When shopping for the best car wax, there are two main questions to ask: How easy is it to use? And how well does it work? Each brand seems to make endless claims about its products, and it can be hard for consumers to separate fact from hype. The unfortunate reality is that no single product excels in each category. Consumers must choose which features are most important, then select the best car wax to meet their needs.
A variety of finish enhancers and protectors crowd the marketplace in different categories. These terms are what you'll commonly see on packaging in the car-care aisle.
Wax: These products contain some portion of natural wax and may also include synthetic elements. Carnauba wax, typically from the leaves of a Brazilian tree, is the preferred ingredient. Many aficionados say that carnauba wax delivers the best shine (especially if you seek a high-gloss "wet" finish).
Polish: A polish contains abrasives that remove contaminants from weather, bugs and birds. These can be used alone or may be combined with a wax to add shine.
Sealant: Any paint protector that doesn't contain natural wax is technically a sealant. "Sealants are the place to go for the ultimate in protection and durability," says professional auto detailer Darren Priest. "The chemical bonds created by these synthetic polymers are much stronger than the bonds created by natural waxes."
Adding to the options, car waxes, polishes and sealants are available in different forms, each with its own attributes and limitations:
Paste: Paste is the most time-consuming wax to use, but many car enthusiasts say it offers the best protection and gloss. To prevent reenacting a scene from "The Karate Kid" with sweat and sore muscles, it's important to select a paste that's easy to apply and buff off.
Liquid: Available as a cream or gel, liquid wax offers the best cleaning and is the optimal choice for finishes that need restoring. Some can be tricky to evenly apply, but one testing organization says that liquid waxes generally provide the highest gloss enhancement.
Spray: These are the fastest to apply, with a full wax job taking under half an hour. They're also the fastest type of wax to wear out, and require frequent applications. Spray waxes work best for newer paint or as a booster in between full wax jobs. Another upside: Many spray formulas can safely be used on plastic trim. As a true wipe-on/wipe-off product, users don't have to wait for the wax to cure before removing it.
Traditional waxes should be applied in shade for best results. Even though some newer products can be used in full sun, auto experts still say it's still best to wash and wax in a cool area out of direct sunlight. Hot sun softens car paint, making it easier to scratch.
When selecting a car wax, remember these considerations: