The Garage Maintenance & Repair

How To Wax a Car

Wax on left, wax off right. Seems simple enough, yeah? Not so fast, grasshopper.

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My neighbors are hilarious. I consider a five-minute conversation with them as part of my Sunday morning routine as it’s inevitable that one of them will yell from across the street any time they spot me cleaning or waxing my cars. This almost always leads to a conversation about how impressed they are that the paint on both of my cars appears flawless, despite their respective 200,000-mile lives. 

When they ask about my secret to their luster, my response is always: Keep up with the wax. This is followed by a brief walk-through on how and why it should be done. Waxing your car is key for many reasons, and taking the time to do it right is just as important as staying on top of your regularly scheduled maintenance. 

I admit that if I didn’t have nearly a decade of experience professionally detailing cars, I’d probably neglect wax too. It can be intimidating for novice car-care enthusiasts.   


Everything You’ll Need To Wax Your Car:

Waxing your car is an easy project that should take two to four hours depending on the size of your vehicle. Also, it can get messy, and you could potentially do more damage to your paint in the waxing process. I know this because I’ve done this. Learn from my mistakes. Here’s what you’ll need to do, know, and avoid to make this process go smoothly.

Safety First
  • Wax is flammable so watch it, yourself, and your car around any flames.
  • It can also cause skin irritation so make sure to wash, rinse, and repeat your hands as needed.
  • Lastly, don’t consume the wax or cleaning chemicals. Some of them can smell good—delicious even—but it’s a bad idea.
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Tools and Parts

Organizing the necessities here is crucial for saving time and going through the process properly. Put your microfibers in a bag or clean container separate from everything else and never allow them to touch the ground. If they happen to fall or touch a dirty surface, get a new one. Microfibers are able to pick up dust and debris that you can’t always see. You especially don’t want this to touch a car that you just stripped of all its protectants. 

Wax on, wax off. , Depositphotos

How To Wax a Car, Step by Step

1. Clean and dry your car

This article assumes you’ve followed our guides on how to wash your car properly, and how to clay bar a car. Maybe even polish, if needed. You’ve followed those, right? If not, go check those out and come right back. Don’t forget to dry your car properly, too.

2. Mask places you don’t want to wax

Using automotive tape, mask off any areas that you want to avoid applying wax such as window frames, headlights, taillights, badges, and other pieces of trim.

3. Heat up your wax (optional)

Do this if you have a harder compound. This can be accomplished by simply leaving it in the sun while you prepare.

4. Apply some wax to your applicator pad

How much you add is at your discretion. Adding too little will cause you to repeat the process more often. Adding too much can make removing it very time-consuming.

5. Wax on

Take the pad and go against the body lines in up and down strokes. Once finished, do a follow-up pass going with the body lines. Left and right strokes. Avoid circular motions. Work one panel at a time. 

6. Wax off

Remove the wax with your towel. Go back to the panel you started with. Begin the removal process. Start going against the body lines, then flip your towel and do a follow-up pass following the body lines. 

7. Check your work

Get low. Stand up high. Get close. Check from different angles to make sure you didn’t miss anything. If you own a white car, you’ll want to do this twice. Or even three times. 

8. Double-check your work

Take the instant detailer (or a spray bottle filled with water) that we talked about and hold it parallel about 10 inches above the hood of your car. Spray it a few times. Don’t soak the hood. Now, take a closer look at the paint. Can you see streaks of wax that you couldn’t before? If so, that means you’ve still got some work to do. Repeat this process until the car is free of wax.

Once you’re happy with the results, then congratulations! You’re done!


Waxing your car is an art form. It’s personal. And it’s likely helpful to see it done for real, so here’s a video showing what the process should look like from Chemical Guys, makers of some of the best, most ubiquitous car detailing products out there.

Car Wax FAQs

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. 

Q: How long does a car wax last? 

A: It all depends on the variables. How well you treated the paint and how well you took care of it after will determine the life of the wax layer on your vehicle. Washing the car with harsh chemicals can strip a wax fairly quickly. So, pay attention to how you treat your ride after the wax. Lastly, factors such as environment and the car’s storage location also play a big role. This ties into the next question.

Q: How often should I wax my car? 

A: Generally, once you’ve determined that the wax you’ve applied has reached its end, you should look into adding more as soon as possible. You can’t over-wax a car, but consistently waxing increases the chances of streaks and swirls in your paint. If you own a red car, consider waxing more often. Red paint tends to fade quicker than others. A shame, really. 

Q: Why can’t I use a buffer machine? 

A: You can. It’s a matter of preference. In my seven years of detailing, I’ve always preferred to apply a wax by hand. Although time-consuming, It’s much more satisfying in the end. That’s why we do this, right? Plus, I can be a bit more careful to avoid delicate areas that don’t need wax. It’s all about the magic touch.

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Q: Does wax attract dust? 

A: Yes, and this is especially apparent on cars with darker paint. Cars with fresh wax have a buildup of static electricity. However, once you’ve washed and dried the car for the first time after a wax, this issue goes away. The type of wax and the amount you applied also determine how dusty the paint will get. Small price to pay for having that special shine.

Q: How long do I have to wait to wash my car after waxing? 

A: The next day is fine, but there’s really no rush. If it’s a bit dusty, consider using some instant detailer in the meantime. Wash it when it really needs it. 

Q: Does temperature affect the wax or the process? 

A: Yes. Avoid waxing in hot or cold temperatures. Avoid bright sunlight as well. You want to wax in comfortable temperatures where your paint isn’t too hot or cold. These conditions will make your job much harder and can also ruin the finish of the wax. Find some shade to park under on a nice day and have yourself some automotive therapy.