Choosing the right ceramic coating to protect the paint coating on your ride can be a long and dragged out process. However, once you’ve found the right product, being proactive about prepping your ride is a great way to ensure a successful application and years of superior paint protection.

If there is one statement of fact of all paint improvement products, it’s that the better the prep – the higher quality results are bound to follow.

From washing the car correctly to removing excessive chemicals, wax, and debris from the surface, following a recommended process for prepping your car for new ceramic coating installation will allow you to get the best bang for your buck.

If you’re getting ready to purchase a superior ceramic coating or still completing the research to determine if this option is best suited for your skill or desired involvement, this article is for you.

In the next few paragraphs, we’ll outline our Armor Shield IX ceramic coating preparation guide, and a few additional tips that will permit your new DIY ceramic coating to adhere to the paint’s clear coat, produce elegant shine and protect the surface of your vehicle for years.

Why It’s Important to Prep Your Car Prior to Applying a Ceramic Coating

A ceramic coating is a product that infuses to the clear coat of your vehicle. When the clear coat is free of debris, contaminants, and other ‘stuff’, the product will adhere better. This is the primary reason why prepping the vehicle surface before installing is so crucial.

There are some technical reasons too:

  • Forms a stronger nano-molecular bond: Ceramic coating is a microscopic layer of protection – like smaller than a human hair. By completing a detailed removal of tiny particles from the vehicle surface, you are providing a smoother canvass to create a stronger molecular bond between the coating and the clear coat.
  • Provides a straighter surface: A clear coating is not a perfectly smooth surface. In fact, if you were to take a microscope to your clear coat, you’d see peaks and valley’s. By using a clay bar and other materials to remove those microscopic contaminants on the clear coat, the ceramic coating can fill those ‘not-so-flat’ surfaces and provide a flatter surface.
  • Improves the shine: Ceramic coatings produce a brilliant shine by curing to a 9H hardness and creating a thin layer of incredibly hard glass. When the surface area is clean, free of swirl marks and polished, the ‘shine’ is enhanced.

The Ceramic Coating Preparation Guide

While that new box of Armor Shield IX looks inviting to pop open and get to work, it’s important to take some time to outline an effective plan of attack. The best way to attain optimum performance for our product is, to begin with, a painted surface that is perfectly smooth, clean, and stripped of any chemicals or contaminants.

To accomplish this, we recommended a four-section, 12-step process. But, before we get too busy, let’s outline what supplies you’ll need to gather to complete this project correctly:

  • Two wash buckets: We recommend the two-bucket wash method, so make sure you have (2) clean wash buckets ready. Stay away from the automated car wash if you’re serious about positive results.
  • Automotive shampoo: To wash the car, you’ll want to purchase a high-quality automotive-specific basic shampoo. Don’t use any product with additional waxes or polishes. Mix the shampoo at a ratio of 1 oz per 4 gallons of water. It can also be used as your super-slick clay-bar lubricant in the third phase of prep.
  • A microfiber wash mitt: You should look for an extra-plush microfiber that will drench your cars paint with thick foaming suds, which will reduce scratches or swirl marks.
  • Clay mitt: This is a newer product that simplifies the process of clay-bar treatment.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) Panel Wipe: The final step involved in the ceramic coating prep work is spraying an isopropyl alcohol solution on each panel and wiping clean.
  • Several microfiber towels: You’ll need several microfiber towels to dry, polish, and wipe off the IPA. Always use fresh and clean microfiber towels with each step to avoid contamination. You also don’t want to have any water spots before you apply the good stuff.
  • Non-Wax Polishing Compound: After the washing and clay bar phases, you’ll want to polish the surface with a non-wax polishing compound. Always use high-quality car care products.
  • Polish Wheel & Microfiber Pads: To reduce the potential of swirl marks and scratches, use a variable-speed polish wheel and multiple microfiber polishing pads. We’ll touch more on this in the polishing section below.

Section One – Wash the Vehicle

The first section in the ceramic coating prep is washing the car. For this, we recommend using the two-bucket method of washing. We posted an awesome article on how to properly wash your car, which will explain this process in detail.

That being said, here are the steps we recommended for washing your car prior to a ceramic coating products application:

Step 1 – Pre-Wash the Car

What’s Happening Here: When you pre-wash the car, you’re removing a lot of the standing debris from the vehicle. This reduces the amount of ‘stuff’ that collects on your wash mitt, which likewise reduces the potential of scratches when you wash the vehicle.

The pre-wash is important for helping to loosen and soften dirt, debris, and other contaminants that need to be removed from the paint surface. To accomplish this, spray the entire car with a high-pressure hose or use a soap cannon.

Make sure to completely rinse the vehicle before moving towards the primary wash. This helps to remove bird droppings and other solid materials before the actual wash. 

Step 2 – Prepare the Wash Buckets

What’s Happening Here – The two-bucket method is used to remove debris from a wash mitt after each ‘washing section’. By working with a clean wash mitt on each application, you’ll remove more contaminants and reduce scratching potential.

Using the (2) bucket method, you’ll prepare two individual buckets. One of them with fresh water (used to clean the dirty wash mitt after use) the other with approximately 1 oz (30ml) of high-quality concentrated car shampoo for 2-4 gallons (7L) of water. This will produce soapy suds that will help penetrate and remove debris from the car paint.

Step 3 – Wash the Car

What’s Happening Here – Washing the car correctly will remove the top layer of ‘stuff’. Making sure to wash from top to bottom, and one section at a time, helps to efficiently clean the cars paint surface.

Make sure to soak the wash mitt in the shampoo solution, wash each section of the vehicle by starting on the top and progressing to the bottom. Work in overlapping lines from side to side and avoid washing in circles to reduce swirl marks.

Step 4 – Rinse Each Section Upon Completion

What’s Happening Here – Water spots and scratches on the paint can occur when soap dries on a vehicle. By rinsing each section as you wash it, you’ll keep the car hydrated, and reduce water spots or scratches.

You’d think that this step would be included in the ‘wash the car’ section – but there is a reason why it’s separate. It’s because it’s really important! One of the biggest contributing factors to scratches occurs when people wash a car that is not properly ‘lubricated’ with water or suds.

By rinsing each section as you wish, you’ll be sure to keep the car wet as you go – reducing the potential for damage – which can significantly reduce the effectiveness of your ceramic coating. When you’ve completed all washing, completely rinse the entire car one final time.

Section Two – Clay Bar Treatment

The clay bar is a proven product for removing those microscopic layers of debris that the human eye can’t see – or your hands can’t feel.

Once you’ve finished washing the vehicle, you’ll want to instantly proceed to the clay bar treatment to take advantage of the freshly washed surface. For this section, you’ll want to use your clay bar/clay bar mitt and make a clay lube solution to improve the removal of contaminants and old car wax.

So – let’s get it on.

Step 5 – Prep the Clay Bar Lube 

What’s Happening Here – In order for a clay bar mitt or a standard clay bar to work correctly, it needs proper lubrication. By mixing the clay bar lube correctly, you’re improving the ability to remove contaminants.

To make a clay bar lube solution, in a clean bucket, use approximately 1-2 oz (60ml) (of the same car shampoo you used earlier) for 1 gallon (3.5L) of water. The lube should be thicker than the soap so that it provides a smooth application with the clay bar or clay mitt.

Step 6 – Soak the Clay Mitt in the Lubrication Solution

What’s Happening Here – It’s important to keep the clay bar and surface area completely wet and lubricated. There is no such thing as too much lubrication with this step.

By using a clay mitt, you’ll be able to keep more of the lubrication solution on the mitt and improve your removal of microscopic particles that are hard to debris through traditional clay bar use.

Step 7 – Glide the Clay Bar or Mitt in Sections

What’s Happening Here – Using a clay mitt is a great way to improve the coverage area of this critical step. Gliding it forward and back, in straight lines helps to reduce scratching and swirl marks.

Just like the washing part, you should always clay bar your vehicle in sections. Anytime your claybar or clay bar mitt is beginning to appear dry, re-dunk it in the lubrication solution. If you run out of solution – just make more.

When working with the clay mitt, make sure to glide it back and forward over the surface in straight lines. Use gentle pressure until the vehicle surface feels smooth to the touch. Don’t be fooled by the lubrication, so use some rinse water to clean the surface before proceeding.

Step 8 – Rinse, Buff & Dry

What’s Happening Here – After completing the clay bar treatment, you need to fully dry the vehicle by using clean microfiber towels. Again – moving from side to side or forward and back helps reduce swirl marks and scratches.

After you’ve completed clay bar treatment for the entire vehicle, you’ll need to completely rinse, buff, and dry the vehicle using a microfiber towel. Again, don’t buff the vehicle in circles, go side-to-side to avoid swirl marks. If the microfiber towel is getting wet, use another. The key here is to avoid any streaking, so don’t be afraid to use more fresh towels.

Section Three – Polishing or Paint Correction

This is the section that really depends on the existing quality of your paint. If your paint has some noticeable swirl marks or other signs of paint distress, you’ll want to read our article on how to complete DIY paint correction – which can be accessed by clicking this link.

Generally, the polishing section includes these two easy steps:

Step 9 – Apply Non-Wax Polishing Compound

What’s Happening Here – So – we’ve been telling you that going in circles in each step above is bad – right? Well, that’s not the case with polishing compound. The circular motion helps the compound spread evenly on a clear coat surface. However, applying it in thin layers is what helps reduce swirl marks.

To polish your vehicle surface, we recommend using a non-wax polishing compound. You should apply it in very thin layers, and as with each of the steps indicated above, in small sections at a time. It is advised to prime the polishing pad with a small amount of the polishing compound, then apply the body panels.

Step 10 – Use a Polishing Machine Until Perfectly Smooth

What’s Happening Here – An electric polisher is buffing the compound into the clear coat, which improves the luster of the paint and clear coat’s natural shine. It also helps to improve the shine when the ceramic coating has been applied.

Section Four – The Final Wipe Down – IPA Solution

The final step in the ceramic coating prep work project is to spray an IPA or Isopropyl Alcohol solution, which provides a final removal of any contaminants on the paint.

There are some prep solution products that focus on iron decontamination. Iron can magnetically adhere to vehicles, which is a microscopic layer of debris and can negatively impact the effectiveness of the ceramic coating application.

Step 11 – Spray the Prep Solution

What’s Happening Here – IPA or Isopropyl Alcohol is exceptional at removing any microscopic imperfections on the paint surface. It’s basically sterilizing the canvass before applying the ceramic coating.

Depending on the manufacturer of your ceramic coating, it’s a good idea to follow their specific recommendation for the final prep solution. Most of the time, it’s comprised of Isopropyl Alcohol while others use a ‘cut’ blend of IPA and water. The key is to use a fine mist spray, so it will evenly coat the body panel.

Step 12 – Wipe the Solution Clean

What’s Happening Here – The final wipe down finishes the job. It is VITAL to use a fresh microfiber towel in this step to avoid contamination from any previous use.

The final step in the ceramic coating prep work process is to wipe the car clean with multiple microfiber towels. You should always replace any soaked microfiber towels with dry ones, as you want to reduce any streaking. Also, make sure to wipe off with a clean microfiber towel in straight lines.

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.