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Spray on, wipe off - How do you choose?

Spray on, wipe off - How do you choose?


Detail Spray, Waterless Wash, Drying Aid, Spray Wax, Spray Sealants… What’s the difference!? On the surface, they all seem very similar. You spray it on, then wipe it off. Are they really all that different from one another? It’s a great question, and one we’d like to address.

In reality, while all of these products are comparable, each of them has a uniquely specific role & function in detailing. In this write-up we’ll go over the individual purposes of each, how they overlap and how to differentiate when you should use one versus the other.

First, a little bit of a history lesson. Spray-on, wipe-off detailing products made an introduction to the automotive world in the early 80’s. It was a detailing spray that changed the way detailers and product development specialists thought about cleaning the surface of a car. Prior to that, soap and water was the primary form of cleaning your car, even if it was only slightly dirty. The advent of spray & wipe detail sprays helped save time and effort when the car didn’t need a full-blown wash.

Fast forward to present day and we now have a myriad of spray and wipe detail supplies that make almost every aspect of detailing just that much easier. As we get into the difference between all of the options, it’s important to address a basic cleaning principle: lubrication. The simple fact is that in order to safely remove dirt and contaminants from your car’s painted surface, you must encapsulate those dirt particles in an appropriate amount of lubrication. Soap is the ultimate form of lubrication, but the options below will help in certain situations where soap isn’t absolutely necessary. Choosing the right product based on the soil level of your paint will ensure the dirt particles are removed safely without scratching or marring your vehicle’s painted surfaces.

So what are they, and how do they work?

Quick detailers:

These are commonly used by auto enthusiasts and detailers to touch-up a freshly detailed car. They quickly & easily remove light surface contamination, dust, finger prints, and water spots. Quick detailers are typically very slick and lubricate the surface to help avoid causing scratches when wiping away dirt & dust. They also evaporate very quickly, this aids in leaving behind a clean, streak-free finish. And while they are very slick, their thin viscosity does not make them ideal for heavy soil situations. They can only lubricate a very light amount of dirt/dust.
JLG Quick Detailer
Do quick detailers leave behind protection? Traditionally, no. Quick detailers are used for a quick clean and shine. Most will contain gloss enhancers, but they typically do not leave behind any surface protection like wax or sealant.


Waterless wash:

A waterless wash is the next step up from a quick detailer in terms of surface cleaning potential. While detailers are meant for light surface contamination, waterless wash solutions typically contain a higher concentration of emulsifiers (cleaning agents) that make them ideal for cleaning dirtier surfaces. A good waterless wash will have very high lubricity in addition to the emulsifying agents, and they’re typically more viscous. This helps them coat and remove dirt more effectively that detail sprays. They may also contain wax or sealants that will leave protection behind.

JLG Eco Wash

The most important part with using a waterless wash is understanding its limits. They certainly have better cleaning capabilities than a detail spray, but trying to use a waterless wash on an extremely contaminated surface will undoubtedly leave behind surface scratches. When the surface is too dirty, a waterless wash will have difficulty providing the appropriate amount of lubrication to lift and remove dirt particles safely. Because of this, we suggest using waterless washes with great caution. When in doubt, we would recommend opting for a soap & water wash.


Drying aids:

While they are also typically a spray-on-wipe-off application, drying aids differ from detail sprays & waterless washes in the sense that they are not designed to clean & remove dirt from a surface. Instead, they aid your towel in absorbing as much water as possible and then leave behind some form of sealant or wax protection – this provides the high-gloss finish associated with drying aids.
JLG Evaporate
A good drying aid will provide ample lubrication for your drying towel, but they typically do not contain emulsifiers. We suggest using a drying aid only after you’ve performed a soap & water wash and while the vehicle surface is still wet.


Spray wax:

Spray waxes are typically used interchangeably with detail sprays. They spray on, and wipe off in a similar manner, provide a nice layer of gloss, and typically (if you’ve ran out of one) you can substitute one for the other in a pinch. However, where the two differ is in the protection that is left behind. As the name suggests, spray waxes leave behind wax protection where detail sprays only contain gloss enhancers, no wax or sealant properties.
JLG Spray Wax
Spray wax application is typically more labor intensive when comparing to a detail spray. This is due to the wax protection being left behind. Typical application practices include spraying onto the surface, wiping to distribute with a clean microfiber towel, allowing a few moments for the wax to dry to a haze, then buffing the surface to a shine with a second, clean microfiber towel. We recommend applying a spray wax to a freshly cleaned surface.


Spray sealant:

Spray sealants (ceramic or synthetic) are similar to spray waxes and detail sprays. Where they differ is that they rely on a synthetic or silicon-based material to bond to the painted surface and seal it from the outside elements. For best performance and water repellency, we suggest applying a spray sealant to a freshly washed surface that is free of any prior wax applications. This will ensure a proper bond with the painted surface and deliver an excellent amount of protection for months to come.

JLG Radiant

As you can see, these different spray & wipe products are similar in application. But for many of them, that’s where the similarities stop. Hopefully this write-up clears up some of the confusion, and helps you make the right decision for your needs in the future.

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  • What about the dust brushes? I’ve read that they are bad for your paint because of no lubrication.

    Fred Davison
  • What about the new ceramic type sprays thats recently being advertized


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