Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Everything you need to know about waxes and paint sealants

July 1, 2011

Listen to detailers talk, and you would think they were experts on waxes and paint sealants. However, unless one is a chemist, we all have a lot to learn. All you have to do is do some research into detail chemicals and you will come away realizing how much you do not know.

There is a huge amount of information on the subject of waxes and paint sealants, and one must learn to be able to discern fact from fiction. Of course, the question is whether you need to know all this information or not. But, there is a lot of misinformation being disseminated to detailers and hopefully this article can help you understand what you do not know.

The purpose of this article is to provide you with information on waxes and paint sealants available to the detail industry.

What is wax?

What is called wax has been with us in different forms for thousands of years. The first waxes discovered by man were natural waxes. But over the years, with advancements in technology, people discovered they could produce excellent waxes in a laboratory (synthetic). Waxes are used today for many things: To beautify, laminate, insulate and to lubricate, as well as in auto protection products.

But, not all waxes are the same. Their properties will differ based on how they are gathered, produced and/or refined. Waxes also are affected by other ingredients that are included in the formulation. As a result, the term WAX has been used incorrectly and carelessly for years, and this is especially true in car protection products.

Types of wax

There are many waxes available on the market that chemical companies can use and do use to formulate a car wax including:

  • Vegetable waxes (carnauba)
  • Animal waxes (bees wax)
  • Mineral-fossil waxes (montan)
  • Synthetic waxes (ethylene polymers)
  • Petroleum waxes (paraffin and micro crystalline)

However, what you really need to know is what the chemists consider when they formulate a car wax product including:

  • Ease of application
  • Ease of removal
  • Depth of shine
  • Resistance of soaps
  • Durability
  • Price

Unfortunately, no one wax can achieve all of these points. In fact, often enhancing one will take away from another. For example, enhancing shine takes away from durability.

How to define a car wax

In other words, a wax is used on a painted surface to provide protection against the environment, to enhance appearance and to provide shine. By the way, shine comes from smoothing out the surface, and a wax does this by filling the imperfections in the paint.

It is safe to say that no automobile wax product is 100 percent pure wax. If anyone has had the opportunity to see pure carnauba in its natural state they know it looks like cornflakes. It has to be mixed with other ingredients to become what we call a car wax.

That said, most car waxes are a combination of the following ingredients in varying amounts that are held together by emulsifiers including:

  • Water
  • Solvents
  • Silicone fluids
  • Wax
  • Abrasive (not all waxes contain abrasives)
  • Color

Whether a wax product is a paste, crème or liquid is based on how the chemist formulates the various ingredients. Thus, the form that you see is simply a result of how the ingredients are put together.

A true wax, one that has only silicone fluids in the formulation, will last no more than 30 to 45 days, under the best conditions. In the discussion of paint sealants, you will note that a different type of silicone is used and that is what makes a paint sealant different from a wax.

What’s the best wax?

Research indicates that when it comes to car waxes there is no real advantage of one form over the other. That is, you can choose to use a liquid, crème or paste, and if the formulation of ingredients is the same, the form you use makes no difference in terms of protection or shine. That was/is determined by the chemist when they developed the formula.

As mentioned, the chemist is faced with several challenges by the company’s marketing and sales department asking them to formulate a car wax based on:

  • Cost
  • Shine
  • Removal
  • Protection
  • Ease of application
  • Ease of removal

Thus, in the case of car waxes, you really do get what you pay for. That is, more expensive car waxes, in most cases, should be of a higher quality than less expensive products. But, how do you really know? You really do not know. That is why it is critical that you do business with established companies whose representatives you can trust and believe when they recommend a particular wax to you.

Bottom line, with all things being equal, a car wax is a commodity. That is, you can buy the same thing from any company. So, if the price is right you should buy it. My suggestion is to look for the highest price wax you can buy. Be it paste, crème or liquid. Use it, test it, and if you are convinced it is a good product, get samples of other products, use and test them against the first. If they perform as well and are less expensive, then buy the lesser-priced product.

How are paint sealants different from waxes?

This is a question that almost everyone has a difficult time answering. Too often, the pat answer is, “They are more expensive than waxes.”

Is there really a difference between what are called waxes (described previously) and what are called “paint sealants”? Yes, there is a difference, and for detailers that do a great deal of retail work, they must first know and understand the difference in order to answer the kinds of questions the motorist will ask.

Stated simply, a sealant is something that seals. But, doesn’t a wax seal? Technically this is correct, but if you recall the requirements for a wax product, it says nothing about “sealing capability.” While some paint sealant formulations contain wax, they are really much more than a wax. Keep in mind who you are talking to when you ask, “What is a paint sealant?” Body shops will tell you a paint sealant is a troublesome paint protection product that causes all sorts of paint adherence problems and prevents solvent evaporation if put on over new paint.

Auto paint manufacturers see paint sealants as a product that stops the bleed-thru of undesirable properties from the lower layers of paint or substrate.

Detailers see it as a product that forms some sort of “cross-linking” film over a paint surface. This is probably the definition or perspective that should be considered from our point of view.

Read carefully from this point on. Paint sealants, like our good friend, wax, have in their formulation the following ingredients that are held together by an emulsifier:

  • Water
  • Solvent
  • Wax (sometimes)
  • Amino-Functional Silicones
  • Color
  • Fragrance (sometimes)

Do not be confused by the terms: polymer, resins or polymer-resins. Most chemists see the use of these words as marketing “hype.” To be more informed you need to understand what a polymer and a resin really are.

Sealant forms

Which are better, crèmes or liquid sealants? You will find many sealants on the market that immediately separate when left sitting for about two to three minutes. Yet others remain in a crème form. This gives rise to the question of which is better to use. This does not mean anything. Crème sealants can be formulated in many ways and the differences will show up in the physical state of the product.

In other words, sealant products with the same ingredients can be formulated as a crème or separating liquid. The physical advantage of one over the other cannot be determined solely on form.

Is it all right to put a wax over a sealant? If you want to do so, it is okay, if you allow the sealant to air dry for a few hours to let the cross-linking molecules form. It is really not necessary and a waste of time and money. If you wanted to enhance or deepen the shine on a black car I would not argue that a thick wax could do this, but that is up to you.

So which is a better product to use for protection, a wax or sealant? Without question, the paint sealant is the better product for durability. A paint sealant under the best conditions can last up to six months. But more than likely a more reasonable assurance to tell the customer is four to six months depending on climatic conditions and how they take care of the vehicle. If it is garaged during the day and night, etc.

Personally, I like paint sealants because they are easier to apply and easier to remove, leave a good shine and last longer. This assumes you are paying no more than about $20 to $22 per gallon. If you are paying $45 a quart or more you should look for another supplier. There are no paint sealants on the market that are worth $45 a quart. Pay it if you want, but there is only so much technology you can put in a paint sealant.


This month, R.L. “Bud” Abraham, wrote the article: Everything you need to know about waxes and paint sealants. Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is also the executive director of the International Detailing Association and a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors. Abraham can be contacted at buda@detailplus.com.