What makes a car wax a good wax? What are the characteristics found on waxes?

What constitutes a good automotive wax? How waxes differ from other waxes? How does wax legitimately protect your paint?

We have got you covered! In this topic, we will be discussing about wax and its characteristics and functions. We will not be comparing different brands of waxes and hope that this exchange will benefit you in an educational approach that are uncommonly discussed, or at least we find it rarely discussed from both a manufacturer and detailer point of view.

We would not be covering the differences between waxes and sealants as mainly the biggest contrast is on its durability. Synthetic ingredients tend to outlast natural ingredients in most cases. Both waxes and sealants are hydrocarbons (aka polymers) based complexes and may contain both natural and synthetic ingredients for shine and longevity. These are generally referred to as “wax” in our dictionary.


Different forms of waxes – Paste wax, liquid wax and spray wax

What are the differences?

In essence, these are waxes in different forms of matter. Although they may perform equally well (or not), but by formulating it in different matters, user experiences are greatly distinguished from one another. For example, spray wax merely require users to spray and buff, thus, saving time and energy. For those who enjoy waxing their cars by hand or machine, liquid and paste waxes are oftentimes preferred.

Think of it as drinking coffee. Some like it hand brewed, some…machine brewed. It boils down to personal preference. By offering variety, it extends to different and various market segments/preference.

Are automotive waxes created equal?

No, it is based on the wax formulation. Waxes varies in functions and features. Here are some considerations:

Durability Durability is perhaps one of the most important consideration when it comes to consumer preference. Synthetic ingredients are claimed to outlast natural waxes. In most cases, the inclusion of “bonding agents” promotes better durability of waxes on paint.

So how do we gauge durability of waxes? The simplest way is through visual inspection. Most detailers check for presence of water beading on paintwork. In addition, we may also include the wax features such as gloss and slickness on paintwork to determine if wax is still holding up on the paint.

Abrasive & Solvents Some waxes have abrasives in it, while some are formulated with different solvent that has more cleaning ability. In many instances, these are known as cleaner wax.

Cleaner wax has more functionality compared to finishing wax (sometimes referred to as Last Step Product – LSP). Depending on its formulation, it may clean, correct light defects and boost shine of a paintwork. These are ought to be used on occasional intervals when paint starts loses its shine after paint correction. It does not have similar correction ability as a polish cream may produce, and requires more effort to work on compared to a finishing wax that only needs to be apply and wipe-off.

Color Enhancers Aside from “wax” based ingredients, there are, silicones, oil, and color enhancers added into a wax’s formulation. Silicones and oils are known to increase depth of shine and color enhancers increases the contrast of a paintwork. Certain brands have “color pigments” included in its formulation for dark or light paintwork.

Left – unwaxed, Right – waxed. If we observe carefully, the right panel of the bonnet is darker thanks to the oil and color enhancing formulation.

Spreadability Solvents are included to promote spreadability of waxes. Generally, liquid waxes contain more solvents than paste waxes, which also explains on the ease of application between these 2 products.

These added features are subject to requirements or specification given to manufacturer and varies from one another.

How does wax protects your car paint? What does hydrophobicity has to do with protection?

We learned that wax protects paint by overlaying a sacrificial layer that is hydrophobic. But what does hydrophobicity, beading and protection has to do with one another?

First, we have to understand that wax alters the polarity of an applied surface. Since car waxes are often in hydrocarbons complexity, these are non-polar molecules. Water in its natural state are however, a polar molecule. A polar molecule like H2O attracts one another (cohesion force), which explains why water in its most natural shape is spherical. Water takes on this spherical shape because it has the smallest surface area.

When paint wax is applied, water is allowed to bead and remain in its spherical form due to the weaker cohesive force compared to adhesion force (water and surface attraction).

The opposite is also true, when adhesion force (water and surface) is superior to the cohesion force (water and water), water does not form its spherical shape and does not sheet-off easily on flat panels.

In short, water beads on car paint because of : cohesive force > adhesive force

Quick understanding:
1. Cohesion force is between similar molecules (water and water) and adhesion force is between unlike molecules (surface and water).

2. A waxed surface alters the surface of paint into a nonpolar state between surface and water, therefore, altering the adhesion force between water and surface.

3. A weaker state of adhesion force = cohesion force > adhesion force. This allows water to bead up by taking its spherical shape.

So how does all this translate to protection, and why does a waxed surface appear easier to be cleaned?

We’ve heard it along the lines of “A waxed paint has higher surface tension thus, repelling dirt and water from bonding to the paint sooner”.

Technically, it is inaccurate to refer a waxed surface as having higher surface tension. Surface tension are result of cohesive forces between liquid molecules on the surface and often misunderstood as the condition of a waxed paint surface. A waxed paint actually promotes better cohesive force of water (cohesive force > adhesion force), therefore, it “repels and sheets” water more effectively.

Explanation: Water molecules are attracted to one another and clings together which leaves certain spot of the panel dry while forming its natural spherical shape in their own pool. The same applies on water-sheeting, when gravitational force or motion force is applied, water flows off collectively (more wholly) as it drags other water molecules along.

Dirt is a loosely used term. It may referred to as oil and grease or/and dust (fine particles). Oil and grease are nonpolar molecules, and requires surfactant (automotive shampoo) to be removed regardless of a waxed or non-waxed surface. The case for dust and loose soil, water acts as an excellent carrier and washes away alongside as it flows. This is often demonstrated in the automotive detailing industry when after a wax is applied and water cohesion force is greater than surface adhesion force. Noticeably, we see dust and soil being flushed effortlessly by simply pouring water over it. In other words, a waxed paint may allow dust and loose soil to be carried away efficiently with water through minimum effort.

Notice how water rolls down and carries loose dirt away effortlessly?

Does that mean that a waxed surface does not protect paint against oil and grimes?

This is a subject that may potentially open up an endless debate. In short, a waxed paint is not foolproof and it is still best to practice weekly wash. We have also found that a waxed car is less prone to wash marring, rendering an additional layer of added resistance. As a general observation, the slicker the wax feels on a paint, the more added resistance there is.

It is also easier to dry a waxed car after each wash

So what other protection do waxes offer?

UV protection. Although an automotive clear coat or paint should withstand a generous amount of years against UV when taken care of rightly, the test of time have shown that a regularly waxed paint outlast a paint that does not get the same treatment. Albeit in a limited amount, wax does prolong the lifespan of a car’s paintwork against UV rays and other factors.

However, the downside of a uv protection property and strength features are also based on the inclusion of formulation.

 That leave us with a question. Is it worth the time to wax a car if we practice weekly wash?

The added shine alone should motivate most detailers to wax regularly. However if that does not appeal to you and considered as overly time consuming, opt for a spray wax.

Having your car with added advantages beats a non-treated car on bare paint. After all, who doesn’t like driving a car that is in mint condition?

For enthusiasts and detailers who enjoy watching water beads on their paint surface, we hope that this blog shed some insights on the characteristics of waxes to look out for the next time you decide to purchase a product off the shelf.