Dear Everyone: Please Stop Waxing Your Car

There's a big, shiny elephant in the garage that we need to address. Serious car people have been hip to this for years, just like washing your car without water. For everyone else: unless you're planning on taking your million-dollar beauty to a concours-level car show this weekend, please, stop using wax on your car. To paraphrase the great Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that wax. I do not think it does what you think it does."

Brazilian Carnauba palm leaves

Real wax literally grows on trees

Let's briefly explore what it is that you're putting on your car. The palm leaves of the Brazilian carnauba tree generate a wax that, when the leaves are chopped off, hardens and is harvested for various uses, like the hard shell on various candies and medications. It's also what's in the shiny tub of carnauba wax you bought for your car. That's all fine and good -- it really does provide a hard coating that protects your car's paint... for all of about a fortnight.

And it doesn't last very long

Unless you're obsessed with your car enough to spend a few hours every other weekend waxing it, you're not getting anything close to the protection you need. Wax's foils are simple and unavoidable: it's incredibly susceptible to the elements. Even parking in the sun expedites its deterioration.

Ultimately, the one thing real wax does well is add a slightly yellowish depth to the look of your paint -- so if you've just dropped five figures on an absolutely perfect paint job, go right ahead and keep using it. Otherwise, you're doing things the old-fashioned way, which in this case, means more difficult and not as good.

Sealant is better than Carnauba wax

What you should be using is called sealant

Sealant performs a largely similar function to wax, but it's so vastly better, it's like comparing a 4K TV to your grandfather's 19in tube television. Sealant is a synthetic compound that bonds to your paint to form a hard shell, protecting your paint from aging at the hands of the sun or an angry bird. The biggest difference? It lasts much, much longer. You can legitimately go up to six months before having to reapply sealant, depending on how harsh of an environment your car sees day to day.

Waxing a car
Flickr/Jayme Frye

It's so much easier to use, too

Rubbing wax onto your paint, waiting for it to haze over, then buffing it off is about as tedious as mowing your lawn. Even if you pay someone to do it for you, that cost adds up if you have it done fortnightly... which again, you'll have to. Sealant, on the other hand, is easier to apply, and many orders of magnitude easier to remove.

As a bonus, if you've clayed and polished your paint beforehand, it really will look like someone poured liquid glass on your car. If you have no idea what I mean when I say things like claying your paint, don't worry about it. Just use a sealant and you'll be very happy with the results.

By the way, "wax" is not a catch-all term for making your car shiny

A quick gripe from a devoted car guy: people frequently use brand names to identify other similar products -- think "Kleenex" instead of "tissue." That's not something you can do here, because wax and sealant are so very different. If you say you're "waxing" your car, I'll just assume you mean you're using carnauba wax in an attempt to get that yellowy deepness. If you mean it in any other way, you're misusing the word and opening the door to confusion.

Sealant's not the future, it's the present. There's even cooler new stuff on the horizon, but let's save that for another day, shall we?

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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. If you're curious, this is the sealant he uses on his own cars.