How To Apply a Ceramic Coating

It’s not quite as simple as everyone says, but it’s not that hard either. Here’s how to polish that turd of yours like a pro.

byMay 12, 2020 8:00 AM
How To Apply a Ceramic Coating
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Let’s be real: the only reason you even know what a ceramic coating is has to do with a social media post by some guy you don’t even really know. It’s flashy, it’s cool, it’s the latest craze in car care that everyone, and no one, is talking about. It’s hype, it’s marketing, it’s…are you sure you know?

If you’re like us, your curiosity was piqued by that mysterious, often pricey fluid that comes in a cute little bottle and is apparently not made of plates (we checked). What ceramic coating actually is is “a long-term nanoscopic exterior automotive paint treatment and protectant that is applied in a liquid form and cures to form a hard layer on top of the paint. Essentially, it's the candy shell that protects the paint's delicious chocolate center.”

As for how it’s applied to your car’s somewhat shabby paint, never fear as The Drive’s fabulous house of How-To is here to help.

Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 4 hours to apply, 24 hours to cure

Skill Level: Intermediate

Vehicle System: Exterior

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Safety

Ceramic coatings are cool, but breathing them in is not. Also, you probably want to protect the rest of your body from dirt and chemicals as well. Here’s a rough idea of what you’ll want and why.

  • Gloves to protect your hands, which will be closest to the product
  • Long sleeve shirt, and pants. You got skin elsewhere too, cover it as much as possible
  • A mask or ventilator. You do NOT want to breathe this stuff in, and honestly you should be used to a mask by now.
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Everything You’ll Need

There’s nothing worse than attempting to start a project without everything you need. Make sure you’ve at least got this stuff.

Tool List

Parts List

  • Car soap. Skip the Dawn, you’re an adult
  • Car wash sponge. The mitts are a nice splurge, too
  • Ceramic coating kit of your choice

Surface preparation varies depending on how new/well you’ve taken care of your paint. And this is arguably the most important step, as a ceramic coating on a poor finish will only seal in the imperfections. This is why you usually see articles like “Here’s the 862-step Paint Correction and Ceramic Coating Method” when other people talk about applying a ceramic coating. You simply are going to get the best results if you start with the best foundation. Think about how important foundations are for buildings! I should know, I went to architecture school! Yes, I’m in therapy. 

Anyway, this is why we’re saying that the skill level is a bit more than beginner level. If you don’t know much about car detailing, you’re gonna want to go through some of that first. Go do that if you need to and come back. We promise we’ll wait.

You’re back! Great, we missed you. Now, the end results are pretty much a “you get out what you put in” situation, so you decide how far you wanna take this. Bare minimum, you’ll want to use a surface preparation solution to remove anything that will get in between the paint and the ceramic coating. A product such as Mother’s CMX Surface Prep is great for removing unwanted surface contaminants. If you don’t prep the surface, you might end up sealing in some of the nasty stuff. We’d hate to see you do that! If you wanna go all the way, you’ll want to take a machine polisher to the surface to get it all smooth and glossy.

Once all that is done, and before you get started with the ceramic coating application, make sure you have a well-ventilated workspace. Seriously, don’t breathe in this stuff, it’s not air and it smells bad! A covered, well-ventilated, shaded workspace is ideal. 

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Here’s How to Apply Ceramic Coating

Alright, let’s party.

Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody Everywhere!

  • Wash and dry your car, using the two bucket method.
  • Prep the surface, unless you want ceramic coated dirt and sadness (you do you).
  • Park the car in your covered, well-ventilated, shaded workspace - or else.
  • If the surface of the car is hot, let it cool to between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit so you can apply the coating correctly.

Yay! Ceramic Coating Time! 

Read the instructions that came with your kit, as they can vary. Here’s a general guide

  1. Grab the applicator that came with your kit—admire it gently.
  2. Apply the ceramic coating to the applicator as directed.
  3. Using the coated applicator, apply the product to the vehicle surface. Work in small areas, and apply in straight lines. Forget what you know about paste wax, we have technology now.
  4. Allow the product to sit as directed, usually 30 to 90 seconds.
  5. With a fresh, clean microfiber towel, wipe off the product.
  6. Once you’ve coated everything you want to coat, be sure to let the product cure for 24 hours. You don’t want anything—even water—to get on the car during this time. Plan ahead!
  7. You’re done! When done properly, ceramic coatings can last for years. Go reward yourself for dedicating the time to do this, and relish in the fact that you don’t have to do it again soon. 

FAQs about Ceramic Coatings

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Can you mess up ceramic coating?

A: Yes. God, yes. You won’t mess up the paint, but ceramic coatings are much harder to remove than wax. Take your time with the application process and do it right.

Q: What is ceramic coating made of?

A: Everyone has their proprietary formulation, but the main ingredient is silica dioxide (SiO2).

Q: How long does ceramic coating last?

A: With proper prep, application, and a quality coating formula, a ceramic coating could last 2-5 years.

Q: Can you wax over ceramic coating?

A: Technically yes, but just don’t. The short story is that the ceramic coating itself is much better at repelling water and other contaminants than the wax, which will sit on top of the coating. Just keep the car clean and use a ceramic booster spray product every so often.

Q: Does ceramic coating need maintenance?

A:  Everything needs maintenance! Keeping your car washed will help the coating perform at its best. 

Q: How long until you can wash your car after ceramic coating?

A: The general consensus is that you should wait at least seven days before washing your car or driving in the rain, as the coating will still be curing after the initial 24-hour period.