Nothing compares to a new car shine. Unfortunately, that factory finish will inevitably fall victim to the elements. Whether your car is garaged or parked outside, exposure to temperature, humidity, and airborne contaminants can mess up that showroom finish. Fortunately, you can restore your vehicle’s original shine with simple steps and routine maintenance.
To make your car paint shine: Thoroughly wash the paint, remove surface debris with an iron remover or clay bar, buff with a paint polish, carefully dry the exterior, and finish with a quality wax or sealant coating.
These steps will correct imperfections and, most importantly, revive that brilliant new car finish.
Products required to make your paint shine
Here’s everything you’ll need, along with some optional products that’ll make the process easier and more effective.
- Car Shampoo
- Two buckets (one for washing, the other for rinsing)
- Wash mitt
- A dozen or so microfiber towels
- Paint polish
- A clay bar or iron remover (as needed)
- Wax or synthetic sealant
Thoroughly wash the paint
You will need to start with a clean car before applying any products. If not removed, dust and surface debris might scratch or mar your finish. To prevent damage, begin with a thorough car wash.
Fill up two buckets with water and car soap
Fill up two buckets with water and car soap. Check your soap’s label to see how much product to use. We recommend using a neutral pH car soap for a standard wash; it’s strong enough to remove average debris without risking any potential damage on the exterior.
During your wash, you will use one bucket for clean, soapy water and the other for rinsing your dirty wash mitt. This method helps to prevent the reapplication of contaminants and debris.
Wash from top to bottom
Dip your wash mitt in your soapy water bucket and wipe the vehicle from top to bottom. This technique ensures that no dirty water soaks down over already-cleaned areas. Start with the roof, and move down the car, moving from panel to panel.
Rinse the exterior
Conduct a thorough rinse down after you’ve washed the entire exterior. This step removes any lingering soap or lifted debris. Rinse from top to bottom, starting with the roof and ending with the wheels.
If you’re washing in winter, this is the perfect time to rinse the undercarriage, an area exposed to salt, ice, and damaging road grime. A basic rinse-down will remove these potentially harmful substances. For more info on winter washing, click our blog post here.
Remove surface debris with an iron remover or clay bar
A standard wash removes most light debris. However, impurities like tree sap, tar, grime, bug splatter, and other sticky debris may cling to your surface. We recommend using an iron remover or clay bar to remove stubborn substances and ensure your paint is spotless for the following steps.
Iron removers contain harsh chemicals designed to remove stubborn debris. If you use an iron remover, do so only once or twice a year. Do not use this product on vehicles with a delicate finish.
Iron removers are the perfect product to remove build-up if you park near a railway often or have brake pads that throw around a lot of brake dust. The only downsides to using iron removers are the risk of damage with extended use and the product’s initial cost.
Most iron removers come in a spray bottle to be applied to your car’s wet exterior immediately following the wash step, and it’s one of the few car cleaning products that you can see work. Just spray on and allow it to sit for the recommended time, and you will see the product turn red or purple. Rinse your vehicle thoroughly to remove all traces of the chemicals.
Sticky clay bars pick up any stubborn film or debris on your exterior.
How do you know if your exterior needs clayed? Put your hand inside a plastic bag, and glide it over your car’s surface. If you notice the bag sticking or your vehicle's finish feels rough, you'll want to clay your paint. If your hand easily glides over the exterior, you don’t need to use clay.
Follow these steps to use detailing clay:
- Remove a small amount. Using the warmth of your hand, mold the clay into a small square.
- Apply a few sprays of a quick detailer or clay lubricant onto your car’s surface in the area you’ll be cleaning.
- Glide the clay over the exterior without using too much pressure.
- Once a side of the clay gets dirty, fold it inwards to create a new, fresh clay surface.
- Repeat until done.
Buff with a paint polish
Paint polishes maintain and extend the life of your paint in a variety of ways:
- Removes stubborn dirt, along with oxidized, old paint.
- Smooths out surface scratches and swirl marks
- Conditions the paintwork to prevent cracking and peeling
The benefits are proven, but polishing your paint too much can do more harm than good. We recommend that you only polish your paint once or twice a year at most. Be cautious if you’re working with older, delicate finishes.
Avoid using excess paint polish when applying it to your paint. Excess will require additional buffing, time, and energy. We recommend applying a dime sized amount and scaling up as needed. Use an applicator pad or microfiber towel to buff in small, circular motions. Use little to no pressure at all for the best results – the paint polish will do most of the work for you.
Carefully dry the exterior
Once you’ve cleaned all debris off your surface, thoroughly dry your exterior. We recommend using microfiber towels or an air dryer if you’re dealing with delicate paint.
For microfiber towels, wipe side-to-side or up-and-down to avoid water streaks and spots. We recommend quartering the microfiber to give you multiple sides to swap between before it becomes too damp to use.
Air dryers are the safest way to dry a vehicle. There’s zero contact between the dryer and your car, and water simply flies off. Use an air dryer if you’re working with an older vehicle or worn-down exterior. Blow the water off the car in a singular motion, going back and gently wiping any missed spots with a microfiber towel.
For helpful tips on safely drying an exterior, click here.
Finish with a quality wax or sealant coating
A wax or sealant provides the cherry on top to make your paint shine. While both products will protect your exterior, each offers a different finish and lifespan.
Applying a wax
Waxes come in paste, liquid, and spray forms, each offering unique benefits and drawbacks. The table below highlights wax choices based on your preferences.
|Type of wax||Best for||Benefits||Drawbacks|
Those wanting a deep shine.
Pastes produce a deep color and a shiny finish.
|· Most expensive
· Degrade faster than most other synthetic sealants
Those wanting a lasting finish.
|It contains synthetic properties, making it highly durable.||· Can be costly
· Takes time to dry
Those who are short on time.
Sprays are super easy to apply quickly.
|· Not long-lasting
· Less protective than other wax forms
Detailers most frequently use liquid waxes. To apply this formulation, follow these steps.
- Wash the exterior if you haven’t done so already.
- Thoroughly dry the surface.
- Apply your wax with an applicator pad.
- Buff in small, circular motions.
- Remove excess polish with a microfiber towel.
Wax is the way to go if you seek a warm, in-depth shine. For everything you need to know about wax application, check our post here.
Applying a synthetic sealant
In contrast to the warm glow of waxes, synthetic sealants offer a glossy, futuristic finish to auto paint. Synthetic sealants have become a staple for those who seek a long-lasting, highly durable, protective finish. While waxes are naturally-derived products, sealants are engineered in a lab to provide optimal protection against the elements. They’ll last much longer than traditional waxes.
Sealants are generally easier to apply and more forgiving than wax. These benefits, combined with their longer lifespan, make sealants more convenient for those who lack time to clean their car routinely. Most commonly, you’ll find synthetic sealants in paste form. If you need a synthetic sealant, consider Stoner Car Care’s Synthetic Sealant <LINK> to shine, seal, and protect in one step.
Always check for instructions on whichever product you’re using. For reference, here are the steps to apply Stoner Synthetic Sealant.
- Wash and dry the vehicle if you haven’t done so already.
- Shake the bottle well before use.
- Apply a conservative amount of sealant to a cloth, applicator pad, or orbital polisher.
- Apply a thin, even coat to the paint.
- Allow time to cure.
- Buff off excess sealant with a fresh towel, pad, or polisher.
The best way to keep your car’s paint shining is to routinely clean and upkeep the protective layers you place on it. Whether you opt for waxes’ warm deep shine or the futuristic finish of a synthetic sealant, you’ll protect and maintain your vehicle’s showroom shine. Just follow these steps: Thoroughly wash the paint, remove surface debris with an iron remover or clay bar, carefully dry the exterior, and finish with a quality wax or sealant coating. Enjoy the road, and enjoy the shine!