Ceramic Coating vs Wax vs Sealants
"An In-Depth Look at the Best Paint Protection Options"Last Updated August 9, 2023 | Hamilton Schutt
Paint protectants keep your car's paint from fading in the sun or being harmed by everyday contaminants like bird droppings, insects, or acid rain. Protecting your prized car's finish might not be optional for you, but there are options for how you go about it.
Generally, you have three different routes available: wax, paint sealant, or ceramic coating. Each of these protectants has pros and cons that make them better suited to different drivers. While all of these options will protect your paint, they vary considerably in just about every other way. But, it's still a good idea to repair any dents before using any of the methods outlined below.
What Are Your Paint Protection Options?
For years, wax was the go-to paint protection product. But over time, synthetic options and ceramic coatings have gained popularity for their extended durability.
Another reason people apply these products is for their hydrophobic properties. This is a measure of how well water beads on the surface. Super water-resistant surfaces are easier to clean (some even call them self-cleaning).
|Car Wax||Boosts paint depth and vibrance Inexpensive Easy to apply Dries quickly||Only 4 - 8 weeks of protection Can stain plastic trim Not as hydrophobic as ceramic coatings|
|Paint Sealant||Better protection than wax Compatible with waxes and polishes 6-12 months of protection Shiny, glass-like finish Increased paint depth||Doesn't boost paint depth or vibrance as much as wax Not as protective as ceramic coatings|
|Ceramic Coating||Best protection Lasts up to 5 years Superior hydrophobic properties Glossy finish||Doesn't boost paint depth or vibrance as much as wax Expensive Difficult to apply Doesnt work with waxes and sealants Long curing time|
Car waxes are a combination of organic materials like carnauba wax and/or beeswax with a solvent like mineral spirits or naphtha. Wax is easy to apply and boosts your paint's vibrance and shine better than any other option. This makes it a great choice for competition cars or a quick shine.
Wax typically lasts anywhere from one to two months. Its durability depends on how many coats are applied and how much time is spent outside the garage. Though other options are more hydrophobic, you'll still get a nice water bead with wax.
Waxes are available in spray, liquid, and paste forms. Sprays are the easiest to apply but offer the least amount of shine and protection. Liquid wax is the next step up, offering better shine and protection with the same easy application. Pastes require the most elbow grease, but the finished product is ultra glossy and provides the best protection.
Carnauba wax is harvested from the leaves of the Copernicia Cerifera tree in Brazil. The wax keeps this palm tree's leaves safe from the harsh rays of the sun while allowing it to absorb helpful nutrients.
Paint sealants are sometimes referred to as synthetic car wax due to their similarities to wax in application and protection. These coatings are made of synthetic chemicals and polymers that bond with the clear coat. This contributes to improved hydrophobic properties and protection against the elements.
Paint sealants are more durable than natural alternatives and can last up to a year. Sealants give a high-gloss finish that boosts overall paint depth. They're also compatible with waxes and polishes.
However, paint sealants take longer to dry and are a little more difficult to apply than waxes. Also, while they do provide a gloss to the paint, they don't offer as much depth as wax.
Similar to waxes, you can find paint sealants in spray, liquid, and paste forms. Their levels of protection, shine, and ease of application follow the same pattern as waxes.
Ceramic coatings offer the best protection against UV rays, physical contaminants, elemental damage, and corrosive liquids.
One of the biggest advantages exclusive to ceramic coatings is that they can be used on your entire vehicle. While waxes and sealants are usually limited to painted body panels, ceramic coatings can protect the panels, trim, wheels, glass, and even parts of the interior like the dash and leather seats.
Ceramic coatings are chemical solutions with high concentrations of silicon dioxide (SiO2). When applied to your vehicle, they form a chemical bond with the clear coat and harden into a protective shell. SiO2 is a flexible and strong glass derivative found in sand and quartz. This is why you'll also find these coatings labeled as quartz and glass instead of ceramic.
While they provide durable protection, ceramic coatings still don't guard against deep scratches or rock chips. For that kind of defense, a paint protection film is going to be your best bet.
While there are plenty of different names used in place of “Ceramic Coating,” most of them mean the same thing. In fact, the term “Quartz Coating” comes from the quartz-crystalline structure of silicon dioxide. The term "Glass Coating" is used because silicon dioxide can be sourced from sand and glass.
A professional ceramic coating typically costs around $1,500 - $3,000. This price depends on factors like the size of your vehicle, how much paint correction is needed, and the amount of buffing required. You can also buy a ceramic coating to apply yourself for $70 - $300.
Pro Tip: Some companies only sell their ceramic coatings to certified detail shops that have taken that brand's training classes. You may get a higher-quality coating if you go to a professional detail shop.
What are the Different Types of Ceramic Coatings?
The most popular types of ceramic coatings are nano, graphene, and spray. Nano and graphene ceramic coatings are considered “true ceramic coatings” due to their high silica content. Spray coatings vary considerably in their SiO2 content but are viable options for many DIY detailers and are great for boosting an existing coating.
Nano Ceramic Coatings
Nano ceramic coatings (commonly referred to as “true ceramic coatings” or “quartz coatings”) are the most difficult products to use, but the result is ultra long-lasting protection. These coatings include a large amount of silicon dioxide and have a consistency similar to super glue.
Applying a true nano ceramic coating requires patience and meticulous attention to detail. You'll need to detail and polish your clear coat to perfection before you begin the application. If any imperfections are missed, they'll be trapped and amplified until the coating wears off or is removed.
If you prefer the way wax makes your paint shine but want more protection, you can still use a ceramic coating for certain parts of your exterior.
Coating the plastic trim, headlights, and glass will keep these pieces safe from elemental damage. It'll also make it easier to clean wax, bug guts, tar, and other gunk off. While there are products sold as plastic-specific ceramic coatings, you can use a spray, nano, or graphene coating on these parts.
Ceramic coatings take longer to cure compared to waxes and sealants. Before the coating's cured, you'll need to avoid getting your car wet. Depending on the cure time of the product you select, this could leave you without a car for a day or two.
However, despite the troubles of application and high price tag, a quality, well-maintained nano ceramic coating can provide up to five years of protection and superior hydrophobicity.
Graphene Ceramic Coatings
Graphene coatings are nano ceramic coatings with a small amount of graphene added. Graphene is the thinnest material known to man and is about 200 times stronger than steel. This is designed to improve on the protection ceramic can offer.
They're more expensive but claim to offer anti-static properties, better water beading, a “slicker” finish, and up to 10 years of durability. However, there isn't a whole lot of research supporting these claims yet. Many of these factors are also influenced by the quality of the application and product you buy.
Spray-On Ceramic Coatings
Spray-on ceramic coatings are the easiest to apply and remove. They're also considerably cheaper than nano or graphene coatings, costing only $15 - $30 a bottle.
These sprays don't take as long to cure, making them ideal for at-home detailers who are short on time. They can also be applied every 3 - 6 months as boosters for nano and graphene coatings.
Even though ceramic sprays can be layered up to three coats, they offer less protection than nano or graphene coatings when used alone. Another tradeoff for choosing a spray coating is it only lasts six months to a year before you need to reapply.
Sprays with large amounts of silicon dioxide offer good durability but with a high price tag. On the other hand, sprays with small amounts of silicon dioxide aren't as durable. But they'll be less expensive.
While most companies won't outright tell you the silicon dioxide content in their spray, a good indicator is how the product is labeled. If the spray is marketed as a booster, the silica content could be close to 5%. But if it's labeled as a ceramic coating, it's more than likely to have SiO2 levels of 30% or higher.
Paint Protectant FAQs
With so many different products and a fair amount of chemistry involved, there's a lot of confusion surrounding paint protectants. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers.
Can you wax after applying a ceramic coating?
It is possible to wax a ceramic-coated vehicle, but there are a few things to consider:
- It's essentially pointless to add wax to a ceramic coating. Not only would it be difficult to get the wax to stick, let alone look nice, but the benefits of wax come from its interaction with the clear coat. If the clear coat is covered with a ceramic coating, the wax isn't capable of producing its eye-catching depth and gloss.
- If you're thinking about using paste wax, the solvent base could reduce the durability and overall lifespan of the ceramic coating.
There are hybrid products like ceramic waxes available, though. These are typically spray waxes infused with Si02 polymers for easy application and enhanced durability.
What protectant can you use on paint protection film?
You're free to use wax, sealants, or ceramic coatings on your paint protection film (PPF). But, familiarize yourself with some of the benefits and setbacks of each type before you do:
Waxes - Waxes can be used to protect your PPF as long as they contain less than 5% naphtha or kerosene. If the wax contains more than 5%, the chemicals could eat through the PPF, rendering it useless.
Sealants - As long as the sealant is labeled as PPF-safe, you should be good to go. To be extra careful, you can ask your PPF's manufacturer if they have a recommended brand.
Ceramic Coatings - Ceramic coatings are the best PPF protectant by far. They offer improved UV protection, make the film easier to clean, and add a layer of defense between stubborn contaminants and the film. Getting a PPF and ceramic coating is as close as you can get to total protection for your vehicle.
What can you use on matte-painted cars?
If you have a matte paint job, then any product that adds gloss or shine is out of the question. That includes most traditional waxes, sealants, and ceramic coatings. Fortunately, matte-specific options for these products are available.
How should you protect a vinyl wrap?
Unfortunately, standard waxes and sealants won't cut it when it comes to protecting a vinyl wrap. You'll want to seek out a vinyl-wrap-specific polish as a replacement for these traditional options.
You could also add a PPF to your vinyl wrap to boost exterior protection. You can then top this, or just the wrap, with a ceramic coating designed to work with these additions.
Which protectants are compatible with glazes?
Glazes are only compatible with waxes and sealants. This is due to the presence of polishing oils in the glaze formula. Ceramic coatings need an oil-free surface to cling to the clear coat. The glaze would have to be removed for the coating to be applied.
Should You Choose a Sealant, Wax, or Ceramic Coating?
The answer to whether a ceramic coating is better than wax or sealant is…it depends. All of these coatings offer desirable benefits, but it boils down to what you're planning to do with your vehicle.
A Ceramic Coating is Right for You If…
…You're most interested in long-lasting durability, easy cleaning, and top-notch protection. They're the most hydrophobic option and will still add a nice gloss to your paint. The application process, time, and cost are a deterrent for many though.
You Should Use Wax If…
…You want the best paint depth and vibrancy. Waxes are also best for drivers on a tight budget. But, wax needs to be reapplied frequently and doesn't offer as much protection as sealants or ceramic coatings.
Sealants are Great If…
…You're looking for the best of both worlds. They're easier to apply than a ceramic coating and offer more protection and longevity than a wax. The downside to sealants is that while being a good middle ground, that's all they'll ever be. They won't give you the deep shine of a natural wax or the unwavering protection of a ceramic coating.
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