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|There is probably no chemical used in the detail business today that is more misunderstood than waxes and paint sealants. When asked by the editors of Professional Carwashing & Detailing to do a story on these two products, the first thing I did was contact knowledgeable individuals involved in the formulation of these chemical products.
Kim Wilson is a chemist with U.S. Chemical and Plastics and has nearly 30 years of experience in the formulation of chemicals. Dave Phillips is a principal at P & S Sales and in charge of the company’s chemical formulations.
There is no function in our daily lives that does not involve wax. Formulas and variations are used as coatings to beautify, lubricate, laminate, and insulate. And, in detailing, they are used to protect.
The chemical and physical properties of waxes differ and vary. How the waxes are gathered, produced, and refined affects the properties and composition. As well, other ingredients used in the overall formulation affect the properties of true waxes. As a result, the term wax has been erroneously and carelessly used over the years, nowhere more than in the detailing business.
The various kinds of waxes
When considering a formulation, chemists consider the waxes’:
Most waxes will provide protection and shine for no more than 60 days, under the best conditions.
What is the best wax?
Actually, there is no difference between hard pastes, creams, or liquids if we are talking about true car waxes. Given the formula has a high percentage of wax; the form does not affect the product.
However, some spray waxes or fast waxes on the market have small amounts of wax and silicone in them so they offer very little protection and have little durability. Most retail, off-the-shelf products have very little wax and are loaded with abrasives, evidenced by the powdery residue present upon drying.
Sealant vs. wax
For those of us in the detail business there must be a clear distinction between these two protection products. You need the information in order to convey to your customers honest information. You know why a wax is a wax and what it will do with regard to protection and shine. The remainder of this article will provide you with similar information on paint sealants.
A sealant is something that seals. But if a wax seals, is it also a sealant? Technically yes, but typically sealing is not one of the requirements of a wax product.
Sealants may have wax in their formulation but because of the other ingredients; they are more than just a wax. If a wax has some of these other ingredients in its formulation then it is properly not a wax, but a paint sealant.
A paint sealant for the detailer is any product that forms some sort of cross-linking film over the surface of the paint that forms a durable barrier on the surface that will last for a considerable length of time.
What does a sealant contain?
You also will see ingredient terms like polymer and resins, or polymer-resins. These are marketing buzzwords.
Phillips also defines a polymer for us in the simplest descriptive sense: "Poly" meaning many and “mer” meaning unit. So, any chemical that consists of endless repeating identical units is a polymer.
Examples of polymers include polyethylene, polyurethane, and polytetrafluoroethylene. For example, polyethylene is simply many units of ethylene.
In the detail chemical business, the word polymer is the single most abused word you will find. For example, most of the thickeners used in detail products are polymers, which make it suspiciously easy to put the words “contains space-age polymers” on the bottle.
What is a resin?
According to Phillips, the chemical dictionary definition is so broadly used it has almost become meaningless. It is a catch-all term. To be specific, resin is a polymer that melts or is soluble in specific solvents. In some cases, the material used to make a plastic is a resin. If you see the term resin on the label of detail product how do you know what it means? The answer is: You don’t. In short, the use of resin, polymer, etc. is marketing jargon.
The properties of silicone fluids range from very thin, volatile liquids that look and feel like petroleum solvents to very thick and heavy liquids that look like clear honey. The only difference between a thin and thick silicone fluid is the number of units in the dimethyl siloxane chain.
Almost all waxes and sealant products have some type of silicone fluids in them to provide shine and durability.
The amino-functional silicones
This cross-linking capability is what makes a paint sealant more durable than a wax. Typically, waxes only include standard silicone fluids. Therefore, they are not as durable as a paint sealant.
What is teflon®?
Teflon is a powder that melts at 600° F or dissolves in fluorinated solvents such as Freon. Those are the only known ways to liquefy Teflon. If it cannot be made into liquid, it cannot coat or stay on a surface.
Can wax be put over a sealant?
So which is better, a wax or a sealant? If you are looking for durability, then a sealant must be your choice. The best waxes will last maybe 50-60 days, tops. A paint sealant will last up to six months under the best conditions.
From a shine point of view, a wax might provide a deeper shine on a dark car because of the greater oil content. This is not to say that a sealant will not shine.
Personally, I prefer a paint sealant. Why? It goes on faster, comes off easier, and lasts longer. There is more value for the motorist and it is easier for the detailer to use. In some instances, you can put a coat of good wax over the sealant if you want to fill in spider line scratches on the paint. So, my conclusion is that a paint sealant is a better product to use than a wax in most instances.
R.L. “Bud” 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 a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors.Abraham can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.