Meguairs Liquid Ceramic Wax with Microfibre Towel

9 Common Mistakes People Make When Waxing Cars

We all dream of a gleaming shine on our cars. The weekend is coming and I want my car to look good. No, I want it to look amazing.  You don’t need to be a professional detailer to get great results when waxing your car.  

Many people don’t get the results they hoped for when they wax and detail their cars. It’s even possible to make your car look even worse than in it before you started.

Waxing can give fantastic results if you know what you’re doing. Once you understand these common mistakes you will better results than most people

You Didn’t Wash Your Car Properly First

Waxing a dirty or dusty car will scratch it.  So washing and drying it is super important. Use the two-bucket method and some good quality car shampoo.

Maybe you washed your car last week and it still looks pretty clean.  But even dust will cause scratches.  Grinding dust into your paint is a big mistake that will cause scratches.

And a quick wash will help but the cleaner you can get it the better. Some dirt doesn’t come off with just a quick wash.

Some car shampoos are specially made to get a deeper clean. They help remove more grease and dirt. They also help remove older car wax.  These shampoos are great for when you want to go that step further.

You may need to use a tar remover spray or an iron remover spray. An iron remover will dissolve tiny iron particles that have bonded to the paint. These particles often come from brakes or from other cars and trucks. Over time they can rust and damage your paint, so it’s worth using an iron remover a few times a year.

A tar remover can dissolve tar spots from your paint. Using a tar remover is better than trying to scrub tar spots off as that would cause scratches. Tar is especially noticeable on white or silver cars but it’s a problem for dark-colored cars too. 

Getting rid of tar before you wax your car will make the paint smoother. Clay bars can get rid of tar spots too but a tar remover will cause fewer scratches.

One of the best tools for getting that deep clean is a clay bar.  If your paint feels rough to the touch after you wash it, you can use a clay bar to remove whatever is stuck to it. But clay bars can scratch and scuff paint of you are not super careful. Use plenty of clay bar lubrication.

Spray wax is much more forgiving because it’s so easy to buff. And it’s often applied on a wet car after washing so you are really just drying your car when you are buffing off.

You Apply Too Much Product

Some waxes go quite hard when you apply them to your paint.  In some cases this can make them very difficult to buff off and you need to apply more pressure than you should.  This excessive pressure can cause your paint to get scuffed or marred.  

Car wax should be very easy to buff off.  The secret isn’t really a secret. Almost all car wax instructions say that a little goes a long way.  A tiny amount can be used to cover an entire panel.  

There is zero advantage to applying a thicker coat of wax because only the part of the product that’s touching your paint actually bonds to it.  Everything you buff off is the carrier which is basically just wasted wax.  

Too much wax can also prevent the wax closest to the paint from evaporating off properly which means it won’t buff off easily.

Most waxes will look hazy once they are bonded to your paint.  Once you wipe your finger along the dried wax and it comes off easily you have applied the right amount and it’s time to buff.

So for best results apply as little wax as possible.

You Apply Wax on Plastic or Rubber Trim

Almost all waxes causes staining on plastic and rubber trim.  Some modern ceramic waxes don’t.  It usually says it on the container.  If it doesn’t say so, then you should assume it will cause staining.  

Some waxes can be wiped off plastic provided you do it before it cures.  An IPA wipe might be needed to fully remove it.  An APC can work too.  IPAs and APCs are the secret weapon of many professional detailers so home or DIY detailers should have them too.

Sometimes it’s the next day before you see the dried wax stains on your car.  To remove them you can use an APC or IPA alcohol wipe.  You can also use a pencil eraser which can be very effective.  You might need to use a plastic trim restorer to cover over the stains.

To prevent staining happening in the first place you have some options.  The obvious one is to use detailers tape to cover the plastic trim.   This is great if you’re using a buffer and there is a risk of wax splatter.  But you don’t need to use a buffer to apply wax.  

So what I prefer to do is just be extra careful when applying a wax that can stain plastic.  Keep wax about half an inch away from plastic and rubber trim.  It’s a lot quicker than applying tape.

Also, if you are using a ceramic spray wax then you don’t usually need to worry about staining.

You Use The Wrong Applicator Pad

When I first attempted waxing my dad’s car when I was a teenager I used an old rag to apply the wax.  In fact I probably made every mistake on this entire list.

A dirty old rag or sponge will scratch your paint and make your car look really bad.

Most paste or liquid waxes should be applied with a clean foam applicator pad or a microfiber applicator sponge.  Using a microfiber towel, even if it’s a good quality clean towel is not ideal either.  A foam applicator pad or sponge will spread out the pressure more evenly over your paint.  

Once you’re done you should wash the applicator.  If you don’t, dried wax will cause scratches the next time you use it.  Its a good idea to soak it in water the minute you are finished using it to prevent it from drying too mich.

If your applicator gets dirty it could be a sign that you have not cleaned your car properly before you waxed it.  Either way, you should stop using it if it’s gets dirty and grab a clean one.  I usually use about 4 applicator pads when waxing my car with a hard paste wax.   A dirty applicator will scratch your paint.

You Apply Too Many Coats

How many coats of wax should you put on your car?  Just one coat of wax is all that’s needed. Waxing your car twice doesn’t help!  It’s a waste of time, money, and product.

I have tested multiple coats of wax on many cars including black cars and I don’t think it’s worth the effort.  There is no noticeable benefit.  It might be worth applying auto glaze before applying wax though as glaze has the effect of filling in fine swirls and scratches.  

The exception is some spray waxes require a base coat for best results.  This seems to improve the protection and water beading effects you get from them.  The initial application of the product is usually applied to a freshly washed and dried car.  

Spray wax is rubbed in with a microfiber applicator and buffed off again. Subsequent coats can then be applied after a wash when the car is still wet.  This is a massive time saver and it’s one of the reasons I love to use spray waxes so much.

You Buff With the Wrong Type of Towel

Don’t use an old rag or an old bathroom towel to buff off wax.  It will damage your clear coat.  A good-quality microfiber towel is the most effective way to buff off wax.

Buffing with the wrong towel can cause swirls and scratches.  Clear coat is delicate and understanding what scratches it is key to keeping a car looking good.

I like to use a number of small microfiber towels to buff off wax.  Once I can see wax build on a towel I will switch to a clean side and then eventually I’ll grab another clean towel.

Towels are then washed and dried for the next time you use them. 

You Use the Wrong Type of Wax

Most car waxes will give good results when applied properly.  But some waxes might be better for new or recently polished cars.  Other products are better for older cars with swirls and faded paint.

Swirls and scratches can be removed by polishing.  But the appearance can be reduced by using a wax that has some scratch removing ability.   Some products such as glazes can fill in scratches.   The effect is temporary but it’s worth the effort for older cars if you really want to make them pop.

For newer or recently detailed cars you can use almost any type of wax.  Protecting your shine is the most important thing.  Don’t add any new scratches if you can help it.  Learn about safe maintenance car washing techniques if you need don’t already know them.

If you have a ceramic coating you may need to use a topper spray wax to keep the coating strong.  Learn more about the different types of car wax here.

You Apply Wax in the Sun

Doing any form of car detailing when your paint feels hot to the touch can make the job much more difficult.

Professional mobile auto detailers will know what the problems are here.  Car shampoo will dry out too quickly and leave streaks on black paint.  Wax will harden and become difficult to buff.  Wax can also run and stain plastic.  

Before you begin waxing your car you should try to park in the shade and give your paint some time to cool down.  It will make a huge difference to the surface temperature of your vehicle, even on a hot day.

Humidity can also have strange, unpredictable effects on car wax.  Some car waxes may take longer to cure or may not cure at all.  Many people will blame the wax for this and return it.  

If you find you have a streaky or blotchy effect on your paint you may need to wipe down your car with a damp microfiber towel and dry it off again.  This fixes the issue in most cases.  A detailer spray might help too.

In the worst case, you may need to wash your car with a strip wash.  But the main point is that it’s not permanent and can easily be fixed.

You need to be much more careful when applying a ceramic coating as they set much harder than any type of wax.  But usually, you can fix any issues here too by following the manufacturer’s instructions as carefully as possible and by working in a shaded area.

You Are Confusing Wax With Polish.

Wax and Polish are not the same.  Polish (and compound) are used for paint correction. This means that they are abrasive products and are designed to polish or smoothen paint.  These products need more work which is why it’s best to use a DA polishing machine or buffer.  But you can get good results by hand too.

Wax is designed to protect paint and boost shine. So there is no need to use a buffer.

Some products contain both wax and polish. They can be applied either by hand or with a machine.  Compound and polish do the same thing.  Compound is just more aggressive than polish.

If your paint is really faded or oxidized it will benefit from paint correction by polishing.  Use a compound by hand before you apply wax to remove oxidation and give your paint a deeper shine. It can have a remarkable effect on clarity, especially in dark-colored cars.

To achieve a perfect mirror like finish on a black car will require paint correction before applying wax or sealant.


I love waxing my car.  And I have made plenty of mistakes over the years.  I see DIY and professional detailers making mistakes to save time.  But once you know the common mistakes and what you shouldn’t do you will get better results.

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