Car Wax Types Explained

Synthetic, natural, liquid, solid ... different car wax types have different pros and cons.
Griot's garage products next to buffer
Kevin Williams

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I’ll never forget when I was seven years old and my mom told me to wash and wax her Ford Econoline. Equipped with a step ladder, a 13-year-old brother, and the green canister of wax my mom picked up the Acme Supermarket, we got to work shining up the kelly green van. 

We did a horrible job, it took forever, and it set the tone for how I viewed the task. For a long time, I just kind of assumed waxing was a stupid hard-to-do job that involved endless scrubbing and buffing with some smelly gunk you’d get from the grocery store. Only when I got older did I learn that waxing isn’t a chore, it’s a way to care and show appreciation for your car. There are quite a few wax types to choose from, too, ones that were way better suited for the job than whatever the heck my mom got from the grocery store. That’s what we’re here to discuss.

Types of Wax

Solid carnauba wax. Adobe

Before we hop into the wax types, we should go over what waxing is. Waxing is the final step in a car wash routine. After washing, decontaminating, and polishing, wax is a shiny layer applied last that protects the paint and eases future washes. That final protection step can come in various forms that we detail below.

Synthetic Wax

The properties that make up a synthetic wax formula were created in a lab. Synthetic wax is made up of man-made materials, polymers like polydimethylsiloxane, and other silicones, usually a proprietary cocktail meant to at its core, imitate natural wax. It can come in many forms, like sprays, pastes, or liquids. 

Yet, all that wax development lab time wasn’t for naught, as synthetic wax is often developed to bond with the vehicle’s finish on some level. The shine may not be as brilliant as a natural wax product, but it will last longer. For folks who don’t have the time to reapply wax all the time, and still want their car to look good this side of a ceramic coating, synthetic wax is the way to go. Because I don’t have the time to wax my car every weekend, I opted for synthetic wax when I washed and buffed my Fiat 500 Abarth.

Natural Wax

Natural wax comes from natural sources. For example, carnauba wax comes from the carnauba palm tree. Beeswax comes from, well, bees. Natural wax typically offers a very bright shine, but doesn’t last as long as synthetic wax. But, for a seldom-driven car, or a car show, natural wax can’t really be beaten.

Cleaner Wax

Cleaner wax combines a polishing compound with the wax to simplify a two-step process down to one. It’s designed to polish and remove fine particles of dirt that regular washing would have missed, as well as apply a layer of protective finish. Cleaner wax is what my mom purchased from the grocery store; it won’t have as long-lasting and brilliant of a shine as natural wax or synthetic wax, but it’s fast and convenient. Typically, cleaner wax is synthetic in design.

Hybrid Wax

Hybrid waxes are generally synthetic waxes, with a dash of ceramic coating goodness. It’s not a replacement for a full paint sealant ceramic coating, but it has elements of that in the chemical makeup. For example, the wax might have silicone dioxide, titanium dioxide, or silicone carbide; all chemicals designed to bond to paint in ways that regular wax just can’t. 

Wash and Wax

Wash and Wax is a common 2-in-1 product, sold by many manufacturers. It’s designed to act as a shampoo, with the ability to wash away dirt, but it will also leave a thin layer of wax when rinsed. Do note, that the level of protection often pales in comparison to even the most basic of spray wax products.

Why Do Some Waxes Have Ceramic, Graphene, Teflon, or Other Products?

Remember, wax is not only meant to make a car look good and shiny but it’s also a protectant. Ceramic, Teflon, and graphene are all elements that provide superior protection than just a basic shiny wax. When integrated into the wax formula, and then applied to the vehicle, you’re essentially coating the paint with a thin layer of these chemicals. These chemicals can repel and hold against road grime without degrading, way longer than a normal wax without those products. A slick surface won’t allow dirt to penetrate, and a strong layer means that that protection should last.

Forms of Car Wax

A power tool can elevate wax application considerably. Adobe

OK, so you’ve decided between cleaner wax, synthetic wax, and natural wax. Great, but those last two types come in paste, liquid, and spray forms. All three can be different to apply and use. 

Spray Wax

Spray wax is the easiest to apply of the three. Often the directions are as follows: Thoroughly dry the car, spray in sections to apply the wax, and clean up the excess. There may need to be some wiping for application, but it’s far less intense than the other forms of waxing. It’s easy, quick, and typically does not last very long.

Liquid Wax

Liquid wax is harder to apply than spray wax but offers way more paint protection than a thin spray. It’s easier to apply than paste wax, which takes more effort to apply and buff off. Typically, many synthetic waxes are liquid waxes. One significant difference here is sometimes liquid wax can dry very quickly, meaning the application will need to be in smaller sections. Smaller sections mean more focus and attention, which requires more time and extra effort.

Paste Wax

Paste wax is the quintessential car wax that people know. This is the “wax on, buff off” we think of when applying wax. Paste wax is easy to control, but the application is the most time-consuming. But, because carnauba wax is generally a thick paste, if you choose to go the natural wax route, you’ll probably be roped into the paste wax route. 

Any Wax Is Better Than No Wax

At the end of the day, some wax, is generally better than no wax. Without wax, or any sort of paint protection, a vehicle’s finish is more vulnerable to outside elements. This means, salt, rust, and bird poop can easily malign your car in way worse ways than a vehicle without this protection. Protect your car paint, people. Pick a wax, and do it from time to time.


Kevin Williams Avatar

Kevin Williams


Kevin Williams is a contributor at The Drive. He writes, researches, and produces off-kilter, less-traveled car content, usually about weird or a bit unloved cars from not so long ago. He lives in Columbus, Ohio. Alone. By himself. No spouse. No animals.  (He is allergic to most domestic animals.)