This is How to Wax Your Car (By Hand or Buffer)

Black car polish

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Do you want to know how to get near-perfect results from your car wax?  You’ve come to the right place because it’s super important to learn the right way to wax your car.

For me, waxing my car is one of the joys of life.  I love to spend a Saturday afternoon getting the perfect dripping wet shine.  It’s my favourite thing to do.

My research is based on information from professional car detailers as well as detailing enthusiasts.  Plus the experience gained from waxing cars for 30 years.

And who wants to waste time waxing their car if they don’t get great results? These tips and tricks will mean you can get the best shine possible.

Did you know that waxing your car the wrong way can actually scratch it?  But once you understand what can go wrong, you’ll be blown away with the results you can achieve.

By the way, it doesn’t matter if you wax your car by hand or with a machine – I have tested using both many times.  You can get great results with either.

The main reason we wax our cars is to make them look good.  But there are other great reasons too such as UV protection.  Read my post on the benefits of waxing your car if you would like to know more.

If you already have picked a wax then jump ahead to step 2.  But if you haven’t I have some tips that might help you decide.

Liquid wax is probably the best type of wax in my experience.  They deliver the same sort of results you get from a paste wax but it’s usually easier to apply.  The shine and protection can last a long time.

Paste wax is the classic form of wax.  Sometimes it’s called hard wax.  It takes longer to apply and a little more elbow grease.  A downside of this kind of wax is that it can get dirty because you are continuously dipping your applicator pad into the jar.  This dirt can scratch your car.  Liquid waxes don’t have this problem.

Spray waxes usually have some ceramic or graphene content that helps them last.  However, the shine some of them leave behind can disappear after just a few washes.  But they are so quick and easy to apply so they’re probably the most popular type of wax right now.

Car wax will restore shine and gloss but it doesn’t hide scratches very well.  If your car hasn’t been detailed for a while or has been subjected to improper washing methods you can get better shine by applying a glaze before you apply your wax.  Glaze fills in temporarily fills in scratches.

Check out this list of the best car waxes on the market right now.

Step 2 : Wash your car

Your car needs to be as clean as possible before you wax it.  This is because wax needs to be massaged into your paint. And any dirt or grit on there will get massaged in too which will result in scratches.

The best way to wash your car before you wax it is to use a safe scratch-free method like the two bucket method. A pressure washer will help too. They can remove most of the dirt that can cause scratches without you needing to lay a finger on your paint.

Especially if you use a foam cannon with your pressure washer to do a pre-rinse as I do.

Use can use any car shampoo but if you want to remove older wax and get a deeper clean you can use a stronger shampoo or you can use an All-Purpose Cleaner diluted to the correct ratio.

Step 3 : Dry your car

Most waxes require your car to be dry. There are some exceptions to this. Some spray waxes can be sprayed onto your car while it’s still wet and rinsed off. 

I use a spray and rinse wax almost every time I wash my car due to their convenience.  I simply spray some wax on each panel and rinse it off.  It’s super easy and super fast.  They can add tons of gloss and excellent water beading.  

But for regular liquid or paste car wax you’ll need to dry your car first.  Use a proper soft microfibre drying towel.  A good quality drying towel will greatly reduce scratches and help preserve your shine.  Some people like to use an old bathroom towel but this won’t protect your car from scratches in the same way.

Letting your car dry naturally could cause water spots which is something we want to avoid as much as possible – especially in dark-colored cars.

Step 4 : Decontaminate your paint (optional)

This step is not needed in many cases. But if your paint looks dull or cloudy after you wash it could benefit from some extra work.

Apply iron remover or tar remover to help dissolve some dirt that would prevent your wax from bonding.

An Iron Remover will dissolve tiny iron particles that have bonded to your paint.  Tar remover will do the same for tar spots.

A clay bar can be used to remove bonded contamination. So if your paint feels rough to the touch it will benefit from using a clay bar. You don’t need to be a pro detailer to use a clay bar. Read my clay bar FAQ here. It is easier than you think but you could cause scratches if you do it the wrong way.

Instead of a clay bar, you can use a clay mitt.  These can scratch paint too so use plenty of clay lubricant or a quick detail spray.  But you can get around your car in no time.  A light clay mitt is perfect for use before waxing.

Step 5 : Polish (optional)

Apply polish or compound to remove swirls or haziness from your paint. You can get really great results doing this by hand. This requires a lot more elbow grease because you are correcting the outer surface of the clear coat with this step. 

A Dual Action Polishing Machine could be worth the investment if you really want to get the best polishing and paint correction results.  

By far the best way to get the best possible results is if you compound and polish out scratches and swirl marks on your car before you wax it.  Paint correction with a DA polisher is a lot of fun but it’s a much larger job compared to just waxing. 

If your curious about how this is done, please read my beginners guide to polishing a car here.   

A Pre-Wax Glaze is another product that you can use before you wax your car.  It fills in light scratches and can make a big difference on dark-colored cars.  

The results can be stunning, especially on cars that are a few years old and have been neglected. Applying a wax after all of this work is key to protecting it and giving you the levels of gloss we all dream of.

Step 6 : Apply your wax

Most waxes should be applied to a cool surface. So park your car in the shade and let it cool.

I usually use a soft foam applicator pad to apply my wax.  You can also use a microfiber applicator sponge.  If you find your applicator is getting dirty you should grab another clean one.  Any dirt on there will definitely scratch your paint.

You need to work the product into the paint so apply in circular overlapping motions.  This helps to ensure you don’t miss any spots.

Some waxes can stain plastic and rubber trim. If your wax contains carnauba it will almost certainly stain trim but other waxes can too.

Some modern ceramic sealants can safely be applied to plastic.

To protect your trim from staining you can use masking tape.  But it can take a lot of time to tape some cars as they have lots of plastic bumpers and trim.  So usually, I will just try to keep the wax away from plastic to save time.

If you do get some wax stains on your plastic you can try to clean it with an All-Purpose Cleaner. It’s also possible to remove wax stains with a pencil eraser.  A plastic trim restorer can also be used to cover stains.

If you want to use a buffer you should use a soft pad to apply wax or sealant.  You don’t need to have any “cutting” power as wax does not correct paint.  You are only trying to spread the wax out and work in into the paint. 

The softest foam pads are usually colored black or red.  

I don’t usually use a machine to apply wax because it can sometimes spatter the wax onto plastic trim.

Step 7 : Buff to a shine.

Check the label of the wax you have to see how long you should leave it to cure on the paint.  Some waxes need more time than others.  Read the label of what ever wax you bought and follow the instructions as best you can.

There are some waxes that can become difficult to buff off if you leave them too long. But usually, you can just use some detail spray to soften the residue and buff it off.

The towel you use plays an important role too.  Dont use a dirty old rag to buff off your wax.  It will scratch your clear coat.  Use a number of plush buffing towels. This will make the job easier and will give better results.

If you find that the shine looks a little uneven you can use a damp cloth to wipe down the area and buff dry again to make it look even.

There is no need to use a machine buffer to buff the wax off.  But if you have one it will save you some time.  The pad you use needs to be as clean as possible.  So it’s a good idea to use a few of them to buff your whole car to keep scratches to a minimum.

Step 8 : Finishing touches

The paint might look good after a fresh coat of wax but it’s always worth using a tire shine to make the car look perfect.  Just washing tires with an all-purpose cleaner can remove the stains but a tire dressing just adds the detailed touch.  Most tire shine products don’t last very long but they are still worth it

I also love to use a trim restorer or trim dressing on plastic bumpers to make them pop.  This will make a huge difference if your plastic trim is really faded and oxidized. Don’t forget that many waxes stain plastic and rubber trim.

Step 9 : Now don't wash your wax off.

A maintenance wash should remove dirt from your car but keep your wax. Use a dedicated ph neutral car shampoo and some microfibre wash mitts.

I use a pressure washer and foam cannon but if you don’t have one it’s fine.  Just use the two bucket method and your wax will still last a long time. Washing your car with a sponge or brush will scratch your paint and cause it to become dull over time.

You can top up wax each time you wash your car by using a spray and rinse wax. They usually contain SI02 which is a sealant and can be sprayed all over your car and simply rinsed off. It builds up layers of protection over time.


We all want that perfect shine.  It takes a little work but it’s worth it.  You can do just a good job as a professional detailer once you understand what can go wrong.

Detailing is such an enjoyable experience for most of us.  Learn what the different tools can do and you will be most of the way there.

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