What is Carnauba Wax And How Do You Use It? | 3D Car Care

A carnauba wax is a product formulated to add a layer of protection to an automotive finish while adding gloss and shine at the same time.  Carnauba waxes come in both paste and liquid formulations with the primary difference simply being the form in which a person prefers.


Carnauba Paste Wax

A traditional carnauba paste wax come in a tin can although now days you will also find them in their cheaper counterpart, plastic jars.  Some paste waxes are pre-softened to make getting the wax out of the can and spread over the paint faster and easier.  There are still traditional carnauba paste waxes historically referred to as a hard wax on the market and interestingly enough, these are actually just as easy to apply as a pre-softened paste wax IF you know the old school technique for getting the wax out of the can.  (I’ll share that below).


Carnauba paste waxes can be applied by machine, but it does require you to somehow scoop some wax out of the can and then spread it like butter onto the face of a foam buffing pad.

car waxing set

Carnauba Liquid Wax

The majority of carnauba waxes on the market today come in liquid form.  This coincides with the increased growth in the dual action polisher industry.  Today there are literally hundreds of safe, easy to use dual action polishers that car owners have switched over to for detailing their own cars.  

The dual action polisher is safe because it won’t put swirls into the paint or burn through the edges or raised body lines when buffing.  Having a carnauba wax in liquid form makes it incredibly easy to machine apply the wax because you can simply pour some wax onto the face of a foam buffing pad.  The dual action polisher makes apply a coat of carnauba wax dramatically faster than old school hand application and the machine does a better job of laying down a thin, uniform layer of wax that will dry faster and wipe off easier as compared to hand applying a traditional paste wax.

car waxing set

The primary difference between a carnauba paste and liquid wax.

Besides the physical form differences, there’s actually no other substantial difference between the paste version and the liquid version except the tactical experience that some people enjoy from the hand applying a traditional carnauba paste wax to their favorite toy in the garage.  Let’s face it, living in the modern world can be hectic and for many of us, it seems like we’re always rushing in our work lives and our family lives in order to get everything done in a timely manner.


Decompress and melt into the music and the process

Spending a Saturday afternoon in your garage with your favorite music playing as you methodically caress your car’s finish massaging a layer of high-quality carnauba paste wax over the paintwork is a relaxing way to escape the rat race even if only for a little while.  It’s a chance to spend time not only maintaining the paint so it will last as long as the mechanical drive train, (which can easily be three hundred thousand miles with modern technology), but it’s pretty hard to beat the warm depth and glow a quality carnauba paste wax imparts with mile-deep reflections and a high gloss appearance that looks like the car just received a brand-new paint job.

 Benefits of Carnauba Wax

The best quality carnauba waxes use #1 Grade Pure Brazilian Carnauba Wax.  This is the purest form of wax extracted from Brazilian palm tree Copernicia Cerifera.  Carnauba wax is the hardest naturally according wax and this provides a durable protective coating after application and removal from the finish.  Carnauba wax also creates a slick, smooth surface that helps the exterior of your car to stay clean longer as airborne dirt and pollution are less likely to stick or bond to the surface.  Carnauba wax creates a hydrophobic surface, this means it creates high surface tension and it’s this characteristic that causes water to bead-up and then roll off anytime time it rains taking any accumulated dirt, dust and debris with it.  This high surface tension also makes washing faster and safer as well as making drying the water off the car after the final rinse quicker and easier. 


Warm, deep glow

There are lots of other products on the market to protect your car’s paint and each different type of protection product brings with it unique characteristics.  To date however, nothing comes close to the natural warm glow with intense depth and reflectivity you get from a quality carnauba wax. 

How to hand apply a Carnauba Paste Wax

Note:  Vehicles should be washed and dried beforehand or machine waxing.

If you’re new to using a traditional can of wax, let me share how to use a quarter to open the lid with the secret slot.  Most cans have an indent in the lid where you stick a quarter and then twist the quarter to remove the lid from the can.


Look around the perimeter of the lid and you’ll see an indent or slot where you can poke a screwdriver or better yet - an ordinary quarter.

can of car wax with finger pointing to slot on the lid

Stick the quarter into the slot

using a quarter to open a can of car wax

Then twist the quarter and this will pry the lid open from the can.  This is an old school trick old-timers know and use.

Using a quarter to open a can of car wax

The twisting technique for getting a paste wax out of the can


Getting a paste wax out of the can the correct way

Remember I told you I would share the old school technique for making it easy to get a paste wax out of the can without scooping out large chunks of wax making a mess of the wax in the can?  Below I’ll share this technique in step 1. 

Step 1: Using a clean, round foam applicator pad, place the pad against the wax in the can and then at the same time, twist the can in a circular back and forth pattern while also spinning the foam applicator in a circle against the wax in the can.

using sponge to pick up car wax

using sponge to pick up car wax from can

How it works

This tiny bit of friction will soft then very top portion of the solid wax causing it to liquify and seep into the foam.  BOOM!  That’s the secret technique.  Of course, it seems simple now after you’ve read this article and looked at the pictures.  But if someone didn’t share this with you, the method that comes naturally to people is to push the foam applicator INTO the solid mass of wax and scoop out a chunk.  Now what?  How would you spread a chunk of wax over the paint?  The answer is it’s awkward, clumsy and doesn’t work.  The spinning can and spinning applicator technique works and makes using a paste wax fun and easy.


Step 2:  Now that you have ample wax on the face of your foam applicator pad, use overlapping circular motions to apply and spread the wax over a panel or section of a panel. 


How it works

When you first touch the wax applicator down onto a section of paint, you’ll tend to deposit the bulk of the wax on the face of the applicator onto the surface.  

applying wax to a car with sponge

applying wax to car with a sponge

As you move your hand in an overlapping circular motion, when your hand comes back around to the place you initially touched the applicator down, the foam will pick up the wax in this spot and as you continue to make an overlapping circular motion this technique makes it very easy to spread the wax out over a larger surface.

applying wax to car with a sponge

Once you have the wax spread out over the surface then rework the wax over the panel to lay down a uniform thin layer of wax like you see in the picture.   Leave this wax to dry to a haze and move onto the next panel repeating this application technique. 

wax buffed into the surface of a car

How to apply a carnauba paste wax by machine

The trick to applying a paste wax by machine is really simple, use a spatula, or a butter knife or even an old credit card to scrape some wax out of the can and then spread it over the face of a soft foam buffing pad like spreading butter over toast. 

Step 1:  Use a butter knife, spoon or other (clean) device to scrape some wax out of the can and then spread it over the face of a soft foam buffing pad.

scraping car wax out of a can

applying wax to a buffing pad

Step 2:  Turn the speed setting on a dual action polisher to the medium speed setting. 

changing setting on a rotary polisher

Caution:  Place the face of the pad against the paint before turning the polisher on.

waxing a car with a rotary polisher

Step 3:  Move the polisher over the surface using an overlapping crosshatch pattern to lay down a thin, uniform layer of wax.  Go over each panel 2-3 times to ensure uniform coverage over the entire panel.  Be sure to turn the polisher OFF before lifting the pad off the surface so the pad can slow down and thus avoid slinging any wax splatter over the car or you!

waxing a car with a rotary polisher

waxing your car with a rotary polisher

Step 4:  Apply some more wax to the face of the pad like you did in step 1 and move onto the next panel and repeat the process.  

As you move from panel to panel, previously waxed panels will have time for the wax to dry to a haze.  For most quality waxes, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes for the was to fully dry to a haze.  This is important because it is through the drying process that the wax bonds to the surface.  

If you wipe the wax off too soon, for example while it’s still wet, you will have effectively wipe the wax (all of the wax), off the paint.  This is a waste of wax and your time.  Of course, read the directions on the side of the can and follow the manufacture’s recommendations for drying time.  What I’ve shared here is the industry norm, but some brands may vary from this historical application process.


 How to apply a liquid carnauba wax by hand

The technique for applying a liquid wax by hand is the same as applying a paste wax by hand only instead of using the spinning technique to get the wax out of the can, you can simply pour some wax out of the bottle and onto the face of the foam applicator pad.  Then apply the same way using overlapping circular motions to cover an entire panel at one time.

squeezing wax form a bottle onto a sponge

dabbing wax onto the surface of a car

After dabbing the wax onto the panel, next start making overlapping, circular motions to spread the wax out over the entire panel.

smoothing wax onto the surface of a car

buffing wax into the surface of a car

man waxing surface of a car

You want to see a thin, almost translucent film of wax over the surface.

wax on surface of car

wax buffed into surface of car

How to apply a liquid carnauba wax by machine

The technique for applying a liquid wax by machine is the same as the technique for applying a paste wax by machine except because it’s a liquid you can simply pour a little wax out of the bottle and onto the face of the foam buffing pad.

applying liquid car wax to a sponge on a rotary polisher

buffing wax onto surface of a car with a rotary polisher

wax buffed into the surface of a car

How to remove Carnauba wax after it has dried to a haze

Here’s another old school technique for removing dried wax.  The technique is called,

 Breaking open a coat of wax


How it works

When you have an entire panel covered with a layer of dried wax, your job or goal is to remove the wax without struggling as this could induce towel marring.  Here’s how old timers did it.


Step 1: Take a clean, microfiber towel, fold it 4-ways to create a towel that is square in shape with four layers of towel to provide plenty of cushion between your hand and the paint and lay it flat in the middle of the panel.

folding a microfiber towel on the surface of a car

folding a microfiber towel on the surface of a car

microfiber towel folded on the surface of a car

Step 2: Place your hand on this towel and gently twist the towel in a back and forth circular motion.  This will break-open the layer of wax creating a shiny spot in the middle of the panel.

wiping off excess wax from a car with a microfiber towel

wiping surface of a car with a microfiber towel

wiping surface of a car with a microfiber towel

wax on the surface of a car

Step 3:  Now grasp the folded microfiber towel between your thumb and your 4 fingers so you have a firm grasp on the towel.  Place the bulk of the towel flat onto the shiny spot and then start making overlapping circular motions moving out from the shiny spot to the rest of the panel. 

IMPORTANT:  As you start making circular motions to remove the wax, only make small circular motions.  The idea is to only remove a small portion of wax at a time.

wiping wax of the surface of a car

wiping wax off the surface of a car

wiping wax off the surface of a car

How it works

After carnauba wax has dried to a haze it has a strong bond to the paint.  Your goal is to overcome this bond to remove the wax without having to rub hard.  As long as you are only removing small portions of wax at a time the microfiber towel can easily overcome the adhesion or bond between the wax and the paint so you can easily remove it. 

If you try to wipe off too much wax as your wiping, your microfiber towel will NOT be able to overcome the surface tension between the wax and the paint and your towel will stick to the wax and your hand will move forward without it.  Anyone that’s removed a car wax has probably experienced this at some point in their life, so you know what I’m talking about. 

By slowing down and working carefully and methodically you can make removing the wax easy and faster overall.  This is a prime example of moving slower to go faster. 

Continue using this technique of breaking-open the wax in the middle of a panel and them moving out from the shiny spot until you have removed all the wax from each panel. 


Inspecting your work

After you have removed all the wax from the entire vehicle, here’s a tip pros use to ensure there’s no wax streaks, smears or patches of wax you missed. 

Move the vehicle to change its position in your garage or driveway.  By moving the vehicle, ambient light will shine on to the different body panels in a different manner than how it did where the vehicle was originally parked and this will make it easier to see if you missed any spots. 


Use a Swirl Finder Light

A tool professionals use to inspect their work is called a swirl finder light.  While most pros use swirl finder lights to inspect for swirls and scratches before doing any paint correction, these types of lights also work great for inspecting for any wax streaks or smears during the wipe-off step.

Professional Technique Tip – Inspect your towels

One of the most common ways people put swirls and scratches into their vehicle’s finish is by using microfiber towels that are contaminated with sharp, pokey abrasive particulates.  This often happens if you drop a microfiber towel onto the ground and then without inspecting at that moment to remove any dirt or debris that attached to the towel – you add it to the rest of your microfiber towels and wash them all together.  This then effectively contaminates all your towels. 

To avoid contaminating your towels have a dedicated laundry hamper in your garage or even a clean 5-gallon bucket.  After using a microfiber towel, place this now dirty towel into the clean clothes hamper or clean bucket.  Then when you have enough dirty microfiber towels to make a wash load, wash them, dry them and then place them on a clean table and inspect them both visually and tactically with your sense of touch. 


How it works

Place a clean towel onto a clean table and inspect visually with your eyes.  When you see contaminants, pick them out with your fingers.

cleaning a microfiber towel with fingers

cleaning a microfiber towel

 If you see or feel any hard, sharp, or pokey feeling contaminant in the weave of the towel, pick it out with your fingers or a set of tweezers. 

cleaning a microfiber towel

cleaning a microfiber towel

Next feel the towel with the palms of your clean hands.

cleaning microfiber towel

Once the towels passes both inspections and you are satisfied the towel is clean and there are no contaminants embedded in the weave of the towel - fold the towel 4-ways and set it aside.  Now inspect the next towel and so on and so on.

clean microfiber towel

folding microfiber towel

folding a microfiber towel

After you inspected and folded all the towels, store the towels that pass inspection in a place where they will remain clean. 

clean folded microfiber towel

Any towels that did not pass inspection, delegate them to non-paint detailing tasks or use them for other job duties around the house.  Just don’t use contaminated towels on your car’s delicate clearcoat finish.



Hand or machine applying a traditional carnauba wax, be it a paste or a liquid is not only a great way to preserve your car’s finish while restoring a high gloss shine, it’s also a way to relax and unwind while having fun with your favorite ride.

For more information, visit


Mike Phillips