The Car Enthusiast’s Guide on How to Wax a Car

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This guy knows how to wax a car! Check out Mark’s flickr for more cool shots

Keep pride in your ride by learning the right way to wax a car

Hey there, my name’s Vince and today we’re gonna talk about wax. Naw this isn’t the kinda wax your girlfriend uses, this wax that you use to wax a car!

We all love our cars. No matter how old or new, our vehicles are undeniably an important part of our daily lives. Without it, we would all still be riding horses or horse-drawn carriages. But the funny thing is that not all car owners are aware on how to wax or clean a car properly. I’ve seen people wash their cars using a single bucket of water and an old rag. They beam proudly after what they assume to be a job well done. They are frightfully unaware of the damage they caused to the paint.

Learning the ropes on how to wax a car is a skill that every car enthusiast should master. Washing your car should not be considered tedious, nor should waxing be looked upon as a once in a lifetime affair. Waxing the paint is an integral part of car ownership. Maintaining the color and the shine of the paint will increase the resale value of your ride by at least a couple hundred bucks, or probably even more.

Why should you wax your car?

There are more reasons why you should wax your car every month or at least every 3 months:

  1. Waxing will improve and maintain the showroom shine of the paint finish. Back in the olden days, paint was just, well, paint. It was basically just the primer and colored lacquer with no clear coat in the finish. The only thing protecting the paint from scratches and damage is the wax on the finish. This also gives the old paint a lasting shine.

When car makers started adding a layer of clear coat to the paint, the process managed to further protect the finish from harmful ozone and road contaminants. Clear coat also provides a lasting and deep shine. However, adding a thin layer of wax over the clear coat is like applying sunscreen to your skin. The wax is now a sacrificial layer that prevents accelerated damage to the clear coat.

The result is a lasting shine that also protects the clear coat from scratches and swirl marks. If you religiously waxed a brand new car, the finish will remain good as new compared to the same vehicle that wasn’t given the same kind of proper treatment. There’s no doubt about that.

  1. Waxing will make it easy to wash your car. Adding a thin layer of wax to the paint will prevent dirt, dust, mud, tar, asphalt, and bird droppings from staining the finish. From my own experience, it is definitely easier to remove insects and bird poo from a freshly waxed finish, even if the dirt has been burned on the paint due to extreme sun exposure.

Since the wax is there to add a slippery layer on top of the clear coat, it wouldn’t be hard to remove dirt, caked mud, and grime from the paint. You will spend less time washing your car each week, which is a good thing.

  1. Waxing will fill-in or hide small scratches. This is where it gets tricky. I want to make it clear that pure wax will NOT remove scratches since wax should be nonabrasive. If your wax claims to remove minor scratches and swirl marks then what you have is NOT wax. It is most probably a polish and wax formula.

If your car has a couple of light to moderate battle scars, simply waxing the finish will make scratches and swirls less apparent, that is until the wax fades off after a couple of weeks or months. Since wax will fill in the microscopic undulations in the clear coat, it will make the surface look newer and revitalized.

Filling in the scratches and swirls is much preferred than removing them altogether because there’s no need to remove the clear coat or spray a new layer of paint.

How will I know when it’s time to wax my car?

There is no definite answer to that question. But if you want to get pedantic, it is good practice to wax the finish at least once every 3 months. If you really love your car, you should wax it once a month.

Of course, this will depend on many factors like how the car is stored (do you leave it on the street or do you park the vehicle in an enclosed garage?), weather conditions, or how frequently the car is driven.

Here’s a neat trick that will make it easy to determine the right time to wax a car. Spray some water on the hood of the vehicle using a basic garden hose. Watch for the water beads forming on the surface. If you see a lot of tightly formed water beads on the hood, then you don’t need to wax. But if you see water streaks on the hood, or if there are very few water beads on the finish, it is definitely time to apply wax.

What type of wax should I use?

If you want to know if you should use paste or liquid wax, then you can achieve good results with both. The difference is in the ease of application. Liquid wax is generally easier to apply and it dries to a haze faster than paste wax. Using liquid wax will also make it easier to apply a thin coat over the paint, since applying multiple thin coats of wax is way better than applying a thick and single coat.

If you are referring to the composition of the wax, my advice is to settle for nothing less than carnauba-based waxes. Carnauba is extremely hard and it has a higher melting point compared to other waxes. Carnauba is completely insoluble in water so it can do a fantastic job of protecting the finish in all types of extreme weather.

Modern waxes are formulated with synthetic polymer ingredients that make them effortless to apply and easier to wipe off. In my experience, polymer-based waxes are great for brand new cars. I’m not saying that they are less superior compared to carnauba-based waxes, but I prefer the depth and gloss that only a pure carnauba wax can bring.

If you’re looking for a quick touch up wax, check out spray waxes. While they are not the best wax to use on your car for ultimate shine, they work great as a “touch up” before a nice Friday evening cruise.

How to Wax a Car

Below are the complete steps on how to wax a car. Before proceeding, make sure that you park the car in a shaded area away from direct sun exposure.

Things you will need:

  • Paste or liquid wax (check out our guide to choosing the best automotive wax)
  • Foam applicator pad
  • Microfiber towels
  • Orbital buffer (optional)

Step 1: Wash the car properly.

Do you know the proper steps on how to wash a car? I have an article about that right here; how to wash a car the right way. Washing a car is all about using the right tools and the right technique. It is always a good idea to wash the car properly before thinking about applying wax.

After washing the car, wipe it dry and prepare to inspect the finish.

Step 2: Inspect the paint surface.

After drying the finish, run your clean hands over the hood or the roof of the vehicle. It should feel smooth to the touch. If you detect a lot of rough spots in the paint, you might need to polish the paint first. Polishing will remove a very thin layer of the clear coat to reveal a smoother and glossier finish. Polish will also remove light scratches and swirl marks.

Now is also a good time to remove tar spots, asphalt, or stains using a clay bar. Like I previously mentioned above, wax is non-abrasive and will not remove contaminants, oxidation, or paint stains.

The general rule of thumb is to ensure that paint is free from blemishes and excess dirt before applying wax.

Step 3: Apply the wax.

Read the directions on the bottle before applying the wax. Pour a small amount of wax on a clean applicator pad. Start waxing the top most parts of the vehicle like the hood, trunk, and the roof. Work your way to the pillars and the upper half of the doors. The lower portion below the doors and the side skirts should be the last to be waxed.

Waxing from the top to the bottom will further protect the paint from scratches and swirl marks. This is the reason why it is extremely important to start with a squeaky clean surface. Dirt and dust will cause a wide deal of scratches and swirls when rubbed deeply into the surface as you wax the vehicle.

Work with one section at a time. Apply the wax using small circular motions. Some people might say that working in small circles is the ancient way to apply wax, but what they don’t know is that small and overlapping circles will ensure that every inch of the surface is covered with wax.

Avoid applying a thick coat of wax. Use only a small amount of the product at a time. Applying a thin coat will not only make it easier to remove the haze, but it is also more economical.

Take special care not to apply wax on the rubber seals of the doors and the windshield unless you are using a polymer based wax that will not leave white residue on rubber surfaces.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out these to videos:

1: Machine Wax

2: Hand Wax


Step 4: Allow the wax to dry.

Nothing much to do here than to just wait and take a short break. It is always best to allow the wax to dry to a light haze. This will give the wax ample time to bond with the clear coat to achieve the best possible results.

Step 5: Remove the haze and buff to a mirror shine.

Now is the time to whip out a clean microfiber towel, or you can use an orbital buffer if you so prefer. Using an orbital buffer is my preferred choice since it takes out a lot of the elbow grease in the process. But there are times that I still prefer using my hands to remove the haze and buff the finish. You can achieve fantastic results with both.

The trick is to remove the haze in the same manner that you applied the wax – working from the top to the bottom of the finish. Take note that you are creating a lot of friction when you buff the paint. Even a minuscule amount of dust and dirt is enough to scratch the finish as you buff the paint. This is the reason why it is important to buff the top most part of your car first before proceeding to the sides and the doors.

Remove the haze from the hood, roof, and the trunk. Next, work your way on the pillars and the upper portion of the doors. Finish off by lightly buffing the lower portions of the vehicle like the bumpers and the side skirts.

It is also a good idea to have at least two microfiber towels. The first towel is used to remove the haze, while the second towel is utilized to buff the finish.

Make sure to remove all traces of the dried wax on the paint.


Now you know the right techniques on how to wax a car. Remember to wax your vehicle at least once every three months to protect the paint from oxidation and premature degradation. This will not only make your car look new, but it will also serve to preserve the value of your investment for many years to come.

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