From Shine to Seal: Getting to Know Car Finishing Products

    Every amateur car enthusiast worth their salt knows the purpose and value of waxing their vehicle. Whether it’s to give your car that extra gleam after a good car wash, or to lock in the benefits of a polish with a protective layer, attentive owners appreciate that the time it takes to wax a car properly by hand is time well spent.

    Waxing might be the best known ‘finishing’ process in the car detailing process. But it’s far from the only one. Indeed, if you’ve never given much thought to whether there are any alternatives to wax and what they might do for your bodywork, it’s high time you explored a little further. There are dozens of different car finishing products available on the market, each with their own merits and purposes.

    In this article, we break down finishing products into the main categories, explaining what each does, what they do for your car, and when to use them.

    Car Finishing Products


    As we’ve mentioned it already, let’s start with the best-known of all car finishing products. Car owners have been applying wax to their freshly cleaned and/or polished cars for decades. Originally, motorists preferred wax from the tropical carnauba palm native to Brazil. Carnauba wax is still prized in car detailing to this day, both as a standalone product and as an ingredient mixed with other substances, because it adds a tough, glossy layer to the surface of paintwork that simultaneously protects and adds a pleasing deep shine. 

    While many enthusiasts still swear by the qualities of natural carnauba wax, over the years it has been joined on the market by dozens of synthetic alternatives. Or, as is often the case, it is mixed with other synthetic products to achieve different effects. While in the early days of motoring wax always came in the form of a paste you buffed on with a cloth, nowadays you can buy liquid and spray-on waxes that drastically reduce the application time.

    Synthetic waxes are also formulated to achieve different effects, such as boosting UV protection, being extra hydrophobic (i.e. keeping more water away from the car’s surface), or simply lasting longer before having to be reapplied.


    If wax has the dual purpose of offering protection to your paintwork AND leaving a great-looking shine, sealant is much more focused on one job only - protection. If you’ve gone to the trouble of polishing your car and removing as many defects as possible from the surface of the paintwork, you want to seal in that pristine look for as long as possible before you have to do it all over again. That’s exactly what sealant is for.

    You will often see finishing sealants labelled as ‘ceramic’ coating or protecting products. If this has you scratching your head, then yes, you’re right - ceramics are hard, brittle solid materials formed when non-metallic substances are heated to a high temperature. Or, if chemistry isn’t your bag, they are the things you drink your cuppa out off and eat your dinner off.

    The ‘ceramic’ label refers to the fact that many sealants contain silicon dioxide, also known as silica or quartz, an extremely abundant naturally occurring ceramic found in rocks. It also has some properties that make it very useful in finishing products for cars, including the fact that it bonds to the bodywork and so lasts much longer than wax. It also offers better protection against things like tree sap, bird droppings and acid rain, which can cause markings in the upper surface of paint known as etching.


    Unlike waxes and sealants, glazes don’t do much to protect your car’s bodywork from damage, whether that be water marks, UV rays, acids found in tree sap and bird droppings or anything else. Instead, glazes are all about boosting the appearance of your paintwork.

    In this respect, you can compare glazes to wax. And yes, glazes will leave your car with an eye-catching, straight-out-the-showroom shine. But beyond that, glazes also have another trick up their sleeve - masking light marks and defects.

    This shouldn’t be confused with polishing, which removes marks and defects from paintwork permanently by buffing the surface smooth. Glazes instead only hide marks temporarily, filling them in before you rub the glaze smooth. This is enough to give the impression of a pristine, blemish free surface. But it’s the glaze that’s smooth, not the paint itself. And eventually the glaze will wear away, leaving the marks underneath visible again.

    Still, a glaze is a great shortcut to making your car look great, at least for a while, without having to go all in with polishing. You can apply a glaze straight after washing for a fantastic effect in a fraction of the time. It’s also a great option for inexperienced home detailers who are not quite ready to try their hand at polishing yet.

    Quick detailer spray

    Like glazes, quick detailer sprays are something of a short cut solution. They are not even finishing products in the conventional sense, in as much as you wouldn’t really use them straight after a wash and a polish. Instead, you can think of them as a ‘finisher of the finish’. Because once you have waxed and/or sealed your paintwork, you can use a quick detailer spray to top up the shine and protection in between applications. 

    Quick detailer spray works by applying a very fine layer of wax and polymer (usually silica) over the surface of your car, reviving the shine and protection from the last time you used wax and sealant. Fast and easy to use, quick detailer spray means you can take longer between the more arduous jobs of washing and waxing.

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