During this lockdown I have been asked a number of questions about car detailing, which surprised me a little as everything I know is self taught, trial and error, research with an empty wallet as a result. I love detailing the Mustang so the questions are a pleasure if i know the answer. These questions are probably being asked because like me they can’t get to car shows, so they clean their cherished vehicles instead. I had been working on a little something a while ago and decided to finish it off for todays little article.
So what is the question that is often asked, but never really answered; is there a difference between big name brands and the much more expensive luxury hand poured waxes?
Just quickly before I answer the questions; a little while ago I had done a comparison test of ten products from the top manufacturers to find out what is the best. The results were not quite what I expected to be honest. You can read my comparison test here.
Or watch the full video review here.
This article will not be a repeat of that testing, but more of an explanation why some waxes cost more than others due to their ingredients, performance, processes and of course that all important name on the tin, bottle, spray pot or what ever you bought. There’s even an amount of snobbery if should be so bold to say that.
I must state that trying to find out exactly what’s inside the products from anybody is a closely guarded secret, for obvious reasons. Although I will not be mentioning brand names, as in who has what in which product, the following information is from various sources that I have managed to find out about and collate myself with phone calls and research. I may not be 100% accurate, but it all makes perfect sense in a bigger picture.
Firstly a little about the main product used for car waxes; Carnauba.
Most car products contain some sort of carnauba percentage within their products, unless it’s fully synthetic of course.
Carnauba is also known as Brazilian wax and palm wax. Carnauba is a wax from the leaves of the palm Copernicia prunifera, a plant native to and only grown in the north eastern Brazilian states of Piauí, Ceará, Maranhão, Bahia, and Rio Grande do Norte.
Carnauba is also known as the “queen of waxes” when in its pure state it usually comes in the form of hard yellow-brown flakes.
The wax is obtained from the leaves of the carnauba palm by collecting and drying them, beating them to loosen the wax, then refining and bleaching the wax. It’s also used as a food additive, its ‘E’ number is E903.
Fact 1: Did you know that raw Carnauba can be harder than concreate.
Fact 2: Carnauba is used in many other products such as; candy (yes you can eat it, but the body can’t digest it), medication coatings to aid swallowing, dental floss, hair crème, leather to aid in waterproofness and is also used in explosives like TNT. For the ladies carnauba is used in many cosmetics formulas where it is used in eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, foundation, deodorant, soap, to thicken lipstick, various skin care preparations, sun care preparations, etc. It is also used to make cutler’s resin and adhesive.
Fact 3: Carnauba wax is sold in several grades, labelled as; T1, T3, and T4, depending on the purity level. Purification is accomplished by filtration, centrifugation, and bleaching or not as the case may be.
Fact 4: It is practically insoluble in water, soluble by heating in ethyl acetate and in xylene, and practically insoluble in ethyl alcohol. (More on this as a percentage in the base carrier notes later.)
Fact 5: Carnauba’s Melting point is 82–86 °C (180–187 °F), among the highest of the natural waxes, considerably higher than beeswax which is 62–64 °C.
Fact 6: There is no synthetic equivalent for carnauba.
So to have a product based on say half carnauba, it would be incredibly hard to apply. Carnauba needs to be reapplied due to the natural product. The synthetic wax products have a longevity advantage and will adhere to the surface better, due to the chemicals designed just for that job. In fact it would be virtually impossible to have 100% carnauba product.
Big Brand Shop Wax.
Most of these products are price based and to keep the cost down there is one main ‘base’ ingredient. This carrier (base) is petroleum based usually Kerosene or paraffin or a combination of both. (I will just call it kerosene from now on). Other chemicals are added to the ‘base carrier’ in order to make it pliable, UV protecting agents, spreadable and even maintain a shelf life. Ever noticed that old wax tend to dry out and crack? The quickest way to tell the product is kerosene based is the smell. Some have that quite distinctive petroleum based smell, but most of the time that potent smell of paraffin, kerosene or aviation fuel or heating oils, an additive is used to disguise that base smell and make the fragrance much more appealing to the user, such as vanilla, apples, mint, roses, coffee or chocolate etc. What ever works best for various manufacturers. Often the fragrances are used to sell the product, but in actual fact the artificial fragrance is a disguise. How’s that for marketing?
Percentages of the product;
Most of the time base carrier tends to be around 70% (maybe more maybe less), and the rest made up with the actual performing ingredients for the product. For the majority of time the remaining 30% can be made up of Carnauba, beeswax, silicon, acrylic additives, cleaners etc. Now this is where things go a little bit fuzzy and grey areas appear should we say. The remaining 30% could be made up of 50% carnauba. Now that carnauba 50% is of the remaining 30% which will leave a remaining 15% for other additives which I will get to in a moment. The label stating that it has 50% or 54% Carnauba and so on for the carnauba content is not necessarily 50% of the total product by volume! In other words a 200g tin of product is not necessarily 100g of carnauba. But, this is open to interpretation should we say. What is the “50%” actually of within the product? Is that 50% of the total of waxes used with the other 50% being beeswax for example?
The remaining percentages can be beeswax, or silicon or microscopic aluminium particles for cleaner pastes, colourings, fragrances etc. Messing around with the mixture’s formula will obviously give different properties and products. The remaining percentage apart from the ‘base’ could then be made into a synthetic formula if no carnauba is used, replaced with the silicon content which could be increased, dyes for the wax, maybe fillers to hide minor swirl marks.
To make the liquid version of the product (see ‘Fact 4’ above), the base needs to be blended with other chemicals to make it pourable as you would expect. The original 70% may now be 40% / 30% mix of kerosene / ethyl acetate for example, or what ever the formula mixture requires. However, the carnauba content will still be the same as in the paste equivalent to keep the product performance the same. In fact Meguiar’s told me there is “no difference between their wax paste and liquid variation of the same product”. By pure definition there may not be a difference with the product ingredients formula as such, but the base carrier has to be different as one is a paste and the other is a liquid or crème as they prefer to call it.
The application from a tin is fine application to spread thinly. The main reason being the chance for the base to evaporate and leave the product behind on the paint to do its job. This evaporation is also known as the “flash point”. The flash point could be speeded up or slowed down depending on the requirements of the product. The haze or white misting of the product is what is left after the evaporation or flash point. In order to check the product has ‘cured’, or ready for buffing is the wipe of a finger across the product technique. If nothing is left behind then the product can be buffed to a shine removing the haze which in turn leaves the carnauba behind, which will leave behind the gloss shine you want.
Have you noticed that if you apply heavy layers of wax onto the paint it becomes a nightmare to remove it? This is due to the fact the base is unable to evaporate properly and you end up pushing around the base kerosene with the buffing cloth which will cause drag on the cloth. The principle is simple; the smoother and even layer the product can be applied, the better light will reflect from the paint surface, giving a better finish, impression of depth and overall clean look.
These are predominantly more silicon based still using the carrier base which also gives a great shine and various additives to make the product bond to the paint. There is also a growing trend to use ceramic hybrids which provide exceptional hydrophobic properties and some nice gloss. The principles are the same for the base carrier, but obviously the formulas are heavily altered to make sure the ceramic, silicones and base carriers all stick together. Notice how you have to shake the product as they separate out when left standing?
The cost of the base carrier is much more affordable than the high end products (which I will get into later). The variations of the remaining product such as scent, carnauba content, colourings, fillers, cleaning agents, gloss enhancers, silicon etc. will all determine the cost of the raw materials. I am not including the marketing or the R & D in this, just the basic ingredient costs.
The better the quality of carnauba T1 or T3 etc. has the overall bearing on the costs.
These products can vary in costs wildly, from a reasonable £50 to £1,000 and more. The main difference here is that these products are naturally occurring oils base. The carrier base oil maybe something like melon oil or a coconut oil, maybe a mixture of both. Here is a view of natural Kalahari melon oil in the top picture and raw coconut oil in the picture below.
The remaining ingredients are then mixed into the base oil product for its desired results, gloss, filler, longevity etc. The most basic of base blend carrier of a premium ‘wax’ can be made from three base oils. The more complex blends having a formula of around twenty to thirty five ingredients.
To find out what’s in these products is very difficult due to the secrecy involved. However, I have it on good authority that these premium hand blended car waxes also have a lot in common with the beauty industry as well.
Carnauba has a naturally sweet smell, and it can be said that candy and carnauba smell similar.
You will notice immediately when you open these products that they feel very different. The wax feels greasy as you would expect from an oil and they smell very different. Very little fragrance is used unless a particular oil doesn’t smell to good, but could be great for reflection or a filler for example. Some oils when blended can thicken the formula and add shelf life or natural UV filters.
Again application is very much ‘little and often’, the more purest of waxes are almost clear on application and can only really be seen when the light catches the applied product on the surface of the panel. It’s sometimes recommended to use these waxes when they are warmed up slightly in the sun for a little while, which will allow softening of the wax and oils to aid in ease of application. These premium waxes can feel like spreading a soft butter with very little effort. The main difference between these natural products and petroleum based product is the ‘flash point’. The premium waxes and oils as such don’t tend to evaporate leaving the product behind in a haze. In fact the applied product is the majority of the product you buff to a shine. Again carnauba can be treated, reduced, added to or thinned out maybe, whatever the specification for the product needs to do in order to achieve the consistency and required formulas. I have been told (from my very reliable source), that there are better oil combinations for gloss than just carnauba alone. The down side is they are extremely difficult to harvest and cultivate and a single fluid ounce can be extremely expensive, much more than any precious metal comparison.
The flash point of the premium waxes could by design be a little carrier evaporation. So in theory, the longer these premium waxes are left on the car to ‘cure’ and bond to the paint, the more time they have to settle into the microscopic pits and troughs to form a smooth even barrier. It’s recommended to leave these premium waxes to cure for at least an hour. If you can apply in the morning and remove in the evening that would be ideal, or even overnight. However this may not be ideal depending on atmospheric conditions with dust and pollen flying around.
The carnauba used for the hand blended product tends to be the top percentage of the T1 classification for raw carnauba. filtering and decontamination is the highest priority as is the quality control. As I mentioned above the product you apply is the product that is applied to the paint, as there is very little if any flash point. So if for argument sake it is noted that the carnauba content is 30%, that is still potentially double that of the shop brands by volume in the example I gave above. Other ingredients could be added to make the oils last longer on the paintwork, hydrophobic properties, gloss, wetness, warmth of colour, or the other way around to make the exceptional gloss for car shows, but it may not last very long. So a balance is often dialled into the mix for the blend depending on the market it’s aimed at.
Some small fragrances like Jasmin can be used, just for the user’s experience or perhaps just to add a bespoke brand product fragrance.
For something extra during a hand blend there is the option to add some random ingredients such as gold or silver particles to give that glittery look. Some additives are used which can enhance the metallic fleck in paintwork.
The raw materials being a natural product, and only found or created in very small quantities drive the cost of these products. Some of the ingredients are very rare and sometimes unavailable for what ever reason maybe seasonal etc. The oils used tend to be super filtered and again the best of the best purest oils used.
Due to the availability and quantities of a number of the ingredients, some hand blenders make extremely limited batches or bespoke “pours” to order. In fact some of these top branded waxes are only made in a single 200g batch per year.
Additional points for waxes:
No mater what you choose the waxes are better when they are layered. This is especially true for the premium hand blended waxes, but the whole process of layering a premium wax and curing can take a long time for the reasons I mentioned above.
If you have a great quality paint job, and use the cheaper market brands the wax could in fact reduce the gloss refraction of your paint. Just as you can’t make rubbish paintwork glow with premium wax, but you will protect it.
So the fact of the matter is that most of the time, off the shelf or big name brand products are more than capable of doing their intended job. A great shine and longevity to protect the paint finish and there isn’t much to choose between them as I found out.
However, if you want to use the best of the best it’s all in the prep work. Cleaning, decontamination, correction, sealer and then the wax, then a couple more wax layers to get the very best results. Big name products tend to do most of the hard work for you, especially the cleaner waxes or the all in one products from multiple suppliers.
When paying big money for a top quality hand blended product, you may be disappointed if you don’t put in the prep work and blame the wax, it about the time and effort to get the rewards.
Is there a difference apart form the obvious price banding? Well yes, I have noticed the difference after a single application of a hand blend. The cost is the downside, but the results are visible and from my point of view, the money is worth it. I enjoy the whole car detailing thing so I want results from my products I use.
For a daily run around, then big name products are perfectly acceptable. Even some hand blends made with predominantly silicon can be used for a daily. But if you have a show car, classic car or something you cherish, then perhaps treat yourself to some quality hand blended products. Work out what you want from your wax, gloss, beading, protection etc. before making your purchase.
I hope that answers some of the questions, and I learnt a bit from the research as well.