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FAQ - What's the difference between a wax and a sealant?

2295 Views 5 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  AdamsPolishes
"What is the difference between wax and sealant?"
"Should I use a wax or a sealant on my car?"
"Can I use a wax and a sealant if I want to?"
"Does Adam's have a synthetic or polymer wax?"

This is the next in series of FAQ threads that answer the questions we get asked most on the forums, emails, and over the phone. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A WAX AND A SEALANT?

Its a question you've no doubt seen posted here or on any other number of forums when a newcomer to detailing is feeling out their first purchase or trying to make the best choice for their car. Given that there are so many products and product types on the market its certainly easy for someone to get confused.

Lets start with the basics -

- Both "wax" and "sealant" are designed to do essentially the same thing, that is to serve as a sacrificial barrier between your paint and the elements. Both products provide a microscopic coating on the surface to prevent, or at least slow, the effects of the elements. Secondary to this is their ability to enhance or impart some aesthetic change/enhancement to the paint.

How they go about accomplishing this task and what they're comprised of (ingredients) is where they begin to be different. Its that composition that allows them to have different strengths and weaknesses.

WAX begins its life as part of a particular type of palm tree. Carnauba wax comes in a variety of grades and purities. Its blended with oils, other wax types (like bees wax), and in some cases even some polymers to create car wax. Carnauba in and of itself is a hard crumbly substance - so don't believe the hype of any product claiming to be "100% Carnauba" it would be virtually impossible to apply to your car if it were. Without blending carnauba is not car wax.

While blending all these components together can give you virtually an infinite number of varieties and types of car wax there are some limitations. "Wax" in general will be highly susceptible to heat and detergents (relatively speaking) meaning harsh cleaners and hot weather will shorten the amount of time the wax remains intact on your car. Even the very best waxes will begin to evaporate at extreme temperatures making the summer months in climates like AZ or NV ideal for killing your wax job prematurely.

On the positive side waxes (on average) will offer aesthetic enhancement including added depth, gloss, and even filling properties that help hide some imperfections. The 'rich' or 'deep' look on a black paint job will most often be enhanced the most by a high quality carnauba wax.

These properties make wax the ideal solution for a car that is garaged, doesn't see an excessive amount of mileage, or is a show car.

on the other hand are synthetic. A man made concoction of chemical engineering designed to do any number of things. Because these products are essentially 'born in a test tube' they can be modified, customized, and blended to meet any number of criteria and perform in different ways.

Sealants (on average) are going to offer you more durability than a comparable wax product. They offer much higher heat resistance, detergent resistance, and longer lasting protection. This makes them ideal for use on your daily driver, a vehicle kept outside full time, or a vehicle you are more concerned with protecting with minimal maintenance.

The trade off is that sealants tend to offer far less aesthetic benefit. That's not to say that they will make your car 'shine less' but you won't see that deep-wet look you more commonly associate with a high quality wax product. Sealants are more often going to provide a very bright, reflective type of shine. This makes them great for colors like white and silver.

THE RIGHT PRODUCT FOR YOUR VEHICLE - While there is no easy answer for this question its easy to use some basic criteria to weight pros vs. cons and pick a product that best suits your needs.

A vehicle that's daily driven, not garaged, or exposed to harsh weather will be the perfect candidate for sealant. The longer lasting protection at minimal sacrifice to "looks" makes it the way to go.

A vehicle that's more pampered, garaged, shown regularly, or lives in a mild climate would benefit most from a wax product. The protection will be sufficient with even the most basic of waxes, but the added depth if thats the goal is still there.

LAYERING PRODUCTS - Maybe you want the best of both worlds or you just enjoy rubbing on your car. A layered approach might be for you. Many customers and enthusiasts will chose to use BOTH a wax and a sealant to care for their paint and its certainly a great option.

Like building a house you always want to start with a strong foundation, thus Adam's recommends our products be applied SEALANT FIRST / WAX SECOND. The less durable layer (wax) on top can then provide a layer of protection and in the event its removed by the elements your sealant is still there to play backup.

OPINIONS ARE LIKE.... WELL, YA KNOW - You'll no doubt read a crazy amount of reviews and feedback from various sources if you start to research products for your car. While it can be helpful understand that every situation is different and what works for one guy might not work for you. Every car sees a slightly different 'life'... how its washed, how often its washed, where its kept, what kind of mileage it sees, the climate, other products used to wipe it down, etc - these are all components that can determine how long a wax or a sealant will last. Never take anyone's feedback or a products claims as a hard/fast rule that will apply to you. Longevity can be better or worse depending on what your particular situation is.

There are certainly those out there who will try to claim that there is no difference, or that 100% of a cars finished appearance comes from polishing alone. Consider the source when making decisions, and while the aesthetic differences from one wax to another or wax versus sealant might be subtle, they are there. Choose a product that strikes a balance for your needs for enhancement and protection.

CURRENT OFFERINGS FROM ADAM'S (updated January 2014)

  • Buttery Wax - Blend product that features both wax and synthetic components. Extremely easy to use, limited durability. Excellent for people who wax frequently and want a product that's cost effective, yet performs very well.
  • Americana Paste Wax - Premium wax blend that offers excellent durability (for a wax) as well as great enhancement to the look of paint. A great compromise that offers high marks for longevity and beauty.
  • Patriot Wax (Limited Edition) - Maximizes enhancement and provides fair protection, this product is designed for 'show' more than anything else. Produces the richest, deepest shine. Patriot Wax is an experience just as much as it is a wax product.
  • Quick Sealant - Aerosol product that is super fast and easy to apply. Offers excellent durability, but very little if any enhancement to the look of paint. Great for someone looking for protection for all surfaces as it is very easy to apply to wheels as well.
  • Liquid Paint Sealant - Our latest synthetic formulation, offers the longest lasting protection of any of our products and excellent aesthetic enhancement (for a sealant). Very easy to apply.
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Thanks for this very informative post, not a lot of us know this stuff or don't know it as well as outlined here.
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