Waxes, Sealants, and More...

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I. Introduction

It’s understandable people have confusion and misconceptions about waxes. Many companies call a product that adds protection , such as a sealant, a “polish” when technically ,a pure polish doesn’t contain any protection at all, but contains abrasives to level swirls and scratches, and remove oxidation. Add to that the fact that other so-called “waxes” have so little natural wax in them, it’s almost unfair they be referred to that way. Marketing mumbo jumbo at best.

II. Basics

Below are the basics of waxes and sealants. I have no opinions on which you should use, simply because every car has differing needs, and each person has differing time constraints and budgets, as well as priorities in paint care. There really isn’t one “best” product for everyone. Despite what cousin Louie says.

1) Natural Carnaubas

Extracted from the Brazilian tree Copernica Cerifera, carnauba is as hard as a brick in it’s natural form. Waxes that tell you they are “100% Carnauba” are really saying that the wax in the product is 100% carnauba, but in fact there are a few other things in the product besides wax, such as silicone oils and volatile solvents (petroleum distillates) that soften the wax so it can be spread, and haze in most cases. There really is no such thing as a “pure” wax product. They are all combinations of natural and synthetic ingredients.

The two best grades of #1 carnauba are white and #1 yellow carnauba. The more expensive carnauba products contain between 25% to 35% pure carnauba, while the lesser, cheaper products billed as carnaubas may only contain 5 % ! The rest of the ingredients are anyone’s guess.
Most agree that the depth of carnauba is perhaps the best you can get. There are tradeoffs as in everything; most last anywhere from 2 weeks to 7-10 weeks generally with the best ones on the latter end. Variables on this are how the car is used and subjected to the elements.

If the wax has no abrasives, it can be layered for extra protection and shine/depth. The other thing to consider is the melting ( fracture ) point of carnauba. The four grades of carnauba will melt at 165 degrees. This should be taken into account if you have a dark colored car that basks in the sun for periods of time, because the wax will simply melt away, given that surface temps on a vehicle can easily exceed 200 degrees on a sunny summer day. If you’ve ever felt a black car in the sun during the summer, and noted a stickiness, that is what you are feeling.

2) Hybrids-polymer/wax blends.

These comprise the majority of the products on the shelves of your local automart. Most contain cleaners (mild abrasives) such as clays etc. and solvents that remove minor oxidation and “bring up” the paints shine a bit, (hence the term “polish” is used to market some of them) and add polymers to give better durability (in theory) over pure wax.. Their objective is to give a 1 step “shine and protect” product. Most will not give the depth of shine a carnauba does, but will arguably outlast all but the best of them under harsh conditions .Most cannot be “layered” , one coat upon the other, due to the abrasives and/or solvents in them. The abrasives just remove the previous coat. Remember this when using them and wanting to “add another coat” one week later. All you will be doing is putting a single coat back on. Another problem associated with some of these "cleaner wax" products or those that have polishing agents, is that they will leave a white residue on all your rubber and plastic trim. This is time consuming to remove if you get sloppy. Best to tape off the parts you don't want the wax to go on rather than try and clean it up afterwards.

3) Polymers (paint sealants)

Klasse , Zaino, Finish First, AstroShield, NuFinish, Blackfire, Liquid Glass, are all polymer sealants. ”Sealant” is the operative word, as polymers, referred to above, are also present in products that are called “waxes” They are typically either acrylic or Amino functional polymers . Polymers are formed by the bonding of small molecules of varying types into a long chain. Plastics are polymers. As a matter of fact, an Elephant tusk is a polymer, as is wood, vegetables etc.

These generally outlast all of the above products, but not all produce the same degree of shine or protection. Some argue that they have great reflection, but lack the “depth” of carnaubas, others disagree. A favorite trick of some is to apply a carnauba over a sealant, giving great durability and added depth and warmth. The downside to this is that the carnauba must be removed when the sealant needs to be reapplied, or it will not bond to the top layered carnauba. Some of these products contain abrasives (NuFinish for example) and cannot be layered. Klasse and Zaino are products that can be layered, which is part of their appeal, creating added durability and great shine/reflection. Perhaps their best virtue is their high melting point, above 392 degrees. Your existing wax MUST be stripped off the car before you use a polymer sealant, or it WILL NOT bond. Kind of like applying a band-aid to a finger that has moisturizer on it or is wet.

III. Preparation

Any product without the proper paint prep, will probably incite negative reviews. By this I mean, you must have the paint in optimum shine and smoothness prior, to get the best results. Oxidized paint is like a sponge-very porous, and will literally absorb a wax . You will find the shine and protection go away quickly.

Here are some tips in regards to wax prep:

1). When starting with a new product/regimen, wash the car with blue DAWN dish detergent to strip existing waxes and cut through grime easily. But only a small squirt, as an excessive amount will leave a residue that will interfere with the wax, and prevent bonding of a sealant should you choose to use one. Rinse the car THOROUGHLY afterwards .This is the ONLY time you should use DAWN, as it will strip off your wax otherwise.

2). Clay the car ( see FAQ on clay ) if you feel bonded contaminants or polish the car with a paint "cleaner" polish if you have oxidation or swirls.

3). Wash from the top of the car down, use a 2nd mitt for the lower parts of the car, in a 2nd bucket if you're really concerned about scratches.

4). Change the way you wipe/buff. Swirls( micro marring ) are caused by improper towels, dirty wash bonnets, the use of wool wash bonnets , and wash procedures, not enough lubricity etc. and more. Don't use a sponge, as they cannot hold the grit in suspension like a chenille cotton wash bonnet can .
When you wash, dry and buff,do it in back to front motions. Detailers always wipe in the direction air flows over the car at speed. Why? Because if a scratch occurs this way, you will only be able to see light refract off it from 1 angle, whereas circular motions produce swirls and scratches that are visible from EVERY angle. When polishing or waxing, washing or wiping , it's all back to front-front to back.

5). Use only Cannon or FieldCrest 100% cotton terry towels or quality Microfiber towels. Towels that say "100% cotton" may in fact not be, and they can swirl your paint the first time. If you want to do a test on yours...take an old CD you hate (My wife's Ace Of Base works nicely, hehe ) and gently rub the dry towel on the CD's recorded side. If you see scratches, I wouldn't use it on the car. The 2 brand names above have proven themselves to be the real deal. Remove the labels before you use them.

6) Remove bird droppings ASAP. Seagull droppings can etch through clearcoat in 45 minutes! Keep some quick detailer in the car along with a cotton towel, and soak the dropping with the Q/D or betterstill-keep a spray bottle with a 50/50 mix of ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL and WATER in your car. The alcohol will help nuetralize the acids in the dropping ( Quik Detailer won't do this ) and therefore may prevent further chance of etching from said acids. Let dwell a minute , and wipe. Repeat to further draw out any leftover acid. Don't re-wax the area right away, you don't want to seal any residual acid in.
Wax and or sealants buy you TIME in such a happenstance, but they're no panacea. There's nothing on the market that protects against acids like that when they sit open ended time-wise.
This one hit me hard once after I painted my SC. My wife parked under lighting stanchions at a local mall, and seagulls had a field day. By the time she got home (about 3 hours-and I had many coats of wax at the time ) and told me, one large dropping had etched thru about 2 mils of clear, and if not for the fact I had 5 coats of clear on the car, I would never have had enough paint to color sand the etching out. OEM paint has only 1.5-2 mils clear, so it would have meant a repaint of the whole panel if I had stock paint. Be scared.

7). Don't polish/buff unless you have to. As I mentioned, oem clears are only 1.5 to 2 MILs ( 1 MIL is 1000th of an inch ) thick, about 2 coats. Single stage about the same. Anytime you buff the car, you are making it thinner. Most polishes ( again, abrasives b enough to remove oxidation and scratches /swirls ) and swirl removers should only be used perhaps 2X a year . Glazes are fine because they are extremely mild , as are cleaner waxes. But rubbing compound is not something you want to use arbitrarily.
What can happen is, over the years, you eventually reach critical mass; clears will fail and turn white when there aren't enough UV inhibitiors left due to paint thinness.You may recall seeing this condition; 94-'95 SC's had some paint issues, and the reason for this is due to Ford's misadjustment of the " application bells " or round nozzles that atomize the paint.They simply didn't apply enough film build ( paint, lol). Many have incurred clearcoat failure this way, due to thinness of the paint and UV degradation. They do fine until the years pass and the car's been polished and waxed numerous times, then the clear turns white because it was ALREADY too thin coming out the showroom, and the polishing just does it in over a few short years time. Sad part is, it lasted long enough to cover Ford's warranty on paint, and now people have to pay out of pocket for Ford's mistake. I personally know 2 1994-1995 SC's that exhibit this and they have been cared for very well. One guy has some water spot etches that I could normally go after with compound and be ok, but in this case, I advised him there's not enough paint there to chance it. GM and Chrysler had epidodes of this malady also, with Chrysler having severe problems back in the mid-late 80's.
The general rule is to never remove more than 1/3 of 1 MIL when buffing or color sanding. How do you know how much you're removing? You don't, not without a paint thickness gauge. If the car is more than 5 years old, chances are it has been compounded , or polished a few times. Cleaner-waxes don't remove very much paint, but in combination with the aforementioned polishing/ swirl removal, done say,3 or 4 times a year multiplied by 5-7-10 years, you can be certian there's a lot less paint on there than when it was new. Just be careful.

When your paint feels like glass, with no bumps , and has no oxidation or cloudiness ,then you're ready for your wax or sealant of choice.

IV. Extra Information (Addendum)

Polish is technically an abrasive liquid available in various grits. They generally start at grits that remove rubbing compound scratches and haze caused by the compounding, and go up to very fine polishes called “glazes”. A glaze is usually a product made to give a high gloss, the basic component in most that achieves this is mineral spirits. Glazes will darken colors , but only temporarily. Most glazes have “fillers” that fill in swirls or micro-marring, but these chemicals only hide and fill, they don’t remove said swirling. The other thing to bear in mind, is that a glaze will get washed away the first time the car is washed, or in a rainstorm. Some swirl removers also do this. They should level swirls ideally, but for the most part, they aren't aggressive enough and have fillers that fill the swirls too, like a glaze does. They do work for very minor swirls, but you'll need a bit grittier polish to actually remove swirls by leveling them out. Remember this if you ever get your car detailed and swirl removed or know someone that has, and they complain that their car came back from the detailer looking great, with little visible swirling, only to find a week later, after a wash, the car looks the same as it did before they took it to the detailer .May or may not be what they paid for. A glaze is a temporary fix, and it’s a nice one. Just think of it as “make-up”. As long as you know this going in, and what is involved, it’s all good.

Remember it this way: glazes= MAKE-UP...polishing compounds = PLASTIC SURGERY. One lasts a few days , the other is more permanant and SOLVES a problem rather than just temporarily covering it. (At least till we mess up and cause more swirls).

If you are using, or want to use a polymer, stay away from glazes-their presence on the car will only interfere with a polymer bonding properly. They are used after claying and cleaning the finish of a car , and before a carnauba or wax . Polishes ( true polishes ) and glazes have NO protection in them, you MUST apply a wax after their application. But , again, not a polymer sealant, unless you remove the glaze by washing.
Meguiar’s #7 is a glaze, #9 a swirl remover. 3M’s Finisse-It ll Finishing Material and Perfect-It lll Machine Glaze , 3M swirl remover and Imperial Hand Glaze. etc. are all polishes of one kind or another. Some are made for machine use only, others hand only ( glazes typically ) and some both.

Refers to coarser grit polishes. Rubbing compound, heavy-cut cleaners etc. are compounding materials. They are used for serious paint issues such as etching , hard water spotting, scuffs, deeper scratches, oxidation, and removing 1500 grit wet-sanding scratches etc. These will remove a lot of paint, especially if used with a rotary buffer. Use by hand is safer, though still aggressive in nature.
Most, except for the Turtle wax products in the round tins and such available for the novice, are designed for use in conjunction with a rotary buffer. They require heat to be broken down and utilized properly, something the human hand just cannot duplicate. The use of a heavy cut compound should be thought through and not used arbitrarily, simply because they can remove paint so easily. Never use it with a rotary buffer unless you are experienced, the damage you can do in 3 seconds will make your head spin. In the right hands though, they are simply amazing at what paint problems they can solve, in a very short time compared to by hand. Whenever used , rubbing type compounds MUST be followed up with a polishing compound to remove the fine scratches/ swirls and haze produced by them. They are not a 1 step procedure. If you were to only use a rubbing compound, particularly on a dark colored car, and walk away, you would see SERIOUS swirls and haze. Some folks may have seen a car or two that exhibited this in bright sunlight. Looks awful. The old process was; 1).Rubbing compound 2). polishing compound 3). Hand glaze. Stand back and be impressed if done correctly. Like glass. Nowadays, the 3d step glaze is largly skipped due to improved polishing compounds , such as 3M Perfect-It lll and their Machine Glaze, which will give you a mirror like finish when used right after the rubbing compound, with the proper pads/bonnets.

Rubber/vinyl protectants
Everyone has used Armor All in their life, I’ll even fess up. My first cars ( going back to the mid 70’s folks ) got their weekly application of the stuff, and I was beaming. I want to report none of them had their rubber or vinyl disintegrate before my eyes in the time I owned them , lol . The product has been bashed ad nauseum, and I won’t expound on it further..
Why you ask , is it so widely reviled among “pros”? Silicone…or more specifically, the type of silicone.
.There are actually “good” silicones and “bad” silicones. Silicone has some good and even necessary traits that enhance rubber , plastic and vinyl, at least when it’s the “good “kind. One of the the good kind is Polydimethylsiloxane or PDMS for short. This good silicone is water-based ( "water borne" ), dries to a non-oily hard surface, doesn’t migrate the plasticizers from the material , less absorption of UV rays and non dust attracting. Good attributes.

The “bad” silicone is Dimethyl silicone. D/S is oily, migratory ( pulls the plasticizers from the plastic/vinyl. Plasticizers are what give elasticity and color to these materials ), attracts dust , non water –borne ( contains petroleum distillates which give the “oily “ feel ), and can actually cause degradation of some rubber compounds in tires with sun interaction , removing “micro-wax” that all tire manufacturers put in their tires . And “tire browning” is associated with the D/S variety too, but that’s a story in itself which I’ll pass on for now. Sufffice it to say though, D/S is bad for tires in the long run.
Guess which one cost more? Yup , The PDMS variety . This is one reason Armor –All gained such a reputation; it contained the “bad” dimethyl silicone, as well as high solvent content. It was/is an inexpensive product, in part because the dimethyl silicone is cheaper to produce than the PDMS. Ever get in a car that had a real oily , sticky finish to all the plastic and vinyl, even leather? = dimethyl silicone. Kinda like slime all over your interior from the petroleum distillates in it. I never liked that look back when I used it, used to wipe it and buff it as much as possible. Whatever floats yer boat I guess. Dimethyls also remove the carbon black from tires, the pigment that gives a tire it's color. The other thing of serious detriment with dimethyls is how they sling off tires and permanantly stain paint, a process called "photo-spotting". Very bad indeed. There are still products out there that use the dimethyl, unfortunately, the manufacturer dosen't typically list it on the label. You have to call them to get the facts.

UV blockers are expensive, I’ve heard the most expensive component , beyond the PDMS variation. The products that are PDMS or even dimethyl, with the most UV blockers will be the more expensive. Two products to look at here are; 303 Aerospace protectant, and Lexol Vinylex. The 303 is widely available at boating supply places. That should tell you something about their UV ability . Both contain HIGH PERCENTAGES of PDMS silicones, around 30 percent. Other protectants that contain the PDMS silicone often contain 15-20% or LESS.…. The 2 Brands listed are pricey, but here you really do get what you pay for. Now at least you can call the companies of the protectant you now use and ask what type they contain. Though it’s likely the person that answers the phone will know little about chemistry, lol.
One last thing; If you like Armor All, and you’re happy with it , it was reformulated a few years back, and is much better than it was in the 70‘s and 80’s. It now contains PDMS silicone instead of the old formula’s dimethyl, albeit not in great percentages like some of the higher-end products do. It’s not the kiss of death for your car, like some “experts” will try to tell you. In fact, the negative effects even the old variety had would likely not come to fruition in the time the average person owned their car, since most DON’T hold onto a car ( like yours truly ) for 10 years. And tires are sacrificial things anyway, they would most likely wear out before the dimethyl silicone had it’s way, though cracking and browning would take place in the interim .( Us SC’ers burn them up pretty fast anyway! ) So, try not to lose sleep over it. Just don’t tell the guys at a detailing forum about your transgression,lol.

Silicones in fact can be found in most waxes and polishes .Yupper… while the PDMS won’t hurt your paint, and helps give gloss, the DIMETHYL variety ( another reason they are labled “bad” ) are anathema to body shops because
paint doesn’t adhere to it. ( Causes “fisheyes” ). Another little known fact about silicone , is it can travel in the air for up to a mile! If you ever start a body shop, don’t build downwind of a detail shop! You’ll be fighting fisheyes and paint adhesion problems constantly from the floating dimethyl kind. It goes right through the paint to the metal, lying in wait for a painter that hasn’t been thorough enough in his prep/cleaning/degreasing. ‘Nuff said.

Leather care
There has been a change in the manufacturing of leather in recent years, which can require a different approach as far as it’s care is concerned and it applies to MOST leathers made for U.S. made cars. This change is a clear vinyl coating over the leather as a finish. There are exceptions as to which car companies use this, so later I’ll give a test to perform to determine exactly which you may have. My SC has clearcoated leather, but Ford is liable to have changed back and forth for all I know, so I hate to assume.

One thing you DON’T want to put on your leather regardless of the type is saddle soap. Believe it or not , saddle soap is not good for today’s leathers. It is alkaline , and alkalinity is bad for leather , which likes a PH neutral product. Years ago, the way leather was tanned allowed for saddle soap, which was basically an oil in a soap, to soften the tanned leather hides. But it’s a poor cleaner,and can actually push dirt back into leather, and today’s products do a much better job of cleaning and conditioning leather, without the alkalinity of S.S. ( BTW- Ph scale runs 0 to 14, with acids making up 0-6… 7 being water ( neutral ) and alkalines above 7 making up the high end of the scale )

Here’s how to find out if your leather is clearcoated: Take a white rag, and spray a spritz of Simple Green, Castrol Super Clean, 409 or equivalent on it, and go to an inconspicuous place on one of the seats. The hidden part between the backrest and seat cushion is a good spot. Rub the rag and cleaner on a small spot there. If you see the color of the leather coming off on the rag, you DON’T have clearcoated. If you don’t see color/dye on the rag, the it IS coated. If you do have coated leather, you can safely use a PDMS silicone product such as the 303 or Vinylex , which also has cleaners in it, to keep it supple and add UV protection. If it’s uncoated, go with your favorite leather dressing-cleaner and conditioner combo. The latter is best applied with your hand, and allowed to sit a few minutes. After about 5 minutes, the leather will have absorbed all the conditioner it’s going to, so you then want to just wipe/buff the excess off with a white cotton rag/towel.

The new products on the market are reasonably good at removing odors from cars, to a point. I’m referring to Febreeze, Odor Gun, and the clones of these. One product that has been highly recommended by some pro’s on the web is “Kids and Pets Brand Stain and Odor Remover”. It contains enzymes that attack the odor by stopping the organic material from decomposing, which is where the odor comes from as well as bacteria feeding off it.
If you have a stubborn odor ( remember the Seinfeld episode about B.O. in the BMW? ) you have to seek a higher order. Most detail shops have “ozone generators” ( activated oxygen) that are like foggers. It seeks out and eliminates odors at their molecular level. Anyone that can’t completely remove cigarette odors, as well as other entrenched odors, needs to go this route. Yes, not the cheap do-it-yourself fix, but it works well.

The two types used in detailing are the rotary , and orbital.

The rotary is the dangerous one for the inexperienced to use. Damage can be done in as little time as it takes to remove your finger from the trigger after pressing it down hard or angling it the wrong way. It’s also a godsend in the hands of a pro. It can do things the human hand simply cannot. Add the fact that most compounds need heat from friction to break down and work properly, and it’s a mainstay for solving paint issues. They will produce swirls with heavy cut compounds and certain pad types ( wool esp. ) which have to be eliminated with finer polishes and finishing foam pads.

Orbitals are often referred to as “polishers” because they are very useful when applying polishes. They have random orbits that help prevent swirls. You’d have to really try hard for an orbital (or D/A= dual action ) to damage your paint. Very safe for the novice. Great for wax application too. Porter Cable makes one that gets the thumbs up from just about everyone.

Most of the general waxing and polishing a car needs, with the exception of the ‘high speed buff’ can be done just as well by hand, just more time and grunt work involved.

Microfiber towels
These came on scene not long ago, and have become a mainstay for detailers. They are cloths that have microscopic “hooks” in their weave. They are polyester and polyamide blends, soft as silk, very tough,absorbant. They attract dust like a magnet and pick up salt, grime and oily films with ease, with 90,000 micro hooks per square inch. They can be dampened with water and wrung out as thoroughly as possible for cleaning, or used dry in the same way as a chamois. They really are amazing things. I use them on windows with no cleaners at all, just the damp microfiber towel, and glass comes REALLY clean. Bug remains come off very fast . Follow up a wipe with another dry one and you will be amazed. They are so soft , they can be safely used on clearcoat paint for buffing, although word is that some cheaper brands are causing fine swirling , so pay for the Viking or Miracle M/F towels. They seem to hold up forever, even after many trips through the washing machine. Just don’t use fabric softener on them and allow them to air dry, no dryers. The miracle M/F towel costs around $13 last time I purchased. They are 70/30 blends, where 80/20 blends are more typical, and what you’ll find at Wal-Mart , Pep Boys etc, and sometimes not as plush . The Miracle towel is. 16x16 inches approx. Most others are a similar size. Try a cheap one and see if you like it. If you do you can always upgrade to the better ones.

Water spots
This is a common problem. When the vehicle gets wet from rain, or is left wet after a wash rinse, the beads of water , in conjunction with sunlight , evaporate and leave trace deposits of minerals . Calcium and metals are in tap water, from your hose, and rain water contains acids from pollution. There isn’t a product / wax that will prevent them. You simply cannot allow water to dry on the car.
If you get them suddenly, the best course of action is to buy some distilled vinegar. Mildly acidic, it usually works for spots that haven’t had time to ETCH. More on that later.
To do the vinegar bath, simply get a sponge and apply to one panel of the car at a time. Allow to dwell for 1-2 minutes , no more, and rinse thoroughly. You will need to re-wax afterwards, because vinegar strips wax too.

If the spots look a bit better , but are still there, you can go at it a second time with the vinegar, or try a mild polish, such as a swirl remover. Work in straight back and forth motions by hand, or use an orbital or rotary buffer if you know how, with a foam pad. Those spots that have etched too deep for even this course of action have to be pondered; do they bug you enough to risk taking perhaps 1/3 MIL of paint off the car, with a rubbing compound? You may be solving one problem and giving yourself a bigger one, a repaint in the near future. Tough call.

Wash tip
This is a real help when drying a vehicle after the final rinse after a wash. Spray some quick detailer on the car while it’s still wet ( works great after a rain storm too if the car didn’t get too dirty ) and it will help toweling the car dry, as well as avoiding wipe marks, esp. on dark colors, as well as adding a bit more shine and lubricity to boot.

Remember not to over-use the coarse stuff -polishes such as swirl removers or cleaners should only be used about 2-3x a year tops. Rubbing compounds, 1x a year if necessary, no more. Cleaner-waxes are fine to use monthly if you like. Glazes can be used pretty much whenever.

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