Buying car cleaning products can be confusing. There’s just so many of them. And it’s no easier when buying paint protection. There’s waxes, sealants, coatings, oh and the rest, so which one should you buy? Well, it’s not exactly a simple answer. As the automotive industry has evolved over the years, so has the list of different paints and finishes available.
Paint protection is one of the most important parts of the car detailing process. They’re an invisible defence from the impurities of the road – contaminants such as tar, flies and general road grime are less likely to penetrate the clear-coat of your paint.
Once you’ve taken the time to clean and polish up those painted surfaces, it’d be a crime not to protect them against the elements. Even if it’s not your daily; prevention is better than cure, and all that. Protecting the paint will also make it easier to detail next time, meaning any road grime or impurities won’t be too deeply bedded-in. Most quality paint protection products act by shielding against everyday dust and grime, dust, honeydew, bugs, bird droppings, and even UV radiation.
It’s not just protection they offer, though, high-quality waxes and sealants improve the shine and overall finish to the car’s paint or wrap. It’s important to remember, though, that paint protectors aren’t permanent, the weather slowly makes its way through the barrier. A good way to spot that your protection has lost its mojo is by performing the water test; if water sits on the paint and doesn’t bead or simply run off then the paint isn’t protected to a high enough level.
So, what’s the difference between waxes, sealants, coatings and polishes?
Paint Sealants: Paint sealants are a liquid which is applied using a foam applicator and often contain manmade and synthetic polymers or resins such as polyamino-siloxane or polyethylene-acrylic polymers, rather than the more natural ingredients of wax. These more chemical-based ingredients mean that sealants last longer than a natural wax, with some lasting upwards of six months, depending on aftercare. It being a liquid means that it’s also slightly easier to apply than wax, but it doesn’t tend to offer the same depth of shine as wax. The slicker finish of a sealant also means that beading is less prominent.
Paint coatings: Paint coatings are liquid, but are of a much thinner consistency than that of a sealant. Paint coatings have previously only been available to professionals, such as car dealerships – this is due to the way they’re applied. Some require training just to apply them, but because of advancements in technology they are becoming more widely available. They are also designed to last much longer than the aforementioned options, however they are a much more expensive alternative to other paint protection options.
Car waxes: Waxes are a liquid or paste consistency. Higher quality waxes contain more natural ingredients such as Carnauba wax. Waxes offer a more wet gloss effect, thanks to their high oil content. Protection with a wax generally lasts up to three months under UK climate conditions – but can last longer depending on use. Made from a Brazilian palm tree, carnauba wax repels waters better than a synthetic sealant does, giving a stronger bead effect. Durability of carnauba wax is, however, relatively low under our climate.
Paint polishes: Again a liquid, paint polishes contain fine abrasives that cut and refine the paint’s clear-coat. Polishes are often used by hand or as part of a machine polish. They are not protective, they are more a corrosive, helping to improve and cut light scratches or swirls from paint. There are varying degrees of abrasive, depending on the polish. The harsher the abrasive, the deeper it will cut. So if you have light swirl marks or holograms then it’s best to use a lighter abrasive. If you have scratches, then it’s better to use a more abrasive polish (or compound) to flatten the paint’s uneven surface.
Glaze: Less popular now, however still used, glazes only last 2-3 weeks and work to hide any imperfections in paint. If you do opt for a glaze, it’s probably best used as a one –time car show or as part of Concours d’Eléganceprep, for extra shine. It’s important to remember, though, that glazes will wash off in rain, so maybe check the weather beforehand.
There are a few products that blend both carnauba wax and synthetic sealant, which combines the finish of the natural wax with the durability of a sealant, but this can easily be achieved by layering both the sealant and wax. Simply apply the sealant to a clean car, allow to cure, then apply your wax routine for the overall finish. Do take care to use the sealant BEFORE the wax, because sealant will not sit right on a waxed surface.
So, that’s the different paint protections, in a nutshell. But, how do you know which wax or sealant to choose to produce the best possible finish on a particular colour?
Lighter colours such as light metallic or solid white don’t have much depth of colour. These colours have a low reflectivity level so it’s tough to get any real depth of colour. These types of paint are better suited to a sealant paint protection. This is because the sealant reflects light better than wax, giving the appearance of wet paint and added reflectivity, without highlighting any potential flaws like it would on darker paint jobs. In particular, with pearlescent and metallic paints, more reflectivity means more light, allowing any flakes to stand out.
The more mid-tone colours (both metallic and pearlescent) are pretty acceptable when it comes to colour depth. Basically, they reflect better, so either the sealant, wax, or a combination of both can be used. However, if the colour is a solid mid tone, it is a better option to go for the natural carnauba wax. The wax will enhance the colour more than a sealant would. Thanks to its consistency (slightly rougher than the slickness of a sealant), it disperses more incoming light, intensifying the colour. Obviously, this all depends on the finish you want. If you want reflectivity and shine from your solid paint, then a sealant is probably the way to go.
Dark colours. Dark colours are brilliant for reflectivity, but this also means any flaws will be more easily seen. You can choose a sealant as your last step paint protection, to add even more reflectivity to your darker paint, but be warned that there will be no forgiveness (unless your paint is pitch perfect, of course). Or, you can choose the natural carnauba wax giving it a real glossy finish, but slightly softer reflectivity to hide any light flaws.
Please note; before applying any form of paint protection, ensure you start with a clean car!