How To Properly Apply Car Wax

Car wax has long been a mainstay in the world of auto detailing and general maintenance. Broadly speaking, there are two main reasons that anyone would go through the process of applying car wax. The first is for the protective properties it has on the paintwork. As it forms a layer over the top of your car’s paint, the wax acts as a shield from contaminants and other nasty things that try to get themselves embedded into the car’s surface. The second reason anyone applies wax is for the unbeatable shine. When used correctly and appropriately, car wax can have a car several years old shining up like it did on its first day in the showroom.

And yet, no matter how long we have had wax in the car care marketplace, there are still many who use it incorrectly or make serious mistakes in the application. In this article, we are going to discuss the correct way to apply car wax, as well as what types of wax are out there and the common mistakes that people make when applying them.

What products are out there on the market?

The waxing market is quite diverse, perhaps much more so than you ever imagined. You have likely heard of big brands like Turtle Wax, but even that one brand produces a number of items:

Standard wax

Very often comes in a paste form of varying thickness and color. It’s typically of a harder texture and in the higher price bracket owing to its long-lasting protection. Users will note that it takes quite a bit more elbow grease than other products to wipe off the wax after application.

Liquid wax

These products are sometimes the longest-lasting because their special formulation includes chemical polymers that bond fiercely with the paint surface, creating a phenomenal protective effect (depending on the overall strength). Application can be tricky at times because the liquid polymers dry much more quickly than paste and others.


Often the effect of spray wax is somewhat shorter, but the application is often the easiest because the handy spray bottle makes even and precise application easy.

Whichever type of product you buy, they still come in different varieties. Sprays and liquids may be either constituted by synthetic ingredients like the aforementioned polymers, or they may also have natural ingredients. One of the top natural choices for wax is carnauba, either as an active ingredient or as the main agent. Carnauba paste wax can look either yellow (more expensive version), or white and lasts up to 4 months or so per application.

How to apply your wax

For our “how-to” guide, we are going to use the most common form of wax, the standard paste wax, which is still the top choice for the majority of users. Below you’ll find our stage-by-stage guide to the application process that will get you the best possible results.

Stage 1 – Preparation

Before you even open the wax container, there are several preparatory steps you need to take.

Step 1 – Give your car a thorough washing and, more importantly, drying. The car must be dry before you start the waxing. For best drying results, use microfiber cloths.

Step 2 – Move your car out of direct sunlight. You need a space that’s shaded, cooler, preferably indoors if possible, like the garage. The temperature should be from 55-85 degrees.

Step 3 – Consider using a car detailing clay on the surface you want to wax before you start. It will work to get out any tricky embedded dirt that may otherwise impact your waxing process and that the initial wash was unable to shift.

Step 4 – Ensure you have an ample supply of clean and dry microfiber cloths. First, you need them to dry the car, but you also need them for waxing. If you have a cloth that has been used for waxing and not yet washed, do not use it. You should only use a fresh, washed and clean towel each time you wax. The buildup from previous waxes can become abrasive and damage the paintwork.

Stage 2 – Application

Despite the many things to consider, the application process itself is not so complex. Follow these steps, and you’ll get great results.

First, choose an area of the car to start (the hood is a good place) and divide that area into zones in your mind. Each zone should be about 2 square feet, but it’s up to you.

Second, dab some of the wax onto your clean and washed (or new) microfiber towel, and apply with about 3-5lbs of pressure in slow, small area circular strokes in your first zone. Don’t cake it on thickly; otherwise you’ll have a heck of a time trying to get it all off again! Check the packaging for a guideline on how much is suitable.

Third, once you’ve applied in one zone, you need to leave it for 3-5 minutes (or per your packaging instructions) to do its work. During this time, you can be working on your next section.

Stage 3 – Removal

Once the waiting time has elapsed, return to that section and using a fresh microfiber (yes, another), you can begin to remove the wax in a similar motion to the way you applied. You may have to apply a little more pressure depending on the exact wax type you used. Thicker paste waxes need the most effort.

Next, once you’ve removed the wax with one side of your wiping cloth, turn it over and buff the same section once again. This time you should see the amazing shine coming through. The first buff is to remove the wax, and the second buff in this step is to shine it up.

Finally, repeat the process for the rest of your car.

Common mistakes people make while waxing

Now that you understand the preparation, application and removal stages, you are ready to wax like a pro. Before you do, though, reflect on these common mistakes that people make when waxing. Some have been mentioned in passing, but it’s never a bad thing to be reminded:

Mistake #1: Not fully drying the car after cleaning

Moisture on the car’s surface will prevent the wax from bonding evenly, thus making the whole exercise pointless. Dry your car thoroughly with microfiber cloths, especially in the tricky corners where water might linger and drip later.

Mistake #2: Using a dirty applicator

Using the microfiber cloth that you used last time is alright if you’ve washed it, but if not, then you’re just asking for trouble. Old wax builds up on cloths and hardens to become an abrasive substance. That’s bad news for the paint.

Mistake #3: Applying wax too thickly

Some users get too keen and glob the wax on far too thickly. Some think that applying more generously will boost the effect. This is untrue. More wax does not equal more shine. You are just throwing the (sometimes very expensive) wax away!

Mistake #4: Any old rag will do, right?

Those without microfiber cloths to hand may think using any old cotton cloth, or even an old t-shirt will do. This is also untrue and potentially damaging. Ordinary cotton cloth won’t lift material away from the surface as a microfiber cloth will. The microfiber cloth was specially invented for this purpose.

Mistake #5: Mismatching wax product to paint conditions

If your car is very new or has been waxed before by detailers, then the paint is likely in very good condition, so you can get waxes designed to give you that “showroom finish”. Protection is a bit less important for this type of car. Older cars, however, have paint that has undergone more punishment and may be in need of a protective buildup before getting the showroom treatment. We recommend using carnauba wax on older models that haven’t been waxed in a long time. The carnauba builds up protection and creates a better condition later for a showroom shine.

Last words

Hopefully, with our guide, you’ll have years ahead of happy and successful car waxing! Make sure to peruse the varied marketplace for the right product to suit your vehicle and paint conditions.