Ceramic Coating vs Car Wax vs Car Sealant vs PPF

What is better? Car Wax, Car Sealant, Paint Protection Film, or Ceramic Coating? Let's find out!

 

Today we are talking about the four most common ways to protect the paint on your car - wax, sealants, ceramic coating, and paint protection film. We will see what they are all about and which one is best, for you!

 
 
Contents:
  1. Most popular paint protection method?

  2. Car Wax

  3. Car Sealant

  4. Ceramic Coating

  5. Paint Protection Film

  6. Best Paint Protection - Product Life

  7. Best Paint Protection - Resistance to Elements

  8. Best Paint Protection - Resistance to Damage

  9. Best Paint Protection - Resistance to Chemicals

  10. Best Paint Protection - Gloss/Shine

  11. Best Paint Protection - Hydrophobic Properties

  12. Best Paint Protection - Application difficulty

  13. Best Paint Protection - Product Cost

  14. What about Graphene Coatings?

  15. Which paint protection method is the best?

 

Waxes have been around for what seems forever, and later came car sealants and then ceramic coatings and paint protection film. And one might think that because of the stiff competition car waxes indeed fell out of favor in the eyes of car enthusiasts.


But, historically, that can't be farther from the truth. Let us check this graph to see what the interest in each of the above was like over the years.

Ceramic Coating vs Car Wax vs Car Sealant vs PPF
Based on Google search interest for the United States

In the graph above we can see the interest of people living in the United States for the four items over l the way from 2004 when the other three slowly started showing up on the market.


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The graphs also show the interest for the four items relative to each other. We can see that when sealants hit the market, the interest in waxes dropped significantly. But as the years went by, the interest in sealants dwindled somewhat and the interest in car waxes slowly started growing.


Ceramic Coatings and PPF started hitting the market around the year 2010. And while most of those were only professional grade products that only business owners could acquire, around 2016 consumer grade products started flooding the market.


The interest in PPF grew very slowly, as did the interest in ceramic coatings, but both got a spike in 2021-2022. The interest in both products grows steadily, even though the interest in ceramic coatings is larger.


In this graph, we have taken out car waxes so you see a clearer picture of what the interest was in ceramic coatings compared to sealants and paint protection film:

Ceramic Coating vs Car Sealant vs PPF
Based on Google search interest for the United States

You can see how sealants had a significant drop in interest while both ceramic coatings and PPF grew rapidly over the last few years.



But what does this all mean?

Is car wax simply superior to the other three? Well, no. These numbers only show that the interest for Car Wax is much higher than the interest for the other three products when you stack all the numbers together. There could be numerous reasons behind why that is, but it surely has to do with the fact that car wax was first, it is likely the cheapest product on average and is extremely user-friendly, even for beginners.


If you consider what each product does to protect the paint of your car, the cost of each product, how long they last, and their benefits - then car wax has very little going for it except only one thing - a very nice warm glossy effect - which the other three simply cannot replicate.


Each of the four products has its place in the car detailing industry. We will go into each of them so you see what they are about and see how they work.


We will also compare each of the four across various categories so you can compare each of the four depending on what you are looking for when you think about paint protection.



Let's take a closer look at each of them:



Car Wax


Car Wax is the most traditional form of protecting your car's paintwork from deteriorating over time. They are carnauba based, meaning that they come from the carnauba palm trees in Brazil. This is why they are sometimes called Carnauba Waxes. The TheCarnauba palm trees secrete this wax on their leaves to protect them from the harmful UV rays of the Sun. It gives hydrophobic properties as well.


So they basically used that natures-technology to help protect the clearcoat last longer by giving it more UV blockers and UV inhibitors. Carnauba Wax also gives the paint hydrophobic properties and enhanced gloss.


Car Waxes are known for the "warm glow" look they give the car after application. This effect is hard to replicate, and along with the ease of use, is likely the main factor why car waxes are still so popular today.


While there are synthetic waxes available on the market today, carnauba-based car waxes are still the most popular ones.


They usually come in paste form. Mothers 05500 California Gold Brazilian Carnauba Cleaner Wax Paste is a great example. You apply car wax with an applicator and wait for it to harden a small bit, times may vary depending on the manufacturer's instructions. And then buff them off.


Car Wax also comes in liquid form - Meguiar's A2216 Meguiar’s Deep Crystal Carnauba Wax, and in spray form as well. Since Turtle Wax pretty much started it off with spray waxes, we like to use one of their amazing products as an example - Turtle Wax T-9 1-Step Wax & Dry Spray Wax. It is a mouthful, but it is an amazing product if car waxes are what you are looking for.


If you just want a car wax so your car would look like it belongs in a showroom, then give it some amazing prep work and use a premium wax like Pinnacle Natural Brilliance PIN-312 Souveran Paste Wax. They are expensive but are worth their weight in gold when it comes to car enthusiasts because of the way they enhance the paint on your car.


You can learn more about Car Waxes here.



Car Sealant


Car Sealants or Paint Sealants as they are also known are the detailing industry's answer to the short product life of car waxes. They are entirely synthetic, and man-made out of polymers. This is why some people refer to them as polymer sealants.


People, at one point, got tired of having to reapply for car wax every other week or so. It is expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes simply not doable at all. Not everyone has the same conditions for car detailing, or extra time on their hands to wax a whole car.


So, car sealants were invented. They tend to last for about 6-8 months tops. And that is even a high number in our experience, as paint protection lifetime depends on a lot of variables that we will not get into here. Otherwise, we would get into a lengthy discussion and completely detail this topic.


They are effortless to apply. They are relatively inexpensive. And they work. What's not to like? Well, if it weren't for Ceramic Coatings, they would have been more popular today, but here we are.


A big difference to car waxes is that car sealants give this "cold glow" feel to the car's paint once applied. Even the gloss sealants give feel synthetic.


Same as car waxes, you can find car sealants in paste form as well. Meguiar's G210608 Ultimate Paste Wax is an amazing sealant that has carnauba wax technology infused into the product to make it even better! You can also find them in spray form, for example, Turtle Wax 53223 ICE Seal N Shine. But the most common way car sealants come in liquid form - Chemical Guys WAC_118 16 JetSeal Paint Protectant is a great example. This one is a well-known sealant used in the detailing world, all over the globe.


You can learn more about Car Sealants here.



Ceramic Coating


As you've been able to see from the charts above, Ceramic Coatings really became popularized around 2014. Detailing Companies started creating consumer-grade ceramic coatings, and they suddenly became available to everyone.


Ceramic Coatings always come in liquid form and are stored in small glass bottles. They are based on SiO2 polymer technology and that is what gives them most of their amazing properties.


An amazing ceramic coating that we always recommend is CarPro CQuartz UK 3.0. Usually, ceramic coatings come in 30ml bottles, but some come in bigger packaging. Inside the glass bottles, you will have liquid resin and solvents that help bond the resin on top of the clear coat layer of the paint. Once cured, the ceramic coating solidifies and hardness into a protective barrier that is 1 to 2 microns thick and has extreme hydrophobic properties. It also gives the car a crazy glossy appearance, that is almost candy-like.


Unlike car waxes and car sealants, ceramic coatings have a very high resistance to chemicals. This property ensures a long product life of up to 5 years. But we can say 2 years on average for the average customer. The lifetime of a ceramic coating is highly affected by the way you maintain the car.


This way you get amazing protection against the elements, UV protection, the looks, the water beading, and water sheeting, all in one product, for an extremely long time, and all that for a reasonable price as well. What's not to like?!


A little bit after came Ceramic Coating Spray products. And just a quick disclaimer - they are not real ceramic coatings. They are Car Sealants, that have SiO2 technology infused into their formula to give them some properties of ceramic coatings. But the low amount of solids that they contain is simply not enough to give lasting protection, or even give the same type of protection that a traditional ceramic coating would give.


We call them Ceramic Spray Coatings because this is the name they appear on the market with, and that is the name that people know them by. But again, they really are not ceramic coatings. We felt that we just have to mention that. Now, with that said, there are some great Ceramic Spray Coatings out there, such as Turtle Wax 53410 Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Wet Wax.


You can check our Reviews section to get a better look at all the ceramic coatings that we have tested and reviewed on this website.


You can learn more about Ceramic Coatings here.



Paint Protection Film


PPF is short for Paint Protection Film. It is also sometimes referred to as 'Clear Bra'. PPF is a thermoplastic polyurethane in form of a nylon wrap that you put on top of the surface of your car and it serves as a protective barrier that soaks damage that would otherwise damage the paintwork of your car.


PPF comes in different thicknesses and in different finishes depending on what the customer likes or needs. Usually, it has a glossy finish and PPF is without any discussion the best paint protection method to protect the paintwork of your car from physical damage.


Car waxes and car sealants do nothing to protect the car from physical damage. And while ceramic coatings give the paint increased hardness, they will not stop scratches or rocks that have hit your car with substantial force.


This is not to say that PPF will give you 100% protection, but it is the best way out of the four to give you the best chance to avoid such damage.


Paint protection film is also by far the most expensive paint protection method. It is also the most difficult to apply. All that is likely the reason why they are not that popular. Even though, we could see how their popularity has increased drastically in the last couple of years. You can buy PPF yourself for instance 3M Scotchgard Clear Paint Protection Bulk Film Roll, but the reason why we wouldn't recommend this is that a botched job is simply put - wasted money. You need to be skilled in installing paint protection film to successfully apply it, and not only that. You will likely need two people to install paint protection film onto your car.


You can learn more about Paint Protection Film here.


 

We have learned what each of the four paint protection methods is and what the difference is, let us rate them based on different categories.


This way, everyone will be able to look up and read about what they care for in paint protection products and pick one that will give them what they need.

Ceramic Coating

Car Wax

Car Sealant

PPF

Product Life

B

E

C

A

Resistance to Elements

A

D

C

A

Resistance to Damage

C

F

F

A

Resistance to Chemicals

C

F

E

A

Gloss/Shine

A

A

C

B

Hydrophobic Properties

A

B

B

F

Application Difficulty

C

B

A

F

Cost

C

A

B

F

Well, there is a lot of information here.


Let's break it all down into digestible pieces!

Let's start from the top:

Product Life
ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf product life comparison

1st : PPF

2nd : Ceramic Coating

3rd : Car Sealant

4th : Car Wax







Here we see Paint Protection Film getting the gold medal and Car Wax getting the wooden one. Well, sometimes minor differences make a huge difference. Not in this case though. We are talking about a difference of up to 10 years. That is A LOT! It simply cannot be ignored.


Ceramic coatings do quite well in this category with an average life span of about 2-5 years depending on various factors such as: where you live, type of product used, quality of the product used, maintenance, etc.


Car Sealants are all over the place here but let us say you get an average of about 4-6 months. Some will give you more, while others will perform very poorly. And last place, car wax, gives us the least amount. While some products can give you more than a few months, the average for car waxes comes down to about 3 weeks to a month. It will heavily depend on how you maintain your car as well since their resistance to chemicals is the worst of the lot, and because of this, they tend to lose their properties quite rapidly if any stronger car shampoo is introduced.



Resistance to Elements
ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf resistance to elements comparison

1st : Ceramic Coating

2nd : PPF

3rd : Car Sealant

4th : Car Wax








We are starting to see a trend here already with PPF and ceramic coating battling it out on the top of the table, while sealants and waxes are left behind in the dust. Well, that might not be the fairest thing to say - but we cannot deny that there might be something there.


Both Ceramic Coatings and Paint Protection Film got an A in this category, but we gave the edge to ceramic coatings. The reason is that they simply perform better in the sun. UV radiation does almost nothing to coatings.


And while PPF laughs at the sunlight as well, the thing is, once they start showing wear from extreme temperature, from high temps and very low temperatures, and you have to change them - ceramic coatings are cheaper, faster, and mainly less of a headache to replace, or revitalize.


PPF might have a very high life span, but unless you take care of that one, you won't get to see those long years come to fruition.



Resistance to Damage
ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf resistance to damage comparison

1st : PPF

2nd : Ceramic Coating

3rd : Car Wax

4th : Car Sealant








When we think about resistance to damage, we aren't talking about someone hitting your car with a sledgehammer or you crashing into a tree. We are talking about scratches, swirl marks, rock chips, and such. The type of damage a daily driver is bound to get sooner or later during its lifetime.


And when it comes to those - Paint Protection Film is king. Ceramic coatings raise the hardness level of the paintwork and prevent some minor scratches that would've otherwise gone through. They stand second in this area because of that. However, Ceramic Coatings will not stop rock chips. Getting hit by a small stone when driving 40, or 60mph is simply too much.


But... PPF might stop it! Well, not stop, but simply absorb the damage instead of the clear coat. Depending on how fast you're driving and the thickness of the PPF on your car. This is why they stand at number one almost uncontested.


Car Waxes and Car Sealants simply do nothing to prevent any type of damage. Some could argue that waxes are greasy and thus serve as lubrication and thus prevent some damage, but that is simply not true. If the paint of your car is about to be damaged due to a contaminated microfiber towel or an automatic car wash, car wax will do absolutely nothing to prevent or reduce that damage.


This is why both waxes and sealants get a zero in this category.



Resistance to Chemicals
ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf resistance to chemicals comparison

1st : PPF

2nd : Ceramic Coating

3rd : Car Sealant

4th : Car Wax








Chemical resistance refers to what happens if you wash your car with regular car shampoo, one that isn't ph-neutral. Or what happens to the paint protection if you take your car to the car wash, a place where they sometimes use diluted hydrochloric acid among other chemicals in their shampoos acid to reduce cost?


PPF comes out on top because there are really very few chemicals that will harm it. It is thick and it is consistent. Unless you use some heavy industrial-grade chemicals, you will not damage paint protection film. So, once you apply PPF to your car, you can be assured that it will last.


Ceramic Coatings are almost in the same bucket. The main difference is the thickness. PPF is from 8-12 mils thick, while a ceramic coating, once cured is 1-2 microns thick. That means that PPF is 8-12 thousand times thicker than ceramic coating.


While both PPF and Ceramic Coating will get worn down eventually by using harsh chemicals, it will take you ages until you go through PPF and shows signs of wear and tear. Ceramic Coatings are thin enough that if you go heavy on them, they will eventually fall apart and they will start losing some of their properties.


The advantage that Ceramic Coatings have over PPF is that ceramic coatings have a much higher resistance to chemicals and can withstand any chemical with a pH value from 2-12 consistently. This of course depends on the quality of the ceramic coating.


That is why we do our tests and review ceramic coating products so you do not have to pick blindly. Check our ceramic coating top lists and their respective scores in this category!


Car Waxes and Car Sealants fall short in this category and you can start seeing a trend here. While some top-quality sealants will resist more chemical damage, most will be removed after a couple of washes with cheap car shampoo. If some of the sealants were good, they had SiO2 technology in them and are what people call 'Cerami Spray Coatings'. So even with those sealants, there was a percentage of ceramic coatings was needed to help.


Car Waxes on the other hand will be washed off almost always after one or two washes unless you are using pH-neutral car shampoo.



Gloss/Shine
ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf gloss and shine comparison

1st : Ceramic Coating

2nd : Car Wax

3rd : PPF

4th : Car Sealant








When it comes to gloss or shine, all of the products give amazing results. There are thousands of different products across the paint protection industry and all these products produce different results. We are talking about taking top-of-the-line items and comparing the results.


Ceramic coatings, in our opinion, stand on top because they give crazy gloss. Almost candy-like!


Car Wax gives its signature 'warm look' to the car. It enhances the color, almost deepens it, and leaves a glass-like appearance that has a yellowish undertone. It does look amazing and is probably one of the best-selling points when it comes to car wax! Unlike car wax, pretty much all of the other three paint protection methods leave more of a 'cold look'. White and completely transparent.


We like using the analogy of looking at LED lights. White LED lights and yellow LED lights. Which one do you prefer more? The yellow light gives a warm feeling while the white LED light has a coldness embedded in it.


PPF, once installed, looks like someone poured sugar onto your car and let it dry. It can give also amazing gloss, but we think still that ceramic coatings look way better, since you get the same type of look, but just much more enhanced.


Car Sealants are not to be underestimated. While many of them that we've tried over the years gave little to no shine, some of them did. And the results were nothing to laugh at.



Hydrophobic Properties
ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf hydrophobic properties comparison

1st : Ceramic Coating

2nd : Car Sealant

3rd : Car Wax

4th : PPF







When it comes to water not sticking to the surface of your car Ceramic Coatings are the clear winners. While good waxes and sealants do a great job - ceramic coatings do it better. Water sheeting and water beading are usually some strong selling points when it comes to ceramics.


If you have a nicely prepped car that was ceramic coated using a quality product - you will see almost no water left on the car after rain or after doing a water test. The only issue that some ceramic coatings have are water beads that might be left on your car. And if those are left unchecked, they tend to become a headache later. This can also be improved by using toppers on top of the ceramic coatings that are designed to improve slickness even more. A great product that does this is CARPRO Gliss.


PPF on the other hand has very little going for them when it comes to hydrophobic properties. They usually achieve this property by applying a ceramic coating on top of the paint protection film.


If you are looking for the best way to protect the paint of your car - other than garaging it indefinitely - is by applying 12 mils thick PPF and getting a great quality ceramic coating on top of it.



Application Difficulty
ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf application difficulty comparison

1st : Car Sealant

2nd : Car Wax

3rd : Ceramic Coating

4th : PPF








Again, we have PPF sitting in last place, and honestly, it would be fair to even put it lower. The difference in difficulty between applying a car sealant, which is spray and buff-off, vs applying PPF is insane. The skill required is insane, it is almost always at least a two-man job. There are some people that claim can apply PPF on a car solo.


But we either call bull on that or if there are some we imagine them as lonely hermits living alone up in the woods somewhere and legends are sung in their name. If there are some of you that can genuinely apply PPF solo. And not do a terrible job, but actually apply it perfectly, alone. Then hats off to you, we want to meet you!


Ceramic Coating requires some awareness of what you'll be facing, some basic training, and a good idea of how you'll prepare for the job and knowing how to apply the product. Especially those consumer-based products really made it easier for the average Joe to apply a ceramic coating DIY style.


Car Wax is mostly applied, waiting for it to stiffen up a bit, and then buff off with a microfiber towel. Straight forward, but it still has some room for error.


Car Sealants are by far the easiest to apply. It is almost child's play. You just can't go wrong. Just follow the instructions on the product. It is either apply and buff off, or apply, wait and buff off. Some sealants even are applied with a touchless method. You spray them and by using a pressure washer you spread the product around the surface of the car. If you mess up something or miss an area of the car, just redo it.



Cost
ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf cost comparison

1st : Car Wax

2nd : Car Sealant

3rd : Ceramic Coating

4th : PPF








Again, PPF is last. It is by far the most costly, whether you are applying it yourself or are paying a professional to do it for you. Ceramic Coatings come in at 3rd place because it is generally the most expensive product after waxes and sealants.


Waxes are usually considered the least expensive and sealants are probably very close in cost to car wax.


If, of course, it all depends on the product you are buying and where you are buying it from. Is it a distributor, or is it straight from the source?


Also, keep in mind that you can easily find car wax that is many times more expensive than a top-quality ceramic coating because of the premium feel it entails. The same goes for other paint protection methods - if you are looking for expensive, you will find it.


We are simply talking about the general price that you'll be paying for each of the four paint protection methods.



What about Graphene Coatings?


While graphene coatings became very popular recently, and they come out with promises that they help with removing leftover water beads and have some cool temperature-resisting properties.


We still strongly suggest you look at them strictly as Ceramic Coatings. They do have graphene in them, more precisely graphene oxide. But the argument of whether graphene actually does anything for the ceramic coating, or is purely snake oil, still remains an open debate in the detailing world. You can check out our opinion on graphene coatings which is based on testing results here.



Which paint protection method is the best?


The better question would be 'Which paint protection is the best for you?'. We can take a look at all the data we have gotten from the above categories and we will get this graph:

ceramic coating vs wax vs sealant vs ppf overall comparison











Just by looking at this, you would be forgiven to think that Ceramic Coating s the clear winner. And in our opinion - it is. But that has very little to do with what you can see in the above graph.


The truth is, there is no 'best' paint protection method. You simply have to consider the factors that affect you the most, the things that are important to you.


You have to consider things like budget, where you live, is the car a daily driver or a car that mostly sits in the garage. You have to think about exterior car maintenance - will you simply go to a car wash or will you properly clean your car? Will you be using pH-neutral car shampoo? Are you looking for a glossy finish or do you care about hydrophobic properties?


There are simply too many factors that you have to consider depending on where you live or the way you handle your car. We suggest going through each category and looking at what matters to you the most. Start from there and see where that takes you.


Our website is about Ceramic Coatings, and as we've mentioned previously - we do believe that ceramic coatings are the overall best paint protection method simply because it covers the disadvantages of all the other three paint protection methods very well, and perform great overall in all of the categories. And in some, it is the best, which further strengthens our claim.


We hope this guide, sort of, gave you a bit more insight into the car detailing world and it helped you make the choice that suits best your needs when it comes to protecting the paint of your car.


 

This only leaves us with your vote on what you think is the best paint protection method for you.


Which paint protection method is best for you?

  • Ceramic Coating

  • Car Wax

  • Car Sealant

  • PPF



Cheers!



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