How to Wax a Car: Step-by-Step Hand Waxing Process

If you already know how to wash a car and keep it free of grime, the next step is learning how to wax a car to keep it free of damage, too.

Car waxing, which is recommended every four months, should be a permanent part of your car maintenance schedule. Not only can this process give your car a showroom-quality shine, but it also gives your vehicle a protective barrier that guards it from scratches, water spots, and discoloration caused by UV rays.

When you may be facing the elements for hours each time you drive for a rideshare app, waxing your car is a critical part of keeping your car’s surface healthy and eligible for Uber or Lyft. Keep reading to learn about the car wax products you have to choose from and get our step-by-step process for how to wax a car.

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Types of Car Wax

Closeup of headlights on green car

Prior to beginning your car waxing process, you should first consider the types of automotive waxes that you have available to you. When looking purely at ingredients, you’ll most likely encounter three different kinds of waxes:

  • Natural waxes: Typically made of pure carnauba wax, the most effective natural ingredient, this type of wax gives an incredible shine, though its may not last as long.
  • Synthetic waxes: Also known as paint sealants, synthetic wax products usually offer better protection, but with less shine.
  • Hybrid waxes: These waxes are a blend of carnauba wax and synthetic wax. We recommend hybrid waxes because they provide a high-gloss look, while offering longer lasting protection than fully natural products.

When looking at how car wax is sold, there are three major product categories that you can choose from:

  • Spray waxes: These are waxes that can be easily applied and buffed out in a matter of seconds. While convenient, they’re not as effective and usually don’t last more than a couple weeks.
  • Paste waxes: Usually stored in a small tub, these waxes are usually effective until you’re due for your next car wax job. They also provide the best shine and work extremely well during a hand waxing process.
  • Liquid waxes: This is the most popular type of wax because it’s easier to apply and buff out than paste wax, but lasts far longer than spray waxes. They’re also the best car wax to use if you’re planning on machine waxing your car.

How to Wax a Car

Now that you know the types of car wax you have to choose from, we’ll guide you through how to wax a car by hand. Our process will include steps that you should take before and after your wax application for the best results. Though you should always refer to the instructions on your selected wax product’s label for specific steps for application, this process will work for most liquid, paste, and spray waxes.

If you own an orbital buffer and wish to machine wax your car, much of the following process will still apply. However, you will need to purchase a liquid wax for the best results.

Required Materials

Car waxing microfiber cloths

Before we begin, gather the following materials:

  • Car polish: Polishers, which you can find at your local auto parts store, help remove minor damages and stubborn debris.
  • Microfiber towels: Your standard microfiber towels will work perfectly.
  • Car wax: We recommend liquid or paste wax for the best results.
  • Microfiber applicator pads: You’ll only need microfiber applicator pads for liquid and paste waxes.
  • Microfiber buffing towels: Look for thicker products like this towel that can specifically be used for buffing (one or two towels will do for most cars). These buffing towels are different than the standard microfiber towels you’ve already gathered.

Step-by-Step Process

Once you have the above products with you, follow these steps to achieve a protective shine:

  1. Wash your vehicle to remove dirt, grime, bird droppings, and other abrasive materials from your car’s surface. You can quickly run through an automatic car wash or opt for a more effective clean by hand washing your vehicle. Here’s our fail-proof DIY car washing process.
  2. Wait for your vehicle to fully dry and make sure it’s parked in a shaded area, away from direct sunlight.
  3. Apply your car polish to a clean microfiber towel. Then, focusing on any damaged areas of your car’s surface, lightly rub the polisher on your car’s surface. This will correct small imperfections in your vehicle’s paint and remove bits of stubborn dirt.
  4. Within a minute or two of each application, use another clean microfiber cloth to remove the polish residue.
  5. Using as many microfiber towels as needed, apply your polisher to your entire vehicle. Always work in small areas at a time so you can remove the residue with a clean cloth while the polish is still wet.
  6. Double check that your vehicle is completely dry, letting it sit for a bit if needed.
  7. If using a spray wax, spray directly on small areas of your vehicle at once and immediately use your buffing towel to wipe it off. Repeat this step until your entire vehicle is waxed, getting a new, clean towel as needed.
  8. If using a liquid or paste wax, apply a small amount of wax (as directed by your product label) directly on your applicator pad. Then, apply a thin layer of wax to a small part of your car. We recommend applying in straight lines instead of circular motions to avoid swirl marks.
  9. If using a liquid or paste wax, continue on to let the wax dry until it’s starting to look matte, or until it no longer smears when touched. Your product label may provide an exact waiting time. Then, using your buffing towel, buff off the wax. This may require a bit of elbow grease. Switch or rotate your towel if it becomes too saturated with wax and is starting to leave streaks. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until your entire car has been waxed.

Most car waxes will take about 12 to 18 hours to fully cure, so you’ll want to avoid getting rain (or any water) on your car’s surface during this time period. After this time frame, some car owners choose to apply and buff out another thin coat of wax for better protection and a longer-lasting shine.

Frequently Asked Questions

Man in driver's seat of red car

Learning how to wax a car can help you keep your car looking brand new without the expense of professional care. To help you learn more about the car waxing process, here are our answers to three common questions:

1. Can I use a two-in-one car shampoo and wax product instead of waxing my car separately?

While these two-in-one products may help you achieve a more attractive finish after you wash your car, waxing your car by hand is still recommended four times each year. This is to ensure your car has a significant layer of wax protecting it, instead of a thin layer that remains after the auto shampoo is washed off.

2. Is spray-on wax from an automatic car wash effective?

While spray-on wax is a popular add-on at automatic car washes, it’s not actually as effective as it’s marketed out to be. The protection that this wax provides has an extremely short life span, much like store-bought spray waxes. More often than not, car wash wax simply provides a temporary glossy finish.

Automatic wax also isn’t applied with the same attention to detail that you can provide, which means wax residue may be left on your windows and some parts of your vehicle won’t be evenly coated.

3. How much does professional car waxing cost?

A standard hand waxing service costs between $40 and $90 per service and usually includes a hand wash before the wax application. For reference, many high-quality car waxes can be purchased for $10 or less.

Protect Your Car’s Surface

Keeping up with car waxing as a part of your car care routine will ensure that your car’s paint is fully protected every time you get on the road. By following our steps, you’ll get the perfect shine that doubles as your car’s guard from natural, potentially damaging elements. Once you’ve completed the simple process once or twice, you’ll know exactly how to wax a car — no directions needed.

If you’re ready to invest in extra protection for your vehicle’s exterior and avoid the cost of touch-ups, get our recommendations for the best car covers to protect you from dust, rain, and even hail.