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Words about Wax: Bonding, Hazing, Curing and Hardening

by on 28/11/2009

There are a number of questions about waxes that come up again and again, such as:

How do I prepare a surface for waxing?
How long should I leave the wax before buffing off?
How long must I leave it before adding a second layer?
When is it fully cured?

This advice is, for the most part, about wax but much of it holds true for sealants.

Let’s tackle the first matter: Bonding

For a wax to bond to paint, it must be clean. There are a number of ways of cleaning paint in preparation for a wax – a 50/50 solution of IPA and distilled water, a dedicated inspection spray (like Menzerna Top Inspection, or Meguiars Last Touch), a pure hand polish (such as Meguiars #7 or #81), a paint cleanser (like Serious Performance Paint Cleanser or AIOs, like Car-Lack68 NSC, AG SRP) or a dedicated pre-wax cleanser (such as Dodo Juice Lime Prime Lite, Zymöl HD Cleanse or Swissvax Cleaner Fluid).

The paint should be squeaky clean and gleaming.

Now, let’s apply the wax – use bare hands or a foam applicator. The use of bare hands should be restricted to pure waxes, such as those from Dodo Juice, those that state they should be applied by bare hand like Victoria Wax or those which fashion dictates like Zymöl and Swissvax. If you get an adverse reaction when applying wax by bare hand, wash your hands thoroughly using a pH neutral soap with moisturisers and apply a moisturiser after drying. Foam applicators should definitely be used with waxes that have an obviously high solvent content, such as Collinite 476S. Disposal gloves can be worn as further protection from solvents in wax products and this is a practice that is advocated by professionals who are in contact with such chemicals on a regular basis.

Many engineered waxes will contain some cleansing elements and often the high solvent content will assist with the cleaning up of the surface and evaporate quickly to allow the wax to then bond to the paint. More pure waxes also contain solvents and will do this as a natural by-process, but to a lesser extent. Neither excuses poor surface preparation!

Bare hand application is simply a case of transferring an amount of the wax from the pot to the palm of one hand, lifting it with the fingertips of the other and working is against the fingertips of the first hand. Use fingertips to apply in a stroking/grooming action going back over the area to even up. Foam pad application is also as simple as patting a moistened applicator into the wax and then spreading over the car – unless the instructions state otherwise, use long strokes in a fore/aft direction on the top panels and up/down on the side panels. Apply as thin a layer as possible, since “less is more” … read on.

We now step back and leave the product to haze.

This is the point at which the wax will bond to clean paint and often called curing. Curing is a process which will continue long after the wax haze has been removed, so I prefer to call this bonding although the curing process does cover this phase and the next. When considering hazing, we see how “less is more” – haze is simply waste product that is removed when the wax is buffed off and serves no purpose to the overall look or protection, since it is simply not on the car! Furthermore, a whisper thin layer will haze over quickly and the solvents evaporate more rapidly – I believe this allows the wax to bond more effectively, although I have no scientific backing; just the long term effect that the wax has on paint when observed over a period of months.

Once hazed, the wax is ready to remove.

Removal is simply a case of folding up a microfibre towel into quarters and gently wiping the residue off. The curing phase will continue for up to a couple of days until the wax has reached its most hardened. Some waxes may be observed to “sweat” a little – Dodo Juice Supernatural is one very pure wax where this is quite apparent. The oils in the wax continue to evaporate and sometimes, a slight hologram effect can be seen on the paint and if left, a secondary haze may occur. This is quite natural and should be dealt with by a spritz of distilled water, ideally, or a QD and wiped over again with a clean microfibre towel.

The bare minimum length of time before a second layer of wax can be applied is about one hour. This allows the majority of any residual oils to evaporate and the outer skin of what is a micron thin layer of product to start to harden. This process continues over the next day, or so, and so ideally the surface should be left for a good day before applying a second layer of wax.

Some people advocate applying a second layer of wax almost immediately to ensure good coverage. While there is some merit to this method, it is better to ensure that the initial layer is applied with adequate coverage. There is one technique which might have some sound logic and assist with the rapid application of a second layer of wax – spit shining. This is a technique where chilled distilled water is misted over the surface after the initial haze has been buffed off to cause the outer shell of the wax to cure quickly due to the chilling effect. The second layer of wax is applied to the moistened surface and left to cure as normal. Some people advocate not removing the haze from the first layer and mist over that haze, applying the second layer of wax without buffing off the layer of first wax.

Spit shining aside, if a second layer of wax is applied too soon the solvents will simply wipe off the underlying, unhardened layer of wax and there is no actual gain in doing so. The curing process can clearly be understood as taking place as soon as the wax starts to haze and continues long after that haze has been removed. Since the word curing is set in most people’s mind as the process which takes place between application and hazing, we should call this phase hardening.

One final area to consider is the layered approach – applying a wax on top of a glaze, or a sealant. Simply put, the same rules apply – these products must be allowed to bond, haze, cure and harden before the next layer is applied. Some products will do this faster than others and some are more suited to waxes that are high in solvent content – the Car-Lack68 Nano Systematic Care polish is a very rapidly curing product becoming ready for the next layer within half an hour and when followed with their Long Life Sealant is a preparation ready for a wax as strong in solvents as Collinite almost immediately. Products from the same stable are in many cases designed to work together, so Chemical Guys EZ Creme Glaze followed almost immediately by Jetseal 109, left for half an hour and then topped with Pete’s 53 Black Pearl Signature Paste Wax is a routine that will work well.

I hope that this clarifies each stage of the waxing process, what is happening at each stage and summarises that wax should be applied to clean, well prepared surfaces in as thin a layer as possible given good coverage, allowed to haze over and then permitted to harden in its own time.

Have a lot of fun …

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