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Ceramic Coating vs Wax: How These Protectants Differ

Ceramic coating and car wax are designed to do generally the same thing: protect your vehicle’s paint. But, this is where their similarities stop.

Both differ greatly in several categories including level of protection, application method, how long each lasts, and several other areas, the largest differences being in availability and cost.

Ceramic coatings have become much more popular in recent years as they have become more widely available for the average DIY car enthusiast, and thus, the cost for basic materials for each product has also become closer together.

Despite this, the cost gap between professional application of ceramic coating when compared to professional washing and waxing is still quite high.

What is Wax?

car wax products
Editorial credit: Muhamad Norairin Ngateni / Shutterstock.com

Was is a protective substance that is applied to your vehicle’s exterior as one of the finishing touches of a full detail job.

The most common wax is carnauba, which is a protectant that is applied after a wash, or in some instances, in combination with certain car washes. The wax forms a protective layer over the vehicle’s paint after it dries and helps paint shine.

Even though some car wash products are also combination waxing products, you will almost always get better results when using a dedicated car wax after a wash is complete.

What is Ceramic Coating?

nano ceramic coating

A ceramic coating is a protective coating that is made of liquid polymer rather than wax. It forms a harder shell than wax, but its formula can change depending on the brand.

Quality ceramic coatings are usually much harder to apply and are not as readily available to the average consumer as waxes, but this has begun to change with more products hitting the market.

Still, the best ceramic coating applications will need to be completed by a professional.

Ceramic Coating vs Wax: The Differences

There are several large differences between ceramic coatings and wax. They cover a wide range of factors despite the two products having largely the same function.

Availability

Wax is one of the most widely-used vehicle detailing products on the market behind car wash soap. Ceramic coating is becoming more widely available as well, but it still falls much farther behind in popularity.

This is mainly because ceramic coating is both harder to apply effectively and consistently, and the formula for producing it is more advanced. There is also a wider range of waxes available from a wider variety of manufacturers whereas the market for quick, affordable DIY ceramic coating is comparatively smaller.

Makeup

Waxes and ceramic coatings also differ in how they are made. Waxes can be natural or synthetic and can contain carnuba – a natural plant oil – beeswax, turpentine, other natural oils, and other polymers. Some contain all of the above while natural waxes may only use a few ingredients like beeswax and carnuba.

Synthetic waxes usually skip the carnuba and natural oils and are mostly made up of a variety of polymers (like those commonly found in spray waxes).

Ceramic coatings are usually made of a silicone base and then combined with other elements like titanium dioxide and water. Even though most ceramic coatings are silicone based, there are many different formulas manufacturers use.

Protection Level

Wax usually provides a relatively low level of paint protection while ceramic coating can provide a much wider range of protection. Natural waxes can provide UV ray, heat, and even a small amount of scratch resistance. Other synthetic waxes can produce a more resilient outer layer of protection that performs better against scratching.

Ceramic coatings are usually much more durable since the chemicals bond with the paint itself and form a harder outer shell.

Many less expensive DIY ceramic coatings do not provide the protection levels that a professionally-installed ceramic coat can. This is mostly because DIY products are produced less expensively so they can be offered to the general public as an easy-to-use product.

The downside to this is that inconsistencies in application and the use of a generally inferior product compared to a professional-grade product can lead to disappointing results.

Lifespan

As a result of their makeup and protection levels, wax and ceramic coating have very different lifespans, given that nothing out of the ordinary happens to break the protective barrier prematurely.

Waxes provide a thin layer of protection that is usually less resilient and wears off relatively quickly, usually lasting between two weeks and two months.

Professionally-installed ceramic coatings can last for up to five years or even more under ideal conditions. Many DIY ceramic coatings claim up to two years of protection with very few providing a guarantee of this lifespan. Depending on how well a DIY coating is applied, it may only provide a year or less of true paint protection.

Application Method

ceramic coating application
Ceramic Coating Application

Applying wax is much easier than applying a ceramic coating. Washing a vehicle and making sure it is free from any previous waxes is the key to ensuring a wax and a ceramic coating will be effective for as long as possible.

Wax is usually applied after a complete car wash as part of the finishing detail. It can be sprayed on or applied to a microfiber sponge or cloth as a paste and rubbed on to the paint. After it is applied, some buffing is usually required to remove any excess residue and make sure the finish is clear and glossy.

Ceramic coating application is usually a more extensive process and can include paint correction or polishing to make sure the paint surface is optimal for the coating to bond correctly.

Depending on the product, ceramic coatings can be “painted” on, sprayed on, applied using a suede cloth, or applied using a microfiber cloth. After it is applied, it must also be cured for several hours so that it can fully harden.

Cost

Considering all the information given so far, it makes sense that wax is usually a less expensive option than ceramic coatings. This is especially true for top-tier products and application of both.

Wax is a much more available product that most people can use, and its formula is simple compared to ceramic coatings. As a result, a high-grade wax that is professionally-installed may cost several hundred dollars with labor and prep work.

Conversely, a high-quality, professionally-installed ceramic coat can cost well over three thousand dollars with labor, materials, and prep work. The least inexpensive waxes on the market can cost as little as a few dollars, depending on the size of the bottle.

DIY ceramic coatings can be found for as little as twenty-five dollars, but they reportedly offer comparatively ineffective formulas when put up against even high-quality waxes.

Purpose

The last major difference between wax and ceramic coating is an individual’s purpose for application. Someone who enjoys washing their vehicle may prefer wax over ceramic coating.

Additionally, cost can be a big factor for anyone who wants to have a clean and glossy vehicle while offering some amount of protection for their hard work.

In this case, wax is a very good option. Ceramic coating might be a better option for those who have a more expensive car or a restored vehicle and want to make sure they are getting the best paint protection possible.

A car enthusiast may also want to try their hand at a new skill by attempting to apply a ceramic coating themselves. Generally speaking, those who want a combination of low cost and ease of application will want wax over ceramic coating. Those who value the best protection possible will want ceramic coating over wax.

Final Thoughts

Wax and ceramic coating are both used to protect a vehicle’s paint against the outside elements. Beyond that though, ceramic coatings and wax differ quite a bit when it comes to cost, application, protection levels, chemical makeup, market availability, and lifespan.

Both wax and ceramic coating come with different pros and cons, and the best choice of which to use depends largely on the individual’s wants and needs.

Shawn Furman
I have been a vehicle hobbyist for as long as I can remember as well as a freelance writer for the past three and a half years. My clients have included Vehicle Scene, Autolist, CarGurus, and now The Vehicle Lab. In addition to my current clients, I also maintain my own blog where I am able to share my knowledge and experience through vehicle reviews, car-buying guides, how-to guides, and list articles.
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