liquid vs paste wax for auto detailing

When it comes to protecting your car, wax is by far the most talked about and quite effective. But which is better – paste wax or liquid wax?

In this blog post, I’ll break down the main differences between liquid vs paste waxes in solid form, and break down why you may want to use one over the other depending on your business or personal preferences.

Deciding what wax to choose

It really comes down to what you are looking to accomplish with the product you purchase. Many waxes are formulated to achieve a more rich and natural look, some are great for long-lasting protection, and many liquid waxes can be similar to glazes, giving vehicles a more wet look.

Waxes have come a long way (especially synthetic) and it’s tough to say one is vastly superior to the other. If you prefer to wash and wax outside, the convenience of a liquid wax means you usually won’t have to wait for it to dry and it’s easier to apply.

Paste wax vs liquid wax – what’s the difference?

When deciding between liquid waxes vs paste waxes, the difference really comes down to how you plan to apply the wax (with a polisher or by hand), and whether or not you prefer the appearance of natural substances like carnauba or man-made synthetic polymers.

Most traditional pastes are made of carnauba wax (that turns white or yellow when dry) with more abrasives and solvents (which can make them better cleaners for older finishes) while most liquid waxes are more watery, sometimes clear, and don’t require the elbow grease.

  • Liquid waxes usually contain more synthetic polymers and result in more of a shiny gloss-like appearance, but it really depends on what kind you purchase. Carnauba wax can also be found in liquid form as well.
  • Many of the paste waxes you find on store shelves have a high concentration of carnauba and solvents and often marketed as cleaner waxes. These do contain mild abrasives, which can help remove some dirt and other contaminants left behind like water spots.
  • Some liquid waxes also can have some of these cleaning agents, but at the end of the day wax is meant to protect, and won’t able to remove all substances (like brake dust particles or industrial fallout) like claying a car can.

Why some prefer paste wax

Since carnauba can be softened a bit when applied with a dual-action polisher (for example), some people just prefer the more abrasive way paste feels when applied to dry paint. With most consumer-grade paste waxes containing carnauba, the chalky white color the wax turns when dry also makes it easy to tell what sections of a vehicle have been waxed.

Some also prefer paste waxes due to its high natural-looking shine. After buffing, pastes tend to bead very well but are easy to over-apply if not careful. They also make synthetic paste waxes, which can actually protect better than cheaper carnauba pastes.

Another benefit of the thicker nature of paste wax is its ability to fill in scratches typically much better than liquid waxes.

When you think about what a scratch is (basically a small slice into your clearcoat, reflecting the white color that your eye perceives as a scratch), what paste wax does is fill those microscopic canyons in the clear coat (and for a longer period of time than many liquids).

Cons of paste wax

  • Unlike liquid waxes, you can transfer contaminants like industrial particles or dirt into the container over time.
  • It requires more work to remove and apply a paste wax (especially by hand)
  • Can crack or dry out easier
  • Hard to remove from vinyl or trim pieces

Paste waxes are great if you keep your own car clean and clayed. If you are a professional detailer and you are using a paste wax on a car that hasn’t been clayed, it can transfer some of these contaminants onto your pad.

The benefit of a liquid wax is that you obviously cannot contaminate a liquid wax inside a bottle, so you do not risk contaminants being in your wax.

This video from Dallas Paint Correction does a great job at breaking down this concept.

Pros of Paste Waxes

  • Versatile (cleaner waxes vs finishing waxes)
  • High durability and longevity
  • Typically a richer shine and gloss closer to your vehicle’s natural finish
  • Many are more economical to purchase

When to consider a liquid wax

With liquid waxes, it comes down to speed for most people. Liquid waxes shouldn’t be confused with spray waxes in my opinion, since some cheaper sprays really aren’t meant to be used with polishers like liquid pastes that come in a tube. Some organic liquid carnauba waxes look like lotion which makes them easy to apply to pads.

For mobile detailing, 9 times out of 10 you will see liquid wax being used. Liquid waxes make it easier and quicker to apply wax to a clean vehicle more evenly most of the time, due to the fact that you can more easily distribute how much wax is on your pad at any time.

I’ve seen many auto detailers start by applying a certain number of dots to each side of the pad. This just makes it easier to roughly measure how much you are using per panel, unlike pastes which many people tend to over-apply.

Pros of liquid waxes

  • Many can be applied in direct sunlight
  • Easier to apply
  • Easier to remove
  • Good as a last-step wax for finishing
  • Many can be applied to wet surfaces
  • Many dry clear

Cons of liquid waxes

  • Many higher-end liquid waxes can be quite expensive
  • Cheaper ‘spray waxes’ don’t protect very well

Brands to Consider Based on Type

If you are looking for a good paste wax for cleaning or just want an easy to apply liquid wax, here are a few popular choices.

*Keep in mind some waxes can cost significantly more than others – especially some paste waxes. These are great for high-end detailing and provide a much smoother appearance than cheaper waxes.

Paste Wax

Liquid Wax

Conclusion

When I first started researching this topic, I was dead set on paste waxes because I have always used them. But as it turns out, a quality liquid wax is really just as effective as most paste waxes, especially on newer cars that stay clayed and polished.

I usually like to start with a cleaner wax-paste on my daily driver, and then finish with a finishing wash in liquid form. Basically starting with most abrasive, and finishing with a smoother wax or even clear sealant.

I hope this post has been helpful! If you have anything to add on the subject, feel free to leave a comment below.

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