Wax vs Sealants vs Ceramic Coatings (Full Comparison)

When it comes to protecting the paintwork on a car, there are three main options:

  • Waxes
  • Sealants
  • Ceramic Coatings

In this guide I’ll be explaining the differences between them, and how to decide which is the right option for your vehicle. Let’s start with a brief overview of each type of protection.

Wax
Sealant
Ceramic Coating

Overview of Each Type of Protection

Let’s start with a brief overview of each type of protection.

What is a Wax?

Car waxes contain natural ingredients (e.g. carnuaba wax, bees wax, montan wax etc.). Waxes are well known for creating a warm glow to the paint, and usually last for around 1-3 months. Waxes come in a few different forms, with the most common being the paste wax which usually comes in a tub or tin and is in a solid state. However, there are also liquid waxes and spray waxes.

  • Paste waxes are applied using a foam or microfibre pad, left to cure or haze (usually takes 5-10 minutes), and buffed away using a microfibre towel.
  • Liquid waxes are applied very similarly to paste waxes, but the product is poured onto the applicator pad instead.
  • Spray waxes are usually applied using a microfibre cloth, and the excess residue is then removed using a fresh cloth.

Car waxes don’t just contain natural ingredients though, but also have synthetic components which make them easier to use and give them different characteristics. For example, “ceramic waxes” are infused with silicon dioxide, which typically improves durability (up to around 6 months), and boosts the level of protection.

Contain natural waxes e.g. beeswax, carnauba etc.
3-month average durability
Create a “warm glow” effect
Offer a moderate level of protection
Can be layered over other waxes and sealants
Supplied as a paste, liquid or spray

Examples: Bilt Hamber Double Speed Wax and P21S Carnauba Wax

What is a Sealant?

Sealants are a synthetic form of paint protection, which do not contain any natural waxes. Sealants are well-known for creating a cold-hard looking shine, and usually last between 3-6 months on the paintwork on average. Again, there are a few different types of sealants which vary in their application method:

  • Spray sealants: these are sprayed onto the car directly, or an applicator and spread over the surface.
  • Paste sealants: some sealants can come in a solid form in a tub or tin. These can also be referred to as “synthetic waxes”.
  • Spray and rinse sealants: these are applied to a wet car, and rinsed off immediately to leave a layer of protection in the quickest way possible.

Sealants ideally need to bond to bare paintwork in order to achieve the best durability possible. In this way, they are “fussier” than waxes which go over the top of other types of protection quite easily. Hence, if you plan on doubling up a wax and sealant, it’s best to apply the sealant first and then put the wax on top.

Like with ceramic waxes, you can also get “ceramic sealants”, which contain silicon dioxide to boost the durability and protection. These are not the same as “ceramic coatings” as they do not last nearly as long.

Contains synthetic polymers
4-month average durability
Create a “cold shine”
Offer a moderate level of protection
Ideally should not be layered over other types of protection
Usually applied in a sprayable format

Examples: Chemical Guys Jet Seal and Gyeon Wet Coat

What is a Ceramic Coating?

Ceramic coatings are chemical polymers which when applied to a vehicle, harden to form an extremely durable layer of protection which typically lasts for 2-5 years. In most ceramic coatings on the market, the active ingredient is silicon dioxide (SiO2), and most premium-grade coatings contain at least 80% of this compound.

The drawback of a ceramic coating though, is that it’s more expensive and difficult to apply compared to a wax or sealant. Hence, why many vehicle owners choose to get their pride and joy professionally coated, rather than do it themselves.

If you are interested in getting your vehicle ceramic coated, always make sure it’s a true coating, and not a ceramic sealant or ceramic wax. The durability of these two types of protection vary massively, and you don’t want to pay for a coating and end up with an inferior product.

The easiest way to tell between a ceramic coating, and a ceramic sealant is to look at the bottle that they come in. Ceramic coatings come in glass bottles, usually with a quantity of 30-100 mL of liquid. Ceramic sealants on the other hand come in plastic bottles and often contain around 500 mL of product.

Contains silicon dioxide
3 year average durability
Create a “cold shine”
Offer a high level of protection
Cannot be layered over other forms of protection
Supplied in a small glass bottle

Examples: CarPro Cquartz and Gtechniq Crystal Serum Ultra

What are the Differences?

Now that we’ve been through an overview of each type of protection, let’s do a deep dive into the differences between them so you can decide exactly which is the best option for your vehicle. I’ll be comparing:

  • Durability
  • Application and Preparation
  • Level of Protection
  • Gloss
  • Cost

Durability

  • Waxes typically last 1-3 months (and up to 6 months)
  • Sealants typically last 3-4 months (and up to 12 months)
  • Ceramic Coatings typically last 2-5 years (and up to 7-years)

If you’re looking for the most durable form of protection, then a ceramic coating is the clear winner. Sealants and waxes are in a similar ball park, with sealants typically having the slight edge when applied to well-prepped paintwork.

Application and Preparation

Ceramic coatings are a lot more involved in terms of their preparation and application process compared to waxes and sealants, and hence take significantly longer to apply and require more skill.

It is absolutely essential that a ceramic coating is applied to completely bare paintwork (free from waxes and sealants) and it is also highly recommended that the paintwork is polished so it is free from clear coat scratches and swirl marks. The paint should be thoroughly cleaned, decontaminated (using iron remover, tar remover, and clay), machine polished, and degreased using a panel wipe solution before the coating is applied.

In order to get the best durability out of the sealant, it is a good idea to remove any existing protection first by using a wax-stripping shampoo and panel wipe solution. You can also go a step further by decontaminating and machine polishing the paintwork, but this is not essential.

Waxes are far less fussy and you don’t really need to do much extra prep beside washing the vehicle before application. However, if the paintwork needs it, then it’s sensible to decontaminate and polish it first.

In terms of the application process, waxes and sealants are relatively similar. You just need to get some of the product onto the applicator pad, spread it and then wait for it to haze. Then it’s time to buff away any remaining residue using a microfibre towel. There’s not too much that can go wrong here apart from applying too much/ waiting too long before buffing which will make the residue a bit tougher to remove.

Ceramic coatings must be applied very carefully and methodically to avoid “high spots”, which often must be removed by wet-sanding. Hence, it’s not a good idea to apply a coating unless you’re confident you know what you’re doing. Here are the steps involved in the application process:

  • Apply several drops (8-10) of the coating to the applicator pad
  • Spread the coating on a small section of the panel in a cross-hatch pattern
  • Wait the recommended time (usually from 10 seconds to 2 minutes but is dependent on the coating)
  • Level the coating using straight-line motions and light pressure with one microfiber towel
  • Use a second microfiber towel to remove the remaining residue in circular motions
  • Use a final microfiber towel to lightly buff the area and adjacent panels/ sections to prevent any high spots
  • Wait the recommended cure time before exposing the car to the elements (usually between 4-24 hours but does depend on the coating itself)

Ceramic coatings also usually need to be applied in more specific conditions compared to waxes and sealants. It does vary between manufacturers, but generally it is between 10°C-25°C (50°F-77°F) and in less than 70% humidity. They can be applied outdoors, but you do need to be conscious of the environmental conditions to ensure the application process is a success.

Waxes and sealants are not as environmentally sensitive, and you should get good results unless you apply them in direct sunlight or very cold temperatures/ high humidity.

Level of Protection

Ceramic coatings offer a far higher level of protection compared to waxes and sealants. This is because they cure to form a very hard layer, which is more resistant to wash marring, bird poo, water spots, and chemical staining. However, it is important to recognise that coatings are far from indestructible, and can still get scratches, stone chips and etching if not properly cared for. Waxes and sealants do not form this hard layer of protection, and are quite easily degraded and removed, hence the need for more frequent reapplication.

The “water behaviour” which refers to the level of water beading and sheeting which helps to keep the panel cleaner between washes is also much better with a ceramic coating. A freshly applied wax/ sealant will also exhibit very good water behaviour, however this will quickly drop off after the first few weeks in most cases.

Gloss

All three of these forms of protection will offer a glossy finish, however it’s important to note that true gloss comes from having good paintwork, by this I mean free from swirl marks, scratches and wash marring (check out this article on paint correction for more info).

What differs between these types of protection, is the kind of finish they leave. Waxes tend to leave a “warm glow”, whereas sealants and coatings tend to look a bit more “cold”. It’s extremely subtle though and the vast majority of people will not be able to tell a difference though.

Cost

Ceramic coatings are a significantly more expensive offering compared to waxes and sealants, however when you factor in the durability then you could say that they offer better value for money.

  • For a bottle of ceramic coating (usually 2 applications) the average cost is £80 in the UK
  • For a bottle of sealant (usually 10-15 applications) the average cost is £22 in the UK
  • For a tin of wax (usually at least 25 applications) the average cost is £20 in the UK

If you want your vehicle professionally detailed then you should also expect to pay more for the labour-intensive and time-consuming application process that goes into a ceramic coating installation.

Conclusion

Overall, a ceramic coating is the best option if you are looking for durability and a high level of protection. However, this comes at an additional cost, and requires much more skill and patience to apply. Waxes and sealants are good options for DIY enthusiasts who want something more affordable, and easy to use, the main differences between them being that waxes offer a warmer-looking finish, but don’t usually last quite as long.

GET IN TOUCH

To book your car in for a valeting or detailing service in Cheshire, get in touch today by either calling, emailing or completing the contact form and Heather will be in touch shortly

07894 074109
heather@autocarehq.com
8:30-6:00 Mon-Sat
Heather

Heather

Heather is a professional car detailer & valeter based in Cheshire and the owner of Auto Care HQ. A familiar face in the car detailing community, she has written over 200 car detailing guides on autocarehq.com and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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