How Often Should You Wax Your Car and Why?

How Often Should You Wax Your Car and Why?

The most common question about waxing your car goes like this,

How often should I wax my car?

The answer depends on two things. 

1: How do you use your car?

2: How do you wash your car?  

Let me address both of these variables in two segments.

1: How do you use your car?

  • What this means is, what kind of environment is your car exposed to?
  • Do you drive your car back and forth to work Monday through Friday?
  •  Or do you work from home?
  • Or are you retired and no longer driving your car back and forth to work?
  • If you are working, when you arrive at work, is your car parked outside exposed to the elements?
  • Or when you get to work, do you have some form of undercover parking like a parking garage?
  • When you and your car are at home is the car parked outside?
  • Or when you’re at home do you park your car inside of a garage or under a carport?

The above questions are all about finding out how much or how many hours a day your car is exposed to rain, ultraviolet rays from the sun and airborne pollution.  It is these three things that tend to deteriorate your car’s clearcoat finish.

The more time your car spends its life under cover and away from exposure to water, sun, and pollution, the longer a coat of wax will last.

2: How do you wash your car?

How you wash your car has a HUGE impact on how long a coat or protective layer of wax will last. 

  • Do you hand wash your car with a quality car wash and a quality uncontaminated wash mitt?
  • Do you take your car through a Hand Car Wash
  • Do you take your car through a Touchless Car Wash?
  • Do you take your car through a Spinning Mop Car Wash?
  • Or do you take your car through a Swirling Brush Car Wash?

The safest, and least aggressive method to wash your car is to take ownership of the car wash process and carefully hand wash your car’s finish using a pH balanced car wash soap, specifically formulated to clean without stripping wax off the paint.  It’s also important to use a clean and MOST important, an uncontaminated quality wash mitt. 

The worst way to wash your car in order of the most destructive to least destructive are, 

Swirling Brush Car Wash

This is the type of car wash that has huge rotating long bristle brushes that grind against your car’s finish.  These types of automatic car washes scratch your car’s paint.  Think about it, if the bristles from the spinning brushes are scratching your car’s paint, then they are also scratching off any wax on the paint.  With this type of car wash you’ll be lucky if a coat of wax lasts for 2 to 3 washes before the spinning brush bristles grind the wax off your car’s paint.

Spinning Mop Car Wash

This type of car wash is only slightly less abrasive than the spinning brush style wash.  With this style of automatic car wash, instead of spinning brushes there are spinning cloth mops that slap against your car’s paint.  While the material these are made from can appear to be soft and gentle, the problem is as time goes by, the material becomes worn and tatty and also becomes contaminated with all the dirt being removed off cars.  Think about it, the person in front of you, has a car or truck covered in dirt, mud, sand, or some other form of contamination, as the spinning mops remove this contamination off this vehicle, it grinds it against your car’s finish when your car goes through the car wash.  With this type of car wash, you’re lucky if a coat of wax lasts for 3-4 car washes before the spinning mops grind the wax off your car’s paint.

Touchless Car Wash

Most people think a car wash where nothing physically touches your car’s finish is safe for the paint and will not remove any car wax, but this simply is not true.  Think about it… if nothing is touching the paint, how is dirt and oily traffic film removed?  The answer is touchless washes use strong alkaline detergents to chemically dissolve oily traffic film and built-up dirt.  These harsh chemicals may not scratch the paint like the spinning mop and spinning brush style automatic car washes do, but they will chemically strip off any car wax you’ve applied to the paint.

100% Hand Car Wash

You would think and even hope this would be a safe way to get your car washed and also a method that would preserve the coat of wax on your car’s finish.  And it can be, but it depends on three primary things, 

1:  Type of wash mitt being used.

Wash mitts become contaminated with dirt and when this happens the wash mitts scratch the paint.  Think about it… if a contaminated wash mitt can scratch paint, it can remove wax by scratching the wax off the paint.

2: Type of car wash soap being used.

Let’s hope most commercial hand car washes are providing a professional quality service and using a professional grade soap and not some cheap, harsh car wash soap.

3: Caliber of employees

Yes, this is a factor.  If you have a happy employee that cares about doing a good job for every car they wash, and by doing a good job I mean, carefully rubbing the mitt over the waxed body panels of your car, using a quality soap, using an uncontaminated wash mitt, AND dumping out dirty wash soap water and replacing with fresh, clean water and car wash soap, then yes, this would be a safe alternative.  But we’re talking about 4 factors,

  • Employee that cares.
  • Quality car wash soap.
  • Uncontaminated wash mitt.
  • Uncontaminated wash bucket.

    I hate to be cynical, but my guess is that finding all 4 factors at the highest level of quality is going to be rare.  Say you find 3 of the above factors?  If you only have 3 of the 4 factors working in your favor then you’re going to get 2 things,

  • Swirls and scratches in the paint.
  • The wax on your car is being worn off via scratching.

    The best option to wash your car?

    I’ve been detailing cars since the 1970s and teaching car detailing classes since the 1980s, so I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m here to tell you, the ONLY way to wash a car safely and to get the maximum life out of a coat of wax is to take ownership of the car wash process.  This means, you need to wash your car yourself.  

    You also need to do these three things,

    1. Use a pH balanced car wash soap from a brand you respect.
    2. Use a clean, uncontaminated high quality wash mitt or use my method, multiple microfiber towels, one towel per panel.
    3. Make sure your wash bucket is clean before adding any soap and water.


    The multiple microfiber towel technique

    The multiple microfiber towel technique is genius and simple.  Instead of using a single wash mitt to wash your entire car, dunk about 12 microfiber towels into your car wash soap bucket and then use a single towel for a single panel.  For example, grab one soapy towel out of the soapy water bucket and wash the roof.  After washing the roof, place this used towel into a clean bucket until you’re done and then wash and dry the towels, inspect and fold them and then store them in a clean place.  (see my article below on how to wash microfiber towels and mitts correctly).

    Other options for making a coat of car wax last longer. 

    Beside personally hand washing your own car, you can also use a foam cannon or a foam gun to hyper-lubricate your car’s delicate and scratch-sensitive clearcoat body panels as you wash each panel with a single, dedicated clean microfiber towel. 

    This is how OCD car enthusiasts wash their pride and joy.  It takes a little longer, but you will dramatically reduce the chance to put swirls, scratches, and wash marring into the paint and thus the previous coat of wax you applied will have the best chance of lasting a long time.

    The answers to the the most common three questions about waxing your car

    Real-world answers to real-world questions

    Now that I’ve covered the variables that affect how long a coat of car wax will last, let me answer these three questions.

    1: How often to wax car?

    Assuming you take ownership of the car wash process and do everything you can to wash your car carefully, then you should plan on waxing your car at least twice a year.   

    1: Wax your car before going into the winter months.

    If you live where winter weather is cold and rainy and/or you live where it snows, or temperatures reach freezing – then it’s going to be difficult to wash your car in the winter so it’s a good best practice to give your car a thorough wash and wax before winter hits.

    2: Wax in the spring – after coming out of winter weather.

    Once the cold, wet freezing weather is over, pick a warm, sunny weekend and give your car a thorough wash to remove all the traffic film that’s built-up over the winter months and then apply a fresh coat of wax. 

    2: How long does a car wax last?

    Great question and I covered this above to frame-up all the questions addressed in this article.  How long a coat or layer of car wax lasts depends on how the car is used or stored when not in use and how the car is touched – as in, how is the car washed? 

    In a perfect world, a fresh coat of car wax could last up to a year, but this means washing your car carefully and always parking your car under cover when not in use.  This means parking your car in a garage or under a carport when at home, and if you’re lucky, having the option to park your car inside a garage, shop, or carport when at work. 

    The more your car is exposed to the rain, sun and airborne pollution, dirt, and industrial fallout, the faster the coat of wax will wear-off the paint.

    3: What does wax do for a car?

    Another great question!  Some people think that because their car has a CLEARCOAT paint finish, they don’t need to do anything.  This comes from misinformation, often times by zealous New Car Salespeople, trying to close the deal with any and every enticing tidbit they can say to you in order to get you into their office or cubicle and sign on the dotted line.

    Here’s the facts.  Clearcoat paint is still PAINT and it will last longer and LOOK GOOD longer if you regularly wash and wax your car using quality products from a brand you trust.

    A 1967 Oldsmobile 442 with a fresh coat of wax!

    Final thoughts…

    I hope the above sheds some light on how long a car wax will last on your car.  The key thing that affects how long any brand of car wax lasts comes down to how you wash your car AFTER applying a coat of wax.  And how much time out of every day the car is exposed to the things that can remove wax, things like repeated exposure to rain, sun, pollution, dirt, and everyday normal wear-and-tear.

    My recommendations

    If you really want the paint on your car to last a long time and look good for a long time, (that’s 2 different things), then use a quality wax from an established brand like 3D POXY  and take ownership of the washing process.

    Use a maintenance product in-between regular washing

    Another great way to maintain your car’s finish and the previously applied coat of wax is to use a quick and easy spray-on product to extend the life of the wax while also maintaining protection, gloss and shine.  The product I use on my own cars, my customer’s cars and recommend to others is 3D Bead It Up.  Bead It Up is a spray on polymer coating.  It creates and maintains a super hydrophobic surface that causes water to bead up and roll off the car anytime it rains.  It also makes washing and drying faster, easier and also safer because it makes the surface super slippery.  

    Save time and money

    Because I know my customers will love Bead It Up as much as I do after they use it just one time, I wrote the article below to show them how to make spraying Bead It Up onto their car more efficient and how to save lots of money by purchasing this product in bulk by the gallon.  

    You can check my article out here.

    3D Bead it Up - Do yourself a huge favor and purchase by the gallon

    Further resources to help you maintain your car

    Here’s some articles I’ve written on these topics that will help you.

     How to use a Foam Cannon to Wash Your Car

    How to Wax Your Car: Step-by-Step Guide

     What is Carnauba Wax And How Do You Use It?

     What is a Dual Action Polisher & How To Use One?

    Keep it clean!

    And because it’s vitally important to prevent your microfiber towels and wash mitts from becoming contaminated, use some of the tips I share here to preserve your microfiber towels and mitts.

    How To Wash Microfiber Towels & Mitts Correctly

    If you ever have any questions about car or boat detailing, shoot me an email as I’m happy to help see you through to success in your garage or detail shop. 


    Mike Phillips

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