An ongoing area of uncertainty amongst detailers is whether to wax before sealing, or seal before waxing vehicle paintwork. We’re going to put this to bed once and for all, with pictures and everything.
So, you have a dazzlingly clean car/bike/HGV/helicopter/boat/[insert other vehicle here], and you want to keep it looking this way as long as possible. You may also be conscious of the long-term benefits of sealing the paintwork against the elements such as UV damage (let’s all take a moment to remember any red pre-2000 Vauxhalls which were once red but are now a pitifully misty pink).
Why is protecting my paintwork so important?
Paintwork without any protective layers is not 100% smooth. Zoom right in and the surface has peaks and troughs, just like a sound wave. This means a lot of surface area for accumulating UV and heat damage, oxidation (rust) and other negative side effects.
How do I protect my paintwork?
The best results are usually gained from using a good wax and a good sealant, which fills these troughs as the sealing process is repeated ensuring smooth, water and contaminant-repellent paintwork which requires minimal maintenance.
Which comes first, the wax or the sealant?
A paint sealant is a highly efficient way to seal your vehicle, and, if done frequently enough, can render a wax unnecessary. However, most will choose to both seal and wax their paintwork, and there is an ongoing debate about which should come first.
Sealant Comes First
When using a sealant, it’s great at nano-bonding to the paintwork and doesn’t require the manual effort of application using the microfibre applicator which can be so time consuming. It can simply be sprayed over the vehicle and spread using a microfibre cloth before being rinsed away, or even rinsed straight off if used as a rinse-aid too.
You see, sealant bonds to the paintwork so effectively because it is a liquid sealant which cures, meaning that gravity directs it where it needs to go, right into those troughs in the paintwork, and the curing process means that on a microscopic level the sealant basically becomes the little spoon within the big spoons of the paintwork. Lovely.
So why wax?
However, this means the peaks of the paintwork, those most exposed to the elements, are left unprotected. As mentioned earlier, if the sealant is topped up frequently enough, eventually those troughs will fill up with sealant and create a completely smooth surface, which for most detailers is the eventual goal. In the meantime, though, those peaks need protection.
When applying a hard wax to the vehicle, manual effort is required. But that’s a good thing (for us enthusiasts, anyway), because it means the wax reaches every shallow surface, including the top sides of those peaks. It will also cover the sealant, protecting this additional layer too.
Over time, the wax layer will build up until eventually the paintwork is completely smooth.
So why use sealant?
Sealant is a reasonably modern invention and it’s essentially an additional protective measure which lasts longer than wax and is easier to apply, so if you go longer than the recommended 3 months without waxing, you know your paintwork is still somewhat protected. For best results though, use both.