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Cure Times for Sealants and Waxes

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The overall effectiveness and looks of last step products (LSP’s) like sealants and waxes depend on a lot of factors. Was the paint polished prior to application? If so, was it done properly? How was the surface prepped to ensure a good bond? Was the application of the product made within the effective temperature range of that particular LSP? Was too much or too little of the product used during application? Were proper techniques used for that LSP (different products within the same category may require different application techniques)? And finally, were the proper cure times utilized for those products (which actually falls into the category of proper techniques).

I’m sure that as everybody read through the first paragraph, they got excited that this article may provide some kind of master chart that shows cure times for every single sealant and wax available. While I consider myself a really nice guy that enjoys teaching others the fine art of detailing, I’m not that nice! Seriously though, there are other factors involved with each product that can affect cure times (temperatures in particular), so it’s not practical to even attempt such a reference guide. What may work for somebody in Florida may not be the same application technique as is required for the person in Southern California. And it may be different still for each detailer depending on the time of the year that it is.

What I would like to stress in this article however is that we need to have a general idea of what the proper cure times are for the products we’re using, and we need to know when to vary our techniques to ensure that we’re getting the best results out of our LSP’s.

So where do we find this information? Well for starters, all of the guys out there will have to go against their instincts and actually read the labels (the girls are much better at this than we are!). Most manufacturers will provide at least some kind of guideline on the packaging to get us going in the right direction. And the key word there is “guideline” because as I already stated, it can vary quite a bit. And if the information is not available on the packaging, then go to the manufacturer’s or supplier’s website to see if they have additional how-to information. Be careful of seeking knowledge on forums however because you typically have to sort through a myriad of opinons and experience, then you have to figure out who actually knows what they’re talking about (don’t fall into the trap of assuming the person with the most posts is the most knowledgeable…it usually just means that person likes to post a lot!).

The need for this information typically comes into play when we’re using a new product for the first time. As long as we have at least a general direction to follow, then we should be able to figure out the rest on our own.

When you look at a high quality carnauba wax, you will find a dizzying array of possibilities on how to apply it and how long to let it cure. Some waxes like Pinnacle Souveran for instance should be removed immediately after each panel. Other waxes need 30-45 minutes (or longer) to properly cure prior to removal. Some wax manufacturers will warn you that if you let them cure too long that they will be “difficult” to remove (when they say difficult, then it’s usually a nice way of saying it’s like polishing concrete!). I typically find that if a manufacturer recommends 15-20 minutes cure time, then 30-40 minutes is more appropriate. If they recommend quick removal, then you’d better make it even quicker because it will become next to impossible to remove it if you don’t.

So how do you know for sure how much time is needed before it’s ready to be removed? Trial and error! You can always try the swipe test first to see if it’s ready…after the cure time just swipe a very small section with your microfiber towel and see what it looks like. If it has a smeary look underneath, then you know it’s not ready. If it comes off cleanly with no residue, then you know it’s ready (for the most part). This brings up a whole new set of variables however because if the wax appears to be properly cured when you remove it, then you find later that you’re seeing haziness or “sweating” of the wax, you’ll need to try a little different process the next time to see if you applied too much, didn’t get an even application, or if you didn’t give it enough cure time. This is simply where the learning curve of each product comes into play, and you’ll need to have the patience play around with it a bit to determine the exact application method with that particular product on your particular car. Many people will give up on a product if they don’t get the results they were looking for after the first application, but their conclusions were drawn from an incomplete analysis of facts.

“That all sounds like an awful lot of work to figure out…just tell me how the professional detailers do it so I can save myself some time”. How do we do it? The exact same way…trial and error. When we get new waxes and sealants to try, we typically don’t do these tests on customers’ cars. The last thing we want to do is polish a car to perfection, apply a wax or sealant we’ve never used before, and then get a call from the client a few days later to find out that there’s a mysterious “haze” all over the car! At least with me, I spend all of my time testing waxes and sealants on my own cars. I can then monitor the product and process immediately after, the next few days after, and over the next few weeks to see how it works. If I need to make an adjustment to my technique, then I will try again until I figure out a system.

The process is pretty much the same for sealants. I’ve typically found that the instructions on them are more thorough than those of waxes. They’re usually good about saying whether it needs 15 minutes or an hour cure time, and how much time is required between applications if you wanted to add a second coat. Even with that however, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be an exact science. With some that I work with, I find that as the temperatures cool down, the cure time required gets a little bit longer. If I don’t give it proper time, then I may notice a little bit of smearing upon removal. The key is to work with the product often, and figure out what works best for you. Also be patient because some products are more user friendly than others and because of that there can be huge differences in the size of the learning curve.

So instead of providing the blog readers with a comprehensive guide on cure times for each wax and sealant available through DI, I wanted instead to educate everybody on the process by which we determine the best way to use the products. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying: “Fish for a man and he eats for a day…teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”. In a round about way, the same philosophy applies here. The manufacturers and I can provide you with a general guideline, but you need to run with it from there when a product has a bit of a learning curve. Fortunately however, there are some products out there that are very user-friendly, and the documented systems that are provided by the manufacturer or on places like the DI Blog are usually fool-proof.

In summary:

  • Take the time to read the product labels and/or instructions on the manufacturer’s / supplier’s website.
  • Keep in mind that in many cases, the instructions are general guidelines and there are a lot of variables that come into play.
  • Be patient, and don’t get frustrated if you fail to get the results you were looking for the first time or two. Adjust your application and technique as necessary to achieve desired results.
  • If a wax / sealant says to remove the product immediately…then do exactly that!
  • If the instructions call for 15 minute cure times, then give at least that before removing (but that doesn’t mean that 2 hours is better!). Test in increments of 5 or 10 minutes more cure time if the recommend amount doesn’t work.
  • Remember that some products are simply easier to use than others (waxes in particular)!
  • Enjoy and have fun! This is about finding new methods and products for making our cars look beautiful, and for me the learning process and application is a big part of that enjoyment.
Todd Cooperider Esoteric Auto Detail
Todd Cooperider
Esoteric Auto Detail
Columbus, Ohio
EsotericDetail.com

1 comment on Cure Times for Sealants and Waxes

  1. Danny R. says:

    Todd,

    Great write up I have personally experimented with Blackfire Wet Diamond by still applying it in sections but not removing it. I then still wait 45 minutes after the entire vehicle has been coated then I remove, starting from where I started and ending where I ended. Removal was actually easier than before. I also decided to measure the amount used this time. I bought a 3 oz travel bottle and filled it up 1/3 of the way so it was at 1 oz. Well let me tell you I was able to coat our Black 2010 Mercedes with about .85 of an 1 ounce. Thats the entire vehicle from top to bottom not including glass. It was such a joy to work with this time around knowing that less than 1 oz of product put a nice thin coat of lasting protection. I will be following this method next time around but maybe extending the curing time to 1 hour instead of 45 minutes. I applied the product using a new yellow foam hand applicator. Curing time was left for over 16 hours after removal before exposing it into the elements. I now enojoy Blackfire Wet Diamond even more now.

    Danny R.

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