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Car Wax vs Ceramic Coating – Which One is Best?

Car Wax vs Ceramic Coating – Which One is Best?

When you invest in a new car, truck, or SUV, you want to keep it looking sweet – right? Truthfully, we do – in fact, according to the IBISWorld Industry Report, the automotive paint protection, and car wash market, just in the USA, involved the spending of $10.2 BILLION by vehicle owners in 2016 alone.

That’s a lot of hard-earned money spent on making our daily drivers and weekend-warriors look shiny. Besides washing the vehicle, applying protective car wax or ceramic coatings is the natural progression of automotive care.

The question most consumers ask is – “when it comes to car wax vs ceramic coating, which is best.”

People consider between the flexibility of car wax and the longevity of ceramic coating as paint protection
The debate rages between traditionalists who prefer the flexibility of car wax vs the longevity of ceramic coatings. It’s not a Star Wars vs Star Trek type-battle or Yankees vs Red Sox -- but it’s getting close.

In all honesty, that’s a hard question to answer.

Some people prefer the old-school physical labor associated with applying and reapplying car wax. Others love the durability and brilliant shine produced by Ceramic Coating. Regardless of what side of the fence you lean on, you deserve factual information -- so you can make an informed decision.

That’s what we do here at AvalonKing.

Our mission is to empower consumers, by creating products that are high-quality solutions to daily problems, are easy to use, and offer value -- like our Armor Shield IX DIY Nano-Ceramic Coating. We also understand that some people just prefer other products – and that’s completely cool.

So, let’s take some time to remove the BS from the old car wax vs ceramic coating debate. In the information below, we’ll dive deep into explaining the great and not-so-great features of car wax and Nano-technology infused ceramic coatings.

1. What is Car Wax?

Car wax combines carnauba wax and beeswax to create a protective layer on top of vehicle's paint
This is car wax in its original form. Carnauba Wax is derived from a Brazilian Palm Tree, which secretes this substance on the palm leaves, hardens and leaves a hard, protective shell-like an M&M -- but we don’t recommend eating it.

The most popular type of autobody protectant sold across the globe is car wax. The most common substance used for the protection of cars, trucks, and SUV’s is referred to as carnauba wax.

This is a natural substance that is derived from Copernicia Prunifera Palm tree leaves; specifically found in Northern Brazil.

In its natural form, carnauba wax is secreted from these palm tree leaves and creates a hard-outer shell (kind of like an M&M), which protects the leaves from harsh exposure to the sun.

Automotive wax manufacturers combine carnauba wax with solvents and beeswax to create a similar protective layer on top of the paint applied to your vehicle. It is applied by rubbing the wax onto the vehicle’s exterior (usually in a circular pattern), letting it dry, then buffing out the residue until the finish is clean and shiny.

2. How Long Does Car Wax Last?

Automotive wax manufacturers tend to debate with each other on how to answer this question. Some suggest waxing a vehicle’s exterior every four to six weeks, while others market their product as ‘longer-lasting’ formulas that can hold up for up to six months.

However, what really confuses several consumers is understanding the difference between car polish and car wax. An honest car polish is infused with oils, that creates a gloss effect on paint as it’s applied, buffed out, and removed.

Wax, on the other hand, is designed to protect areas that have been polished. They provide a hard layer of protection on the paint to protect it from exposure to daily elements.

3. What Makes a Quality Car Wax?

Technology has improved the quality of a lot of items we use daily -- including car wax.

Arguably the best car waxes used today, and rated by industry experts are synthetic car waxes. They replicate the natural sealing effects of Carnauba wax with a synthetic substance, that also includes a polishing agent.

4. How is Car Wax Applied?

Applying car wax is a multiple-stage process that takes time, temperature control, and patience. Following steps must be taken to ensure proper application of car wax:

Keep Vehicle In Temperature-Controlled Environment

The first step in applying car wax is to keep the car in temperature-controlled environment

It begins by keeping your car in a temperature-controlled environment. It’s recommended to keep your car out of direct sunlight.

Apply Wax Using A Sponge

Second step in applying car wax is to apply the wet wax using a sponge

The next step is to apply the ‘wet’ wax with an application ‘sponge’, in a circular motion (remember Wax-On from Karate Kid?).

Finish By Waxing Off

The final step of applying car wax is to wax-off the applied wax wither manually or using electrical buffer

The final step is the Wax-Off portion. Most car owners who prefer car wax using a high-speed electrical buffer, like the one displayed in the image. This saves a lot of time and totally helps build Popeye-like forearms.

5. What Are the Pros of Using Car Wax?

Here are some of the advantages of using car wax:

Environmental Friendly

Carnauba wax is an environmentally-friendly and natural substance.

Simple to Use

It’s fairly simple to apply – you just need to learn how the process is completed and invest the time and manual labor to complete it.

Doesn’t Require Professional Help

It does not require professional help – although, for better results, using advanced car wax application and polishing equipment does produce improved shine and protection.

Heat Resistant

Car wax is heat resistant, meaning once it’s applied correctly, it will not wear thin simply due to excessive heat.

Hydrophobic Properties

Car wax holds excellent hydrophobic properties (meaning it resists water really well).

It was also the substance of choice of Mr. Miyagi to teach Daniel-San to begin his Karate training in The Karate Kid so I guess that counts as well.

Wax On, Wax Off - The Karate Kid (2/8) Movie CLIP (1984) HD

6. What Are the Cons of Using Car Wax?

While there are several advantages of using car wax, there are some things you should consider.

Requires Frequent Reapplication

As noted above, some car waxes should be reapplied every 4 to 6 weeks for maximum benefit. You have to apply car wax regularly after certain intervals in order to protect your car’s paint.

A Lot of Work

Correct waxing is a process – requiring you to wash the car first, completely dry it, prep it (sometimes by removing older wax build-up), applying, and then buffing. It is labor-intensive, taking a lot of time, energy, and effort to complete correctly.

Can Be Confusing

There are some products that are marketed as car wax – but they really aren’t. A great example of this is the spray wax used at an automatic car wash. This is more of an autobody conditioner, but it’s washed off quickly and really doesn’t do much to protect the body.

7. What is Nano Ceramic Coating?

Nano ceramic coating is  a liquid polymer that is used as a protective layer over a car's paint surface
This image displays how water beads on top of paint that has been protected with a Nano-Ceramic Coating. Essentially, instead of providing a thin layer that eventually comes off like car wax, ceramic coatings physically bond to the paint surface, filling in the microscopic imperfections, and literally Armor Protect the car’s surface.

A Nano ceramic coating is essentially a liquid-polymer that is derived from silica and is commonly used in the manufacturing of ceramic or glass products. Like carnauba wax, there are several unique combinations, molecular structures, and quality that yield different results.

The word “Nano” refers to the size of the molecules or particles in the coating itself. These particles range from 80-100 Nano-meters. FYI – there are 25 million Nano-meters in an inch.

Nano ceramic coating fills the gap on your car's surface and reflects water, debris, and other contaminants
This graphic displays how nano-ceramic coatings bond onto your car’s paint surface. The red is actually a representation of the paint on your car -- which, contrary to popular belief, is not as smooth as you’d think. The light grey represents the nano-ceramic coating. As you can see -- it fills the gaps, and reflects water, dirt, debris, and other contaminants.

Because the particles are so small, when applied to a surface, they seal all the pores making the surface hydrophobic (water-repellent), but also resistant to UV, scratches, chemicals, extreme heat and even anti-graffiti.

8. How Long Will a Nano Ceramic Coating Last?

A ceramic car coating is inorganic, which allows them to be manufactured at higher temperatures. This permits the ceramic coating to create an atomic bond with painted substances when it’s applied correctly – which offers a stronger and more durable layer of protection.

When correctly applied, a nano-ceramic coating can last up to 5 years
When correctly applied, a nano-ceramic coating can last up to 5 years.

They are generally more resistant to UV light, harsh weather conditions, grit and road grime, bird droppings, scratches, and sand. They can last for years and can’t be removed by high-pressure washes or automatic car washing stations.

9. What Makes a High Quality Ceramic Coating?

First and foremost, it’s important to clarify the difference between professionally installed ceramic coatings and DIY nano-ceramic coating products.

Professional ceramic coating use a commercial-grade coating requiring preparatory work and installation techniques
Most professional ceramic coating services use a commercial-grade type of coating, which requires a lot of preparatory work, specific installation techniques -- oh, and it’ll cost you anywhere from $750 to $2,000.

The professional ceramic coating is a commercial-grade product. They are designed to be applied in a clean-sphere environment and require a tremendous amount of prep work prior to installation. Once it has been applied, it needs to sit in a temperature-controlled facility for one to five days – depending mainly on the condition of the existing paint.

Pricing for this type of product and the required installation can range from $750 to $2,000.

DIY nano-ceramic coatings accomplish same benefits of commercial-grade coatings but without installation process
A DIY nano-ceramic coating like Armor Shield IX is a professional-grade product, precision-engineered for the average automotive enthusiast to install themselves. The products are sent with everything you’ll need to correctly apply.

DIY nano-ceramic coatings have been carefully engineered to accomplish the same benefits of commercial-grade coatings but without the robust installation process. While they do require some prep work and should be permitted to cure without exposure to the elements, they are easier to install, have a wider-usage span, and are much more affordable.

Pricing for a DIY nano-ceramic coating can range from $10 to $300, with an obvious huge variation in quality.

10. What are the Pros of Using Nano Ceramic Coating?

Like car wax, there are several advantages and disadvantages of using Nano ceramic coating products. Here are some of the pros:

Protection Against UV Rays

Nano Ceramic Coating provides an exceptional layer of protection against UV rays, which protects the paint from oxidation, developing sun-damage, and can increase the resale or trade-in value of a vehicle.

Long-Lasting

It lasts much longer than car wax. While car wax manufacturers suggest reapplying every month, the ceramic coating can be applied once and can last up to several years.

Highly Resistant to Contaminants

It is highly resistant to natural-occurring debris such as mud, water, acid rain, bug splatters, and bird droppings.

Hydrophobic Properties

It is much easier to clean your vehicle. The hydrophobic effects of automotive Nano-ceramic coatings make washing and drying a car much quicker. It also naturally resists water spots when drying naturally.

It provides a highly intense gloss and shines for several years.

11. What Are the Cons of Using Nano Ceramic Coating?

So – what are the cons?

Detailed Process

Generally, applying Nano ceramic coating is a detailed process, that requires the help of professionally trained automotive technicians.

Expensive to Purchase

It can be rather expensive to purchase (and even more to have installed and applied by a professional).

Time-Consuming

The initial application can be time-consuming. It’s recommended to keep the vehicle out of the elements for 24 to 48 hours in most cases.

Problems with Ceramic Coatings

12. What is Paint Sealant?

Car paint sealant is a synthetic product that uses proprietary polymers to adhere to paint and produce a shiny appearance
This image really captures how paint sealants appear naturally. The left of this car is not coated with wax or anything, while the right has a commercial-grade paint sealant applied. You’ll notice that the paint looks very clean, but has a dull appearance. This is why most professional detailing companies apply traditional Carnauba wax on top -- for added shine.

So – we’ve explained what car wax is – what nano-ceramic coating is – now, let’s address the middle child – automotive paint sealants. Car paint sealant is a fully synthetic product that use proprietary polymers to adhere to paint and produce a shiny appearance. While wax secures to paint, it will wear thin sooner than paint sealants.

Paint sealant does a much better job of protecting the paint against UV rays, sap, rain, and other debris than normal wax, but – not as good as nano-ceramic coatings. They also tend to produce a shiny, yet dull or ‘cold’ appearance, which is why most automotive detailing experts apply a traditional carnauba wax on top of paint sealants – to offer the best of both worlds.

13. So -- What’s Best Car Wax vs Ceramic Coating?

This table really simplifies the debate between nano-ceramic coatings, paint sealants and car wax.

As you can see – there are pros and cons of all products. Like any consumer product, quality, ingenuity and the design of the product, the ingredients used, and even the packaging can improve or reduce the value of each product.

Choosing between the two depends on your budget, level of personal involvement in the care and upkeep of your vehicle, and whether you’re willing to invest the time to do it yourself – or pay to have a professional do the job.

Personally, I think using car wax is more of a pain in the ass than helpful. Sure, there was a time when I was younger when I used to enjoy spending my Sunday mornings washing and waxing the sled -- but that shit got old real quick; and so did I.

Those were the dark times -- before Nano-ceramic coatings. So, if I have a choice, I’m willing to spend a few bucks to do it right the first time -- and produce better results.

The important thing to remember is that using some sort of protective coating (either car wax or Nano ceramic coating) is critical to keeping your vehicle protected from exposure.

If you enjoyed this article, then you'll love AvalonKing's automotive care products for Do-It-Yourselfers. We create "No B.S products" for an affordable price. And the best part, we treat our customers like family, so if you have any questions or just looking to chat about cars, we're only an email or call away. Check out our homepage here.

Tim Charlet

Tim is part of the AvalonKing team as a content editor. He also serves as our Product Development Director. A 30-year automotive guru, marketing super freak, and accomplished publicist & columnist, “Timmah” is also a licensed NHRA Drag Racer, a proud dad of two, and loves a good Guinness two-part pour.

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Can you run cars through car washes after applying your ceramic coating, or will it compromise the coating or appearance?

    1. Hi CD:
      Thanks for sending your question today. Can you? Yes you can. Will it compromise the coating or appearance? Yes – eventually it will. We recommend hand washing your vehicle after applying Armor Shield IX every two weeks for routine maintenance.

  2. There are many ceramic “coat” sprays for protection and even polish. TLC, F11, Armor whatever, hydrosilex, CMX, and others. I am sure one may work from these better than others BUT do they worth the time to replace regular DIY wax + quick wax after wash routine or just stick with waxing and if you want professional protection get actual ceramic coating in a shop?I understand they cannot be as good as true ceramic protection systems… But… Do those sprays even work or just watered down wax like chemicals with some SiO2 content that would not bond well in that form anyway and stick with waxing.

    1. Hi Master K:

      Thanks for the feedback and the question. You bring up an interesting question about “Ceramic Coating Sprays” and the difference between a Nano Ceramic Coating. I’m actually going to write an article about this topic during the weekend – so follow the blog to find out what is different about them – because, there is a LOT of confusion out there.

  3. Very informative, Can a ceramic coat be applied even after the vehicle has been regularly washed and waxed in previous months. I have a new vehicle that has been detailed washed and waxed regularly but I am considering taking it to have it ceramically coated by a professional. Is there any concerned with applying a ceramic coat after previous waxing history.

    1. Hi Ruben:
      Thanks for the question. There is no issue applying a ceramic coating after it’s been professionally detailed and waxed frequently. If a pro is going to do the install, they’ll likely recommend some mild paint correction, which is basically removing the existing wax and applying polish to remove any imperfections, before they apply the ceramic coating.

  4. Very Informative – Thank you

  5. I’m about to wrap my car with a 3M matte vinyl wrap. Are there any precautions or contraindications in using Armor Shield IX with matte vinyl wraps? Will it change the appearance of the wrap significantly or cause a gloss to appear on the matte surface?

    1. Hey Bruce! Armor Shield works great over Vinyl Wraps in general. When it comes to a Matte wrap Armor Shield may add undesired gloss/shine.

  6. This is a very informative site. I am now confident that I want to stay with my Carnuba wax application. Cars sit in garage most of the time and I really enjoy working on keeping them in admirable condition. Part of the pride that comes with owning great looking vehicles is the work put into keeping them looking new.

  7. Arent palm plantations destroying Brazil. What hazards do ceramics pose to the environment?

    1. Todd,

      That is a great question and one that I appreciate you asking. Car waxes and oils are notoriously bad for the environment. Car washes in general waste hundreds of thousands of gallons of water annually. How often does a person wax and clean their car? Many perform waxing on a monthly basis. Armor Shield IX is a product designed to last 3-5 years with one or two coats of application. That is a substantial drop in product usage as well as in chemical runoff into the environment. Reduced product consumption and reduced waste byproduct. We are a win-win situation no matter how you look at it.

  8. Super informative

    Does this stuff work on fiberglass particularly on boats. I need to find a way to stop spending so much money and time waxing my boat.

    1. Yes indeed Chris. We have many customers that coated their fiberglass boats, hull and other surfaces as well, as the coating works excellent for marine applications.

  9. If I had the ceramic coating applied, would there be any benefit to applying carnuba wax every couple of months?

    1. Yes, to answer your question…the benefit is a deeper more “syrup” like gloss. Sure, ceramic alone looks great but with a coat of quality carnauba over it you enhance the depth. Hydrophobic qualities are diminished, yes, but as your wax wears off it only gets better. Keep in mind wax itself is very hydrophobic also, just not as much as ceramic or as long lasting. So this benefit is all about looks. If your ceramic coating looks great, go ahead and try a section…or half your hood and find out for yourself. You’ll be taking your beautiful shiny ceramic coating from a 10 to 11….temporarily.

    2. Hi Jim! Wax would not be necessary, and we just don’t recommend using it. You can still apply non-abrasive wax over the ceramic coating but It would diminish the hydrophobic properties as wax would tend to pick up contaminants easier.

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How To Apply Armor Shield IX

Ceramic Coating - How It Works

These are our recommended quantities for the respective type of vehicle. The Volume Savings can be seen besides/below.

Type of Vehicle Recommended Quantity Volume Savings
motorcycle   Motorcycle 1 bottle*
small car   Small car 1 bottle*
sedan   Sedan 2 bottles* Save $35 (25%)
pick-up truck   Pick-up 2 bottles* Save $35 (25%)
jeep   Jeep 2 bottles* Save $35 (25%)
suv   SUV 3 bottles* Save $70 (33%)
van   VAN 3 bottles* Save $70 (33%)
boat   Boat 4 bottles+* Save $110 (39%)

*Please note that it may be a good idea getting an extra bottle, ensuring you don't run out when doing an application.

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