You’ll see a lot of abbreviations in the automotive world. One of the most overrated and overmarketed is 9H in reference to the hardness of ceramic coatings. In fact, it’s quite common for some, less-than-reliable manufacturers of cheap ceramic coatings to inflate the hardness of their products to levels that simply don’t exist.
It’s like turning those nobs to 11, mate. Watch the vid below if you don’t get that reference.
However, there is really isn’t much information online that explains the ins and outs of ceramic coating hardness. As such, I can’t really blame consumers for not understanding the facts about 9H hardness with ceramic coating.
So, let’s change this by focusing our efforts in today’s AvalonKing blog on explaining the facts about what goes into determining the 9H hardness with ceramic coating products.
We’ll get scientific and stuff, by breaking down the pencil hardness test, explain why the Mohs scale is irrelevant (regardless of what others might say), what is in ceramic coatings to make it hard (insert Butthead’s huh huh -- he said hard), and what you need to do in order to protect your ceramic coating to extend life expectancy.
What is 9H Ceramic Coating?
There are a lot of misconceptions about what goes into the infamous “9H” level of hardness with ceramic coatings. I’ve seen people explain it as the hardness-level to apply it, the hardness of the prep work, even the hardness of the freaking bottle (seriously). The truth is, 9H has nothing to do with any of that shit.
9H refers to the level of hardness test of the ceramic coating once it cures on the surface. It’s based on the pencil scale of hardness, which is used by professional artists, graphic designers and more, to pick a pencil “lead” strength that helps them with writing or drawing projects.
But here is a shocker for you – there is no “lead” in today’s pencils. It’s graphite, which is a non-toxic mineral – similar in composition to another non-toxic mineral called quartz. Quartz is also referred to as silica dioxide (SiO2) – which happens to be the main ingredient in a nano-ceramic coating. Hence, the main reason why ceramic coating companies use the pencil scale of hardness to determine the ‘strength’ or durability of their product.
There are your Six Degrees of Separation fact of the day. You’re welcome.
Breaking Down the Pencil Scale of Hardness
Ceramic coatings are ‘graded’ with regards to the hardness of the product by comparison to the pencil hardness scale. It’s a common misconception that coating manufacturers use the Mohs scale. That just isn’t true. We’ll go into the Mohs scale a bit later.
The pencil scale is a test of hardness that helps to explain to consumers how ‘hard’ the ceramic coating will be once it’s cured to the surface. The grading of the scale ranges from 0 to 9, and the “H” indicates the “hardness” of that specific grade.
How is the Pencil Scale Test Completed?
For grading the hardness of a pencil, the test is completed by pressing a pencil with a specific hardness (as determined by the pencil scale) at a 45-degree angle of the freshly applied and cured ceramic coating surface. If it leaves a permanent mark, the surface is determined to have a “hardness” of that grade of pencil.
Most ceramic coatings will not be damaged by a pencil grading 8H, but some may have some residual scarring with a 9H pencil. If the coating is free of damage from a 9H pencil, it’s awarded this hardness protection.
Now, here is where the BS with some ceramic coating marketing efforts comes into play.
The highest score or grade on the pencil scale is 9H – we’ve proven this, right? So, how on earth is a 10H ceramic coating possible?
Well, the only way on the planet that a 10H coating is remotely possible is if it has the same hardness of a diamond. Yes – you read that right – a freaking diamond. That transitions us right into the next section.
What is the Mohs Scale of Hardness?
Friedrich Mohs is a certified pimp. This dude invented a hardness scale that measured how one mineral would damage another. The Mohs hardness scale starts with talc as being the softest mineral (graded at 1H) and moves up to diamond (which is rated at 10H on this scale).
Now, there is no way on God’s green earth that a liquid ceramic coating will be as strong as a diamond. We can all agree on this – right? We can also agree that the main ingredient in a ceramic coating that creates the hardness of the product is quartz or SiO2 – right?
So, let’s go down the scale and see how Mr. Mohs grades the hardness of quartz – just to be certain that those advertised 10H ceramic coatings aren’t graded on the Mohs scale.
Based on the image above, it appears that our friend Quartz grades as a 7H-level of hardness on this scale. Well, that clarifies that issue. Anytime you see that a ceramic coating is advertised as a 10H level of hardness – it’s 100% pure grade bullshit. Thanks to Mr. Mohs for helping us prove this fact.
What is Ceramic Coating Made Of?
A ceramic coating is a liquid polymer, that is comprised of a collection of multiple, bonded molecules that utilize nanotechnology to provide a semi-permanent layer of water repellent protection. It can infuse onto exterior clear coats, plastics, vinyl, glass, and even metals.
After it has cured, it creates a very hard layer of protection. This equates to the 9H level of hardness we’ve explained clearly above. But, it’s not just the SiO2 percentage that makes ceramic coatings hard. There are several ingredients that help to create the microscopic layer of protection that can last up to 5 years with high-quality products – like Armor Shield IX for example.
Nano SiO2: Si02 is the chemical formula for silica dioxide, which is an inorganic metal oxide. The diameter of the SiO2 is less than 100 nanometers. The percentage of SiO2 in ceramic pro products can eclipse 95 percent in some formulations. Most DIY coatings are under 80 percent. The really good stuff is slightly above 80 but under 90 percent.
Nano TiO2: The under-appreciated step-cousin of SiO2 is Titanium Oxide (TiO2) – a mineral that is usually found in pharmaceutical products such as antiseptics. For ceramic coatings, it helps improve hydrophobic effects (repelling water).
Activation of Fluorine: One of the best attributes of this product is the anti-dust effect which makes it difficult for dust and debris to stick to the vehicle surface. This keeps your car cleaner – for longer periods.
There are a few other ingredients like Brightening Silicon Particles, Polysilazane, and others that combine to create a bond to porous surfaces that help to protect a vehicle for years.
Why is Hardness of Ceramic Coating Important?
This brings us to the most important part of this article – why hardness matters. The main pain-point that car enthusiast deals with – and opt for ceramic nanoparticles in the first place is longevity of paint protection. Car wax like carnauba waxes will only last for about two months. A paint sealant – maybe a year if you’re lucky.
This reality results in car owners searching for longer-term solutions to resist dirt build-up, can produce a high gloss effect, reduce the potential of swirl marks, and provide exceptional chemical resistance. In the end, this is where ceramic coatings come into play.
A DIY ceramic coating is much better than a wax or sealant and can provide you with three to five years of protection against UV rays, bird droppings, acids produced by bug splatters and more. This hard layer of protection also helps to protect the clear coating, headlights, windshields, vinyl wraps, and PPF – extending your paint protection for years.
The hardness of the coating matters simply because it directly relates to the longevity of the product. However, it’s also a statement of fact that nearly all DIY ceramic coating share the same 9H coating hardness to provide the super hydrophobic properties and UV protection they’re known to protect.
That being said, picking a ceramic coating based on the hardness level is pretty much a moot point. The thing to look for is the SiO2 percentage. This helps to provide substance behind the hardness level – which is the longevity of the protective layer.
When the quartz concentration of a ceramic coating is higher, it simply lasts longer. But, the drawback of an extremely high SiO2 percentage is the ease of application. This is the ‘secret’ of ceramic pro-grade products. They are usually formulated with very high SiO2 percentages – which makes it quite tricky to apply and must be done in controlled environments.
This is why professional-grade ceramic coatings are only applied by certified installers. The margin of error is reduced, which can result in poor results if attempted by a DIY enthusiast.
The key is to formulate a ceramic coating with a higher percentage of quartz, that is also easier for the average consumer to apply. That’s precisely what we’ve done at AvalonKing.
What is the Best Ceramic Coating?
Armor Shield IX DIY Nano-ceramic coating is one of the best, and most affordable paint protection products sold today. We’ve been reviewed by multiple professional automotive detailing experts, media, websites, blogs, YouTube.com channels, and more. Every review is positive, both on the ease of application, the longevity of the product, and how well it holds up against the elements.
Armor Shield IX is sold in a 30ml kit, that includes the ceramic coating, protective gloves, application sponge, multiple application cloths, and microfiber towel for buffing. We offer volume discounts for multiple kit purchases, for those larger vehicles that require extra product.
However, arguably the best reason to choose Armor Shield IX is our customer service. We go above and beyond for our customers, offer lightning-fast, free shipping to North America consumers in the US and Canada, and have a ton of application, prep work, and aftercare tips for all types of projects.