Question: Which shines the longest, a paste wax or a liquid wax?
Answer: If you choose a quality brand of wax, the shine will last about the same time no matter what form the wax comes in.
The more important question is how long will the wax last? And the answer to how long any wax will last comes down to how well was the paint surface prepared to accept the wax?
Just like getting a custom paint job for your car, the final results always depend on the prep work performed before applying the wax. If you’re working on a new car or a car where the paint is in new or excellent condition, then you can expect to get around 3-4 months of shine, longevity and protection if the car is a daily driver and washed carefully by hand using a pH balanced car wash soap and a quality car wash mitt.
As soon as you start taking your car through any type of automatic car wash – the wax is going to start wearing off prematurely because these types of car washes are too harsh and aggressive to the waxed finish.
The key to getting the longest shine and protection comes down to these four simple rules.
If the paint on your car is neglected and you do not do any prep work then the shine will not last very long, maybe a month or two because the wax will not be able to make a proper bond to the paint. Cars that are daily drivers get a build-up of what is called traffic film on the outside of the car, this comes from all the various oils cars drip when they are being driven down the road. As cars get older, they tend to drip motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, gear oil etc. This builds upon the roads and highways and oftentimes shows up as a darker portion in the middle of the highway.
See how the center of the road is darker?
Then when it rains, this oily dirt mixes with rainwater and the cars driving in front of you splash this grimy rainwater onto your car and over time this becomes traffic film.
Here's the deal, car wax will not readily bond to traffic film. A good chemist formulates their wax to bond to paint, specifically urethane clearcoat paint. If your car has traffic film on it, then the wax will not last long, shine long or protect for very long.
So back to the question,
Which shines the longest, a paste wax or a liquid wax?
The answer is, if the car is brand new or if the car is a older but the paint is in new or excellent condition, then a quality car wax, whether it’s a paste, a liquid or a spray-on wax, will last on average 3-4 months and even longer if the car is parked in a garage when not in use.
How long any brand of wax lasts comes down to how the car is driven, stored when not in use and how the car is washed. The less you drive your car, the more you park the car in a garage or under a carport and the more carefully you wash and dry your car the longer the last will last and the longer the wax will shine and protect.
The more you drive your car, if it’s NEVER parked under cover, and especially if you take your car through an automatic brush style car wash – the shorter the amount of time the wax will shine, last and protect.
Assuming the paint on your car is in new to excellent condition or assuming you do the proper prep work before applying wax to bring your car’s finish up to new and/or excellent condition, then which wax is best for you really comes down to personal preference.
When it comes to a professional grade liquid, paste or spray-on waxes, the primary difference between these three options is personal preference. The key words in this statement are professional grade and I’ll explain what I mean below.
Car waxes have been around for a long time, basically since the time of the Ford Model T. But the technology used to create the wax formulations has undergone thousands of changes over the last 100+ years. In the picture above you see three different waxes that are available in three different forms, liquid, paste and spray-on.
When I read articles about liquid versus paste waxes or watch videos on this topic, I hate to say it but most of the information you’ll find is either outdated or flat out incorrect. So let me set the record straight.
The difference between a liquid, paste and spray-on wax all comes down to the quality of the brand you select. There are lots of sub-standard, or old-school products, which means substandard or old-school FORMULAS on the market and in most cases the price point reflects this aspect, but not always. A true manufacturer that has vertically integrated manufacturing in place and thus controls all aspects of the manufacturing process starting with the raw materials and ending up with the final product a customer can hold in their hand is able to offer a quality product at a lower price point.
Marketing companies that simply purchase bulk products, pour them off into their own cars, jars and bottles and then slaps their label on the outside, they have zero control over the manufacturing process and thus have to pad the retail price in order to make a profit. This is an example of how you can pay a higher price for a mediocre product. And this is why it pays to do your research and buy from a true manufacturer, not a marketing company.
Old school formulas
If you choose a product that is made using old school technology then there can be a difference between these three different forms the wax comes in and the problem isn’t choosing which form to purchase and use, the problem is no matter which product you choose, it’s an inferior product from the get-go.
If you choose a brand that has their own in-house chemists and research and development laboratory, the brand is recognized for manufacturing nothing but professional grade products, (in their entire line), then to be blunt, there is no difference in quality, shine, protection, and longevity because no matter what the FORM the wax comes in – the chemistry is adjusted to make the ingredients perform the same. This is the case with 3D waxes.
In the old days, in order to make a solid into a liquid or into a paste, you would have to dissolve and emulsify the wax into the solvent, which acts as the carrying agent for the wax plus any other functional ingredients. This is old technology.
A good chemist knows how to emulsify a solid into liquid or paste form without the need to use harsh solvents. Professional grade products will have a nice scent because there are not harsh or nasty V.O.C.s used in the formula. V.O.C. stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, these are the solvents used to dissolve other ingredients into an emulsion or a usable product.
Cheap solvents do not go through multiple refining processes where the nastiest parts of the solvent are removed. Expensive solvents go through multiple, multiple refining processes like hydrotreating, where the carcinogenic, flammable, and corrosive components in a solvent are removed. Highly refined solvents cost more than cheap solvents and this aspect is always reflected in the price of the end-product.
The Smell Test
Here’s what I do when checking out different brands of waxes as well as any car detailing product, I remove the lid and lightly smell the product. If you have any sense of smell at all you can usually detect the odor or foul scent of some type of solvent. Sure, there may be a scent in the product to both make the product smell good but also MASK the odor of the solvents.
A product that uses highly refined solvents does not have a foul odor and any scents added to the formula are simply to create a product that’s enjoyable to use, not cover-up cheap solvents.
How do they do this? That’s proprietary information and no company shares these types of secrets. This is why for the last 30+ years working as a manufacturer’s representative, a professional detailer, an instructor on the craft of detailing and an author of over 7 how-to books on car and boat detailing, and 2 TV shows on car detailing – what I tell people when asked about which brand of product to choose I always say the same thing,
Choose an ESTABLISHED brand with a great reputation.
So, what is the difference between a liquid, paste and spray-on wax?
With a pro-grade brand, the only difference is the form, not the function or performance.
Pro-grade Liquid Wax
A professional grade liquid wax like 3D Liquid Carnauba Wax, will have the consistency of a premium quality hand lotion. It will be smooth and creamy. It will spread easily by hand or by machine. It will dry fast, and in context, the word fast means around 10 to 15 minutes in normal temperatures and humidity. This also assumes you apply a THIN coat of wax.
Common sense tells us that a thick coat of wax, in extreme cold temperatures will take longer to dry. Just like pouring water on a sidewalk on a cold winter day, the water will take longer to evaporate versus pouring the same water on a sidewalk on a hot summer day. It’s simple physics.
Key benefits to a liquid wax
What’s really nice and also convenient about liquid waxes is their ease of use by hand or machine.
Hand application is simple
By hand it’s as simple as pouring some product onto a foam applicator pad and then using an overlapping circular motion, spread the product out and over a panel and work it to create a thin layer of wax that will dry fast and wipe off easily.
Machine application is simple, fast, and more effective than hand application
In the old days, there were three primary types of polishers, the rotary polisher, the orbital polisher and the dual-head Cyclo polisher. Nowadays, there are dozens of types of polishers and hundreds of brands to choose from.
The introduction of harder clearcoat paint technology in the early 1980s forced people to switch from working by hand to working by machine because the average person can not hand polish a clearcoat as effectively as they could with a machine. Thus, nowadays most car enthusiasts and pretty much all professional detailers own and use some type of machine for both paint correction and machine application of wax.
Circle back to the liquid wax option, with a liquid, it’s just a matter of pouring some wax onto a foam buffing pad, turning the polisher on, and letting it do all the work of applying a thin application of wax for you. It’s faster and easier than hand application and it does a better job.
There really isn’t any downside to hand or machine applying a liquid wax. It’s simply personal preference and in order to machine apply you of course need a polisher.
Pro-grade Paste Wax
A professional grade paste wax like 3D Carnauba Paste Wax, will be solid in the can or jar and have the consistency of real milk butter or margarine. The word hard isn’t accurate to describe this type of paste wax but it’s definitely not as soft as whip cream.
Using the correct technique, which I share in this article, will enable you to liquify the paste while it’s in the can so the wax will penetrate into your applicator pad whereupon you can then apply it to the paint. It does require a tick more skill to use a paste wax compared to a liquid or a spray-on wax but nothing anyone that’s physically capable of owning and driving a car cannot do.
A thin application of a professional grade paste wax will dry just as fast as a thin application of a liquid wax assuming the temperature, humidity and air movement is the same. (moving air makes waxes dry faster than stagnant air).
Key benefits to a paste wax
Paste waxes require a tick more technique to use correctly as compared to a liquid or spray-on wax and for this reason, the primary benefit is the experience of hand applying a paste wax. It’s a kind of relaxation some people prefer when they are not in a hurry and simply want the freedom to spend time in their garage protecting their car with a fresh coat of wax while escaping the hectic, fast-paced world we all live in.
Hand application is simple
The technique for getting a paste wax out of a can or jar is to place the foam applicator applicator pad against the wax and then with one hand, twisting the can in a back-n-forth circular motion while at the same time, spinning the applicator pad against the wax in a circular motion. The result is this small amount of friction will melt the top surface of the wax and enable it to flow into the applicator pad whereupon you can then apply it to the paint.
Correctly used, a paste wax is a liquid wax, it’s just that most people don’t know about this technique. The wrong way to apply a paste wax is to SCOOP some wax out of the can and then try to apply what is basically a chunk of wax.
Machine application is simple, fast, and more effective than hand application
Most people don’t know how to machine apply a paste wax because they don’t know how to get the wax out of the can and onto the face of a foam finishing pad but it’s actually really simple. Use a butter knife, or an old credit card and scrape the top of the wax to gather some up and then spread it over the face of the pad like spreading peanut butter over bread.
Machine application of a paste wax is doable, it’s just a tick clumsy but it can be done and like machine application of a liquid wax, the machine always does a better job than the human hand. The other downside is you lose or miss out on the sensual experience of hand applying a fine paste wax to your mechanical best friend.
Pro-grade Spray-On Wax
A professional grade spray-on wax like 3D Express Wax, is simply a highly liquified version of a liquid wax. There’s more carrying agent than a liquid or a paste wax and this makes the wax thin or watery so it can be extracted through a siphon tube and pumped through a spray head and hopefully atomized to some level versus coming out of the spray head like a squirt gun.
A spray-on wax will spread easily and in fact easier than a liquid or a paste and also dry faster. This single aspect makes applying a spray-on wax faster than either a liquid or a paste, but the downside is you’re leaving behind less solids or functional ingredients as a trade-off for speed and convenience.
Key benefits to a spray-on wax
The primary benefit to using a spray-on wax is it is the fastest way to apply a wax out of the three options, liquid, paste and spray-on. The key to making the application of a spray-on wax fast is using the correct technique.
The correct technique to apply a spray-on wax by hand
Here’s another technique most people simply don’t know about and I’m happy to share it here. The correct way to apply a spray on wax is to use a foam applicator pad only ONE SIDE of a folded microfiber towel.
Foam applicator pad
This is like using a liquid or paste wax, start by dampening one side of the foam applicator pad with the wax itself. This way it has product on it and this wetness provides lubrication to make moving the foam applicator over the paint smooth and easy. Next mist a spray or two of the spray wax to a panel and then spread the wax over the panel just like you would with a liquid or paste wax.
Folded microfiber towel
The correct way to use a microfiber towel to apply a spray wax is to only use ONE SIDE of the folded towel. Like shared above with a foam applicator pad, start by dampening one side of the folded microfiber towel with the wax itself this way this side of the microfiber towel is WET with the spray wax. This wetness provides lubrication to make moving the towel over the paint smooth and easy.
MOST IMPORTANT – By wetting or dampening one side of the folded microfiber towel with the spray wax, because this side of the towel is now wet with wax, the towel itself will NOT try to remove the wax as you’re trying to spread it out.
The exact opposite is true if you try to spread out a spray wax with a DRY microfiber towel. If the towel is dry, because a dry towel naturally tries to absorb or dry the surface, you will be fighting yourself as at the same time you’re trying to spread the wax out the dry towel is trying to remove it. So ALWAYS start by dampening the side of the folded towel you’re going to use to apply and spread the wax out with and then application will be smooth, fast, and easy.
Machine application is simple, fast, and more effective than hand application
While spray-on waxes are not normally machine applied it’s super easy to do. Like the technique shared to apply a spray wax using a folded microfiber towel, if you want to machine apply a spray wax start by wetting or dampening the entire face of the foam finishing pad with the spray wax. This way the face of the pad is wet with product. Then mist a spray or two of wax onto a panel and follow this by machine spreading the wax using a slow to medium speed on your polisher.
Machine application of a spray wax kind of defeats the purpose of using the spray wax. The idea behind a spray wax is to provide the user with the fastest way to wax their car. Inserting a machine into the process will make it take longer and if you’re going to do this you might as well use a liquid wax. To be honest, when using a spray wax, it’s faster to simply hand apply using a foam applicator or a folded microfiber towel and from experience, the fastest way is with the microfiber towel because you can cover more surface area as compared to a small foam applicator pad.
Removing liquid, paste and spray waxes
The removal process is the same for all three types of waxes. The real key or secret to making any wax wipe-off easy comes down to two things.
- Start by using a professional grade product to begin with, whether it’s a liquid, paste or spray.
- Use a premium quality microfiber towel and have plenty on hand for the job.
Here’s something most people don’t know about or understand until they read what I’m about to type. HALF of your experience using any wax is the wipe-off towel. Yep... it’s a fact. If you use a quality towel, then removing the wax will be easy.
If you use a cheap, sub-standard towel, you’ll find wiping the wax off to be difficult. People that go cheap and use junky microfiber towels usually blame the PRODUCT as the reason they struggle to remove the layer of car wax. If there were to simply use a quality towel, they wouldn’t struggle, and they would have a much better experience.
I hope the above information helps you to understand the difference between using a liquid, paste or spray wax. The reality is, if you choose a high quality, professionally formulated product, no matter what the form it comes in, the chemists will have designed the wax to both apply and remove easily. It’s when you use cheap, or waxes that are made using antiquated chemistry that the application and removal process is different and (than using a quality product) and leads to frustration and ultimately a bad experience and also more than likely, poor results.
After doing your research, followed by washing and drying your car and then performing any needed paint correction and prep work, simply follow the directions on the label and you should be able to create professional quality results that will make your neighbors and friends jealous and put a smile on your face.
I hope the above helps you to choose and use the right wax for your car. If you ever have any questions about car or boat detailing, please feel free to reach out and contact me, I’m happy to help you with whatever detailing project you’re working on in your shop or garage.
More detailed information
Cleaner/Wax versus Finishing Wax or non-cleaning waxes
The scope of this article is in the context of using what are called finishing waxes or non-cleaning waxes. Another term for a finishing wax is show car wax. These types of waxes are intended to only be used on paint that is new or in excellent condition. This means the paint is clean and smooth, free from any above surface bonded contaminants and also free from any swirls, scratches, oxidation and/or water spots.
When working on paint in this condition, a finishing wax will glide effortlessly over the surface making it easy for you to spread out the wax and leave behind a thin, uniform layer. If the paint is in bad condition, then a finishing wax is the wrong type of wax to use and whether a liquid, paste or spray version, it will not feel good applying the wax and the wax will simply not perform as intended.
If the paint on the car you’re working on is in neglected condition, then you don’t want a finishing wax, you want what is called a cleaner/wax or AIO, which stands for All-in-One. A cleaner/wax or AIO contains either chemical cleaners or some form of abrasive technology and oftentimes both. This type of wax will do three things in a single step.
A cleaner/wax or AIO will,
- Remove paint defects like swirls, scratches, water spots and oxidation.
- Polish the paint to maximize gloss, clarity, and reflections.
- Protect the finish by leaving a layer of wax behind on the surface.
For more information about cleaner/waxes, AIOs and finishing waxes, see my article here:
For detailed information on how to hand or machine apply a finishing wax, see my article here:
For more information on how to use a detailing clay towel on neglected paint to remove bonded contaminants, see my article here:
For more information on how to remove swirls, scratches, water spots and oxidation on neglected paint, see my article here: