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A Complete Guide to Ceramic Coatings for Beginners

Who doesn’t want a car that beads up beautifully and stays protected for years? Outside of paint protection films (which I don’t personally care for), what’s called a ceramic coating is the most common coating for max protection from the elements.

If you’re confused by all the terminology online, don’t worry. I’ll unpack all the buzzwords so you’ll know if a ceramic coating is right for you.

In this post, you’ll learn the basics of ceramic coatings, how to apply a ceramic coating, and what ceramic coating I recommend for beginners.

What is a ceramic coating?

A ceramic coating is a semi-permanent protective coating for vehicles; some can last up to 5 years or longer. Pretty much all ceramic coatings contain silicon dioxide (SiO2) that forms a protective shell around your vehicle’s clear coat. You’ll find ceramic coatings in glass bottles or as part of a kit.

Chart: Longevity of Paint Protection Products in Detailing

Think of a ceramic coating as your clear coat’s first line of defense…and a strong line of defense that won’t break down easily.

You can still use paint sealants or waxes for added protection or for aesthetic appeal, but you won’t have to worry about forgetting to re-apply wax every few weeks for baseline protection.

If you like the way your favorite wax or sealants look visually, you can still apply them on top of a ceramic-coated car—a process called layering. You’re simply adding another sacrificial layer…but it’s completely optional.

To Clear Up Confusion…

The word ‘ceramic’ is often used as a buzzword, so you’ll find many cheap spray-on products labeled as ceramic waxes or ceramic sealants. These water-based sprays contain a much lower concentration of silicon dioxide (SiO2), and shouldn’t be confused with traditional solvent-based ceramic coatings that come in glass bottles.

There are all sorts of ceramic coating formulas—some for matte vehicle finishes, others that make the surface look super glossy and wet. All ceramic coatings cause water beading, but some can even cause water to slide right off. Who doesn’t want a ‘self-cleaning’ car?

Ceramic coatings with a high concentration of silicon dioxide will last the longest; the amount of layers applied factors in too. Many modern coatings only require a single layer and are more forgiving to apply for beginners compared to ceramic coatings of the past.

Benefits of ceramic coatings

A ceramic coating will keep your vehicle protected longer than waxes or sealants, which is the core reason people apply them. Most coatings can repel dirt, bird poop, and other contaminants for around 2-3 years on average.

You’ll find ceramic coatings on the consumer market that contain silicon dioxide plus a combination of molecular compounds that achieve different things. Some coatings are formulated for aesthetic appeal, others for maximum durability or ease of application.

Here are a few properties of ceramic coatings to prioritize as you wish:

  • Extreme hydrophobic ‘self-cleaning’ properties
  • Ease of application
  • Low flash time and cure time
  • Scratch resistance
  • UV protection
  • Heat tolerance for coating wheels
  • Anti-stick technology

Sometimes durability is sacrificed to achieve a certain visual appeal, which is why some ceramic coatings may last 18 months, while others last 5 years.

Can you apply a ceramic coating yourself?

You can apply a ceramic yourself without much risk of high spots, streaking, or haze. Many modern ceramic coatings are designed for consumers and are more forgiving than those in the past.

That said, it’s best to let an experienced detailer apply a quality ceramic coating if you don’t have the time or desire. Some detailers have access to expensive, top-shelf ceramic coatings that perform well but are challenging to apply correctly. I would go the pro detailer route if you own a supercar or exotic.

How to apply a ceramic coating

Caution!

Always follow the recommended application instructions for any ceramic coating; follow the recommended flash time and cure time.

To prep your vehicle for a ceramic coating, you’ll want to wash your car plus remove ALL contaminants and/or paint defects like scratches. Since ceramic coatings can last years, it’s best to get your car looking defect-free so you can ‘lock in’ that unblemished clear coat with a ceramic coating.

Step 1: Wash off dirt and wax

To start, wash your vehicle per usual, using a mash mitt or other soap applicator. Now is the time to use a wax and sealant stripping soap, which will remove any leftover wax or paint sealant.

Chemical Guys Wax and Sealant Stripper

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You should always use a wax and sealant-stripping soap during the wash process before applying any type of protective coating. Waxes and oils can prevent these coatings from adhering properly.

Quick Tip

Dish soap can technically strip off wax if mixed with car soap for lubrication to strip wax. Dish soap is a detergent without lubricants, and can leave behind a film if not careful. Just before you add a ceramic coating, always ensure you remove film of any kind using a paint prep product or IPA wipedown solution. These products will remove any polish, clay lubricant, or any other film on the clear coat.

Step 2: Decontaminate and prep the clear coat

After you’ve washed off the dirt and stripped off any wax/sealant, it’s a good idea to clay your vehicle to remove bonded surface contaminants like iron and fallout if your vehicle needs it.

Check out our post on how to clay a car for beginners for a simple step-by-step tutorial.

Polish out scratches if needed

With all waxes and sealants gone (as well as contaminants), now is a good time to do any paint correction to remove scratches, marring, or other defects before you add the ceramic coating. After the fact, you’ll have to remove the ceramic coating to do paint correction, so decide if you need to polish out any scratches or clear coat imperfections.

Step 3: Apply the ceramic coating with an applicator

Okay…last step. Again, before you apply the coating, it’s a good idea to use a spray-on surface prep product or a 50% isopropyl alcohol solution mixed with water—called an IPA wipedown—to rid the surface of any contaminants. For convenience, I recommend a surface prep.

Adam’s Surface Prep

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When the surface is completely dry, apply your ceramic coating per the manufacturer’s instructions; from there, wait the recommended amount ‘flash’ time before buffing off. It’s ideal to work panel by panel if the flash time is short.

FYI

Most ceramic coatings will either produce a rainbow haze or sweating visual effect after application, commonly called ‘flashing’. Using a microfiber towel, remove this haze after the manufacturer’s recommended flash time. It’s important to remove it immediately, not after 1 hour if the flash time is 10 minutes. For many products, the flash time is anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes or longer.

Flash times can vary depending on the humidity. In normal conditions where the humidity is around 50%, the flash time may be a few minutes as opposed to 30 seconds in high humidity. Many newer ceramic coatings can now be applied outdoors in a wider range of humidities.

Step 4: Let the coating cure

Many ceramic coatings need 24 hours to properly harden or ‘cure’. As a general rule, don’t get your car wet or drive it during this time. Some coatings suggest you wait a week or more before washing your vehicle for the first time.

Frequently Asked Question

Can I apply a ceramic coating outdoors?
You can apply some ceramic coatings outdoors, but you must be able to avoid rain or debris for at least 24 hours. For best results, always apply a ceramic coating in a clean area, like a detailing garage.

What is the best ceramic coating?

The best ceramic coating depends on your needs. For example, some of the newer so-called ‘self-cleaning’ ceramic coatings will perform differently than your average ceramic coating that just beads up. The water simply rolls off on its own as opposed to beading up—thus cleaning the car.

Gyeon Pure EVO Ceramic Coating

🏆 Our Pick for Beginners

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For beginners, I recommend ceramic coatings by a company called Gyeon. They offer great instructions and documentation for beginners with a tiered product line from beginner to professional. One of their more forgiving entry-level coatings is called Pure EVO—a product designed to be applied with just one coating. It flashes within 10 minutes and is easy to tell when it’s time to buff off.

Pure EVO has more silicon dioxide relative to other coatings, so it’s ideal for wet climates due to its protective properties.

Gyeon Mohs EVO Ceramic Coating

🏆 Our Pick for Slickness

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For a few dollars more, you can experience the mirror-like benefits of their Mohs EVO product. Fluorine is used in manufacturing to provide an extremely slick, self-cleaning layer to your clear coat that represents a real breakthrough in ceramic technology.

You can check out a full comparison of Gyeon Pure EVO and Gyeon Mohs EVO here on their website.

How to protect your ceramic coating

Outside of maintenance washing, it’s a good idea to apply a decontaminating spray every few months to avoid contaminants like iron deposits from etching into the coating.

Your car will stay cleaner with a ceramic coating!

Riding around without a protective coating? Your car will stay cleaner for longer with a ceramic coating, and dirt will be a lot easier to remove too. If you’re not the type of person who likes to apply wax or a sealant, it’s a great choice.

If you’d like to learn more about how to properly wash and protect your vehicle, check out our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners. Happy detailing!

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Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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