LAST UPDATED: October 22, 2019
Hands-On Review: Testing the Best Car Waxes to Protect Your Paint and Keep Your Car Looking New
Find the best car wax and enjoy making your vehicle shine
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PUBLISHED ON October 22, 2019
Applying car wax is the finishing touch of a car wash or extensive detail. Regular waxing keeps your car looking good and protects your investment. A coat of wax is the first and last line of defense against paint damage that can reduce your car’s value. Learning how to wax a car begins with figuring out which type of wax to use, and that’s where this comprehensive guide comes in.
If you are looking for the best car wax for you and your ride, read on to learn all about some top car waxes and check out our video review for a hands-on test of our car wax contenders.
Meguiar's Ultimate Liquid Wax is a well-balanced blend of value, ease of use, and shine. The synthetic polymer is an excellent choice for first-time users and experts alike.
- Forgiving enough for beginners
- Straightforward application and removal
- Long-lasting shine and protection
- Polymer formula will not stain trim and can be applied in direct sunlight
- Some traditionalists consider modern synthetic polymer wax blends to be sealants rather than true car waxes
- Slightly more expensive than other liquid synthetic polymer waxes
P21S Concours Look is a premium carnauba wax and beeswax blend. The natural formula is a true car wax with no dyes or perfumes to get in the way of a deep shine.
- Goes on as smooth as liquid wax
- Easy to remove, with no white residue
- Will not stain trim parts
- Peerless shine and protection from the hardest natural wax
- Natural carnauba wax requires more frequent application than synthetic liquids
- Expensive by volume compared to synthetic polymer liquid blends
- Paste wax requires more patience
Carfidant Ultimate Liquid wax is a synthetic polymer blend formulated to deliver professional results. The easy-to-use liquid will not leave stains on painted or unpainted rubber trim parts.
- Synthetic polymer blend goes on smooth, dries to a haze in about five minutes, and comes off easy
- Shine and protection rival Carnauba wax blends
- No chemical dyes or perfumes
- Slightly thicker than other liquid waxes
- Promises of up to 12 months of protection might be overly optimistic
- Some users may prefer more pleasantly scented waxes and sealants
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
How We Tested Car Waxes
Choosing the best of the best car waxes is no easy task, so The Drive teamed up with professional detailer Ryan Prantil and put six different types of car waxes to the test. For each wax, we looked at how easily it could be applied and removed. We then checked out the finish for smoothness, durability, water-shedding protection, and that all-important new car shine.
Each of our best car waxes takes a different approach to protection and shine. But whether synthetic polymer, all-natural paste, or hybrid ceramic, all delivered a quality finish. Meguiar's Ultimate Liquid Wax took across-the-board high scores, while the others scored higher in their own way.
Ease of use is as important as the end result; waxes that are difficult to apply and remove do not encourage regular use. Overall, we found the hybrid ceramics more challenging to work with and less forgiving than carnauba or synthetic waxes. You need to pay close attention to application instructions and drying times with hybrid ceramics.
We couldn’t test every car wax on the market, but we have used a few over the years. Traditional favorites like Turtle Wax Hard Shell Finish and Formula 1 (formerly KIT) carnauba paste waxes deliver great results without breaking the bank. Stepping up to the mid-price bracket brings a broader range of choices like Mothers California Gold Pure Brazilian Carnauba in liquid or paste, and Chemical Guys Butter Wet Wax carnauba creme.
And since waxing your car should be an enjoyable experience, consider a car care kit or product line formulated to work together for the best results. Custom packages like Chemical Guys Car Care Kit, Mother’s Ultimate Wax System, Meguiars Complete Car Care Kit, or Turtle Wax Ultimate Car Care Kit have everything you need to get the job done right with a minimum of unwelcome surprises.
Our test brands manufacture a comprehensive line of car care products from windshield cleaners to tire dressings. If you find a brand or product that works for you, visit the Meguiars, Carfidant, Ethos, Formula 1, Chemical Guys, Mothers, or Turtle Wax stores for their full range of car care products that can help keep your ride looking as good as it should. As a bonus, carnauba paste waxes can add shine and protection to everything from countertops to stainless steel.
Benefits of Car Wax
- Protection against scratches. A properly applied coating of car wax will help keep small pieces of debris, dirt, and sand that cause paint scratches off your paint. Wax acts as a shield that deflects these scratch-causing villains, helping your paint stay pristine.
- Makes your car easier to wash. Regular waxing adds a protective layer that helps stop tree sap, smashed bugs, bird feces, and other road grime from sticking to your paint. Wax repels standing water that leaves hard to clean spots behind.
- Shields from damage. Even the smallest of pebbles can cause an imperfection, chip, or ding in your paintwork. Wax itself won’t stop projectiles, but its sealing properties help keep your paint in top condition and fight against damage out on the road.
- Maintains that new-car shine. When you wax your car regularly, you can help protect the paint and keep your vehicle looking new. Unprotected car paint can dry out and lose the properties that make it shine. Dull or oxidized paint is usually the result of neglect.
- Diminishes the appearance of scratches. Although regular waxing will not hide or repair existing deep scratches, it can make shallow scratches appear much less noticeable.
- Increases the resale value. Think of car waxing as regularly scheduled maintenance, like changing your oil or rotating your tires. Investing time in car care now can pay off when it comes time to trade in or resell your well-maintained car.
- Water repellent. Wax is hydrophobic and repels water—the world’s best and most abundant solvent. Environmental conditions that make rainwater acidic or alkali causes even more damage.
Types of Car Wax
Choosing the best car wax for you and your ride begins with understanding the advantages and disadvantages of the different types. There are three basic categories of car waxes on the market: natural or organic Carnauba, synthetic or polymer sealants, and ceramic silicon-dioxide (SiO2) coatings. All of the products are sold as car waxes, even though Carnauba is technically the only wax in the bunch. Add hybrid products and some marketing jargon, and it’s easy to end up in a nano-polymer synthetic ceramic ice-infused state of total confusion.
Carnauba wax is made from carnauba palm tree leaf extract. Dried carnauba wax is as hard as concrete and nearly impossible to dissolve in water. The world’s hardest natural wax is softened with beeswax and organic oils for car wax use. Carnauba wax gives a warm, deep, shine to your vehicle and offers a high level of water-repelling protection.
Carnauba wax was around long before automobiles, and many consider a natural carnauba the only “true” car wax. This traditional favorite requires more frequent application than its modern counterparts and is available in paste, liquid, and spray forms.
As automotive paints advanced from basic lacquers to more sophisticated two-stage base coat clear coat urethane systems, so did car wax ingredients. Synthetic wax is also known as paint sealant in the professional car detailing world, but sold as car wax on the consumer side. Synthetic polymers, silicones, and resins are formulated to deliver shine and protection that can far outlast natural wax.
Synthetic car waxes are generally more forgiving and easier to use than traditional wax and a single application can protect for up to 12 months. The best synthetic waxes match carnauba on shine but can appear cooler, or more synthetic, to the eye. Synthetic car waxes are available in paste, liquid, and spray forms.
Ceramic coating is the latest in car waxes. Professional level liquid ceramic coatings are applied differently than carnauba or synthetic car wax and can last for years. Consumer liquid ceramic coatings can deliver peerless shine and protection. Ceramic coatings work best on perfectly prepared or new paint; it will not correct swirl marks, scratches, or roughness. The application can be difficult with long indoor curing times.
Some ceramic coatings require a second stage to prevent water spots and a booster application every few months. Hybrid ceramic car waxes offer some silicon-dioxide ceramic blended with synthetic car wax in liquids, sprays, and even pastes. Consider your paint condition, application, and long term cost, before choosing a ceramic car wax.
Car wax is available in paste, liquid, and spray forms. The choice comes down to the time you have to spend waxing and your desired shine and protection level. Sprays and liquid waxes can be more convenient than pastes, but quality counts.
A tiny dab of high-quality carnauba paste wax can offer the same level of protection and shine as half a bottle of low-quality synthetic spray wax. Natural waxes generally require more frequent application than synthetics. Hybrid ceramic car waxes bridge the categories in form and ease of use. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each before committing, and choose what works best for you and your paint.
Combination 2-in-1 polishing or cleaner waxes combine two steps into one product but do not provide the same level of protection as a dedicated carnauba, synthetic, or hybrid ceramic car wax. Specialized waxes with dyes or pigments that match specific car colors might offer some value on older cars with single-stage paint, but should not be used on modern vehicles with two-stage base coat clear coat paint.
Most automobiles made in the last 20 years have base coat clear coat paint. Spray on and off waterless wash and wax products are great for quick detailing or on the road cleanups
P21S was founded almost 40 years ago and built its reputation on a line of premium waxes and specialty car care products. P21S founder Steve Gay initially focused on the high-end European car market and later developed P21S products as the best for your car regardless of where it was manufactured. P21S Concours Look Carnauba Wax sits at the top of the carnauba paste wax quality scale.
Founded in 1901, Meguiar’s makes premium performance car care products for every vehicle out there. Currently based in Irvine, Calif., it continues to be a market leader with amateurs and detailing professionals thanks to its high-quality and easy to use products. Top sellers include the Ultra Polishing Wax and the Ultimate Liquid Wax. Check out the Meguiars Store for the comprehensive car care line from clay bars to tire dressing.
Carfidant is a relative newcomer in the crowded car care field. The company was founded by automotive enthusiasts who channeled their collective enthusiasm and decades of industry expertise into a comprehensive car care product lineup. All Carfidant products are made in the USA using the highest quality ingredients with no dyes or perfumes added. Carfidant Ultimate Liquid Wax performed well against all challengers in our video review. Visit the Carfidant Store for the full product lineup.
Car Wax Pricing
- Under $10: At this price point, you’ll find no-nonsense carnauba or synthetic car wax blends that will get the job done without gimmicks. Quality car wax doesn’t mean spending a lot of money, but be wary of big promises from low-priced products. Stick with the classics.
- $10-$30: In the mid-range, you’ll find a greater variety of options from natural carnauba wax to synthetic polymer blends in paste, liquid, and spray forms. Keep an eye on the quantity you're getting here when ordering online.
- $30 and up: The highest quality natural, synthetic, or ceramic car wax doesn’t come cheap, but neither does your car and its showroom shine. Top tier car waxes are generally the highest quality, but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Vehicle: General-use waxes can be applied to nearly any vehicle, but it’s still worth taking your car into account before choosing a wax. Some paint types or colors may benefit from a specialized wax formulated for specific demands. Moreover, paste might be OK for a subcompact but impractical for a large SUV.
- Application: Some waxes are better suited for specific application processes, which will influence what tools and how much time you’ll need. Do you enjoy a long, relaxing hand waxing? If so, paste wax and some time are all you need. Short on time? Consider using liquid wax and a powered buffer to get the job done quickly.
- Desired Finish: There is no one-size-fits-all car wax. Natural carnauba wax gives off a warmer shine but requires frequent applications. The icy shine of synthetic car wax shine looks cooler to the eye and lasts longer than carnauba wax. Still others prefer the warm, comforting glow of carnauba.
- Environmental Factors: Choose a car wax that has the right combination of ingredients and features for where you live and drive. Synthetic polymers can provide protection from the road salt and temperature extremes of a months-long winter season. Dry climates and relentless UV rays present different challenges for your car’s paint.
Meguiar's has been in the car care business for a century, and Ultimate Liquid Wax lives up to its name with a combination of value, ease of use, and results like the paint on this nearly 40-year old motorcycle tank. The liquid car wax is formulated to be easy enough for beginners, and it delivers shine and protection that will satisfy long time car care aficionados.
The liquid wax was easy to apply and remove. A thin coat dried to a haze in five minutes and came off with about five seconds of hand buffing. The synthetic polymer blend can be applied in direct sunlight and won't leave residue behind on non-painted trim pieces. Shine and protection are comparable to traditional carnauba car wax and can hold up longer between applications.
Some car care purists don't consider synthetic polymer blends real car waxes even if the deep shine and durability are superior. Polymer bonding car wax technology might not be on the cutting edge as ceramic formulations enter the market. Still, Meguiar's Ultimate Liquid Wax is a versatile performer and worthy addition to any car care kit.
P21S Concours Look is a premium car wax containing the traditional blend of natural carnauba wax with beeswax as a softening agent. All the Carnauba wax in the entire world is extracted from the leaves of palm trees native to Northern Brazil. P21S selects the highest grade Carnauba wax for its dye and fragrance-free formula.
The only paste wax in our test went on as smooth as the liquid competition and quickly dried to a visible haze that came off as easily. The premium formula delivered an unparalleled shine that left no powdery white residue behind. Water beaded up and quickly rolled off P21S Concours Look.
Carnauba is the only car wax for many automotive purists. Traditional blends like P21S require more frequent application than modern synthetic polymer or hybrid ceramic waxes. The premium car wax demands a premium price, but a small quantity delivered impressive shine and protection and even gave our 38-year old Toyota econobox a concours d’elegance look.
Carfidant Ultimate Liquid wax is a synthetic polymer-based product designed for professional results in an easy to use consumer-friendly package. There are many polymer car waxes on the market, but Carfidant delivered on its promises with shine and protection that rivals premium carnauba paste wax.
The liquid wax was easier to apply and remove compared to its synthetic polymer competition. A small quantity of liquid wax went a long way. After 20 minutes of drying, Carfidant came off with minimal effort and left paint smooth to the touch with a deep shine and superior water-repelling hydrophobic protection.
This liquid wax was on the thick side out of the bottle, but it spread thin with predictable consistency. Shine and protection nearly matched traditional carnauba wax with a synthetic polymer durability advantage. Carfidant claims up to 12 months of protection, but longevity will vary by vehicle condition and operating environment.
Meguiar's Hybrid Ceramic promises cutting-edge ceramic protection in a product that's as easy to use as traditional liquid car waxes. Ceramic coatings offer a durability advantage over synthetic polymer or carnauba car waxes. Silicon dioxide, or silica, acts as a glass-like sealant layer to protect the finish and repel water.
Meguiar's Hybrid Ceramic smelled faintly of blueberries and was simple to apply and remove after just five minutes of drying time. Shine and protection were on par with the synthetic polymer and carnauba competition. Even with its relatively quick drying time, the liquid formula was easy to use and won't leave residue behind on plastic or unpainted trim.
Ethos Pro Ceramic wax promises 3-in-1 performance as a wax, polish, and sealant in one bottle. The liquid blend of proven synthetic polymers and the latest ceramic coating technology was designed to provide shine and protection for up to an entire year from a single application. No water or special tools are required.
The liquid appeared thin at first glance but left a thicker layer of material compared to our other test waxes. After the recommended 20 minutes of drying time, the dried-over haze was challenging to remove and left some streaking that required additional effort. Shine and water repellency took a respectable spot in the middle of the car wax pack.
- Prepare your paint. Thoroughly wash and polish your car before applying wax for the best and most satisfying results. Car wax is always the finishing touch.
- Avoid waxing in direct sunlight. Apply wax in the shade on cool painted surfaces with a dedicated foam applicator or manufacturer's recommendation.
- Start with a thin coat of wax on a small section and allow it to dry to a haze. Multiple thin layers are better than a single thick coat.
- Work in sections. Apply and remove wax on one section of the vehicle at a time. This will help you get a feel for the wax and see the rewarding results as you go.
- Wax regularly. A good waxing routine will make it easier to keep a protective coat on your paint all year round.
What’s the difference between waxing and polishing a car?
Polishing a car can correct swirl marks, remove oxidation, and smooth out the paint surface. A hand or machine polish prepares the paint for its protective wax coating. Washing and polishing the vehicle before applying wax delivers the best results.
How long does wax last?
This depends on the specific product, the environment where you live, and how frequently you drive. In general, natural waxes do not last as long as synthetic polymer blends or ceramic hybrids that can endure for up to six months or longer in ideal conditions.
Is carnauba wax the best wax for a car’s exterior?
Not necessarily. Some prefer natural carnauba wax for its deep, warm shine that intensifies with each additional layer. It has some trade-offs, however; it doesn’t tend to last as long as synthetic waxes.
Can I wax a new car?
Of course. Check with your dealer or manufacturer first, but as long as the new paint is fully cured, you can wax a new car just like any other vehicle. New cars are detailed before delivery, so developing your own car care routine helps keep your new ride looking showroom fresh.
What kind of wax should I use on a white car?
Do not use wax specifically formulated or dyed for use on dark painted vehicles. Choose a wax that’s safe for all paint types. Most car waxes are safe for single- and two-stage base coat and clear coat paint.
How do I know when I should wax a car?
At least twice a year is the general recommendation. Check the wax manufacturer's recommendations and take the vehicle's operating environment into account. Harsh environments demand more frequent applications.