Years ago when I was first getting into detailing, the most popular type of car paint protection came in the form of Carnauba wax products. Although it may not seem like too long ago, the car care industry and technologies utilized in the products available have advanced rapidly in quite a short space of time.
It is quite a common thing nowadays that the bigger brands have ditched their wax-based products entirely and are focusing on newer and more advanced forms of protection such as Si02 or Graphene-based sprays and coatings.
I don’t think that any detailer can dispute just how effective these newer generation products can be.
These types of products seem to offer it all with little or no compromise.
- Long-Lasting protection measured in months/years instead of weeks
- Outstanding levels of gloss
- Quicker application ( in some cases)
- Cheaper in the long run
With all these benefits and hardly any downsides, it’s hard to imagine that there is any room for older and more antiquated methods of paint protection. I will never forget the days where I spent hours buffing off car wax and would have pains in my arm and shoulder afterwards!
Thinking back to these times it often makes me wonder if Carnauba based car wax has a place in detailing 2021 or is it a dying breed. Before we can answer that question, let’s take a look in detail at the origins of Carnauba car wax, and how it differs from modern-day variants of paint protection products.
What is Carnauba Wax?
Carnauba wax, which is often referred to as Brazil wax, is a type of wax which is obtained from the leaves of the carnauba palm tree, a plant native to and grown only in the northeastern Brazilian state. Carnauba wax is used across many industries and is a key ingredient in a number of different products such as shoe polishes, dental floss, food products, instrument polishes, and floor and furniture waxes and polishes.
Carnauba has many useful properties which has to lead to its use in the automotive industry such as
High melting temperature
Protection from UV rays
Resistance to water
- In its natural form, Carnauba is hard and dense
Based on the above properties it’s easy to see why Carnauba based products became popular within the detailing industry. Carnauba wax by nature is very hard and cannot be used in its purest and most natural form. Only by the addition of solvents, petroleum distillates and oils which are used to soften up the wax, allow it to be used on the surface of a car’s paintwork.
Some brands will claim that their car wax is 100% carnauba wax. This is somewhat deceptive since the 100% isn’t in reference to the contents of the car wax.
The very best carnauba wax is only one-third natural carnauba. Otherwise, it would be too hard to spread evenly and would be impossible to work with as a paint protectant.
What Are The Different Types of Carnauba Wax?
As with many other types of detailing products available, Carnauba wax is available in a few different forms. These are
This type of wax usually comes in the form of a fairly solid block of wax but will soften as you use some friction with your applicator pad.
This is a straight-up liquid wax that has a thick-ish constancy and usually comes in a bottle that can be poured directly onto your applicator pad.
Spray wax is very liquidy and not usually viscous in nature. It usually comes in a spray bottle with a trigger and designed to be sprayed directly onto your paintwork.
Which Is the Best Type Of Carnauba Wax?
Most detailers agree that when it comes to a wax formulation there is no distinct advantage between pastes, creams or liquids. It has more to do with production cost and marketing than its protection or surface gloss abilities.
Liquid or cream type waxes are easier to apply, although removal is about the same. Paste wax is just a thicker and harder form of liquid wax.
The only ingredients that will make a difference are wax quality and its percentage content, and the carrier system (i.e. type of solvent / silicone and/or mineral or natural oils used).
All other things being equal it all comes down to personal preference. In my case, I always preferred to use paste wax on my own vehicles.
How is Carnauba Wax Applied to Paintwork?
There are many different options for applying Carnauba wax to the surface of a car’s paintwork.
The most commonly used methods are either by using an applicator, by hand, microfibre cloth or if you have one, a machine polisher.
Many die-hard professionals swear by using their bare hands to apply the wax to the paintwork, although I always found that using a foam applicator is the most effective way of applying carnauba wax. By using a foam applicator you can achieve a very thin and even spread with Carnauba wax.
When using carnauba wax, less is more. When you apply it, you want to use as little of the product as possible and spread it out evenly. A thin layer will cure more evenly and faster, which in turn will mean the wax residue will be far easier to remove. (It took me a few sore arms to figure this one out!)
Carnauba Wax Vs Ceramic Coatings/Sealants
As I mentioned previously in this post, car care technology has come a long way in recent years with most brands opting to produce paint sealants, synthetic waxes or ceramic/graphene coating products.
These types of products have gained massive traction and there are a number of reasons why this has happened.
Typically the cost to produce a very high-quality Carnauba wax is a lot more expensive than a synthetic product. This cost is then naturally passed on to the consumer. Some of the best Carnauba wax products you can buy will run you into the hundreds of dollars, and for what? Protection that will last you a few weeks, and maybe a month or two depending on the type of weather it is exposed to.
For example, Zymol Concours Wax will run you $200+
Unless you own a show car that is going to be garaged for the majority of its life, something like this just doesn’t make sense to the average detailer.
Effort of Application
The amount of effort required to apply Carnauba wax far exceeds that of most newer types of products. As I mentioned above, I remember the days where I would finish waxing my own car and end up with shoulder and arm pain as my reward. I don’t miss those times!
Carnauba wax can be tricky to apply correctly and if left too long on a car’s paintwork or used on a hot day can result in a disaster when you go to remove it.
It can also destroy your black plastic trim on the car and leave a residue that can be difficult to remove.
When you compare this process to something as easy as applying a coat of Meguiars Hybrid Ceramic Wax, which can be applied in minutes and give some pretty good protection as a result, its just hard to see how old-style Carnauba waxes make sense in this day and age where people don’t have a lot of spare time on their hands.
The durability of Carnauba wax is usually measured in weeks, maybe a month or two if you are lucky. Modern-day methods of paint protection usually give you about 3 months at a minimum, all the way up to 5-10 years claimed protection with some products.
For example, Gtechniq Crystal Serum Ultra can protect a car for 9 years!
These types of advanced paint protection withstand even the strongest wash chemicals and bird droppings, you would never find a wax that could come close to this type of performance.
Most Enthusiast Detailers Enjoy Trying Exciting New Products
Most people who gain an interest in detailing often getting bitten by what I call “The Detailing Bug”. This is the insatiable need to try every new product that comes out. I know in my case, I am not happy until I have tried them all.
I am always searching for the perfect product and need to test them all to find out which are the ones that suit my needs best.
As more exciting forms of protection are developed and come to market, of course, we are going to treat our cars to the most advanced types available.
Unfortunately for Carnauba car wax, its seen as a bit of a dinosaur of the modern era.
Modern Day Regulations
In this day and age, The U.S. and other governments are demanding a significant reduction in the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in manufacturing processes and consumable products compared to before.
Car care products may not contain more than 15% VOC by volume.
This is bad news for Carnauba waxes since they use a significant quantity of light solvents, to soften the Carnauba wax from its original rock-hard form into a workable paste or cream.
This is another big reason why newer and mostly synthetic technologies are taking over.
Carnauba Car Wax – Is It Still Relevant in 2021?
Now that we have looked at the limitations of Carnauba car wax in modern-day car care, can we say that it still deserves a place on our detailing shelves? One thing I can say for certain is that I personally have no room for it in my own detailing routine when looking after my car.
Over the past number of years, as I have experimented with new products, it is impossible to ignore the benefits of these new forms of protection.
Through extensive testing, I can safely say that anything I have tried has nearly always outperformed ( at least in terms of durability and ease of use ) Carnauba based car wax.
Although the above applies to maybe 90% of the average detailers out there, it doesn’t mean that Carnauba wax doesn’t have a place in certain applications.
There are certain circumstances where this type of wax can actually have some benefits over some of its synthetic counterparts.
If you are looking to create the wettest and deepest shine possible (and not too worried about durability) , a carnauba based “show car” wax can achieve some unbelievable gloss, something that these synthetic products can’t match.
Most of these waxes are loaded with oils and silicone polymers that create incredible shine and depth. The comes at a cost, however, as these wax finishes are not durable – which makes them pointless for your average detail. However, if you only need your car to look amazing for a short space of time ( Eg a car show), they can still make sense.
Some people who grew up in the “wax era” prefer using Carnauba wax instead of the newer generation of protectants. This comes down to personal choice. Although it may be hard for some to believe, waxing a car can be quite meditative and relaxing in the right setting.
Some detailers love the waxing process and for them, it doesn’t make sense to use sealants and coatings as it doesn’t give them the same enjoyable experience in the application process.
Most people prefer to use traditional wax on their classic cars. For these enthusiasts, it doesn’t make sense to apply a coating that will last years, as some of these coatings are incredibly difficult to remove without polishing down the paintwork even further. On some of these older cars, the paintwork is probably pretty thin as it is.
Classic car owners mostly prefer to treat their pride and joy to some gentle car wax instead of a more permanent solution.
Hopefully, i have covered enough in this article for you to make up your own mind on whether Carnauba wax is still relevant in detailing in 2021. I would be interested in hearing your own thoughts and preferences in the comments section below or over on the Forum.
Until next time,
About the Author – Darren O Hara
Darren is the founder of the DriveDetailed blog and is a keen detailing enthusiast living in the rainy south of Ireland. When he is not cleaning his car he is always researching ways he can improve his techniques and enjoys testing out out new products.
Darren currently drives an Audi TTRS and is a big fan of performance cars.
You can follow Darren on Instagram @darrenoharacork