Updated: Jan 12, 2018
Waxes, sealants, and coatings are frequently discussed in the auto detailing world, by both professionals and enthusiasts. But what makes them different from each other? Which product is appropriate for which scenarios? The terms waxes, sealants, and coatings, are organized as such for good reason. They’re in order of products containing the most organic ingredients to products with the fewest organic ingredients. Organic in car detailing means the product’s main active ingredients are derived from natural sources. While waxes, sealants, and coatings all contain (inorganic) solvents and polymers, each one has a different ratio of organic to inorganic ingredients and some have nothing natural in them at all.
Waxes: In the case of waxes, the most common naturally sourced ingredient is carnauba wax which comes from the carnauba palm tree of Brazil. Beeswax and paraffin wax are also found in automotive detailing waxes. These natural ingredients help give your car that amazing warm shine after a wax. The organic ingredients break down much faster than inorganic ones, which is why even the top quality waxes don’t last more than a few months. If your goal is to simply provide shine then waxing is a good option. But if you’re looking to also protect your paint then one of the options below is a good alternative.
Sealants: A combination of inorganic and organic ingredients, paint sealants give you durability and shine. Sealants are polymer based and they provide paint protection that a wax just can’t. They prevent fading from UV exposure, they’re hydrophobic, and they fight against etching and staining. Waxes do too, but unless you’re waxing your paint every week, don’t expect a wax to be your protectant. Poly-sealants are not intensive to apply and protection lasts anywhere from 6 months to a year depending on the specific product. If you don’t want to spend a great deal of your time (and money) on a coating but you still care about protecting your paint, get yourself a paint sealant. Even though sealants contain carnauba along with their unnatural ingredients, the shine from a sealant isn’t as warm as that of a wax. It can be described as a cold, mirror-like shine. If shine is really important to you, you can always layer a wax on top of the sealant. Often sealants will actually look better on metallic paint as they make the metal flakes “pop” better than a wax.
Coatings: There’s really nothing organic about a coating. There are different types of coatings: acrylic, ceramic, and silicate or glass. For example, Dr. Beasley’s Nano-Resin is a silicate/glass coating. Many coatings on the market require professional installation but there are some (like Nano-Resin) that can be installed quite easily by a “DIY’er”. Since a paint coating has a much longer life than a wax or sealant proper prepping for coating application is critical. You don’t want to be sealing in imperfections under the coating so proper paint cleaning and/or polishing before applying the coating is very important. Coatings act like a second clear coat to preserve the life of your paint and keep it in excellent condition. They’re super glossy too, but the gloss is unlike that of a wax or sealant. Their gloss is sharper and more intense than the gloss of a wax and deeper and clearer than the gloss of a paint sealant. You can layer a wax on top of a coating after it’s fully cured, but the gloss of a coating is so intense, you might find you don’t want to add anything.