How to Completely Remove Car Wax From Your Paintwork

How to Completely Remove Car Wax From Your Paintwork

Knowing how to remove wax from a car is a necessary skill that every detailer, both amateur and professional should be comfortable with. Even in 2020 with so much information at hand both on detailing forums and youtube channels, there is still some confusion around this topic.

The good news is that despite all the misinformation out there, the process for doing this is quite straightforward!

In this post, I will cut through a lot of the BS out there and give you some essential tips on how to completely strip and remove traditional carnauba based wax from a vehicles paintwork.

Before we dive into the “How To”, it is important to understand what makes up the ingredients of traditional car wax as this is what determines the best course of action for removal.

How to remove car wax

What Makes Up a Car Wax?

Traditional car wax formula usually consists of a blend of carnauba wax, mixed with other waxes, such as beeswax, natural oils, and will sometimes also include petroleum distillates.

These days most waxes are created by combining a variety of both natural and synthetic substances to enhance its durability and shine. Most traditional waxes are carnauba based.

Because this type of car wax is mostly made up of natural oils and waxes, unlike some of the more modern counterparts such as SiO2 sealants and coatings, it does make it less durable which in turn makes it easier to remove.

remove wAX

Why Would you Want To Remove Wax from your Car?

You may ask the question, why would I ever want to remove a protective layer from my paintwork? Well in some cases you actually need to. The main reasons for wanting to remove wax from your paintwork include

1.Preparing A Car For Polishing

This is probably the main reason for detailers wanting to strip away the wax and oils from a vehicles paintwork. Some people may argue that once you begin to polish your car that most of the wax will be removed in this process, but in my opinion, this isn’t the correct way to go about it.

Wax and other protective products can interfere with the polish and pad. Just think of it as a barrier that rests between the paint that you want to polish, and the polishing media itself. 

I have seen many instances in the past where people complain that they are not getting results when polishing a car, and a lot of the time this comes down to the way a car is prepped.

Removing wax and previous protection is absolutely an important step in this process!

2. You Want to Apply a Fresh Layer of Wax

If you are applying a new coat of wax to your car, it is best practice to remove the old layer first. To allow the wax to bond properly to the paintwork, your paint should be bare and free from any other substances.

This is not a hard and fast rule however, and it depends on when you applied the previous layer. 

For example, if you wanted to apply a top-up of an existing wax with the same product, there is nothing wrong with adding another coat after a week or two on top of the wax that is already on the car. However, if the existing layer of wax is old (Eg over 2-3 months or so), you would be best off stripping the remaining wax completely and starting fresh with clean paintwork.

If you are applying a different brand/type of wax to the existing layer, I always recommend stripping off the old product as not all waxes play well with each other.

wash car in summer

3. You are Unhappy after Applying a specific product

In the past when I was a lot more inexperienced I tried a lot of “cheaper” products that were an absolute nightmare to work with. Some of the times the finish of the car would look worse than before applying the wax.

Thankfully these days I know only to buy quality products.

There were cases where I had to strip the wax off the car almost immediately after application because I was unhappy.

strip car wax

So now you know the main reasons why one might want to completely strip and remove wax off a vehicles paintwork, let’s look at the various products you can use to accomplish this.

Household Dish Soap – Can it Be Used to Strip Wax?

A lot of “Old School” guys will tell you that you can use regular household dish soap to strip wax from a car’s paintwork. Will it work? The honest answer is that it will more than likely do a pretty good job at removing the wax from the paint. But should you use it? Probably not unless it is a last resort.

Dish soaps are fairly harsh detergents and will do a great job cleaning pots and pans with baked-on grease – Are they harsh enough to strip wax from a car, no doubt about it. Compared to a good quality car wash soap they are very harsh. But is that a bad thing? Well, for the odd wash or two before a complete detail, it is not going to do any real harm to your paintwork.

Dish soaps are NOT suitable for regular car washing and they will have a detrimental effect to your finish if used regularly over the long run.

Remove wax from car

How to Use Dish Soap to Strip Wax

Although it is not a method I would recommend, if you don’t have any dedicated products for doing a strip wash of your car available to you, you can use a household dish soap such as dawn ultra to remove wax from your vehicles paintwork.

You can simply add a decent amount of Dawn to a bucket of hot water instead of your regular car shampoo.

Although Dawn is a harsh detergent, some of the more modern car waxes can be quite resilient to chemicals and chances are you will need to do more than one wash of the car to remove most of the wax layer. Another factor that comes into play is how long the wax has been sitting on the paintwork (for example a wax you applied 1 week ago is going to take more effort to remove than a wax that was applied 4 weeks ago)

You will know if you have removed the protection if you are no longer seeing any signs of water beading or sheeting on the paintwork.

Here is a good example of paintwork where the protection has been completely removed ( Left side of the picture the protection is removed, right side still has protection )

I know most people who are reading this article are not the type who wants to use something that is designed for household cleaning on their pride and joy, so what other options are there when it comes to products which will remove wax from the paintwork of a car?

Luckily there are some solutions available which are designed specifically for this purpose while being safe for your paint.

Let’s take a look.

Meguiars Wash Plus

If you can get your hands on it, Meguiars Wash+ is a great tool for removing wax from a car. This car wash differs from nearly every other shampoo on the market due to the fact it has some very fine abrasive particles in it ( Meguiars claim it can remove some very fine swirl marks but I have never used it for that purpose)

This is a very strong cleaning tool which should be applied directly to your wash mitt ( and not diluted in a bucket like you would a normal shampoo)

As you are applying this product directly to your paintwork, I recommend that you do a regular wash of the car before using Wash+ as you will want to remove any dirt/contamination from your paintwork to reduce the risk of scratching/swirling

strip wash


Adam’s Strip Car Wash Soap 

Adams has a dedicated wash product designed to strip wax from your paintwork safely. Strip Wash works exceptionally well in a 2-bucket wash method and can also be used in a Foam Gun.

This product is not PH neutral and given its strength should never be used as a regular wash shampoo.

remove car wax

Chemical Guys Clean Slate

Clean slate is a very similar product to Adams Strip wash and will give you comparable results. This product was designed with this specific purpose in mind and is one of the most effective wash tools for stripping a car of any previous wax-based protectants.

best wax stripper

Will These Products Be Effective on Ceramic Coatings & Sealants?

It’s important to note that the products I have mentioned above will have little to no effect on SiO2 based sealants and ceramic coatings. One of the main benefits of coatings is their extreme resilience to chemicals, and the cleaning power of these shampoos will simply not be strong enough to remove them.

Most modern Ceramics will require polishing with a medium to heavy cutting compound and a more aggressive pad to be removed from the paintwork. 

how to apply coating

How to Spot Remove Wax Residue From Trims, Plastic Bumper etc

There may be cases where you don’t want to completely strip wax from the entire car but you need to spot remove a section ( Eg Wax residue on some trim or other plastic parts ).

The easiest way to do this is with an IPA spray and a microfiber cloth. The ones I generally tend to stick with are either CarPro Eraser or Gyeon Prep

how to apply ceramic coating

How to Remove Wax from Glass or Windshield

Another common issue I see is where people accidentally get some wax or residue on glass areas of their car(Windows,Windshield etc). Again – A microfiber cloth combined with a good IPA spray or dedicated glass cleaner should clear this up with no issue.

remove wax from car glass

Hopefully, the above guide covers all bases when it comes to removing wax and wax residues from your cars paintwork. As mentioned in a previous paragraph these methods will only be effective when it comes to dealing with traditional carnauba based waxes.

Modern sealants and coatings are much stronger and more difficult to remove and should be approached differently.

If you have any questions please feel free to reach out in the comments or start a discussion over on the drivedetailed Forum

Until next time,

Happy Detailing!

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

4 thoughts on “How to Completely Remove Car Wax From Your Paintwork

  1. Using dish soap might remove the wax, might not. What it does do is place an extra film over the car. This film will not bead and lead many to think they have removed the wax but they have not. They’ve just added more chemicals on top of it. It’s been known for decades that Dawn is the worst offender for this.

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