car waxing supplies

How To Wax Your Car By Hand Or With A Buffer

Car maintenance is about more than just changing your oil. While taking care of the guts is important, the outside of your car needs love too. A coat of wax is one way to keep your car looking shiny and new.

Not only does a wax coat help the look of your car, it can also protect against chipped paint, swirl marks, and UV damage.

The vast majority of people have never waxed their car, and probably never will. But if you want to be the exception and help protect your car, here is our guide on how to do it properly and get the most out of your wax coat.


1. Clean Your Car

washing alfa romeo stelvio

If your car has any dirt, mud, or even just a visible layer of dust, all that can be trapped underneath a wax coat. It can also scratch the protective clear coat of your car’s paint job when you apply the wax.

Related: How To Buff Out Scratches On Your Car

Take your car to a car wash or clean it by hand before you start waxing. Easy-to-miss spots include handles, the nooks and crannies of door jambs, and the very bottom edge of your car. After cleaning, wait for your car to dry completely before waxing, as water can ruin a wax job.

2. Check the Wax’s Instructions

Different types of wax are available, as well as any number of brands. The package will include instructions on how to get the most out of the wax you have purchased. Follow these carefully to make sure you are applying the wax correctly.

Related: 5 Longest Lasting Car Waxes on the Market

How To Wax Your Car By Hand

polishing and waxing alfa romeo stelvio

1. Dab Some Wax Onto the Pad

Many car waxes come in a tub, and just beneath the lid will be a pad for applying the wax. Take the pad out and you should see a second lid, which covers the wax itself. If your wax does not come with a pad, you can purchase one separately, or use a cotton cloth instead.

The two main types of car wax are liquid paint sealant and wax paste. No matter which one you are using, only apply a small amount to the waxing pad. When you start waxing, the spongy pad will start to absorb some of the wax. This means you do not need to apply too much wax to start out because the pad will soak up more wax and become saturated.

2. Plan Out How You Will Apply the Wax

You want to avoid dried-out wax, so you need to work quickly and efficiently. If it does dry out, do not worry. Dried-out wax will not damage your car when removed, but it will take a lot more elbow grease and will be time-consuming. Divide your car into manageable sections, so that you can take them one at a time. After applying the wax, you need to remove it before it dries-out, so section of the car into chunks about a yard wide.

You might like to start with the front of your car, working around the front fender and up onto the hood. This is a reasonable size to cover at once, and from there you can move around your car, waxing each section until the whole vehicle is waxed.

3. Gently Rub the Wax Onto Your Car

Use small, circular motions to rub the wax onto your car. You should see a light layer of wax where you rubbed the waxing pad. Continue applying wax to the entire section you are working on, moving in horizontal or vertical lines that overlap slightly to ensure the entire surface is waxed.

You should avoid applying too much wax at once. This will prevent wasted wax as well as make it easier to remove the wax later. If you can still see the car’s paint color through the wax, that is the correct thinness you should aim for.

After you have applied the wax, it will start drying quite quickly. Within a few minutes, it will lose its sheen and feel firm to the touch.

4. Buff the Wax Off

Take a soft cloth or dedicated buffing cloth and begin removing the wax. You need to apply light pressure to rub off the wax, but not enough to undo all your hard work. Use circular motions to remove most of the wax. You want to get buff out any visible spots of wax.

Once you have removed all the visible wax, crank your speed up. Use fast motions to really polish your car and give it a nice glossy sheen. This will remove the last of the wax and leave your car looking factory-fresh.

Learn how to prepare and wax your car by hand.

How to Wax Your Car With A Buffer / Orbital Polisher

car polishing with rotary buffer

If you want to save your energy for driving instead of waxing your car, you might appreciate a mechanical buffer. These are electric buffing pads that can speed up the time it takes to apply the wax.

Related: 6 Best Dual Action / Orbital Polishers (Corded and Cordless)

Since the buffers use flat pads, they work best on vehicles with wide panels. If your car has lots of ridges and sharp corners, using a buffer can get tricky. Waxing by hand might work better for you.

1. Apply the Wax

Pop the waxing pad onto the buffer and apply a small amount of liquid wax onto the pad. Make a thin circle of wax, then add a bigger dollop in the center.

Before turning on the buffer, use it as like a massive waxing pad to apply a little bit of wax by hand. Lightly rub the wax onto the car in the area you will be waxing. This will spread the wax around on the buffer pad and get it ready for the real work.

2. Buff the Surface

Switch on the buffer. You will see it moves in a circular motion on its own, so you just have to apply a little pressure and move it in straight lines. Begin waxing the section of the car you are working on. Go back over that section two or three times to ensure an even coating of wax.

Be careful not to use too much pressure. The aim is still to leave a very thin layer of wax. Once the wax has dried, polish it off using a soft polishing cloth.

Learn how to wax your car with an orbital polisher.

Tips for Waxing Your Car

  • Wax your car in your garage or in the shade. Applying wax in a sunny area will dry the wax more quickly and make it difficult to buff off.
  • Work on a section of your car at a time. This ensures the wax will not dry-out before you have time to buff it off.
  • If you want more shine, a thicker wax layer is not the way to go. Instead, you can apply a second coat of wax after the first one is complete. Check the instructions on your wax to see how long you need to wait between coats.
  • Microfiber cloths are the best choice for buffing wax since they do not leave any lint behind. Additionally, use a fresh cloth is possible, or make sure the cloth does not have old wax caked on.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I wax my car?

The quick answer is: it depends. Twice a year is a good starting point for any car. Many people wax their cars a few times a year, at the start of each season. Others still might wax their car every few weeks, as soon as the last coat has worn off.

If your car is kept in a controlled environment, such as a garage where you can control the temperature and humidity, you can get away with less frequent waxing. For those who park their cars on the street or in the driveway, waxing will protect your car from rough weather and direct sunlight, so a regular waxing is more important to keep it safe.

You can check when your wax job has worn off by spritzing your car with water. On a waxed car, the water beads up and rolls off. If the water does not bead up, then the wax has naturally worn off, leaving your paint job’s clear coat unprotected. Wax will wear off with time, so check it regularly to see if it needs topping up.

How do I get the wax off plastic trim and rubber?

Wax is meant to protect from water, so scrubbing wax with soapy water will not remove it. Poke around your home for an all-purpose cleaner instead.

Dab a bit of cleaner onto the affected area and leave it to eat away at the wax. After a few hours, come back and gently scrub the cleaner off with a soft brush or an old toothbrush. There are also detailing brushes available to purchase for just this sort of work.

After the cleaner has removed all the wax and you have scrubbed off the cleaner, rinse the area with some water and let it dry. You will be able to see if the cleaner has done its job. If there is still wax, you may need to repeat the cleaning process a few more times.

Henrik Soke

Henrik has over 20 years of experience in various IT fields. Durability Matters is his passion project born out of his love for minimalism and high-quality products that last. He's an avid hiker, mountain biker, and outdoor enthusiast.

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