. After all spray wax is designed to be regularly used and re-applied weekly/bi-weekly.

Maybe you attend a lot of car meets and events? Since you don’t have your full detailing setup on the road, It’s always handy to have a quick detailer and spray wax in the car.

Finally, a lot of people actually use spray wax as a final layer, on top of the liquid or paste wax that they have already applied to the vehicle.

Even though it doesn’t offer much protection, gloss or durability, it definitely has a place in your detailing setup. Though you shouldn’t expect too much from it.


Colored Wax – These products are dying off, you don’t see any reputable brands creating color-specific wax and for good reason. Avoid colored wax at all costs, it’s just a gimmick that was made up in an attempt to add value.

Any of the products on our “Best Car Wax” list will provide the same if not better results than any color-specific wax will.

Car wax preparation

As a general rule of thumb, the cleaner you can get your car before you wax it, the better.

Car Wash

If you have lots of brake dust, mineral deposits, water spots and so on, waxing your car will only make them stand out. There’s not any bad that can come from waxing over things that are already embedded in your paint (unless they become loose and cause scratches). Though you should keep in mind that the finished article will not look as good as it could.

In an ideal world, you would detail the exterior of your car. This means:

  • Washing your wheels
  • Pre-Wash with Snow Foam
  • 2-Bucket Wash with Shampoo
  • Clay Bar (Paint Decontamination)
  • Cutting stage (Using rubbing compound)

I don’t think that it’s realistic to ask of the everyday person. In fact, I’m certain your average person won’t even get a full detail on their vehicle at all in their lifetime. he real question is how much do YOU care about YOUR car?

Give your car a proper clean first, even if it’s just a snow foam and two bucket wash. Applying wax on a dirty surface will leave you with a horrible finish and many more clear coat scratches.

If you can give your car a complete detail and paint correction before waxing, it will look even better.

Applying wax to your car

Each type of wax is applied slightly differently and may require different types of sponges and towels for the job.

Most of the products will come with instructions that are specific to the wax itself, so you’re better off following those instructions to get the best results.

With that being said, here’s a general idea of how to apply each wax.

How to apply spray wax

Due to its short life span, there are fewer risks involved when applying spray wax to your vehicle. Most spray waxes will come off with the next wash, so if you do mess up, it’s not a big deal.

When applying spray wax you should have:
A Spray Wax of your choice (Here are my recommendations).
2x Microfibre cloths (Preferably 300-450 GSM).

All you need to do when applying spray wax is to have the bottle in one hand and your microfibre cloth in the other.

  • Spray the solution onto the panel and wipe it in with your towel
  • Work in small areas so that it doesn’t dry on the panel
  • Buff it off with a 2nd “clean” microfibre towel.
  • Keep repeating the process until you’ve covered the whole car.

Because you’re not using too much product, you should get away with using 2 microfibre towels. That being said, it’s always better to have more than you need, just in case.

Applying Paste Wax & Liquid Wax

Polishing car

When applying paste and liquid wax, you’ll encounter a lot of the same issues.

Paste wax can only be applied by hand using a foam applicator whereas Liquid Wax can be applied using a foam applicator or polishing machine.

When applying wax and detailing products less is always more. Applying too much product will often cause problems.

Applying too much wax:

Best case scenario – You have to wipe the excess product off which just creates more work for yourself.

Worst case scenario – Leftover product begins to dry and you’re left with ugly spots of dry product on your car. This will leave a horrible finish and you’ll have to use a rubbing compound to get rid of it.

Whereas If you apply small amounts of the product and don’t get the desired finish, you can always make more passes. Yes, you may have to go round the car twice but it’s still a lot less effort than having to do a cut stage and then apply wax on top.

Steps for applying liquid and paste wax

  1. Apply small amounts of wax to your applicator pad
  2. Work on one panel at a time but breakdown the panel into several small working areas.
  3. Use a crosshatch “#” pattern. Don’t go round in circles, it increases the chances of swirls.
  4. Count how many passes you are making and keep it consistent across each area.
  5. Following the manufacturer instructions buff the panel when ready with a dry microfibre towel.
  6. If the product doesn’t buff off correctly try a clean towel.
  7. Repeat until you have finished the car.

Things to consider when applying liquid and paste wax:

  • Have multiple applicator pads and microfibre towels nearby. It’s better to have too many than too little. (Make sure they aren’t abrasive so they don’t cause scratches).
  • Work out of direct sunlight to avoid the product drying too quickly. If you can work in an air controlled environment, even better.
  • Follow the manufacturers’ instructions (Dwell Time / Whether to buff before or after the product dries).
  • Always pay attention to the panel you are working on. You never know what dirt, debris or wildlife could be lurking.

If after waxing your car it looks streaky or cloudy, it’s not the end of the world. There are steps that you can take to correct this. For example, you may just have an uneven finish and need to apply more wax. If it’s not an uneven finish try the steps listed below:

First of all, if you haven’t already, take a brand new microfibre cloth and try to buff it out with the new towel. This will work in cases where you’ve got a dirty towel full of product.

Secondly, let the car sit in the heat for a little while to let the vehicles paint warm up. Once you’ve done this, get a bottle of spray wax and apply it to the areas that are streaky or cloudy and then buff it with a microfibre towel.

A lot of wax sprays have mild abrasives in them and can remove the excess wax causing the streaky/cloudy finish.

Finally, once you’ve tried everything, including washing the car again, it may be time for a rubbing compound. This is the last case scenario, always choose the least abrasive option when trying to correct a problem.

How Long To Leave Wax On Your Car For?

Different waxes have different curing times.

How long you should leave wax on your car? it depends on the product that you’re using. The average wax should be wiped off within half an hour of application.

I personally work one panel at a time. I’ll apply the wax and then buff it before moving on to the next area. As you learn your product, you’ll decide what’s best for you.

You should also consider the temperature and whether or not you’re working in direct sunlight. Waxes will dry much quicker In hotter temperatures.

Alternatives to car wax and sealants

There’s only one alternative to car wax and sealants and it can be pretty expensive.

The easiest way to explain ceramic coating to you is to say that it’s “Liquid Wax (sealant) on steroids”.

Ceramic coatings can also be referred to as SiO2 or silica coatings. This is because they’re silica-based products.
When making ceramic coating they combine silica and titanium dioxide to produce a covalent bond that offers long term hydrophobic qualities as well as many other protective qualities.

Coatings are much stronger than waxes and sealants. While waxes do provide extra corrosive protection, hydrophobic qualities, and a glossy finish, they’re not even close to the same level when compared with industry-leading ceramic coatings.

Advantages of ceramic coatings:

  • Very durable
  • Protection lasts longer (In some cases over 1 year).
  • Increased corrosion resistance
  • Improved scratch resistance
  • Increased water beading
  • Improved water sheeting
  • Less chance of water spotting
  • Can withstand higher temperatures than wax (Up to 1200 degrees Fahrenheit).

Disadvantages of ceramic coatings:

  • More expensive than wax
  • Mistakes are very time consuming to fix
  • Time-consuming to prep and coat a vehicle
  • Preparation is important (Full Detail Is necessary)
  • Needs to be applied and kept in a dry area for 24 hours
  • You may not know how to do a full detail / May not want to
  • You may be too scared to apply it and have to pay a professional detailer
  • Depending on the value of your car it may not even be worth applying

So if you’re asking whether you should choose ceramic coating over wax, it depends on your situation. Since you’re reading an article on “how to apply wax”, I’m going to suggest that you may not be ready to apply ceramic coating to your vehicle yet.

When applying ceramic coating you need to give your vehicle a full detail and paint decontamination beforehand. Unfortunately, doing that is more time, effort and/or money than most people will be willing to spend on their vehicle.

Another thing to keep in mind is the poor results you could get if applied incorrectly. Are you prepared to invest a lot of hours into paint correction if you end up with a poor finish?

Experience goes a long way when it comes to detailing and applying a ceramic coating. If you have a new car or a valuable car that you want to protect it may be best that you pay for a new car detail and ceramic coating application from a professional.

If you’re a keen detailer and want to add ceramic coating application to your resume, be prepared to spend a lot of money on product and test panels as well as many frustrating hours learning the in and outs of this incredible product.

Car Wax and Sealants – Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you know more about car wax, it may leave you with even more questions. Listed below are the most commonly asked questions about car waxes and sealants.

Does car wax protect paint?

Car wax and sealants do protect the paint but not in the way you think and hope that they would.

A hard layer of carnauba wax will deter minor scratches and clear coat weathering providing you keep it fresh and reapply often. It will not stop stone chips and other harsh abrasives from damaging the paint of your car.

If you’re looking to prevent stone chips and deep scratches you will need Paint Protection Film (Clearbra). I will warn you though, clear bra is only worthwhile on expensive cars. There’s very little point putting it on a 20k daily driver that will decrease in value no matter what.

How often should you wax a car?

There’s no exact time window where you need to wax a car. I’d be crazy to suggest that you need to wax your vehicle at 2pm every 3rd Sunday afternoon otherwise you risk a day without protection on your car.

The normal option is to follow the manufacturers recommendation. A lot of products will tell you on average how long the wax lasts on the vehicle.

The general rule I follow is:
As soon as I stop seeing water sheeting and beading on my car, I know that after my next wash I should apply wax or sealant.

As long as you maintain your vehicle regularly, removing mineral deposits, bird poo and other things that may affect your clear coat within a reasonable time, you will be fine.

I used to be a bit more obsessive than this but I found that it was not worth my time and effort. So what if you go without vehicle wax for a little while? It’s not going to be a huge detriment.

Will car wax remove scratches and swirl marks?

Car wax will not remove scratches and swirl marks. It will, however, “fill” them.

If you want to remove scratches it’s important you understand the layers of car paint and what they do.

Scratches are embedded in each coat of the paintwork.

If a piece of debris lands on your paint and creates a minor scratch in the clear coat, it will “disappear” when you apply wax to the area.

If it goes beyond the clearcoat, the wax will not be able to “fill” it or improve its appearance.
Scratches that go beyond the clearcoat need touch up paint or a professional repair.

Waxing the vehicle will temporarily fill scratches but they will reappear quickly.
If you want to completely remove scratches from your clear coat, you should polish your vehicle. Car Polish has different levels of abrasives in it which will cut back your clear coat and remove minor scratches and imperfections.

How to store car wax correctly

We’re all guilty of it. Going through phases where your car is your baby and it needs to be maintained a little too often and then the next couple of months you couldn’t care what happens to it.

As a result of washing my car less, moving house or just trying out new products, I often throw products to the side not caring how they’re stored and then discover them in a horrible state later on.

There isn’t many guidelines that you need to follow when storing most detailing products. The biggest factor is going to be the temperature and keeping them sealed correctly, do this and you should be fine for many years, though you may need to give them a good shake before use.

Does car wax go bad?

Car wax is always shipped without an expiry date on it because it technically doesn’t expire. Because of this, many people, myself included (in the beginning) took this as meaning it is as effective on day one as it is on day 989.
But that’s not the case. I found that out when I came across a gloopy, gooey liquid wax that had been stored in sub-optimal conditions.

You may want to forget about that old tin you’ve found and buy another to be safe, but then again, maybe you’re a tight-wad like myself.

Most of the leading car waxes and sealants are supposed to last for a long time. They should at least 2 years from the manufacture date (providing they’re stored right).

Make sure you take extra caution when applying and pay attention to how the product is behaving when using an older product.

If you use old carnauba wax on your vehicle you should worry about the hardness causing potential scratches. If it’s still soft then it’s alright to use, but it may provide less than stellar results.

Follow your gut, if the product doesn’t look right before it’s applied to the vehicle, why would it look good once it’s applied?

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