In this article, I will attempt to deconstruct what Waxes, Sealants, and Coatings are. I will also provide information on when and how to use them. Hopefully, after reading this you will be able to understand the differences and choose which one is right for you and your car.
Some people see waxing or adding any paint protection as something extra or something for a special occasion. This, however, is not true. Paint protection is an essential part of owning and maintaining any vehicle. Regular protection helps to ensure the paint does not get damaged by preserving the oils in your paint and preventing oxidation.
Wax - A car wax comes in the form of liquids or pastes. Each has a unique ration of naturally-occurring or synthetic wax as the main ingredient. Its purpose is to protect the paint and increase the amount of shine. They are typically easy to apply though they do not last very long.
Sealant - Paint sealants are one step above waxes and are contain man-made polymers, resins, and synthetic ingredients meant to increase the durability and shine.
Coating - Paint protection that bonds to the paint to provide a long-lasting, extremely glossy finish, and highly protective barrier. These products are so durable they can last up to several years without needing to be replaced.
With many different types of waxes, it can be hard to make a decision about what to go with. In this section, I will alleviate any confusion you may currently have and help you find the right wax for your car.
WHAT A WAX DOES
A wax forms a barrier between your clear coat and the outside world to help protect your paint from damage. A car wax will also help smooth out your paint's surface by filling in light scratches and reducing friction between debris and your paint making it less likely for scratches to occur.
The saying "you get what you pay for" rings true with spray waxes. Although spray waxes are the fastest and easiest way to add a light shine a layer of protection to your car's paint. This sacrificial layer will not last long and will not provide much shine. For about $7 it's not a bad choice for a novice or for someone who doesn't have the time or money for anything else. But if you do choose to go with a spray wax it can be applied during the drying process. Simply spray one or two squirts onto your drying towel and dry the panel. You can repeat for the rest of the car and be done. You should apply every 1-2 weeks because spray waxes do not last long.
This is my personal recommendation and my favorite because it is so versatile and easy to use. You simply apply the wax using an applicator pad or your hands, let dry, and buff off. But carnauba waxes greatly vary in price point and quality, but all function the same. They act as a layer of protection while also adding a deep and rich shine to your car's paint. You can pick up a carnauba wax at your local auto store or online for about $15 dollars. But if you want a higher quality wax you can special order one for up to $2500. The only difference between these two is the amount of shine it can provide. The higher the price the more shine (usually). I understand the most expensive waxes are not practical for everyday use. So my recommendation for a carnauba wax is Adam's Buttery Car Wax for about $22. You should apply this every 8-12 weeks depending on weather conditions and how often you wash your car. If the weather is harsher and you wash your car frequently then you could consider applying every 4-6 weeks.
Synthetic waxes are much like carnauba waxes. They cost about the same and provide a similar shine but they last a little longer due to the polymers they are made of. But I always recommend a carnauba wax because they bring slightly more depth and shine.
A cleaner wax is a product that polishes, cleans, and protects the surface of your vehicle all in one step. The formula of a cleaner wax contains a blend of chemical and mechanical cleaners that work in union to to remove traffic film, light oxidation, and other contaminants. You might use a cleaner wax when you do not want to clay bar and/ or polish your car, but a cleaner wax will not produce results equivalent to claying, polishing, and then waxing as separate steps. A cleaner wax should not be unless your vehicle is in poor condition. For example, if you have a brand new car, you should use a carnauba wax. However, if you have an older vehicle that has not been properly maintained, a cleaner wax would be perfect for you.
Paint sealants are liquid compounds that are designed to bond and protect the car's paint. Paint sealants are mostly synthetic and found in a liquid or cream form. Paint sealants work by forming a bond with the car's paint. So it is important to make sure you have removed any waxes and cleaned the paint with an IPA (isopropyl alcohol) wipe down for best results. There are primarily two types of sealants which are listed below with more information.
Synthetic sealants are slightly different from carnauba waxes. Carnauba is a naturally occurring wax that is harvested from leaves of the palm Copernicia prunifera which is naturally found in northeastern Brazil. Synthetic sealants do not use carnauba instead they have recreated similar compounds that provide the same shine or better (as most carnauba waxes) with even better performance. I personally use Meguiar's M21 Synthetic Sealant because it bonds to the paint to form a thin but highly durable shell that protects my car and provides a very nice shine. These greatly range on the amount of time it can last but the Meguiar's M21 last about 5-7 months. You can find these at different price points with most ranging from $15-$60.
Cleaning sealants are just like a sealant but they contain micro abrasives that are intended to help eliminate swirl marks. In my experience cleaner sealants or cleaner waxes are not very effective. Their ineffectiveness can be attributed to two reasons. One, they are usually applied by hand. While a little elbow grease can go a long, you would need to scrub for a very long time to see mild results. Two, the abrasives are not strong enough to remove 70-90% of scratches. If you are looking to improve your paint and remove scratches you should hire a professional. Not only is the equipment and products to correct paint expensive but you can seriously damage your paint if you are not experienced and may even make it worse than it is now. There is a reason detailers charge a substantial amount for a full paint correction. It is because it takes lots of time and practice to develop the skills to correct paint and detail cars. But if you do choose this option you can expect similar performance as a regular sealant.
In this section, we are going to be referring to nano coatings. Nano coatings, glass coatings, or ceramic coatings all do the same thing. They form a thin layer of glass around your cars paint providing extreme depth, gloss, and protection. Nano coatings for cars have been around for a long time but have gained popularity over the past decade. Nano coatings are considered "permanent" in the sense they do not separate from the cars paint surface. However, they can be removed with the use of a buffer or DA polisher. Nano coatings can typically last 5 or more years depending on the quality of the product and the preparation before applying. Nano coatings last a long time and protect your paint from outside harm like bird droppings, bug splatter, UV damage, and light scratches.
HOW TO APPLY
You need to hire a professional to apply one of these coatings due to the immense amount of preparation required. Before a nano coating can be applied the surface needs to be 100% free of blemishes and scratches. A multi stage paint correction that may involve wet sanding, glass polishing, aluminum or chrome polishing, and touch-up paint may be required depending on the state of your car's paint. Another reason you should hire a detailer is that of the concentrated chemicals used in the nano coatings. If you ever open a bottle of this stuff it will smell like you are inhaling jet fuel. You also need to wear a mask and take short breaks to avoid passing out or the feeling of light-headedness. Furthermore, if you mess up the coating it is extremely hard and costly to remove. I understand that paying a detailer 800-1500 to apply a coating like this may seem outrageous, but you should consider the value that paint protection and regular maintenance can add to a vehicle.
A clear bra is a transparent film placed over the paint of your car typically made from urethane. It is meant to protect your car from things regular coatings cannot like rock chips and heavy scratches. This seems great as it can provide long-term protection for high impact areas on your car. But there are a few drawbacks like It is very expensive, not as durable as you think (sap or acid could easily eat through the plastic and run your clear bra), and aesthetically unappealing. You can expect to pay $1500-$4000 depending on the size of the car, where you live, and the detailer you choose.
Wrapping your car's paint is fairly common these days. A wrap is the same as a clear bra but it is not as thick and it is colored to your choice. These are commonly used to change the color of a car to something not offered from the factory without needing to repaint the car. Though these do not provide as much protection as a clear bra it is still something that can be considered. Though keep in mind it can be costly with most wraps costing around $2500-$6000.
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