Some of the best blog topics come from our customers. Such is the case with today’s discussion about using a ceramic coating on plastic surfaces. A few weeks ago, one of our site visitors posted a comment asking whether or not Armor Shield IX could be used on plastic surfaces, specifically, after cleaning headlights and on the headlight frame on their daily driver -- or if using wax was better than a car ceramic coating?
What I found intriguing was the point of reference. This customer lives in Arizona (near my hometown actually) and is trying to find a product that will reduce premature aging that is common with plastic trim pieces on a car here in the Valley of constant triple-digit temperatures. The answer to his question is a resounding F-Yeah!
So, with that all said, today’s blog will aim to provide a general guide to using a ceramic coating on plastic surfaces. We’ll outline the proper prep work techniques, how to apply, and some of the top features and benefits to applying your ceramic coating on your plastic trim pieces.
Can Ceramic Coatings Be Used on Plastic?
In short – yes; a real nanoceramic coating can be used on plastic surfaces.
Automotive ceramic coatings provide a protective layer and can be applied to nearly any surface, ranging from bare metal to car headlights (made of polycarbonate plastic mainly), vinyl wraps, alloy, and chrome wheels, and yes, even plastic trim.
It’s not going to provide a lifetime warranty of protection, and it’s not going to restore your headlights, but a good glass coating will make it easier to remove bird droppings, brake dust, dirt, and block those potent UV rays better than any wax or sealant.
Let’s take a few steps back and explain how a DIY ceramic coating works. A ceramic pro coating or a DIY product like Armor Shield IX will adhere to any porous surface. Basically, the way it works is that the tiny, microscopic particles of SiO2 (quartz) and other ingredients penetrate into the tiny peaks and valleys that are found in clear coats, bare metal, and yes – especially in plastic or polymer materials.
The nanotechnology fills those imperfections and provides a thin, flat layer of protection on top of the surface. It can be applied to plastic trim, headlight covers, plastic wheel covers and much more. When it cures, it blocks contaminants from sticking, produces a hydrophobic surface, and does not require a frequent application like waxes.
How is Ceramic Coating Different when Used on Plastic?
There are some ceramic coating brands that sell a plastic and rubber specific coating. The general formula is virtually identical to ‘normal stuff’. Some of them have slightly lower SiO2 percentages, which helps to expand the application window, making it ‘easier’ to apply on plastic. However, it really isn’t much different than traditional ceramic coatings, it’s just marketed as a special formula.
With regard to how coatings work on plastics, there is no difference in the way the product bonds to plastic. These materials are just as porous as metal, vinyl wraps, and other materials.
They are also just as exposed to environmental contaminants. That’s really the key to ceramic coatings working well. If the surface has plenty of microscopic imperfections for the ceramic coating to seep and fill, it’ll bond without trouble.
When Should Ceramic Coating Be Used on Plastic?
So -- here is another commonly misunderstood concept that is applicable to this question. It is often assumed that ceramic coatings help to improve the look of materials. That’s not exactly accurate.
Ceramic coatings amplify what is underneath, they are not intended to repair or restore materials nor do they protect a windshield or other glass surfaces against rock chips (another far-fetched myth -- but the job of a clear bra).
Case in point, let’s say for sake of argument that you’ve got some sun-damaged headlight trim that you’d like to improve the shine and deep black color. Well, a ceramic coating is not the product to use in this instance.
Nano-coating products will enhance the material and condition of the material underneath. So, if the plastic trim is faded, it’ll honestly look worse after using the DIY ceramic car coating.
You should use ceramic coatings on plastic when the material is new, recently restored, or in good condition. When coated correctly and given an opportunity to cure without exposure to water for at least 24-hours, it can protect the plastic trim and other materials with UV protection and scratch resistance for up to 3+ years.
Features and Benefits of Ceramic Coatings for Plastics
It’s typically assumed that a ceramic coating’s main job is protection. And for the most part, that’s correct. While they produce exceptional hydrophobic properties and make it easier to remove bird crap, bug splatters, and more, for plastic materials, it’s mainly to protect it from UV rays.
However, there are some other benefits that come with applying a coating to plastic surfaces.
So – we mentioned above the ceramic coatings don’t fix – but, when plastic is fresh and new, applying the coating will improve the vibrancy of plastic materials. On the contrary, it will also make crappy looking plastic look even more worn and faded. So, be careful where you apply ceramic coatings.
Makes Cleaning Easy
One of the biggest problems with plastic parts like the front grille, headlight trim, or radiator covers is that bugs tend to end their lives in dramatic fashion. The shitty part is that their bug guts are comprised of acids and other sticky materials that makes removing them a pain in the proverbial ass.
When you apply ceramic coatings on plastic, it makes clean-up a snap. In fact, sometimes just spraying them with a hose is good enough. No harsher chemical cleaning products that can cause stains and corrosion.
Extra Protection Against Fading
Ceramic coatings are arguably the best paint protection products to block UV sunlight. This helps to reduce the potential of oxidation and thus – less fading.
How Long Does Ceramic Coating Last on Plastic?
Ceramic coatings last just as long on plastic rims or covers as they do on other surfaces. In fact, there really is no difference in their longevity, application, or level of protection when they are used on plastic surfaces.
We recently wrote an article on how to clean headlights and apply ceramic coatings as the protection to reduce fogging and other contamination.
How to Apply Ceramic Coatings to Plastic
The process for applying coatings like Armor Shield IX to plastic materials is similar to body panels, automotive glass, and vinyl wrap. Perhaps the biggest ‘hurdle’ with plastic applications is determining when the coating has flashed.
In most cases, when you apply a ceramic coating, it will produce a shiny hue when it has ‘bonded’ to the surface. It does the same thing on plastic, but if the plastic is a matte finish, it’s a bit more difficult to see.
This is where using the reliable ‘timing method’ for applying and removal is a good tip. When you apply Armor Shield IX to plastic, it’s best to do so in smaller, 2 foot by 2-foot sections. Wait a few minutes after applying the section, then buff off with a clean microfiber towel.
Like other applications, the process for plastic ceramic coating use is quite similar. The one area that is different is the prep work. Here is the general process:
Similar to any other application, the first step in the prep is to wash the area. Always use an automotive shampoo or soap, a microfiber wash mitt, and two buckets, to avoid contamination.
Clay Bar Treatment
It’s best to use a clay mitt on plastic materials, as a clay bar may become brittle and come apart quickly. The concept here is to remove those microscopic pieces of debris that can become trapped in those peaks and valley imperfections.
So – usually you would polish the surface for paint or other materials. That step is skipped with plastic. The final step is to wipe the entire surface with IPA (an isopropyl alcohol solution).
The application process is the same on plastic as it is on automotive paint. This video goes in-depth on how to correctly apply Armor Shield IX.
Wrapping it Up
Plastic headlights, hubcaps, trim, bumpers, rear spoilers and more can be protected with Armor Shield IX. Heck, you can even treat your mud-flaps on that badass 18-wheeler if you want (it sure as shit would make it easier to clean). Those who spend a lot of hours on the roads will find applying Armor Shield IX to their front grills exceptionally helpful.
One special tip though. We mentioned above that ceramic coatings should not be used on distressed plastic materials – and we really stand by that claim. There are some DIY ceramic coatings that promote themselves as having restoration qualities. This isn’t accurate – so if you’re looking for products to improve the luster of your old plastic products, defer to Armor All or other chemical agents.