What Is Ceramic Coating, and Why Should You Use It for Car Cleaning?

They don’t teach this in pottery class.

Applying a protective ceramic coating to the surface of a car
Evgeniy Losev

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As cars evolve, so too do the ways we maintain and protect them. At one point in the past, trusty carnauba wax was the go-to car paint finisher for protection and shine. Then it was polymer sealants, and today, the hottest trend is ceramic coating. 

Ceramic coating initially gained popularity as a professional service provided by detailing shops, but they’ve lately become more widely available, more affordable, and easier to use. Depending on how serious you take your car care, some ceramic treatments come in concentrate kits, others come as hybrid waxes, and others are sold as no-work wet sprays. 

All the different product types, as well as the terms companies use to advertise those products can be overwhelming and confusing, but that's why we're here. Follow along as The Drive’s info team untangles the web of auto detailing and answers the question, what is ceramic coating?

What Is Ceramic Coating?

True ceramic coating 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. 

What Is Ceramic Coating Made of?

Ceramic coating is typically composed of silicon dioxide (silica, Si02), which is sourced from natural materials such as quartz and sand. Some types and brands also use titanium dioxide (titania, Ti02) as an additional hardening agent. When applied to a car's paint, the two create a chemical bond with hydrophobic, aka water-repellent, properties.

What Is the Purpose of Ceramic Coating?

Ceramic coating protects a car’s paint from blemishes and damage while keeping it cleaner for longer. After application, it also makes follow-up car washes easier and shields the car from harmful UV rays. Ceramic coating creates intense water beading and dirt run-off and gives a car an extremely glossy shine.

Ceramic coating products

A ceramic coating kit.

When Should I Use Ceramic Coating? 

Ceramic coating should be applied once your car is in tip-top shape after a wash. Be sure not to leave any contaminants, dirt, or oily films on the car, as the ceramic coating will not be able to properly seal.

You should follow our How To Detail a Car guide before using our How To Apply Ceramic Coating guide!

Levels of Ceramic Coating

How much money a person is willing to spend will determine the quality of the product he or she buys. Here’s a breakdown of various types of ceramic coating: 

Professional: Real garages and detail companies have all the right facilities, products, tools, and resources for the job and take the proper time to make sure the vehicle is 100 percent prepared for a ceramic coating. Because of their level of attention to detail, ceramic coating jobs can take days and cost from several hundreds of dollars to a couple thousand. A professional coating will assuredly last longer than any DIY product. 

DIY Home Kit: Typically priced at about $100-300, a DIY ceramic coating kit includes a concentrate, job-specific sponges and applicators, and occasionally pre-cleaners and toppers. This method uses a somewhat similar process to professional jobs and requires reading the directions for specific directions and steps.

DIY Hybrid Spray or Wax: The challenge for companies such as Meguiar’s or Turtle Wax is adapting the highest-level, best-performing technology and putting it in the most mainstream, most accessible, easiest-to-use product possible. That’s what we have with new “hybrid ceramic” products. Hybrid ceramic wax, which costs about $15-30, is applied like a typical wax. Hybrid ceramic spray coating, which costs about $10-20, can be applied while a car is wet, wiped off, and the job is done.

Always use microfiber towels when detailing a car.
Deposit Photos

A shiny car with a smooth surface.

How Do I Apply Ceramic Coating?

  1. Using the ceramic coat kit’s applicator cloth and sponge, wrap the sponge with the cloth, as directed.
  2. Dab the applicator cloth with the ceramic coating compound, as directed.
  3. Working in small areas, apply the compound, switching the cloth every few minutes (so the product doesn’t harden and damage your car’s paint) and dab with more compound.
  4. Once you’re done applying on one section, let sit for 1-5 minutes to set.
  5. As the coating evaporates, the surface will take on a shimmering "oil-slick" effect, aka "flashing." 
  6. Wipe the area with a microfiber towel.
  7. Continue in small areas until the entire car is covered.
  8. Let the product cure for 24 hours in a covered area, without moving the car.

Ceramic Coating Pro Tips

Over the years, The Drive’s editors have met professionals across the industry. For this specific task, we asked Mike Pennington, the Director of Global Training, Event Marketing, and Consumer Relations at Meguiar’s, to give us his top tips for using ceramic coating and detailing products. You’ll want to pay attention. 

  • "If you are applying a DIY ceramic coating or hybrid ceramic product, always make sure to follow the directions closely for the best experience, as well as protection and longevity of the product."
  • "While professional ceramic coatings & hybrid ceramic products for the DIYer are the next generation of paint protection, they still do not provide a permanent solution or 100% protection against swirls, stains, scratches, etchings, or water spots. Therefore, proper and frequent maintenance with the right products is still needed to keep the paint looking its best for a longer period of time."
  • "Ceramic coatings & hybrid ceramic products typically do not provide any true surface restoration and/or correction. They are simply an advanced layer of protection, so when needed, surface prep is a must before applying any type of ceramic coating or hybrid ceramic product. This means inspecting the surface closely with your eyes and hands after washing and drying, and if needed, removing any and all defects (swirls, scratches, stains) using a compound and bonded contaminants (fallout, overspray, tree sap mist) using a clay system."
  • "The best way to maintain and boost the look and protective qualities of a ceramic coating/hybrid ceramic wax product would be with the right automotive wash, a ceramic-based spray wax, and a mist-and-wipe spray detailer."
  • "While Si02/ceramic is the next level of technology, it is still vital to use premium microfiber accessories when washing, drying, and maintaining vehicles in order to minimize any chance of swirls or scratches."

Featured Detailing Products

Color N Drive Car Ceramic Coating Kit

Meguiar's G19220 Ultimate Polish

Mothers CMX Ceramic Spray Coating

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com