December 4, 2023

What’s the difference between waxes and ceramic coatings?

The wash, polish and wax process has for decades been the gold standard of caring for automotive finishes. Time-consuming and laborious to apply, the shiny and protective results generally have a shelf life of just a few months. Ceramic coatings add a new wrinkle to that formula.

Sometimes referred to as nano-ceramic coating, ceramic coatings are a chemical compound solution primarily composed of silica and titanium dioxide. The two substances form a bond at the atomic level and the combined result has extremely hydrophobic properties—meaning water cannot penetrate it.

Though it does not bond chemically with the paint, it doesn’t wash away like a wax. It does deteriorate over time, but the hydrophobic properties repel water, protect the surface underneath, and enhance the paint’s depth and clarity for a longer period than traditional wax. Comparatively easy to apply, they provide superior protection and last much longer, with many manufacturers claiming an effective life of over twelve months.

What are the benefits of ceramic coating?

Ceramic coating provides a longer-lasting, more durable and more protective layer than any standard car wax. Routine washings are still required after treatment, but a ceramic finish will prevent dust buildup and make shampooing the exterior a simple procedure with minimum water spots.

Ceramic coatings also provide significant labor and time savings. The traditional polishing and waxing process is a laborious and time-consuming process and requires frequent reapplication to ensure the best paint protection. Ceramics also provide superior protection, locking away the paint’s surface with a closer bond than wax.

How long does ceramic coating last?

Professionally-applied coatings can last two to five years with proper care and maintenance, depending on environment and driving frequency. But those coatings are much thicker and more difficult to apply than some of the consumer products we’ve rated, and for that reason, the coating may only last up to one year.

How much should I pay for ceramic coating?

Consumer ceramic coatings and kits are not particularly expensive. Light-duty sprays cost less than $20 and even the most expensive items on our list, full kits with supplies, preparation solutions and cleaning implements, run under $120. A higher-quality ceramic coating job done by a paint shop can be quite expensive, running from the $350 range all the way to $2,000 or more for a multi-stage, high-quality paint correction and coating. Prices also vary by geographic location.

How do you maintain ceramic coating?

Preserving the ceramic coating on your vehicle is as easy as maintaining a routine washing schedule with your choice of automotive soap. A cadence of every two weeks is recommended. Otherwise, if contaminants are allowed to rest on the coating its hydrophobic qualities will diminish.

How do you prep for a ceramic coating?

Wash, dry, and then use a clay bar to remove any remaining contaminants and stuck-on debris. The paint surface must be as clean and dirt-free as possible, including fingerprints, or else the ceramic coating will trap what’s on the surface—and for a much longer time than wax.

Should I apply wax to a ceramic coating?

You certainly can apply conventional waxes on top of a ceramic coating. They will improve the lifespan of the coating a little, but wax degrades in a matter of months and then requires further application. If you’ve done a thorough job on your ceramic coating, there’s really no need for wax.

How do I wash my car after ceramic coating?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all routine for maintaining ceramic coatings as each product may have a different formulation. However, there are some basic rules.

Never take your car through an automated brush car wash. This will definitely degrade and damage the coating.

Routine washes should always be done with a pH-neutral shampoo or gentle-wash soap that’s optimized for applying over nano-coating. Many manufacturers make a companion wash ideally formulated to complement the coating.

Use two buckets when washing, one for your shampoo/soap solution and one filled with water and lined with a grit guard so you can regularly wash off debris from your wash pad. Any debris or dirt that gets dragged along the coating while you’re washing the car could damage it or scratch the paint.

Be gentle. The hydrophobic properties of the coating will help the water bead up, so there’s no need to be too aggressive with the washing pad. If the water isn’t beading up, the coating has deteriorated to the point where another application may be necessary.


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