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How to apply wax

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The use of wax as a protective product is very popular and has been one of the most used ways of protecting paintwork since the invention of wax many years ago. The application of wax isn’t very difficult, which makes it so popular. But it helps to know how to get the most out of your wax to get the best results.

Less is more

It feels counter-intuitive, but in the case of wax it is very true. A good application of wax is not very visible. The smallest and most thin layer is the best and most effective way to apply wax.
When a wax is applied to a surface, the solvents start to evaporate, leaving behind the solid ingredients and a few of the oils. These oils help to prevent that the wax dries out to quickly and doesn’t get the chance to bond. These also help in making it easier to buff off.
After the solvents have evaporated enough for the layer to be buffed to a gloss, the layer of bonded wax has a certain thickness. This thickness is always pretty much the same and is only a few microns thick. When you buff off the excess wax, only this bonded layer remains. All the other wax is buffed off and is wasted.
Applying to much wax will NOT result in a thicker layer of wax after buffing.

The steps to apply wax

  1. The surface needs to be prepared properly. This means that the surface had thorough cleaning. This can be done be claying and optionally: polishing. The polish residue has either been buffed off or wiped down with an isopropyl alcohol solution (or similar)
  2. The wax is applied to an applicator, this can be your hands, a foam/microfibre pad or a special finishing pad on a polishing machine.
  3. The wax is very roughly smeared out over the surface. This spreads out the amount of wax over the entire surface, making it easier to spread it evenly.
  4. You take one point and start to rub in the wax. This can either be done by making small circles or by making straight lines.
  5. A thin layer is better, it should be so thin that you need to look into the light to see where you have been.
  6. After the entire area has an even coat of wax you leave it to haze. The time for this depends on the product itself, the humidity and the temperature. A low temperature slows down the hazing, a high temperature does the opposite. High humidity will also slow it down and some products simply need longer to haze than others.
  7. When you want to test out how far the wax has hazed, you can do the swipe test (explained below)
  8. When the wax is ready to be buffed, you take a clean and unused microfibre towel and wipe off the area. If the wax has been applied in a very thin and even layer, this will go quite easy.
  9. While buffing you will start to see the shine appear. After you are done with the area, turn your microfibre towel over and use the clean side to wipe the area again to prevent any smears.
  10. Step back and enjoy your work.

Keep in mind that any dust you get from buffing the wax is wasted product. If the wax has been applied in the optimum thin layer, you will hardly have any dust from buffing and you shouldn’t have much trouble buffing.

The swipe test

When a wax is almost ready to be buffed off, you can do the swipe test.

  • Wrap a piece of microfibre towel over the end of your finger.
  • Swipe the waxed area with the towel-covered finger in a similar way you would do with a touchscreen
  • If the wax is ready to be buffed off, you will see a smear-free clear swipe.
  • If the wax is NOT ready to be buffed, you will see an oily smear over the waxed surface.
  • If the wax isn’t ready yet, wait a little longer and repeat the swipe test.
Swipe test
Swipe test

There are exceptions to the rule. There are a few wax on the market that don’t haze at all. They don’t need to cure. You apply them, wait a certain amount of time and then just wipe them off. These are often show waxes: more gloss, less durability.

Hazing and curing

Hazing is the process of the film of wax turning matte, due to it drying out and loosing it’s liquid content. This takes only minutes.
Curing is the process of the wax fully hardening. This can take up to 24 hours.

Common problems and their solutions

There are several problem that can occur when a wax has been applied wrongly, this list might help you to figure out what you are doing wrong and how to fix it.

Problem Mistake Solution
The wax is very grabby and rough to buff You either left it for to long and/or applied a layer that is much to thick Spray a little bit of QD over the waxed area and continue buffing. If you don’t have any QD, re-apply wax on top of the hazed wax and buff off immediately.
There is a lot of dust while buffing and my towel is clogged up by it You have applied the wax much to thick Spray some QD over the surface and continue buffing. Keep changing your towel frequently and/or turn it over frequently.
It takes a really long time for the wax to haze Check the conditions, is it very humid? Very cold? Is the product more oily then it should be? Did you read the label? If the conditions are all good (not to humid, not to cold and you left it for the recommended time), contact the manufacturer. Explain to them the conditions you are working in. In the meantime you can try to buff it off. If smear appear, try to wash the surface with shampoo, rinse this off with water and dry with a drying towel.
Buffing reveals smears You didn’t leave the wax to haze long enough Stop buffing, re-apply wax on the part that you tried to buff and wait a little longer. Use the swipe test to see if the wax is ready to be buffed.
Everything went well, but the beading is horrible The wax might not have bonded with the surface. This could be due to a surface that is either not clean enough, or oils from another product (polish, glaze, other protective product) are interfering with the product Clay the area, give it a light polish to remove any marring and re-apply the wax.
It went well in the beginning, but the beading and sheeting is gone after 1 or 2 weeks The wax might not have bonded properly. This could be due to other product interfering with it’s performance. Clay the area, give it a light polish to remove any marring and re-apply the wax. (keep in mind that the product you are using might just not be very good)
The wax didn’t turn my 20 year old, unwashed rust-bucket into a shiny supercar The wax is broken. It needs to be re-manufactured with the almighty magic spark to fuel it with fairy-dust properties. Post up pictures on Facebook and explain everybody how dissapointed you are. Don’t forget to write the local newspaper and demand that they raise money for you to buy a proper supercar.

Spit shining

Normally, if you want to apply multiple layers of a protective product it is necessary to wait 12-24hrs between each coat. However, it is possible to apply two layers of a carnauba paste wax in one go by using the technique of spit shining. This is the generic technique I use for spit-shining:

  • Apply the wax as normal to the first panel then spray with a little QD spray to wet the surface. Do not buff.
  • Repeat for three more panels (we generally call the roof two panels, so roof, bonnet, front wing to start for example)
  • Go back to your first panel and apply a second layer of wax and work until the QD beads dissappear and you are left with a residue as you would have normally. You can buff the panel first if you like, QD then re-wax but I just re-wax over the original layer.
  • Repeat this on the other panels.
  • Buff off residues.
  • Repeat over whole car.

Spit shine is used to enhance the reflectivity and durability from a carnauba wax and has been known to produce awesome results.

Common misconceptions

  • A wax must be applied as thick as possible
    Very wrong. less is more. Applying wax in the most thin layer is much more effective. You can always apply a second layer to get a little bit more protection.
  • I need to apply 20 layers for unlimited protection
    Very wrong. A layer of wax can not reach more then a few microns thickness, applying more then 3 layers will just wipe away the previous layer. More layers will not increase thickness.
  • You need to wait for 1 hour for the second layer
    It would be best to leave the wax for 24 hours, but this is not always possible. If time is an issue you can use spit-shinning. Otherwise a waiting period of 12 hours is preferred.
  • Once buffed, a wax is ready for the world
    No, a wax will keep on curing for another 12 to 24 hours after buffing. The oils in the wax need a much longer time to cure than the solvents.
  • Liquid wax is superior to paste wax
    There is no reason to think this. Both can be very good products.
  • When a wax turns matte it can be buffed
    Not necessarily. Some wax products turn matte within seconds, other don’t even turn matte at all. The swipe test is the easiest way.
  • Wax is perfect for glass
    It can be. But there are product on the market that are especially formulated to work on glass and they perform much better then wax.
  • Wax can only be applied on top of a glaze
    No, wax can be applied on bare paintwork, on top of a sealant, on top of a glaze and even on top of a coating. There might not always be a logical reason for it, but wax can be applied on top of anything.
  • The white marks on trims from wax is an indication that the wax is cheap rubbish
    No it isn’t. It is simply an indication that the solvents in the recipe have reacted negatively with the trim. These white marks can be removed if you act quickly. The longer you wait, the more difficult they become to remove.

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