Imagine a world where your car would remain clean, shiny, and birds were never tempted to crap on your valued ride. That would be cool – huh? Well, unfortunately, unless you’re living in the Matrix, that’s just not practical.
But what if I were to tell you that part of that fantasy land dream could become a reality by applying a ceramic coating on your car, truck, SUV, or another valuable performance vehicle?
Nanoceramic coatings have grown in popularity recently, mainly due to the introduction of high-quality DIY solutions, like Armor Shield IX for example. However, the key to optimal performance is ensuring it’s applied correctly.
That’s what we’ll tackle today. In this article, we’ll provide a detailed list of what’s involved in applying a quality DIY ceramic coating. From the prep work through aftercare, this will serve as the definitive, no-BS guide on what it will take to apply a ceramic coating. So – let’s get right at it.
Step 1: The Prep Work
Applying a ceramic coating, a paint sealant, or even paint protection film begins with the prep work. While each manufacturer has their own recommendations, the general process of pre-ceramic coating installation follows a four-step program.
Wash the Vehicle
The first step is washing the vehicle using the two-bucket method of washing a car. If you’re not familiar with this process, watch the video above for further clarification. You can also read our awesome article about how to wash your vehicle to discover the materials, supplies and detailed steps.
The intent of washing the car is to remove surface grime, dirt, and major debris. Essentially, you’re creating a “cleanish” canvass in which to work from. Remember, you’re applying a semi-permanent layer of protection on your vehicle -- so you want it as clean as possible.
Clay Bar Treatment
Once the body surface is free of surface contaminants, it’s time to get serious about removing debris. This is accomplished in step two – completing a clay bar treatment. A clay bar is – exactly that; a semi-hard bar of industrial-strength clay. It is used in conjunction with a lubrication fluid (basically car wash soap or shampoo at a highly concentrated dose).
When you apply the clay bar, it breaks up hard contaminants and penetrates deep into those hard to reach, microscopic peaks and valleys found in the paint clear coating. That’s actually the purpose of this, important step.
You see, in order for a nano-coating to bond to the clear coat surface, it needs to fill those microscopic ‘holes’ or imperfections that are found on clear coats. When that area is completely clean and free of trapped debris, the coating will create a perfectly flat layer on top of the clear coat, establishing a solid ‘shield’ of protection for the entire paint surface.
That’s what helps to create superior hydrophobic properties on the car’s paint, which reduces water spots and keeps the vehicle cleaner.
Paint Correction / Polishing
One of the biggest myths about a DIY ceramic coating is that it improves or fixes car paint. That’s a completely false statement. It is designed to protect the existing paint surface and improve the existing ‘shine’ that it produces.
When it cures, a ceramic coating acts as a microscope – amplifying and magnifying any imperfections found on the paint surface. This includes those annoying swirl marks, light scratches, or faded paint.
That being said, before you apply a ceramic coating, you’ll want to ‘fix’ any damage to paint or the clear coat. This is often completed through paint correction. We wrote an article on DIY paint correction that will really shed some light on what paint correction is, and how you can do-it-yourself.
IPA Wipe Down
The final step in the DIY ceramic coating prep work process is wiping down the entire vehicle service (that you’ll apply a ceramic coating) with an Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) solution. This removes any oils, lubricants, chemicals, waxes, polishes, or microscopic particles that are left on the body prior to applying the ceramic coating.
Step 2: Applying the Ceramic Coating
Once all prep work has been completed, it’s best to keep the vehicle stored inside of a garage or at the minimum, kept out of direct sunlight for a minimum of 3 hours. This will help reduce the surface temperature.
Most ceramic coatings are best applied to a surface that is perfectly clean, smooth, and between 50-degrees and 70-degrees Fahrenheit. However, it is exceptionally critical to apply any DIY ceramic coating in shade or NOT in direct sunlight.
What Supplies You’ll Need
Each DIY ceramic coating product is unique and has different application instructions or materials needed for optimal performance. For purposes of simplicity, here are the supplies you’ll need to apply Armor Shield IX -- and what is included in our coating kit.
1-Bottle of Armor Shield IX. Each 30ml bottle is enough to cover a small car or motorcycle. (2) bottles are best for mid-sized sedans and larger coupes, while (3) bottles will be enough for a large truck or full-sized SUV.
1-Applicator Sponge: The applicator sponge is used to provide a flat ‘paintbrush’ for applying the coating onto the vehicle surface evenly.
3-Applicator Suede Cloths: The suede cloth is wrapped around the sponge. You’ll apply the actual coating onto the suede. It’s best to replace the suede when the product hardens on the cloth. We provide (3) per kit, so use them for optimal results.
Nitrile Gloves: While a ceramic coating is not harmful to your skin, it’s best to protect your hands as it’s really sticky stuff.
Microfiber Buffing Towel: The process of applying is a three, phased deal. You’ll apply the liquid to the cloth, rub onto the vehicle surface, then buff the ‘flashed’ coating off the vehicle when it’s dried. The microfiber buffing towel is used to remove the excess. ONLY use a microfiber towel to avoid scratching.
So, let’s get right to the application process.
The steps below are ones we recommend for applying our Armor Shield IX DIY-Nano Ceramic Coating. It’s best to follow the steps below by applying the product panel by panel, or a maximum of (2) small sections at the same time. For larger sections, like a hood, for example, it’s best to split it into 2-4 manageable sections.
#1 – Wrap (1) small black cloth tightly around the application sponge.
*Tip – use a razor blade to slice a few slits on the sides of the applicator sponge. This will permit you to “tuck” the applicator cloth inside the sponge, for a tighter and smoother fit. Special thanks to YouTuber Broken Silvia for this DIY Tip!
#2 – Shake the bottle, then apply several drops (10-12) to saturate the cloth.
*Tip – Always add drops as needed to keep the applicator damp and smooth for optimal application. This should be done for each small section you apply the ceramic coating to the vehicle.
The second phase of the application is wiping on the vehicle surface. It’s best to change the cloth every few panels or if coating crystallizes on them. You should also make sure you have even-covered sections. You can inspect the vehicle surface from multiple angles to ensure the coating is fully applied. This is why we recommend working on small sections at a time.
#3 – Wipe a thin layer across the car surface. This should be completed first, in a horizontal pattern, then vertically to ensure an even application on each small section.
#4 – Continue to spread in a crisscross pattern until you have completely covered the section. Add drops as you go to keep the applicator cloth damp.
#5 – Once you’ve applied the coating to the full section, let it sit between 1 to 5 minutes (based on the temperature range listed below). After the required wait time, you’ll proceed to the final phase of buffing.
50-degrees F (10-degrees C)
60-degrees F (15-degrees C)
70 to 80 degrees F (20-25 degrees C)
Length of Time
4 to 5 minutes
2 to 3 minutes
The final step for applying a ceramic coating is buffing the residue off the vehicle surface. A nano-ceramic coating will initially bond to the clear coating rather quickly, mainly based on the ambient and vehicle surface temperature. As you can see from the temperature chart listed above, the hotter it is, the quicker the flash period.
However, that’s not always a good thing. When it’s hotter, it provides an increased potential for crystallization, which will negatively impact the application process. This is why we strongly recommend applying our Armor Shield IX coating in a temperature-controlled environment.
#6 – Buff off the residual. Once the coating has ‘flashed’, lightly buff the coated area with a microfiber towel until the cloudy surface has been removed.
After you’ve completed each section, continue around the car, working one section at a time. Complete all six steps as listed above on each section before moving to other areas. Once the vehicle is fully coated, allow 1 to 2 hours and then (if you’d like – but not required) repeat the process to add an additional layer for improved performance.
*Tip – Always inspect the vehicle as you go, especially after the buffing, to ensure you don’t have any high-spots or residue. If you’re going to add another layer, that’s totally cool. Just my $0.02 -- two coatings are good, anything more is just overkill.
Step 3: The Curing Process
We’ve made this point rather clear, but it deserves repeating – every ceramic coating is unique. You should ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for following their curing process. While the initial product will ‘bond’ to the paint surface within minutes, it does take some time for the product to fully cure.
For Armor Shield IX, we recommend letting the vehicle sit indoors for 24 to 48 hours. The key is to reduce the potential for exposure to water, including rain, sprinklers, even dew or high humidity levels.
If you’ve prepped the vehicle correctly, and applied Armor Shield IX as recommended, it should keep your vehicle protected from UV rays, bird droppings, acid rain, and other contaminants from 3 to 5 years.
Step 4: After Care for DIY Ceramic Coatings
Once your vehicle has cured, you’re good to go. While some DIY ceramic coating manufacturers recommend using some aftercare sprays, we don’t. A coated vehicle is much easier to maintain, as such, you don’t need to clay, polish or wax the vehicle again.
- Wash on a bi-weekly basis to avoid excessive contamination build-up.
- Avoid washing in direct sunlight to minimize streaking and water spotting.
- Wash from the top down leaving the dirtiest sections for last to avoid cross-contamination.
- Use the “two buckets” method – one bucket for rinsing your sponge/mitt and one for soapy water.
- Use separate soap and sponge/mitt for wheels.
Wrapping it Up
Applying a Ceramic Coating is a rather simple process. It doesn’t require advanced knowledge on paint correction, or advanced car care techniques. However, if the paint surface has light scratches or signs of fading, it’s highly recommended to let a professional detailer complete paint correction before purchasing or attempting to apply any DIY ceramic coating.
Regardless of which DIY ceramic coating product you choose, make sure to contact the manufacturer if you have any questions about prep work, how to apply, or maintain the vehicle after installation. Follow their instructions for optimal results.