How to wax a car properly [Step-by-step guide]

Do you want your car to be freaking shiny and looking like brand new?

I know you do.

I'll teach you right now how to wax a car properly for ultimate protection, looks and awesomeness.

Many car owners think wax are a thing from the past you know, from our grandpas era where car paints weren't resistant at all.​

These car owners are very much mistaken:

wax has long been essential to smart car care and preserving the resale value of your vehicle.

how to wax a car properly

Waxing your car has long been viewed by many car owners as just a way to make the paint look shinier on your car; however, car wax served a very different purpose: back in the day: it was your paint’s first and line of defense against scratches.

Car Wax. Understanding the origins.

Why Dad and Grandpa Waxed Their Rides: Classic Car Paint and Traditional Wax

Older cars manufactured during the heydey of Detroit’s Big Three didn’t have much in the way of high tech finishes.

Manufacturers put a coat of primer and a couple coats of lacquer paint in various colors on the all steel body, and then that was that.

If you didn’t wax your car with a layer of carnauba wax, that meant sand, gravel, dust, or stiff breeze could scratch your paint to the metal, and unless you lived in a sunny, dry state, your car would have streaks of rust running from front bumper to tailfins inside of a month.

Needless to say, most smart car owners in northern United States (the land of winter snows and salty roads) waxed their cars as often as possible back then.

Why You Should Wax Your Ride: Modern Cars and Newer Wax Formulas

Fortunately, the addition of clear coat to seal lacquer paint on cars started about 1980, giving cars a much needed layer of protection against UV light, salt, ozone, dirt, bug guts, exhaust, and bird droppings.

However, even with this layer of clear coat, over time the abuse of day to day driving takes its toll, oxidizing the clear coat surface, giving it a dull hazy appearance.

Adding a coat of modern car wax, essentially a specially formulated clear coat sealant, helps protect your pain and its clear coat from scratches and keeps dirt from accumulating on your car as well.

Waxing regularly is essential to long term protection, and not waxing your car means that the clear coat will scratch more easily and it will start to look cloudy and dull.

Additionally, without regular waxing your car will show dirt sooner after washing, and the color of the paint fades more rapidly as it is exposed to sunlight throughout its lifetime since the UV protection in the clear coat benefits from periodic replenishment.

Why Smart Owners Wash AND Wax

In other words, if you aren’t waxing your car after washing it, you aren’t taking the best possible care of your car’s paint and finish, and in the long run you are actually reducing its resale value.

Four solid coats of wax a year will help keep your car’s finish in near-pristine condition, and it keeps a layer of protection between the dirt and grit that builds up during the year and the actual paint on your car.

Touching up with spray-on wax is fine for maintaining that high-gloss look many true car enthusiasts crave, but at minimum your car needs a wax no less than twice a year: one time before the winter, and again in the spring.

Let’s look at a basic method for waxing and a more advanced method for making sure your car’s paint and finish stay fresh-from-the dealership new.

Methods for Waxing Your Car The Right Way

There are a couple of methods for polishing and waxing your car in order to keep the finish looking good and protected from the daily hazards of driving and the prevailing weather.

Let’s talk about how to wash the car first to preserve the finish.

I. Preparation: Washing

1. Don’t wipe down or dust your car’s exterior with a dry cloth: The particulates that collect on the outside of your car can scratch the clear coat or even the paint if you wipe the car down dry.

2. Avoid washing your car in direct, hot sunlight: Cool water combined with hot metal body panels causes the body panels to contract and crack the paint, ruining the finish.

3. Obvious as it sounds, verify windows and sunroof are closed and seal properly: Give the area around windows and sunroofs a quick spray to make sure the weatherstripping is watertight, too.

3. Start by hosing the whole car down to clear away the loose dust and grit: That way it’s safe to start cleaning with a soft cloth without having to worry about scratching up the finish.

4. Rinse/wring out your cleaning cloth/rags with cold/lukewarm water from the hose, not in a bucket: Otherwise you are just getting dirt and grit back on the rag every time you wring it out into the bucket.

5. Only sponges, soft rags (used terrycloth towels, old T-shirts, retired cotton diapers, etc.), or a cotton wash mitt: You can use an old toothbrush or long cotton swabs for fine detail work as needed.

6. Avoid cobweb scratches by following surface contours of our car instead of going in circles: Make sure you rinse the rag often to eliminate grease and dust, and don’t apply too much elbow grease when scrubbing to avoid scratching or accidentally removing paint.

7. Use commercial car-washing detergents/products: Never use laundry or dish soap, ad they can strip the wax and other protective coatings from the finish of your car.

8. Wash from top to bottom, one section of the car at a time: Hose the area down, get it soapy, rinse it with the hose, rinse out the washcloth or mitt thoroughly with the hose before starting the next section. Once you get the whole thing clean, rise the whole body down again with water.

9. Dry the vehicle thoroughly or allow to air dry completely.

II. Application: Polish [Sometimes]

Once your car is clean, it MAY be time to polish.

It is important that you understand that polish is NOT the same as wax, but it is absolutely essential to maximizing the shine and gloss of your car’s paint.

Modern car polishes are actually abrasive resurfacing substances that contain particulates called diminishing abrasives, which is the technical term for abrasive particles in polishes that break down into finer particles as you polish, making multiple grades of polish unnecessary.

We're not going to delve into the nitty-gritty of polishing a car.

That's a whole topic on itself.

Here's a brilliant guide you can use:

Polish should be applied about once a year to even out the surface of the paint’s clear coat and any irregularities or uneven build up of the wax in the clear coat finish of the paint.

In between annual polish applications, a glaze is recommended.

Glazes don’t actually contain abrasive grit like polish, but rather a blend of gloss enhancing oils and Koalin to fill in any remaining surface imperfections and ensure an even, undistorted reflective surface.

Regardless of whether you are polishing or glazing though, you need to make sure that you apply wax immediately to protect the clear coat finish you have just resurfaced during the polishing phase.

III. Waxing Method One: Applying and Buffing by Hand

After you’ve finished washing the car thoroughly, (maybe) applied a polish or glaze, and made sure the surface is clear and dry, it’s time to seal all of your hard work with a high quality car wax or paint sealant.

Check our recommendations on the best car wax to make sure you're using the best possible products for good results.

1. Apply car wax/sealant in the shade to prevent it from drying too fast or sitting and sitting on the vehicle for too long, making it difficult to buff off.

2. Make sure the vehicle is completely dry: Water droplets on the paint cause streaking that can be difficult to buff out.

3. Only apply one thin coat of wax at a time: The thinner the better. Shine and depth come from multiple coats of wax as opposed to one overly thick coat. Buff out one thin coat, then apply another thin coat. Check the label of the wax or sealant you are using for specific curing time between coats, but it is typically between 12 and 18 hours.

4. Use a polyfoam wax applicator: These coat thin and evenly, and they are absorbent, durable, washable, and reusable. They have the additional benefit of being very inexpensive, so you don’t have to worry about tossing one when it gets too thick with sealant to use anymore.

5. Use a Microfiber cloth to polish away the haze: High quality microfiber towels are excellent for buffing sealant to a mirror-like sheen. The woven fibers are static-charged in order to grab wax residue without leaving lint behind, making sure nothing gets left behind to mar the surface of your car’s wax/sealant. Make sure you rotate the towel by folding it over to keep too much wax from building up as you go though, otherwise it tends to cake up and streak.

6. Dealing with streaks or uneven shine: Give the finish a spritz with some quick detail spray and buff it with a clean microfiber cloth.

IV. Waxing Method II: Applying and Buffing with a Power Buffer

1. Pick a foam finishing pad to apply wax: The pad you select should be absorbent and soft, yet firm enough to handle the pressure that the power buffer is going to apply. Check you local auto parts shop or hardware store, they usually carry car wax/sealant applicator pads for buffers.

2. Spread paste wax onto the the buffer applicator pad like butter over bread: I recommend flipping your paste wax jar of over onto a plastic sandwich bag to hold it while you spread a layer over the buffer pad. Clean plastic putty knives also work well, too. For liquid wax/sealant, the best method for applying it to a buffer pad is to squeeze out a trio of 3” lines of wax around the edges. The rotation of the buffer will take care of the rest.

3. When using liquid wax or sealant, use the power buffer to spread the wax around a bit before turning the machine on: This helps reduce the chance of a messy splatter when you flick the switch.

4. Keep dual action polishers set no higher than 3: It’s a really smart idea to check the directions on the wax/sealant for specific application directions using power tools, but the general rule across the board is that 3 is the fastest you ever need to set your power buffer.

Make sure you spread the wax evenly over the entire panel you are working on to give it an even covering. Always turn your power buffer off before lifting it away from the finish. That’s definitely a step you do not want to learn about the hard way.

5. Polish with a microfiber towel by hand, or swap out your applicator pad for a high-quality polishing pad: There are waxes/sealants that will let you wax every surface on the car before you need to buff it with the microfiber, but many cure too quickly and become difficult to buff away even with the power buffer.

If your wax/sealant CAN be applied to the entire body before it needs to be buffed, slap a microfiber or terry cloth bonnet over a lambswool pad for a little extra cushioning. Remember, microfiber doesn’t shed lint, but terry cloth can.

PRO TIP: To give your car a shine that really pops, apply a layer of regular carnauba wax over a layer of sealant.

Sealant creates a harder, tougher gloss coating that protects your finish while the carnauba wax enhances the dimension and depth of your car’s paint.

These are often sold in combo kits at auto parts stores, so if you want to give your vehicle a professionally detailed appearance keep an eye out for these kits.

Disclaimer: You've got to be a little realistic on what to expect of ONLY waxing. Here's a really good video on this topic.​

The Wrap-Up

Now you know how to wax a car properly and to protect your investment in your vehicle by preserving its finish for years to come from weather and the ravages of time and the road.

It may take you an afternoon once a month or each two months to apply, but you will thank yourself when you go to trade the vehicle in down the line, especially if you have to drive in wintry weather every year.

Take pride in your ride, and if you’ve never applied wax or sealant after giving your car a good wash and wipe down, I encourage you to do so at your earliest opportunity.

Wax your car on a regular basis, and enjoy the benefits of a beautiful vehicle that makes you are proud to drive.

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