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How To Remove Car Wax

Waxing your car is a critical component of car maintenance. It leaves a layer of protective coating over your car's paint job and bodywork, warding off scratches and chips while preventing fading and discoloration. A waxed car gleams, showing off the paint’s deep, shining colors.

But what happens when the wax wears thin? What do you do when it's time to reapply?

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When and Why You Should Remove Old Wax From Your Car

New wax should be applied when the old coat starts to wear off. This usually occurs around the 3-month mark but can happen sooner if your car is regularly exposed to the elements.

Because wax acts as a barrier between your car and wax's protective coating, old wax can prevent new sealants from bonding to your car's paint. This means that the new wax won't be as effective a protectant.

It also means that you won't get the brilliant shine that comes with a fresh coat of wax. Finally, adding new wax on top of the old doesn't hide or fix any problems (like chips in the old wax coat). It simply makes these defects harder to remove.

How to Remove Wax From Car Paint and Clear Coat

A quick search will turn up many different wax removal methods. But be careful—some will scratch or otherwise damage your car’s paint and bodywork.

We’ve taken the guesswork out of each technique, breaking down the best wax-removing options below.

For each method, a microfibre cloth should be used in side-to-side or up-and-down motions. As with any car care, wash the car from top to bottom, working your way down the body to avoid scratching or swirling the paint.

Clay Bars

Clay bars are the most effective method of removing old wax from cars. Before using clay on your car, make sure to thoroughly wash each panel.

Apply a lubricant to a small area of your car's waxed surface. Using light to medium pressure, rub the clay bar back and forth over the pre-lubricated section. Add more lubricant if the car's surface begins to dry out during the clay application. Once the whole car has been clayed, thoroughly rewash the car's exterior with a soft microfibre towel to remove any leftover residue.

While clay bars are an excellent means of removing old wax, there are some important considerations to keep in mind.

Keep the clay bar from becoming too warm, as the bars become less effective as they warm up.

If you drop your clay bar on the ground (or it otherwise becomes contaminated with grit or debris), throw it out and get a new one. Check your clay bar frequently for small bits of debris. That way, you can ensure that you aren't rubbing the debris into your car's paint job.

Spray-On Pre-Wax Cleaner

Spray-on pre-wax cleaners are another excellent method of wax removal. These pre-wash cleaners come in two different types: spray-on wax removers and non-abrasive polishes.

Spray-on wax removers gently strip wax from your car's paint without affecting the surface of the panel. While they are effective at removing wax, these cleaners won't otherwise rid your vehicle of other contaminants. Because they are a gentler cleaning agent, they make suitable solvents for frequent waxings.

Non-abrasive polishes specialize in removing the dirt that settles below the paint's surface, eliminating wax as a byproduct of the deep clean to the surface of your car. They are ideal for less frequent wax strippings, as they can be tough on your car's paint job.

Whichever spray-on pre-wax cleaner you choose, apply them the same way. First, spread the wax remover over the surface of your car. Make sure your strokes are long and even, and avoid circular motions. If the first coat doesn't remove all of the wax, apply another — but be careful not to use too much. Repeated applications on unprotected (i.e., wax or sealant free) paint can damage the car's topcoat.

It's also important to avoid getting the cleaner on the plastic trim or rubber parts of your vehicle, as wax removers can cause discoloration on plastic and rubber.

All-Purpose Car Cleaner

When you don't have a clay bar or pre-wax cleaner handy, a strong all-purpose cleaner can be used instead. All-purpose car cleaners are concentrated car shampoos strong enough to dissolve wax and sealant while leaving the paint and plastic trim untouched. They remove heavy dirt and grime from the paint while also stripping off wax residue.

Before using an all-purpose cleaner, wash the car with water or generic car shampoo. This will remove any surface grime. Then, apply the all-purpose cleaner to the car using a microfibre cloth.

Depending on the amount of wax buildup, you might need to wash the car surface twice to remove all of the contaminants. When you're finished, dry your car thoroughly to prevent the formation of water spots and uneven drying patterns.

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How to Remove Car Wax From Plastic Trim

When waxing your car, it's critical to avoid getting wax on your car's trim. Wax buildup can cause a white, hazy discoloration that makes the plastic trim look faded. Furthermore, it is incredibly challenging to remove when the wax has finished drying.

Plastic trim is textured and porous, and the wax permeates these pores. This means that soap and water alone can't lift the wax particles out. If you do get car wax on your plastic trim, there are a few different options to remove it without causing damage.

White school erasers are safe to use on plastic trim and will effectively remove wax buildup. They get into the pores, removing the wax particles from the plastic without causing damage or discoloration.

Magic Erasers are perhaps the most effective home method of removing wax from plastic trim. A Magic Eraser cleaning pad can remove paint transfer as well as any waxy buildup. However, the eraser is abrasive. You need to be careful to keep it away from your car's paint job.

If you're looking for a more commercial option, most wax removers are safe to use on plastic trim. Just be sure to check the label — not every wax remover is rated as safe for plastic!

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How to Remove Car Wax From Windshields and Glass

Wax buildup on windows and windshields can impair the clarity of the glass. While most car washes remove this wax buildup, several strategies can be used at home.

Use a cloth dipped in an acidic liquid (such as cola or vinegar) to wipe down a waxy windshield. The acidity will strip the wax from the glass, leaving the windows cloud-free.

To clean the windshield wipers, apply rubbing alcohol to cotton balls, and then gently wipe them down. Be sure to clean the cola off quickly with a towel to prevent the windshield from becoming sticky and avoid getting any on your car's paint!

How Can You Tell If There's Still Wax On Your Car?

While you might have a rough idea of when your last coat of wax is worn out, it's important to check for leftover wax before applying your next layer. There are a couple of different methods to check for the remaining wax buildup.

One way to assess wax levels is to pour water on your car's panel. If the water beads and rolls off your vehicle, there's still some wax on it. The taller and tighter the water bead, the more wax that's left.

A visual inspection of your car can also prove useful. If the vehicle has a lustrous shine to the paint, the wax is still there. When the color appears dull, the wax is no longer there.

You can also listen for wax buildup. Wax causes the towel to glide across the surface without making any noise. To test for waxy spots, twist a balled-up microfiber cloth across the surface of your car. If you hear the towel squeak, there is no wax present.

Frequently 'Waxed' Questions

Will acetone remove car wax?

The short answer is: YES, but…

...it will also remove the paint finish from your car. Acetone removes everything, including stripping the clear coat and paint from your vehicle. While you can technically use acetone, it isn't a great first choice.

Will Windex (or ammonia) remove car wax?

The short answer is: YES!

Windex (or ammonia) isn't the most efficient manner of removing wax from your car. It will likely cause some minor paint stripping, which can be repaired with polishing. However, Windex will successfully degrade and eventually remove the wax from your car without permanently damaging its finish.

Will Vinegar remove car wax?

The short answer is: YES!

Vinegar is mainly used to remove water spots on a car's finish. While removing wax isn't vinegar's primary use in auto detailing, it will effectively strip wax and other finishes off without causing permanent damage to the paint. However, it will make the color appear duller if fresh wax is not applied.

Will Vinegar remove car wax?

The short answer is: YES!

Vinegar is mainly used to remove water spots on a car's finish. While removing wax isn't vinegar's primary use in auto detailing, it will effectively strip wax and other finishes off without causing permanent damage to the paint. However, it will make the color appear duller if fresh wax is not applied.

Will Dawn Dish Soap remove car wax?

The short answer is: Yes, but...

Dawn is a strong degreaser and will strip wax and other finishes off the car. It is not necessarily dangerous for your car but has occasionally been known to damage paint when used repeatedly.

Dawn itself does not recommend using their product to clean or de-wax cars. So, while the soap might work, you're much better off using a dedicated car wash soap or another de-waxer!

Summary: And the best wax remover is…

For de-waxing your car's body, clay bars are the best wax removers, with spray-on wax removers coming in as a close second. When removing wax from plastic trim, magic erasers are your best bet!

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Written by Dan Sweeney
COO of Torque Detail & Certified Car Detailer

I help run the day to day for America's Number #1 Car Wax Mirror Shine by Torque Detail. As a Certified Detailer by the International Detailing Association, I use that knowledge to help create products that get professional grade results with super simple application techniques.

  • Published on Jul 17, 2020
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