WAX VS CERAMIC COATINGS AND LEVELS OF PAINT CORRECTION
What is a wax?
Wax can be a diverse blend of materials that are referred to as "malleable solids" – basically a substance that can change form from a solid to a liquid at ambient or slightly elevated temperatures. Wax serves as a protective, sacrificial barrier between your cars paint and the environment. In the automotive world carnauba and paraffin waxes are most commonly used, but there are synthetic variants as well.
The first thing to note is that wax you apply to your car is never in its 100% wax form. You’ll frequently see marketing messages that claim a product to be 100% carnauba wax, but this is a little misleading as it’s typically referring to the purity of the wax in a specific product. See the image below – this is what 100% carnauba wax looks like in its raw, refined form. As you can see, it’s too hard to be spreadable and provide the protection we’re looking for. To achieve the desired result we have to add solvents that the wax is soluble in. We’ll also blend in oils that provide lubrication along with scents & colorants. By blending different types of waxes together we can achieve different results like ease-of-use, clarity and color enhancement.
What is a sealant?
The term “sealant” is pretty ubiquitous. A paint sealant, in the past, has been a product that mimics a wax’s characteristics, but is made from synthetic material rather than organic materials. They were slightly more robust than a wax, but still suffered from some of the same short comings (susceptible to high temperatures and car washing soaps).
Often times, when it comes to paint protection, both wax & ceramics are referred to as a sealant.
What is a ceramic coating?
A more recent development in detailing technology has been ceramic-based paint protection. (You’ve probably heard numerous terms/names, most commonly ceramic coating, silica, quartz, silicone-dioxide or even SiO2). This new ceramic material acts very differently from a wax in the sense that it will actually generate a curing property once applied to a surface. This curing creates a chemical bond with the surface on which it’s being applied, in this case our car’s paint. Once they’re applied & cured, ceramic-based protectants are extremely resistant to water, soaps, and of course environmental pollutants.
Ceramic protectants (coatings) provide a much higher durability than wax. They resist heat, UV rays, environmental contaminants & harsh detergents much better than wax.
Wax on the other hand simply sits on top of the paint’s surface. It does not create the chemical bond like we find with ceramic coatings.
Picture the painted surface of your car as a smooth, mirror like plane. Over time, dust, dirt, and other contaminants build up on that smooth surface. Unfortunately, the process of washing this dirt and dust away causes the fine particles to act like sandpaper, scratching and digging grooves into the once smooth clearcoat surface. As these fine scratches build up, the surface becomes dull and hazed. Paint correction is the use of specialized machines and polishing agents to slowly remove microscopic layers of clearcoat to once again make the surface smooth and mirror like.
A buffing or polishing machine (here the words are safely used interchangeably), is a handheld machine with a motorized spinning head. Foam or fiber pads are placed on the head and used to spread wax or polishing agents onto the painted surface.
Think of wax as makeup for your car. Though it is often applied with a buffing or polishing machine, it is simply a coating which fills in the scratches – making them harder to see. Over time the wax is worn and washed away, once again, revealing the underlying scratches. In terms of paint correction, wax is purely cosmetic. It will make your car look good for a short time, but does nothing to remove the underlying scratches.
Removing the scratches requires the slow removal of microscopic layers of clear coat to, once again, level out the surface. Compounding agents or leveling agents are specifically formulated liquids that, when added to the rotating pad of a buffing or polishing machine, act as extremely fine grit sandpaper to slowly shave down the clear coat surface.
Once the compounding agents have done the heavy lifting, a polish is then used to remove any final haze and add to the depth and clarity of the finished surface. Think of polish as an even finer grit sandpaper that is used to fine tune the newly leveled surface, revealing a beautiful, highly polished surface.
Once the painted surface is perfected, it is now ready for a protective layer. Protection comes in the form of waxes and paint sealants. Waxes and sealants are applied in the same way, but offer differing types of protection. Both will protect the painted surface from acid rain, fallout, bird droppings and tree sap. A paint sealant is a synthetic polymer that will provide a high gloss finish yet will last much longer than a wax – up to a year in some cases. It was once the case that though waxes wouldn’t last as long, they would provide a higher gloss and deeper shine. However, paint sealants have come a long way in the last few years – almost making waxes obsolete. Today’s paint sealants have a higher melting point than wax, allowing them to last longer in extreme elements while still providing the depth and shine provided by a wax. Waxes can also be applied over a paint sealant – further protecting the hard work that went into your car.