by Chris Walters

The question gets asked a lot: what’s the difference between a wax and a sealant? It makes sense that there’s confusion around the topic – the terms are usually used interchangeably and most were taught to understand that a wax IS A sealant. In some ways that’s true, but as detailing technology continues to evolve, sealants have begun to emerge as their own distinct product category.

Both waxes & sealants have distinct advantages and are specifically suited for different applications. In this write-up we’ll go over some of the common misconceptions, the definitions of each and hopefully help establish an understanding of how the two are different and when it’s best to use them.  

What is a wax?

Wax can be a diverse blend of materials that are referred to as malleable solids – basically a substance that can change form from a solid to a liquid at ambient or slightly elevated temperatures. Wax serves as a protective, sacrificial barrier between your cars paint and the environment. In the automotive world carnauba, montan and paraffin waxes are most commonly used, but there are synthetic variants as well.

The first thing to note is that wax you apply to your car is never in its 100% wax form. You’ll frequently see marketing messages that claim a product to be 100% carnauba wax, but this is a little misleading as it’s typically referring to the purity of the wax in a specific product. See the image below – this is what 100% carnauba wax looks like in its raw, refined form. As you can see, it’s too hard to be spreadable and provide the protection we’re looking for. To achieve the desired result we have to add solvents that the wax is soluble in, we’ll also blend in oils that provide lubrication along with scents & colorants. By blending different types of waxes together we can deliver and achieve different results like ease of use, clarity and color enhancement.

Raw Carnauba Wax

What is a sealant?

The term “sealant” is pretty ubiquitous. A paint sealant, in the past, has been a product that mimics a wax’s characteristics, but is made from synthetic material rather than organic materials. They were slightly more robust than a wax, but still suffered from some of the same short comings (susceptible to high temperatures and car washing soaps).

A more recent development in detailing technology has been ceramic-based sealants (You’ve probably heard of them called by other names, most commonly ceramic coatings, silica, quartz, silicone-dioxide or even SiO2). These ceramic-based sealants & coatings act very differently from a wax in the fact that they actually generate a curing property once applied to the surface. This curing creates a chemical bond with the surface on which it’s being applied, in this case our car’s paint. Once they’re applied & cured, ceramic-based protectants are extremely resistant to water, soaps, and of course environmental pollutants.  

Ceramic protectants provide a much higher durability than wax. They resist heat, UV rays, environmental contaminants & harsh detergents much better than wax. Plus, wax simply sits on the paint’s surface, it does not create the chemical bond like we find with ceramic-based protectants.

How should you apply wax?

If you choose to utilize wax for your paint-protection needs, we've got some general pointers for best practices. We suggest applying any kind of wax (whether it’s a spray, cream or paste) with an applicator pad. Also, it’s best to make sure you’re working in a shaded area and surface is cool to the touch. Working one panel at a time, apply a thin coat of wax with an applicator pad. Allow enough time for the wax to haze, usually 5-10 minutes. Then, after it’s hazed, buff the surface to a beautiful shine with a soft microfiber towel. Repeat the process on each panel until you’ve finished the entire car.

JLG Wax & Towel

How should you apply ceramics?

This can vary based on the type of sealant or coating you’re using. We suggest reading the application instructions thoroughly before applying any brand of ceramic protectant. If you’re using JLG’s new ceramic-based sealant, Radiant, application is as easy as using a simple product like Quick Detailer. Again, work in a shaded area, then mist the panel with a few sprays of Radiant. With a soft microfiber towel, distribute Radiant across the entire panel, then flip the towel to a dry side and buff to a beautiful shine. We suggest allowing 30-60 minutes for Radiant to cure & bond with your vehicle’s paint. Once cured, you’ll have months of hydrophobic water-beading and dust repellency.

 

In the video above, the left side of your screen is coated with Radiant. The right side is uncoated. Notice how the water on the right side kind of lingers, while the water on the left side sheets right off. This is the hydrophobic properties of Radiant in action. It creates a super-slick surface that nothing wants to stick to. It provides 2-3 months of protection without all of the wax-on, wax-off hassle. 

When and how often should I apply a wax or ceramic?

Waxes & sealants are protectants - they should always be the last thing you apply to your vehicle's paint. How often really depends on the type of driving you do and the punishment your car’s paint endures. With wax, a good rule of thumb is once every 4-6 weeks for general-use cars that are parked in a garage or covered. You’ll want to step up the frequency if you live in an area with overly-harsh weather conditions, or if the vehicle spends a majority of time parked out in the elements/sun.

Depending on the type of sealant & the conditions your car is in, you can get anywhere from 2-4 months of protection!  That’s more than double the amount of time when compared to a wax. Of course, waxes won’t last as long as synthetic or ceramic-based protectants, but again longevity can vary widely depending on the environment.

For some, it might boil down to the simplest question: Which is better? Well, it’s sort of up to personal preference, but more importantly: how the car is used. If you’re headed to a car show or maybe a photo shoot, wax is probably your best bet. It provides a warm glow and depth to your vehicle’s painted surfaces. But if the car is your daily driver, sees lots of time on the road, maybe gets parked outdoors most of the day while you’re at work – you might want to consider switching to a ceramic-based sealant or coating for your protection needs. The ease of use paired with its low maintenance needs make it the clear choice for cars that get driven on a daily basis.

Can you "stack", or use both a wax and a ceramic together?

The easy answer is yes, you can. You could lay the ceramic-based protectant down first, let it cure and then apply a wax. However, we don’t suggest it as it’s a bit redundant. Ceramic-based protectants are so slick that once they cure the wax will have trouble adhering to the surface and you’ll see it degrade much faster than normal.

In the end, it’s easiest to think about wax and ceramic as two different roads that lead to the same destination. They are two different materials that perform a very similar task: protect your cars painted surface. Both provide a robust coating to shield your car’s surface from sun exposure, moisture and environmental pollution.

 

Chris Walters
Chris Walters


16 Responses

Steve Price
Steve Price

September 30, 2019

How will Radiant work on a fiberglass boat?

Rick Mazur
Rick Mazur

September 30, 2019

JLG…Love the Quick Detailer….Just bought Radiant….My question is should I was the car first, clay, apply Radiant and then Quick Detailer… or can I put Radiant on top of Quick Detailer?

Jose Perez
Jose Perez

September 30, 2019

I just purchased a 2018 SL. How can I determine whether wax or sealant has been applied previously?

Greg Houlihan
Greg Houlihan

May 30, 2019

I liked your website. If I want to apply a sealant how does a person remove the wax, if any, is on the vehicle? Thank you.

Marvin
Marvin

May 30, 2019

Are silica based sealants safe to use on gloss vinyl wrapped cars? If not what would be an alternative?
Thanks

Gene Palmer
Gene Palmer

May 30, 2019

Getting a new car (Acura RDX) in a few days….what should I do before applying Radiant? Also will it stand up to commercial full service car washes?

Jim
Jim

January 13, 2019

My car has a lot of black trim. How will it effect the trim? Will I need to tape off all the trim?

Steve
Steve

January 13, 2019

I have a 2002 Z3 convertible – which would you recommend for a more “mature” car?

Rand Adams
Rand Adams

August 22, 2018

I have XPel ding-protection film on the front of my vehicle. Can Radiant be used on XPel film?

Paul Cook
Paul Cook

August 17, 2018

I bought a new RAV-4 in March of this year. The first thing I did was wash and wax it. I would like to start using the Radiant. How do I remove the wax, (It sounds like I should) before using Radiant?

Jay Leno's Garage
Jay Leno's Garage

June 24, 2018

Greg, that is an excellent question. Ideally, you would want to polish or refinish your car’s paint prior to applying a silica-based sealant. It’s not required, but would make the most sense from an order of operations stand point. If you did need to remove Radiant from your car’s paint AFTER you’ve applied it, the easiest way would be to use a light polishing compound and a finishing pad. You’ll know it’s removed once water sticks to the surface longer than a coated area. Hopefully that answers your question.

Jay Leno's Garage
Jay Leno's Garage

June 24, 2018

Dave, great question. We would suggest removing the wax coating before applying Radiant. To cure properly, Radiant needs to be in direct contact with the painted surface. If there’s a layer of wax in between Radiant and the paint, you won’t realize the benefits and long-term protection Radiant offers. Let us know if we can answer any other questions by reaching out to us at info@lenosgarage.com.

Jay Leno's Garage
Jay Leno's Garage

June 24, 2018

Donny, thanks for the interest. To answer your question, the 16oz. bottle of Radiant is $29.99. There’s some pretty high-quality raw materials that make up Radiant, so the price is slightly higher because of that. Let us know if we can answer any other questions by reaching out to us at info@lenosgarage.com.

Greg Raven
Greg Raven

June 24, 2018

If the silicone sealant bonds with the paint, does that make it more difficult to refinish the vehicle?

Donny Blackburn
Donny Blackburn

May 06, 2018

I have been using a few of Jay’s labeled products for a while. I like the yellow detailer. This new Radiant is something different it appears. Too much explanation is given without saying exactly what you get for $29XX. Is it one gallon plus a 16oz spray of the product? Or is it $29 plus for only the 16oz? Does it replace the yellow detailer? I may have missed something but it doesn’t seem clear what you get for the price.

Donny
Prescott, AZ (a few Porsches)

DAVE
DAVE

May 06, 2018

I just waxed my vette, can i use the sealant now

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