The removal of wax is a necessary step before a protective product is (re-)applied or before polishing. Wax is a hard type of protective product that is made from a large portion of natural ingredients. It has a limited lifespan and needs to be removed after a certain period.
Why remove wax
Wax is a temporary protective product. It is designed to protect for a certain time and then be replaced by a new coat. Wax is reasonably cheap and easy to apply. This makes it suitable for many different levels of experience in detailing. Due to its price it can be used for both high level detailing and low level detailing. The removal of wax is needed because wax has a property where it actually holds dirt. This means the layer of protection can literally become dirty over time. If you would put a new coat of wax onto the dirty layer of wax, you risk moving around the dirt particles, creating swirls. You also run the risk that the worn layer of wax prevents the new coat from adhering properly, shortening its lifespan. Removing wax is not very difficult and will give you a fresh basis for a new coat of protection.
Chemical versus abrasive
The general method of removing wax can both be done with chemicals or abrasive measures. Both methods have their benefits and downsides.
When trying to remove wax with chemicals, it is difficult to gauge how much of the product is removed. There is no visual indicator to determine how much wax is left. Some chemicals only damage the surface layer of the wax, which will gives a decreased form of water behavior. This might give the impression that the wax is gone, even though the chemical only damaged the top layer. There is also the possibility that the chemical leaves residue on top of the wax. This will gives decreased water behavior without actually removing the wax. Applying a fresh coat of wax on top of this residue will diminish the durability of your new product.
Other problems with chemical removal is that the dilution ratio can play a huge part. A certain product might be very effective if used at 1:10, but not do anything at all when diluted at 1:20. Incorrect dilution (for economic reasons) might end up in a new product that does not behave as expected.
The abrasive method of removing wax is the most trusted one, although it is not without fault. The most common way to do this is via a clay bar. The clay bar will “scrub” off the layer of wax, but 1 single pass might not remove the complete layer. Especially with multiple layer of wax, you might not have removed the total layer with just one or two passes with a claybar. If you haven’t removed the complete layer of wax, and you would follow up with a finishing polish to remove any marring, you run the risk of moving around any dirt particles that could still be left within the remains of the wax layer. This could potentially create light swirls. Claying to much is not the best answer either, because this might create more marring then needed.
Myths about removing wax
There are several incorrect assumptions on method to remove wax.
Dish washing soap removes wax
Household cleaning liquids often contain Limonene or citric acid, which is often considered the best chemical to remove wax, cue to its ability to break down oils. But this will only have a slight effect on strong concentrations and with very fresh wax. Once wax is applied, the solvents will start to evaporate. The oils that are part of the recipe will partially evaporate, partially be rubbed off during buffing and partially stay behind in the cured layer. The amount of oils in this layer is very small, and the effect these chemicals have on the tiny bit of oils in the layer of wax is not enough to remove the fully cured wax. The solid contents in the wax product is the natural wax itself, which makes out the largest part of the final layer over the surface. This wax is very tough and has a reasonably chemical resistance. A strong concentration of Limonene or Citric Acid might damage the outer layer, but it will not fully remove the wax. The biggest problem is that the concentration of these chemicals in household liquids isn’t big enough to much such a big difference on the layer of wax.
The diminished effect you see in water behavior is largely due to the residue that is left behind from the soap mixture. If the surface is washed thoroughly, the original water behavior will return.
Any TFR removes wax
Although most TFR’s are fairly strong chemicals that are capable of removing many different types of stubborn dirt, the fully cured layer of rock-hard wax that forms the protection is not completely removed by this chemical. TFR’s are mostly designed to loosen up oils, dust, ingrained dirt, waterspots, rubber particles and sometimes even tar. The removal of the tiny percentage of oils in the layer of wax is not enough to fully destabilize the total product. In fact, over time the oils might have gone naturally, which means the TFR has even less effect on the wax. The diminished water behavior you will probably see is the result of residue being left behind or a damaged surface on the wax layer.
Rubbing will remove wax
Because wax is buffed after hazing (removing the excess of wax after application) it is often believed that continued rubbing/buffing will remove the layer of wax completely. This might be slightly true if the wax is still very fresh (only minutes old). But once the wax is cured (often after roughly 24 to 48 hours) the products has became very hard, and rubbing or buffing will have hardly any effect at all. Even rubbing with a polishing pad (without any polishing product) will have little to no effect on the wax. In some cases it can actually even out the uneven and worn surface texture of the cured layer of wax. Only friction with an abrasive product is capable of “sanding” of the fully cured product.
IPA removes wax
IPA is a type of alcohol that is often used in a diluted form to remove oils from surfaces. The removal of oils is needed before you apply a coating, a sealant or for a respray. The oils have an effect on the surface energy and could prevent the new product from adhering to the surface properly. IPA has the added benefit that it evaporates with very, very little residue being left behind. However, the chemical isn’t strong enough to fully remove the tiny amount of oils left in fully cured wax. The oils on the surface might be loosened up and/or removed, but the oils that are below the surface are protected by a layer of wax that is notorious for being incredibly hard. Even undiluted IPA at 99% will only damage the upper layer of the product and not remove it completely.
You can just polish over a layer of wax to remove it
This would be not very wise. The layer of wax can be dirty, having contamination on stuck in the upper surface layer. Polishing will mean that you run the risk of rubbing around these particles over the surface you are working on. These particles can create swirls that you think you are removing. The best course of action would be to use a claybar and a claylube to safely remove the particles from the surface with as little impact on the surface as possible.
Another wax with dissolve the old layer
Not true. The new wax does contain solvents that could potentially have a slight effect on the surface texture of the old layer, but the concentration of these solvents is not strong enough to fully remove any old layer of wax. If you consider the amount of heat and time that is needed to dissolve the wax into the solvents while creating the wax, you’ll see how this small concentration of “cold” wax/solvent is not capable of removing the old layer of wax.
Any alkaline/acidic product will remove it
Although wax isn’t known for its most incredible resistance against chemicals, it is still fairly good at it. Many wax products can withstand bird droppings, which are know to be very chemically. A acidic wheel cleaner or alkaline TFR will not remove the wax. IT is capable of affecting the wax in a negative way and repeated use of this product in a very concentrated form might eventually remove the wax, but that approach could also damage your trims, the paintwork itself or stain glass and polished metals. So it would not be very safe to use this method.
Heat will remove wax
It is not a secret that intense heat can have a negative effect on wax. Detailers who live in very hot areas will know how the lifetime of a protective product can be shortened due to the intense heat from the sun. And it is true that it is possible to actually re-melt the cured wax. Since it will have much less oils and less solvents, it will actually be more difficult to re-melt it. But it is possible. However, the amount of heat needed to damage the layer of wax enough to remove it, is dangerous for trims, glass and rubbers. Although this approach could potentially work, it is not recommended and could possibly damage many different areas beyond repair.
Proven ways of removing wax
Just as with sealant, coatings and other protective products, the best and easiest way to remove the layer is through proper claying. You most likely need to do this step anyway when you are going to polish or re-apply a new form of protection. How much claying is needed can differ greatly due to the amount of layers, the type of product that was used and the strength of the clay. However, there are some specialized products that have earned a reputation of being able to remove a wax, and sometimes even sealants.
A dedicated wax remover
Some manufacturers have created specialized products that are designed to destabilize the particles that make up the cured layer of wax. This means the wax is not really removed by the product, but it is loosened up enough to wipe it off with a MF cloth. A few products like this work in 2 parts. The first product loosens up the wax, the next product breaks it down and makes it removable. However, it is not always clear if these products are designed for natural waxes, hybrids or even ceramic waxes. Especially seeing as these last 2 types of wax are designed to withstand these types of chemicals.
Claying is the abrasive method that has proven itself time and time again. It is not without fault or downside, but it is a trusted method that can remove wax, sealant and even most coatings.
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