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How to Wax a Car: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

Car wax isn’t just makeup for your car that makes it shine…wax is a versatile product also meant to protect.

If you’re a complete beginner or a pro, today I’m going to break down how to wax your car in a few simple steps from start to finish either by hand or with a polisher. I’ll also answer a few common questions about car wax.

By the end, you’ll what you’ll need and how to wax your car properly.

Before You Begin

Always remove dirt and make sure your vehicle is dry before adding wax. It’s a good idea to clay your car if it needs it and strip off all old layers of wax if you’re starting from scratch. If adding another layer of wax, don’t remove old layers of wax…just knock the dirt off.

How to apply car wax by hand

Step 1: Apply wax with a foam applicator

Dip a foam applicator into the wax container using light pressure until you have a very small amount of wax on the pad. From there, I like to use an oval motion to apply wax. If chunks of wax are coming off, you’ve added too much.

Before paste wax dries, I sometimes follow back up with straight passes on contoured areas, just to make sure the wax has been spread evenly and there aren’t any globs.

Step 2: Wait for the wax dry

Always let car wax dry based on the manufacturer’s instructions before buffing out. If you don’t, the wax won’t have a chance to fill in scratches, so you’ll just be sliding it around (especially for liquid wax).

At a microscopic level, car wax fills in jagged peaks in your clear coat that the eye perceives as a scratch.

Step 3: Buff car wax using a microfiber towel

Once the wax has dried, work in sections and use a clean microfiber towel to buff out the wax on the surface to reveal the shine underneath.

Did You Know?

Microfiber towels contain pile designed to lift wax and other particles off of your car; foam is used as a wax applicator because it contains pores designed to pick up and release substances.

How to wax your car using a polisher

Before you begin, first set your polisher to the appropriate speed, and apply wax the way the manufacturer recommends using a polishing pad.

Did you Know? the absence or covering of scratches or swirl marks is what makes paint shine and look great…and wax simply hides scratches. If you have a lot of noticeable scratches, applying polish/compound (paint correction) to permanently remove them will give you the best results.

Again, it’s important to know what you’re doing before getting into paint correction, as you’re literally removing a small bit of the clear coat where the scratch is located.

Step 1: Shake up your wax

Always shake up liquid wax, because it helps emulsify, or blend together various solutes added. Mixing will ensure you get a nice even layer of wax and break down any clumps.

Step 2: Apply liquid wax to an applicator pad

To start, grab a foam applicator pad and apply a few dots of product to the pad. You can apply paste wax with a DA polisher, but liquid wax will be much easier to spread. Avoid using a wool ‘cutting’ pad for applying wax. You’re simply spreading product, not trying to remove scratches as in paint correction…so a cutting pad will do more harm than good.

To avoid sling, either spread the wax into the pad with your hand, or tap the pad full of wax ‘dots’ onto the section you’re working on.

This helps avoid big globs of liquid wax on the pad that can easily sling up on wax on trim or glass.

Step 3: Allow wax to dry before buffing

Depending on the wax you use, wait anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours, to even 24 hours before buffing it off.

The duration depends on the manufacturer but typically waxes in liquid form are ready to buff off in 15-20 minutes.

Step 4: Buff with a clean buffing pad or microfiber towel

Use a clean buffing pad on your polisher (or a microfiber towel if you prefer) to buff off the top layer of wax.

A buffing pad is quicker, so just have a couple laying around. You can even unclog them with compressed air if you’re in a shop.

Step 5: Perform one final wipe-down by hand

In case you missed a spot with your polisher, use a microfiber towel with smaller pile to remove any excess wax left behind. And that’s it! You can add a second layer of wax if you prefer but always work in very thin coats.

FAQs about waxing a vehicle for beginners

Why wax your car?

It’s a good idea to wax a vehicle because it’s an easy, safe, and natural way to protect the clear coat from the elements; wax also makes your vehicle shine a bit more and can hide small scratches.

Wax will fill in swirl marks and small scratches if you don’t remove these defects permanently via paint correction.

What are the different types of car wax?

Car wax falls into two basic categories: Synthetic wax and natural wax. Natural wax, (like carnauba wax) gives you more of a natural look and shine, while synthetic wax contains petroleum-based distillates. Sometimes synthetic waxes don’t always look as warm and rich as natural wax, but they will last longer.

There are some carnauba wax blends that contain silicones and other solvents, so you don’t always see one or the other on the store shelves.

What are the different forms of car wax?

Spray wax, paste wax, and liquid wax are the three main forms of car wax on the market. Each is effective, although pastes and thick liquid waxes typically last longer than water-based spray-on waxes.

  • Spray wax: Ideal for touching up missed spots after waxing. Can also be used with a damp microfiber towel to apply section-by-section.
  • Paste wax: Paste wax is the most common form of car wax that comes in a round container, often with an included applicator pad.
  • Liquid wax: Liquid car wax is designed to be applied with a dual-action polisher.

What’s the difference between a wax applicator pad and a buffing pad?

A wax applicator pad is designed to release wax onto your vehicle, while a buffing pad is designed to pick up wax and can be made of microfiber.

Quick Tip!

Always apply very thin coats of wax. If you can visibly see chalky, white wax on your vehicle…you’re using too much!

And that’s it! If you’ve got a cloudy, hazy windshield, check out my tutorial on how to restore your windshield to like-new when you’re ready to tackle your glass. Happy waxing!

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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