Innovation makes the world as exciting as it does complicated. And the detailing world is no exception. New products and methods are emerging all the time, whilst other age-old products and processes remain. So it makes it very easy to be confused with the merits of the various offerings on the market. So this article gives a quick overview and hopefully some helpful information to help you make the right choice.
As always, there isn't always a one-size fits all product.
What is Wax?
Generally, we would consider a wax to consist mainly of natural ingredients. Usually this would be things like Carnauba Wax, Beeswax and so on. They're usually either a paste or come in a hair-gel like pot. Wax has been used since all the way back in the 1800s in Bischofsheim where wax made of animal fats was used to protect hose carriages.
Some enthusiasts argue that it is the only way to go, delivering the deepest shine possible. Waxes give a somewhat natural sheen to paint, especially on darker colours. The effect intensifies with each layer and a well applied, high quality wax will generally last between two and four months.
What are Sealants?
Generally, a sealant is a synthetic - man-made product that is used in place of a wax. They are generally a liquid polymer which comes in a spray or a well applied, high quality wax will generally last between two and four months. They were created to be less time-consuming to apply than wax.
They tend to give a glassy finish, if not perhaps as 'deep' as a wax. Layering a sealant won't have the same effect as a wax. The advantage is that a good sealant will really make colours with flakes really pop, and give darker colours a wet-look. A good sealant lasts 4 months, more with moderate use of your vehicle.
Sealants tend to be more hydrophobic than waxes, which means that they will sheet or bead water off more effectively.
What are coatings?
Coatings are a comparatively new innovation on the market. They are typically found named with "Nano", "Glass", "Ceramic", "Quartz" and many more but essentially share the same approach. They are typically engineered at a molecular level to bond with your paint's clear coat and cross link to form a protective barrier.
Be wary - some "Ceramic" Sealants are simply regular sealants re-branded. Others may feature ceramic elements suspended in the spray which will offer little additional longevity or protection.
Ceramic coatings all have varying formulas and therefore vary in performance. Most DIY coatings last 12-36 months. Professionally applied coatings can last from 3-5 years.
Coatings typically offer an extremely glassy finish and depending on the formulation, a very high, deep gloss. They are much more difficult to apply compared to sealants as you need to correct your paint, then clean it thoroughly to remove any waxes. The paint needs to be perfectly clean with no oil residues and the curing period is generally a few hours initially, and a few days to begin to harden. They generally fully cure in around 30 days. Typically a coating offers a much higher level of protection, resisting some scratches (indicated by their hardness rating) and whilst contaminants can build up on their protective surface, they will be separated from your paintwork. Once applied, a coating will not wash off and needs to be polished to be removed.
Do Waxes, Sealants and Coatings really last that long?
So there are a few things that you need to be aware of when talking about durability of any protection.
When picking a product you need to establish:
Where is your car kept during the day and night? Is it garaged or is it exposed to constant sunlight and rain? Are you in an area which has high levels of industrial fallout or pollen, bugs and birds? All of these elements will attack your paint and any coating on it, reducing the amount of time that you can expect to get.
How often do you use your car? If you do say 10,000 kms a year, your car will have less exposure to harsh conditions compared to a car that does 50,000 kms a year.
How often do you WANT to apply a coating? Some people do want to treat and forget - coatings make cars very easy to maintain. Others actually enjoy waxing their pride and joy weekly or monthly. Keep that in mind when choosing - and also keep in mind that some products you can layer - but one may diminish the other. EG carnauba waxes can be applied on top of sealants and coatings, but some waxes may have chemicals which make the coating's sheeting effect reduce more rapidly.
Typically, lifetime warranties, 15 year lifespans and so on should be taken with a pinch of salt. There are so many products on the market, mostly because there simply isn't a product that truly does last in the long-term.
Hopefully this clears up a few misconceptions and common confusions, but if not, please feel free to contact us to discuss the best for your situation!