How to Safely Wax Your Car

Electric buffer

Photo by Adam Wright, 2009

Wax may make your car's paint shine, but there's a side benefit to all of the work: protection. A well cared for finish will repel chemicals, dirt, debris, rocks, wind, and the beating heat of the sun. All of those things can make your expensive paint job look like a stick of chalk over time.

Before you dive in with your high-powered electric buffer, let's give you some tips to be sure you don't do damage to your paint while you're trying to help it out.

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Preparing to Wax Your Car

Wash and dry before you wax
Photo by Adam Wright, 2009

Find a shady location to wax your car. The hot sun can cause the wax to react strangely and can even damage your finish. Before you open that container of wax, you need to be sure your car is very clean. Not just a quick rinse with the hose; we all know that doesn't remove all of the funk and grit. Your paint surfaces need to be smooth and clean. One grain of sand in the wrong place can put tiny grooves into your paint job - hardly the point of a wax job.

Thoroughly washand dry your car to be sure you get the most out of your waxing session.

Never wax your car or truck in the hot sun! This can cause serious damage to your paint!

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Applying the Wax

Applying the auto wax.
Photo by Adam Wright, 2009

There are lots of gadgets out there for applying wax to your vehicle, and most of them are fine. All you need to do is get wax onto the paint. If you're using liquid wax, apply the wax to a buffer or applicator pad - never squirt liquid wax directly onto your paint! You can also effective skip this step if you are using an orbital buffer or a buffing system like the Mothers system we used in this demo.

It's a good idea to wax your vehicle in sections so that you don't risk it drying out too much or streaking. Divide the car into 5 or 6 sections at a time.

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Adding the Elbow Grease

Recently waxed car
Photo by Adam Wright, 2009

Now comes the fun part. If you are using an electric buffer of some sort, all you need to do is relax and let the buffer do the work for you. The condition of your paint will tell you how much buffing you need to do. If your paint has zero shine, you'll need to spend a little time on the buffing step. The longer you let the machine polish the more shine you'll get. Don't let the buffer sit in one spot ever! Move it in circles, lines, whatever you need to do to keep it moving and cover the ground you need to cover. You can actually "burn" your paint finish with overzealous spot buffing.

If you're waxing by hand using a hand applicator or a clean, soft rag, you'll need to polish your car in a circular motion, again being sure to keep moving across the body. You can't really burn your paint waxing by hand, so if you are worried or inexperienced it might be worth it to skip the electric buffers altogether.

When you've given the entire car a good wax, switch to your system's buffing pad, or if you're buffing by hand just grab a fresh clean, soft cloth. Now you can really get into it. The more you polish the shinier things get. Turn the cloth often to avoid buildup. Buff in a circular motion until you feel like you're getting as much shine as possible.

If your paint was in bad shape, you can repeat the entire process as many times as you like!