Your local retailer's car-care aisle is crowded with products designed to protect your car's finish, including waxes and polishes available as pastes, liquids and sprays. While each type has its own pros and cons, every wax we cover here can be applied and removed by hand or with a powered buffer. How long a wax takes to apply and rub off, however, can vary wildly, and this is where understanding the different types can help make your decision easier.
The other big variable is how much life you get out of a wax after applying it. Sprays last only around a month, so while they're easy to use, you will need to reapply them often. Pro testing indicates that you should get around three months of protection from most pastes or liquid wax, though user reviews frequently contain stories of some good products lasting longer. Reviews indicate that polymer sealants protect beyond the usual three-month timeline, but the tradeoff is less shine than you get with other waxes.
One note: Some car waxes can remove the layer of oxidation that dulls paint and restores color, but generally, waxes won't improve your paint beyond its original shine.
Carnauba wax paste is the preferred choice of pros and car owners for a super-deep gloss. It requires the most effort, as you need to sweat the details during removal to prevent that telltale white residue that can be left behind, but carnauba wax delivers the best all-around results. This natural wax is mixed with other ingredients to make it easier to use and often has a sweet, tropical smell. According to user reviews on consumer websites and auto forums, Mothers California Gold Brazilian Carnauba Cleaner Wax Paste (*Est. $17) is the best of this type. Users praise its glossy results. "This wax is insane on darker colors, it will make the paint deep and rich," says a MotorTrend.com forum poster.
At Amazon.com, California Gold scores a near-perfect overall average rating from users (4.8 out of 5 stars), with customers saying that compared to other car waxes, this paste handily outperforms them in terms of the protection delivered. "Works better than other waxes I have tried such as Turtle Wax and Meguiar's," says one consumer, while another remarks, "I've used the product for 10+ years and find it to be the best and longest-lasting wax on the market." California Gold receives lots of praise for easy application and removal as well. Most say paste car wax lasts about three months before needing reapplication.
Though many purists feel that only carnauba brings the best shine, synthetic liquid wax can deliver a shine that's almost as good, with the added advantage that liquid waxes generally leave behind no residue, which gives you with one less thing to worry about. Meguiar's liquid NXT Generation Tech Wax 2.0 (*Est. $17) gets sparkling praise from professionals and users. "This is by far the best [liquid wax] I've used," typifies the enthusiastic feedback from Amazon.com users.
"It glides right on very easily, and comes off almost effortlessly," comments a professional detailer at Amazon.com. Easy application is one of NXT Generation Tech Wax 2.0's biggest advantages; reviews say other liquid waxes can be hard to spread evenly. Users on Amazon.com love the results they get, describing the finish as glossy and "silky smooth."
One independent testing organization reports that in addition to its easy-to-use formula and high-gloss results, Meguiar's NXT Generation Tech Wax 2.0 wipes cleanly off plastic trim without leaving a residue. It cleans well, removing oxidation and contaminants without scratching delicate clear-coats or leaving a haze on dark paint finishes. This organization's tests indicate that liquid waxes have generally the same usable life as comparable pastes: around three months. We saw reports from numerous Amazon.com users claiming that NXT Generation Tech Wax 2.0 can last several months longer than that, though.
If you're not interested in spending a couple of hours waxing your car with a paste or liquid, spray waxes are as easy to use as any household spray cleaner. You can do a whole car in minutes, but the results don't last as long. Reviews say Meguiar's Ultimate Quik Wax (*Est. $10) is the best spray wax. "It takes me about 10-15 min to do my entire car with the same microfiber cloth, alternating sides for wipe and buff," writes one customer on Amazon.com.
In one detailed comparison posted by a user at AutoGeekOnline.net (an online retailer for auto-detail supplies), Ultimate Quik Wax is tested against three competing spray waxes. All delivered similar shine, but only Ultimate Quik Wax was able to hide small swirls, and it shed water faster than the others the next day.
Professional testing indicates that spray waxes don't clean and protect at the same level as pastes and liquids. Most sources say that spray waxing is best for maintenance in between more detailed wax jobs with a good-quality paste or polish. "This Quik Wax is fantastic as a between-wax-job finisher after a wash. It removes any water spots left from the self-wash and protects the wax already applied. Protection is much stronger than a detailer spray," says an Amazon.com user.
Some car enthusiasts say they use Ultimate Quik Wax as their only paint protectant, saying that with frequent use, they get plenty of shine and protection.
Sealants come in paste and liquid forms, but they require diligence when it comes to removal, as reviews say if you don't wipe them off quickly when the post-application haze forms, it can become a chore. The upside is that they last a lot longer than standard car wax, around six months on average. Consumers and experts say that Nu Finish Car Polish (*Est. $9) offers some of the longest-lasting protection. According to pro detailer Darren Priest, Nu Finish is categorized as a sealant. "Since polymer sealants are much more durable than car waxes, anyone looking to wax their car less often ... will want to reach for a 100 percent synthetic liquid polymer" like Nu Finish, says Priest. Nu Finish is offered as both a paste and a liquid. For this report, we focus on the liquid version, which gets better user reviews. It's also reasonably priced compared to the other products covered here.
In addition to its longer effectiveness, users appreciate its easy, no-buff application process, but one must be diligent about the process. Nu Finish "takes one-tenth of the time it took me to do all the charade with Meguiar's" says one Amazon.com user, who adds that it's essential to wipe off the polish "as soon you see a haze, otherwise it is quite difficult to buff off."
Reviews on the shine from Nu Finish are mixed; one well-regarded organization says it does an average job of improving shine. Many Amazon.com users indicate that the shine is okay, but no one describes it as glossy or wet-looking, like what many carnauba waxes produce. "Nu Finish is a good product; just not my first choice, or what I consider professional-grade results," says Priest. At AdvanceAutoParts.com, one user describes Nu Finish as "not a fancy product, but a good product at a good price."
In a report available to subscribers, ConsumerReports.org shows how 19 paste and liquid waxes compare. Consumers at Amazon.com and AdvanceAutoParts.com write reviews about different car waxes. In forums, users review car-care products and discuss which ones work better than others. This report includes AutoGeekOnline.net, MotorTrend.com, ForteForums.com, ClubLexus.com, HondaCivicForum.com and Bob is the Oil Guy forums. Expert opinions are also found from Darren Priest at Best-auto-detailing-tips.com and Sajeev Mehta at The Truth About Cars.