Beginner’s Guide To Detailing: Paintwork Protection

GT Haus Black and White BMW M5

For the latest addition to our Beginner’s Guide to Detailing, I’m going to dish out some information regarding paintwork protection. This series, as many of you know, is geared toward increasing the amateur detailer’s detailing IQ – focusing on facts, tips, and proper procedure. I consider paintwork protection to be the single most important concept with regards to car care, especially for beginning detailers… and today I’ll be walking you through the benefits of this proactive practice, the products needed to achieve the best results, proper technique, and some basic background knowledge that every car owner should know about protecting their car’s paint.

Benefits of protecting your paintwork

The main benefit of protecting your paint is a better-looking finish that’s safe from harm.

Most traditional sealants (paste waxes and polymer-based sealants) tend to fill, meaning they cover up scratches to create a smoother finish and therefore make imperfections less visible. Protecting your paint also makes cleaning your car’s paint much, much easier because there’s just less to clean: a durable layer of protection against airborne contaminants means debris is less likely to embed itself into the surface.

By protecting you experience less scratches, less rock chips, less claying, less polishing (read: The Over Polishing Problem), and, most importantly, less worry.

Paint Sealants vs. Carnauba Waxes

This here is one of the most underrated and scarcely discussed topics when it comes to basic car care knowledge. For a lot of beginners, the term “waxing” your car is blanketed over the entire paintwork protection concept. Let me clarify a bit: applying a paste wax is not the only way to protect your car, and in many ways it is outdated.

Modern paint sealant technology has yielded breakthroughs that double, if not triple, the durability of natural carnaubas. They provide longer lasting protection, easy application, and, for the most part, shines that would make you reconsider using a “high-shine” carnauba wax that only lasts a few weeks. Sure some waxes have adapted, which is why I still recommend using them for adding depth and clarity to the finish. If I were to take a stance on the absolute best process or procedure, it would utilize the unique advantages provided by both a synthetic paint sealant and a carnauba paste wax. I am, of course, talking about layering… but we’ll talk about this more in a few paragraphs. First, the unique benefits of paint sealants and carnauba waxes:

Paint Sealants

  • Longer lasting bond
  • More durable in adverse conditions
  • Less affected by high temperatures

Carnauba Paste Waxes

  • Higher shine (usually)
  • Quicker cure time
  • Great for layering

How to protect your car’s paintwork

Before we dive in… never seal a dirty car. This can cause scratches, holograms, and other hairline scratches. Always wash first with a pH balanced car wash soap, as some soaps utilize overpowering solvents that can weaken the sealant’s bond with the surface. Once the car is nice and clean, you can apply.

While things like cure time and bond time are dependent on which product you choose, the process by which you apply paintwork protection remains straightforward no matter what. Some people use buffers and orbital machines to apply wax – I don’t recommend this (ever), especially for beginners. You can get the job done effectively with your hands and a foam applicator. The only thing you really need to know is that a circular motion allows for more even coverage, which is absolutely critical when protecting your car. A lot of people say straight lines cause scratches, but modern sealants aren’t abrasive and are unlikely to ever scratch your car unless you’re protecting a dirty surface. At any rate, I recommend circular because it’s easier to make sure you don’t miss a spot.

car wax hazing on surfaceWhether you’re a pro or an amateur, attention to detail is always important when applying a wax or sealant. For this reason, I like to apply section by section, double checking my work as I make my way around the car. If you move too fast, it’s awfully easy to leave areas unprotected. Before removing the wax or sealant, make sure to check the directions to see what they say about cure time and if you should allow the product to haze. Some modern paint sealants bond instantly, don’t require a cure time, and can be removed immediately. Others might need to be left on the surface for a number of hours to fully adhere to the finish. Always use microfiber towels when removing, and stay away from diapers, chamois, or sponges.

Layering protection products

If you want to give your car more protection and an even deeper shine, you can always layer your waxes. I say waxes because carnauba should always be used to layer on top of a base layer. The base layer, arguably the most important, is most effective when it’s a paint sealant because they last longer than carnauba waxes. This way you get the longest lasting protection at the bottom, directly in contact with the paint, and once you allow it to fully bond (an instant bonding paint sealant is best), you can top it off with as many layers of carnauba you want to add luster and depth to the finish. While this doesn’t multiply how long the waxes will last, it will give you a much deeper shine and more protection against the elements.

How often should I protect?

Depends on your product choice, so to make sure your finish is protected at all times, make sure you get the background information regarding whatever wax or sealant you choose. Paint sealants tend to last anywhere from 4 to 8 months, whereas waxes are usually 4 months or less. There is a sliding scale, however, as both paint sealants and waxes act uniquely in different climates. For example, you’ll have to apply carnauba more often if you live somewhere with high temps like Florida or Texas. Paint sealants, as I mentioned, relieve a lot of this stress because they last much longer. But, again, everyone likes their products for different reasons… and natural waxes will never cease to exist. As a rule of thumb: apply carnauba waxes every season, and paint sealants every six months. Again, it depends on who’s making the product, what ingredients they’re using, and where you live – by no means are those absolute numbers.


The most important part of this article is why we protect our paint. We don’t just do it to shine, and we don’t just do it because someone told us to. We protect to make our paintwork last longer. Too often I see cars with clear coat damage, horrible swirl marks, or faded paintwork… and it’s all because they neglected to protect their finish on a regular basis. For some strange reason a lot of people don’t consider what can happen if you don’t, but if I’m dropping a portion of my savings on a new car, you better believe I want that car to look as good as it does now when I go to sell it in the future. It’s about protecting not just the paint, but the value of your car. And with that I leave you one simple rule to “protect” by:

Protect early and often.


Stay tuned for our next segment on claying!