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What is the best wax?

October 08, 2008
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Editor’s Note: This article original appeared in the March 2006 issue of Professional Carwashing and Detailing magazine. If you have a topic idea or would like to submit an article to be featured in the Tech Tips section of Professional Detailing e-News, please email Kate Carr at kcarr@carwash.
A common question heard around detail shops is, “What is the best wax?”

Unfortunately, the answer is not a black or white issue. It usually comes down to a tradeoff between protection and ease-of-use.

Generally speaking, the ease-of-use of a product is inversely proportional to the longevity and protection it provides.

To put it simply, the more work involved in application and removal, the more durability and protection offered.

Waxes and glazes

There are essentially three types of waxes:

1) Pastes: Paste waxes typically come in a round container and are what many people think of when the phrase “car wax” is mentioned.

Paste waxes are difficult to work with, as they typically take longer to apply and remove. The benefit of paste waxes is that they provide longer, more durable protection to the surface that is treated.

2) Liquids: Liquid waxes are easily applied and easily removed. Because these waxes are in liquid form, they can be applied by a trigger spray bottle and easily wiped off.

However, the extreme ease-of-use comes at a price: liquid waxes typically have the least durability of all waxes.

Liquid waxes are great “make ready” products for dealerships or express detail operations.

3) Crèmes: Crème waxes reside somewhere in the middle; a compromise between ease-of-use and durability.

Most crème waxes apply and remove easily like a liquid wax, yet offer extended protection just short of paste waxes.


Wax durability, the amount of time that it will protect the surface, can vary widely even when the same wax is applied to the same vehicle.

Many variables can influence the durability of the wax. These factors include:

· The type and condition of the paint;

· The local weather conditions;

· The number of hours the vehicle is outdoors; and

· Local environmental factors, such as acid rain and chemical fallout.

One thing that does not affect durability is the number of coats of wax applied. Applying two coats of wax does not improve durability or gloss; it simply ensures even coverage on the entire vehicle.

A rough approximation is that liquid waxes will last 30-60 days, crème waxes will last 60-90 days and paste waxes will last 90-plus days.

Applying the wax

The first step when applying wax (or using any detailing product) is to read the instructions on the back label. The manufacturer writes these directions to help the detailer achieve optimal product performance.

These directions are usually based on the manufacturer’s extensive product development and testing.

Do not expect to achieve the best performance if the directions state to apply with an orbital polisher and you choose to apply by hand.

Use a wax applicator pad that is slightly moistened, but not wet. A slightly moistened pad makes product application easier by reducing drag; a wet pad will make the product watery.

Contrary to Mr. Miaggi’s advice in “The Karate Kid,” wax application should be done in overlapping horizontal or vertical strokes.

Using a circular “wax-on” motion opens up the possibility of putting smudges or streaks that appear as swirl marks on the surface.

Overlapping strokes provide total coverage while reducing the probability of swirls.

Removing the wax

The traditional choice for removing wax from a vehicle’s surface used to be to use a soft cotton cloth or a mesh “cheese cloth.” Cotton has been a more recent choice due to its soft surface, making it less likely to scratch.

These choices are rapidly giving way to the use of microfiber cloths. Microfiber cloths are as soft as cotton cloths, with two additional benefits: they are lint-free and they do not scratch.

Although the cloths themselves do not scratch, make sure to remove any tags, as these will scratch the vehicle surface.

Emerging trends

The most urgent trend in waxes comes not from customer need, but from regulatory issues.

Legislation on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in automotive detailing chemicals began in California in the late 90’s and has spread to several Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

There are currently eight states that have enacted strict VOC regulations, with a dozen more that are investigating legislation. As with most public health issues that started in California, it is expected that the VOC regulations will eventually be enacted in every state.

So what does this mean for detailers? The good news is that waxes as a category are not as significantly impacted as other product categories, such as tire dressings.

The bad news is that some of your favorite products may no longer be available for purchase.

All of the major manufacturers have been working for the past several years to reformulate their products to meet VOC standards or introduce replacement products.

These products typically perform as well as their non-VOC compliant counterparts, although they may be priced higher due to higher costs associated with the raw materials needed to bring them into compliance.

Lou D’Alessandris is a former market analyst for Malco Products, Inc.. For more information, email Kim Applegate at