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A freshly waxed car hood

How to Wax a Car

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Wax Poetic

To amplify shine and gloss, apply a layer of carnauba wax over the sealant. This coats and enhances the depth of the paint.

Waxing your car is as important as washing it. By waxing your car regularly, you improve and maintain the value of the car, either for your desire or when it comes time to sell it. There are two ways to wax a car; either by hand using microfiber cloths or, with a dual action polisher. Using a little elbow grease may be the harder, more time-consuming way of waxing your car, but could be worth the time and effort used. Both ways are ideal for keeping and maintaining a nice shiny vehicle. Never buff or wax in the extreme heat, or direct sunlight.

Gathering Supplies

The supplies needed will depend on the type of method you decide to use.

For the washing a car by hand, you will need

  • Microfiber towel
  • Terry cloth towel
  • Car wax
  • Paint sealant
  • Paste wax
  • Liquid wax
  • Clay bar

For the machine application method, you will need

  • Microfiber towel
  • Dual action polisher
  • Foam finishing pad
  • Compound wax
  • Paint sealant
  • Paste wax
  • Liquid wax
  • Electric buffer

Prepping the car

A man bending over and washing his car with sudsy soap

First, it is important that the vehicle is free of any dirt and grime. Wash the vehicle thoroughly, and either hand dry it or use the dryer at the car wash if you are already there. Any water left can cause streaks and will be hard to buff out. If your car has scratches or rust, it is ideal to use an electric buffer.

Using a clay bar

A detailing clay bar is made of natural or synthetic clay. The clay bar is used to help remove contaminants from paint, glass, metal and fiberglass. A clay bar is a usually a safe, effective way to clean any loose dirt and compounded residue from the car. The clay bar will help keep from ruining the thin clear coat. After this, you can use the wax or polish you choose. If your vehicle has scratches and rough spots in the clear coat, it may be necessary to use a more abrasive type of car wax or car polish.

Waxing the car

Using a spray wax

Automotive spray wax is the easiest way to wax a car. Spray wax offers the same protection as liquid or paste waxes. The application process can be finished in minutes, rather than hours. Unlike other car waxes, spray wax can be applied in direct sunlight, but still works best in the shade.

The application is simple. After your car is washed and dried, use a microfiber cloth in one hand and spray the wax with the other. Spray a small amount, apply using the cloth, then wipe off with the dry part of the cloth. For a final buff, use a clean cloth and wipe clean.  

Using hand application

For hand waxing, paste wax is easier to apply. Always remember: thinner is better and too much wax will make it harder to remove. First, start by applying a small amount, about the size of a quarter, of car wax to the microfiber cloth.

Apply a thin layer to ¼ of the vehicle at a time. Using light pressure, wipe on with an up and down motion. Do not use circular motions as this may cause paint damage. Using a clean cloth, buff off the wax. A microfiber cloth will leave less dust behind like a regular cloth. Use a clean section of the cloth when needed. Keep extra towels close for replacing the ones caked in wax.

Applying a small amount of wax onto a clean car

Only apply one coat at a time. Some types of car wax require a set amount of time cure. Check this before removing the wax. After desired time, use a clean cloth to wipe the wax off, again using the up and down motion.  

If you see streaks after the waxing is complete, use a detail spray to dampen the car and buff the streaks out lightly.

Using machine application

When using an electric buffer or orbital polisher, liquid car wax is more efficient; however, any car was is sufficient. Always use a clean foam pad or buffer pad and apply the desired product to the pad or directly on the car depending on the type of wax.

For hard waxes and paste waxes such as carnauba wax, apply directly to the orbital polisher. For liquid wax or paint sealant, apply directly to the car’s surface. Place the orbital polisher against the vehicle surface and turn it on. To prevent burns and swirls in the paint, always keep the machine parallel to the surface and do not use too much pressure. Use up and down motions to apply a thin layer of wax.

As in the hand waxing method, check the directions to see if the wax needs to cure and for how long. Using a clean foam pad, gently buff the wax off.

Using detailing spray

When you are done waxing, your car should be slick and shiny.  This is not always the case. Sometimes you may see streaks or swirls in the clear coat. This can be an easy fix. Put your car in direct sunlight for 10 – 15 minutes to warm the surface of the car. You do not want the surface to get hot, only warm. Then take it back in the shade and use a detailing spray and a clean cloth to buff out the undesired spots quickly.  

Tips for contours on a car

Contouring on a car enhances the details of its shape. Contouring can be an easy task, which will make your vehicle showroom worthy. After you have waxed your car with a paint sealant and allowed it to dry for 12 hours, then apply carnauba wax over the paint sealant. To apply this wax, either use the dual action method or use a detailing round brush for smaller contours. When contouring, pay attention to every detail, be sure there are no streaks. Keep along the car’s natural contour for best results.

Choosing the type of wax

There are two types of car wax, natural or synthetic. However, they fall into four basic categories of forms: liquid wax, paste wax, spray wax or colored wax.

A selection of car wax at the store


  • Natural carnauba wax is made of carnauba and beeswax or turpentine. It comes in two colors, yellow or white, to determine the grade of wax. Yellow is pure carnauba and is more expensive. Carnauba wax is recommended for black or dark colored vehicles. This wax will protect the paint; however, it tends to wear off quickly.
  • Synthetic wax is also called paint sealant. This type is more durable and is made up of polymers which bond with paint. Synthetic wax lasts up to 12 months; this depends on the weather and brand of wax. This provides a high level of protection and a better shine than carnauba wax. High-end car owners prefer synthetic wax.


  • Paste wax is the most common form of wax used for years. Paste wax texture is stiff and hard, and some feel that it is harder to use. Because of this, the car’s surface will need to be warmer for it to apply correctly. The paste wax provides a glossy shine.
  • Liquid wax is smoother than paste wax and easier to apply. You can apply this form by hand or the machine method. Liquid wax is infused with synthetic polymers to make it last longer.
  • Spray wax is used for a quick detail waxing. These are very quick to apply when you do not have the extra time to spend on waxing. However, the shine and wax wear off very quickly compared to paste or liquid wax.

Colored wax is pigmented with the idea to match the color of your car. However, this method is usually not recommended because cars made after since 2000 have a clear coat over the base or color coat.

Buffing the car

Buffing works by stripping away a thin layer of paint and exposing fresh new paint. The compound or wax used works as a paint stripper. A buffing machine uses a wheeling technique, where a rotating wheel heats up the clear coat just enough to erase the rust and scratch marks. It is vital to keep the buffer and compound away from any chrome, rubber, or glass part of the car. The method of application is not the same as the waxing process. Instead of back and forth motions, you will make small circular motions to buff out the bad spots.

The car should always be clean before buffing. First, spread the compound evenly on the car using the buffing pad. Next, while holding the buffer flat, work in small circular motions over small sections of the car. The car should be smooth and have a shiny look to it when complete. This should only be done once a year, to ensure damage free surfaces.

Maintaining the car wax shine

Waxing your car every six months is recommended to maintain the shine. This also increases or maintains the value of the car. For extremely cold or hot climates, every three months will keep your car shiny. The same applies to areas where salt is used on the roads or close to the beach; as salt or salt water can oxidize the paint. If you wash your car, and the water does not bead down the car smoothly, it is time for a waxing.

A freshly polished red car

Waxing methods have improved with time, and so have the products. What was once very time consuming and tiring, is now much easier. Your options depend on how much time and effort you want to spend on your car. The cost of wax and buffing machines has reduced dramatically to make it easier and cost effective for you to wax your car. An Expert can answer any question you have about your car and the waxing method you choose.

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