Learning All About Automotive Paint

Do You Know The Difference Between Waxes, Sealants, And Polishes?

Visiting a professional auto detailing shop can be a great way to keep your car looking like it just rolled off of the showroom floor, but it can also be a surprisingly intimidating experience for first-timers. Professional detailers use a variety of products and terms that many people are not familiar with, which can sometimes make choosing from their menus seem more difficult than it really is. While most detailers are happy to explain their services in depth, having a bit of knowledge before showing up never hurts. To that end, it can be helpful to understand the difference between three of the most commonly used (and misunderstood) detailing products: waxes, sealants, and polishes.

Paint Preparation and Correction

To truly understand where these products fit into the detailing hierarchy, it's first important to understand the normal steps that a detailer will take to make your car shine. Getting the most out of your car's paint isn't just about washing it, it's also about making sure that it's as smooth and flawless as possible. This type of preparation is necessary to get the most out of the wax or sealant that your detailer chooses to use. Basic paint preparation will usually include a thorough wash followed by the use of a claybar, which is, as you might expect, simply a bar of clay that's used to pull contaminants from your paint's surface.

More thorough preparation might include minor or major paint correction. When a detailer corrects paint, they make use of abrasive products which help to remove very thin layers of paint in order to level out scratches and other imperfections. A polish is a very mild abrasive which can help to remove extremely light scratches, swirl marks, and other imperfections in the paint. Polishes are entirely safe for your car's paint and they are often used by detailers before the application of a wax or sealant.

Waxes vs. Sealants

Once your paint has been cleaned and polished, it's time to add a finisher. Waxes and sealants both serve essentially the same purpose: they enhance the gloss of your paint while also protecting it against the elements. Although these terms are used throughout the detailing industry, their actual definitions can be a bit ambiguous. A very general rule is that a wax is a natural product containing carnauba wax while a sealant is a synthetic product. In practice, the difference between waxes and sealants can be less than crystal clear. Many waxes contain carnauba wax along with other synthetic products to enhance shine or durability, blurring the lines between the two.

Choosing the Right One For Your Car

High-end waxes and sealants are generally all quality products and you can rarely go too far wrong by choosing one that your detailer recommends. There was a time when the common wisdom was that waxes produced a glossier, deeper shine while sealants lasted longer, but this isn't necessarily true anymore. Modern sealants now produce finishes that rival even the best waxes and there are a variety of wax-based products on the market that are extremely durable and long-lasting. Sealants can even sometimes be applied on top of waxes. The best way to choose a great product for your car is to ask for advice from your detailing shop and go with the wax or sealant that they recommend.