Sealant vs Wax: What’s the difference?

Wax paste

Right, so you’ve finished polishing your car after meticulously cleaning and preparing the surface. You are now ready for the final phase – applying the wax..!

Or is it applying the sealant..? Yep, some things are never as straightforward as they should be. It feels like an age-old dilemma, that needs addressing.

We’ll discuss and explain the sealant vs wax debate and what the difference between the two is, as well as what the advantages and disadvantages are. Most importantly, when you finish reading this, you’ll be confident in the knowledge of when and how to apply waxes and sealants.

In a nut-shell sealants and waxes are paint protectants, which guard the car’s paintwork against the elements.

As well as offering protection, waxes and sealants are fondly regarded for giving the paint a real glossy appearance.

The Structure of Paintwork

To properly understand how waxes and sealants work their magic it’s important to know exactly what the paintwork is made up of.

The anatomy of a vehicles paintwork essentially consists of 4 layers:

Layers of car paint
Car paintwork consists of clear coat, base coat, primer, which sits on the metal body (click image to enlarge). This is what waxes and sealants protect.

How Waxes and Sealants protect Paint

Waxes and sealants help to:

Over time the protective clear coat can begin to degrade and lose its protective qualities or lose its glossiness.

Damage to the clear coat can be caused by:

Types of car paint scratches
Different types of scratches will cause varying degrees of damage to the paint work (click image to enlarge).

This is where waxes and sealants come in.

To preserve the clear coat and hence protect the paint, it is advised to apply a form of paint protectant on your car.

But which type should you use? A wax or sealant?

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What’s the difference between waxes and sealants?

So, as we’ve just discussed, paint protectants basically do what it says on the tin – they protect the paint, and there are four main types out there:

The latter two are relatively new kids on the block but provide excellent protective qualities.

However, ceramic coatings, also known as ceramic sealant, in particular, need to be applied using more intricate procedures that require meticulous preparation.

While it is definitely possible to apply this yourself, it is generally left to the more advanced DIY detailer or professional.

Waxes and sealants are beginner-friendly and can be applied by hand easily, and still provide great protection.

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Car waxes are the oldest form of car paint protection out there, and typically contain natural ingredients – specifically sourced from carnauba plants.

Raw carnauba wax

Due to its historic standing in the car detailing world most detailers stand by the carnauba wax (also known as cleaner wax) as the go-to product to achieve a truly deep rich glossy finish.

Waxes come in several forms:

It is widely accepted that carnauba based waxes (paste and liquid forms) do not have a good tolerance for high temperatures.

For this reason, they tend to only last for up to 3 or so months. Generally, the hard carnauba wax tends to last longer than the liquid carnauba wax.

It is also advised to not apply during exposure to direct sunlight or high temperatures.

liquid Wax vs Paste Wax

There are few characteristics that distinguish liquid and paste waxes, although both variations contain the carnauba ingredient.  

The obvious difference is that the paste wax is physically harder than the liquid wax version.

The texture of the different paste waxes vary from very hard to soft.

Paste (or hard) waxes are recommended to be applied by hand only, and this is due to the consistency making it difficult to apply evenly with a buffer pad.

Conversely, for this very reason, liquid wax is a lot easier to use and can be applied by hand or with a polishing machine. The texture is creamy.

Overall, the carnauba paste wax lasts longer than carnauba liquid waxes that do not contain synthetic polymers.

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Liquid waxes can be split into Carnauba based and synthetic (hybrid) waxes, depending on their ingredients.

Synthetic Wax vs Carnauba Wax

Synthetic wax combines the carnauba based properties with synthetic polymers. This allows it to offer a similarly rich glossy finish whilst being more robust against high temperatures than the pure carnauba based variation.

They can also last a little longer between applications.

Where synthetic wax gives with its durability, it takes away with the perceived end result after application.

It is generally accepted that pure carnauba waxes offer a warmer glossier finish than the synthetic variation.

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Pros and Cons of wax



Sealants do not contain carnauba and are made up entirely of synthetic polymers.

In a similar way to the hybrid wax, sealants have a tolerance for high temperatures and last much longer than carnauba waxes.

Sealants are also more likely to have minor corrective qualities to address fine scratches and swirls, although this shouldn’t be the focal use of sealants.

For corrective treatment, it is advised to use a suitable compound or polish.

Overall, sealants can last up to a year and physically sits on paint in such a way that it offers more of a barrier to the elements than carnauba waxes.

As sealants come in liquid form, they are very easy to apply either by hand or with a polishing machine.

The perceived finish of sealants tends to be cooler and less glossy.

Whether this is a problem or not is down to the individual’s taste as sealants still provide an excellent finish overall.

Pros and Cons of Sealants


Sealants vs Liquid Wax vs Paste Wax comparison table

Liquid Wax Paste Wax Sealant
Hard / Medium
- Carnauba

- Hybrid of Carnauba / Synthetic
Application Method
Hand / Machine
Hand / Machine
Sun / heat tolerance *
- Carnauba - Weak

- Hybrid - Moderate
3-6 months
3 months
Up to a year

* during application

Should I apply wax or sealant first?

There is no hard and fast rule as to what order to apply wax and sealant,  but there a couple of things to consider. 

What are you trying to achieve when applying the wax/sealant? 

As we have discussed, the main strength of wax is to create a gloss and a finishing touch that only it can offer. 

Sealant on the other hand excels are providing longer-lasting and robust protection. 

It is for this reason that it is typically advised to apply sealant before the wax (especially carnauba-based).

The idea is that the sealant will lock in and apply a long-lasting protective layer on top of the polished paintwork. The wax will then be the finishing touch, adding the warm rich gloss.

Adding sealant after the wax could potentially diminish the period of protection that sealant usually provides.

This is due to the wax underneath the sealant still being affected by the hot temperatures that the sun, weather, and the car itself inflicts over time.

This can lead to the degrading wax causing the sealant to be shed at the same time, especially during car washing.

So while there is absolutely nothing wrong with applying sealant after wax, you will probably get more benefit if the wax is applied last.

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Applying Wax

Some resources suggest that waxes should be applied in specific patterns or directions.

Technically this is not necessary.

If you are using an uncontaminated applicator pad or microfibre towel, then the only thing that can scratch your paintwork is the product itself.

If the product is polish, then it will be possible to cause imperfections of varying severities due to the fine abrasives it contains.

This very characteristic is what makes polish effective at its job.

Wax, however, contains no abrasives.

The sole purpose of wax is to effectively fill in any remaining imperfections left by the polish making the surface of the paint as uniform as possible. This is why wax creates a glossy finish.

Diagram of a protective layer of wax on paintwork
The wax forms a protective layer over the paintwork, and fills in any scratches left behind after polishing (click image to enlarge)

Now, unfortunately, most of us don’t work in lab-like conditions where it’s impossible to not pick up some form of contaminants like dust, or tiny grit.

So it could be for this reason that you may want to apply wax in a specific pattern.

At least then if any scratches are caused by contaminants, they won’t occur in random directions and make them more obvious.

Applying Sealant

The process for applying sealant is virtually the same as wax.

There are further related queries people also have regarding wax and sealants, and detailing in general…

When to use wax vs sealant

It is recommended to use wax or sealant after polishing your vehicle.

Once you have applied the necessary corrective compound and or finishing polish, then using wax as the final stage will help to protect your paintwork for months.

If you have a carnauba wax and a sealant to hand, then you can apply the sealant after the wax to reinforce the paint protection without compromising the paint finish.

Should you wax a new car?

Waxing a car is fine to do as long as the vehicle is clean.

Even though it shouldn’t be necessary to wash a brand new car, it will do it no harm either. In fact, it will only add to the protection.

How long does wax last on a car?

It depends on the type of wax you are using.

Carnauba wax lasts up to 3 months, hybrid carnauba/synthetic waxes can last up to 6 months. Synthetic polymer sealants can last up to a year.

Protective coatings and sealants – what’s the difference?

As explained earlier in this article, sealants are a form of protective coating.

Protective coatings come in the form of waxes, sealants, and ceramic coatings. Each of these serves the same purpose, but vary in their effectiveness and perceived look.

What is the best temperature to wax car?

Carnauba wax should be applied in cool temperatures. High temperatures will reduce the effectiveness of carnauba based waxes. Thick waxes will run easily.

As such, you should avoid applying wax in direct sunlight, especially when your vehicle’s bodywork is likely to be hot as a result.

Some hybrid waxes that contain synthetic polymers are more likely to withstand hot temperatures than carnauba waxes.

Can you use car polish on ceramic coated car?

Technically, yes you can. The key point though is whether you really need to.

Polish is an abrasive, and therefore is likely to shorten the life span of the ceramic coating.

The best option for maintaining ceramic coating is to use the recommended top-up coating which will help maintain the gloss and hydrophobic characteristics that make ceramics coatings so effective.


Right, so the next time you finish polishing your car you’ll be fully aware of why you are opting for wax over sealant or vice versa. Or how applying both has the effect it does depending on the order they are applied. 

Most importantly you will no longer have that doubt about whether you are applying these in the right way.

In a world where everyone has their opinion on the best approach to these things, it will be great to get your angle on this. If you have any thoughts then feel free to add your comments below? 

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