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.
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 silica-based sealants (You’ve probably heard of them called by other names, most commonly ceramic or ceramic coating, quartz, silicone-dioxide or even SiO2). These silica-based sealants 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, silica-based sealants are extremely resistant to water, soaps, and of course environmental pollutants.
Sealants 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 silica-based sealants.
How should you apply wax?
If you choose to utilize wax for your 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.
How should you apply sealant?
This can vary based on the type of sealant you’re using. We suggest reading the application instructions thoroughly before applying any brand of sealant. If you’re using JLG’s new silica-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 before getting the surface wet. This will provide enough time 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 sealant?
Wax or sealant should always be the last thing you apply. 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 silica-based sealants, 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 silica-based sealant 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 sealant together?
The easy answer is yes, you can. You could lay the sealant down first, let it cure and then apply a wax. However, we don’t suggest it as it’s a bit redundant. Sealant is so hydrophobic that once it cures that 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 sealant 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. Think of wax as the old country road your grandpa used to take into town. It works, it’s reliable and you’ll certainly make it there, but sealants are the new 6-lane expressway the state just built. The road is smoother, it’s easier to navigate and it took you half the time to get to town than the old side-road route.
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