Traditional Wax & Sealants: What are They and What is the Difference
Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Probably one of the most recognized buzz phrases for the car wash industry is "getting your vehicle waxed". It's considered an upgrade at almost every traditional tunnel wash and is often used as a selling point for any hand car wash or detailer. However, many people do not understand the purpose of having your car waxed other than it feels like something you should do. On the flip side, most have even less of an understanding of sealants and the benefit they provide. To top it off there's a lot of misconceptions surrounding waxes and sealants. Without overwhelming you with information, we're going to give an informative overview of the purpose of using a wax or sealant and the primary differences.
What's the Purpose of a Wax or Sealant?
The main purpose of waxes and sealants is twofold, to provide paint protection between washes as well as add shine and gloss to your clear coat. It's important to note that your vehicle, in the simplest of terms, has three coats of paint on top of the actual body panel. There is the primer coat, the color base coat, and then the clear top coat. The clear coat is what you are trying to protect as it takes the majority of the wear and tear but also gives your car it's shine and glossy appearance. The clear coat is what takes the paint transfer or scratches and minor imperfections, protecting the more expensive to repair color coat. This is also why you should not be so quick to whip out your touch up paint because once you apply it, you no longer have the shiny clear coat on top (but that's another post for another day!).
When applying waxes or sealants, the primary goal is to protect your vehicle's clear coat while maintaining or enhancing the appearance (secondary goal). However, many people don't realize the need to protect your vehicle's clear coat because they don't realize all the wear and tear that impacts the clear coat will ultimately impact the appearance of your vehicle (see our stance on tunnel washes which adds to the wear and tear on your clear coat).
Are all waxes created equal?
Now that you have a basic understanding of the purpose of wax, we'll delve a little more into the different types. As I mentioned above, if the most known buzz phrase is getting your vehicle waxed; the most known buzz word that accompanies it is "carnauba wax".
Carnauba wax is acquired from the wax of palm leaves from the carnauba tree in Brazil. It actually has a myriad of uses in different industries including food. In reference to vehicles, it is processed with different solvents and oils to make it usable. So while carnauba wax is naturally occurring, the product used on vehicles is not considered natural, regardless what the packaging says!
As you can probably guess, all waxes are not created equal and to clear up any confusion or misconceptions not all waxes contain carnauba. Spray waxes are usually the lowest price and provide the least amount of protection; some only lasting a couple of weeks. When you pay the additional price for spray wax at a tunnel car wash, you're likely not getting your money's worth as the wax is sprayed on and in less than 30 seconds is washed off giving it little time to provide any benefit (protection or appearance) to your vehicle.
Hard waxes applied by hand, especially a quality carnauba wax, provide significantly more appearance benefit and a moderate increase in protection.
Do wax and sealant do the same thing?
Sort of, but not to the same degree. Sealants are scientifically formulated products that provide better and longer protection than wax while also enhancing the gloss and shine of your vehicle. Sealants are better able to protect against environmental contaminants which can make your clear coat look dull and feel rough.
At Eco Car Spa, we include a ceramic spray sealant in all but one of our packages. It provides 8-12 weeks of protection because it bonds to the paint and leaves your vehicle with a gorgeous, glossy finish. The soaps we use to wash your vehicle do not strip away the sealant, so when you bring your vehicle back before 8-12 weeks (recommend every 2-4 weeks for a maintenance wash) and we apply the ceramic sealant again you are bolstering the existing protection!
In our premium Exclusive package, and available as a $30-$50 upgrade to all other packages, we hand apply a polymer paint sealant that blocks environmental contaminants and UV rays while providing a high gloss shine and, in our experience, lasts well up to a year. Doing the polymer paint sealant every 8-12 months combined with the ceramic sealant every 2-4 weeks in between will leave your vehicle very well protected and looking excellent!