Carnauba paste wax had migrated to the back of cabinet.
Even my beloved Pinnacle Souveran and P21S Carnauba Wax were on the back
row. Has Carnauba wax become a Dinosaur?
I grew up washing and waxing the cars with Dad using a can of Turtle Wax
paste wax. Back then, everyone knew that Carnauba paste wax was what you
used on your car to protect it. When I got my first car in 1976, I
continued the tradition of cleaning and protecting the paint with paste
wax. At the time, synthetic waxes (sealants) were not common on retail
shelves or they were seen as Snake Oil products.
I'm not really sure what caused the paste wax phenomenon. If you look
back at the history of two car care giants, Turtle Wax and Meguiar's,
both companies started by making liquid polishes. The original Turtle Wax
product, called Plastone, was a synthetic protective paint polish invented
by Ben Hirsch, the founder of Turtle Wax™ Inc. Ben changed the product
name to Super Hard Shell and the business name to Turtle Wax in the
1950's to convey the idea of a hard, protective shell.
In the 1960's the paint polish products (what we now think of as a
liquid cleaner/wax) were pushed to the side by paste wax products
containing "pure Carnauba wax." Interestingly, many (if not most) of
the liquid car polishes also contained Carnauba wax, but it was rarely
used in marketing the product. As if by magic, Carnauba wax suddenly
became the wonder component of the car wax industry. In reality, Carnauba
wax is a minor component in most paste and liquid car waxes due to the
cost of the wax in its purified form.
Paste wax marketing from the mid-1960's through the 1980's gave car
owners the impression that Carnauba paste wax was the only way to truly
protect your car with a durable barrier. Men throughout the Western world
began this love-hate ritual dance on their weekends by paste waxing their
family car and the hotrod. Holding that can and swirling the applicator
around became part of the feel-good nuance of Carnauba paste wax.
The Perfect Shine
Back in 1999, I wrote an article called The Perfect Shine, which
outlined how I prepped and finished the paintwork on my cars for a show
car shine. I had developed the procedure over a number of years
experimenting with various polishes and waxes. The basic procedure
involves cleaning, polishing, sealing and waxing. The final step of
applying a topcoat of show car wax has become quite a phenomenon in car
Since I first wrote The Perfect Shine, I have watched the word
spread and the enthusiasm grow to the point that national car care brands,
like Mothers, have embraced the idea with new products. While I'd like
to boast that it was my novel idea, my good friend Jim was quick to point
out that Autoglym had the idea some 26 or so years ago when they updated
Super Resin Polish and invented Extra Gloss Protection. Autoglym Extra
Gloss Protection is a British concoction of hard resins and synthetic
waxes that can be layered to improve gloss and depth of shine.
I'm now forced to re-think my own ritual. If all of my favorite Carnauba
show car waxes have been relegated to the back row, what has changed? I
pondered this question while filling a 45 gallon trash can with dozens of
old wax tins and jars. My neighbor Charlie looks on like I'm some kind
of wacko wax junkie sorting my stash.
I Can See Clearly Now
When I first started using Carnauba paste waxes, my cars had a
traditional, single-stage paint (no clearcoat or metallic). My favorite
colors were "attract-a-cop red" and "you-must-be-speeding yellow."
I hand polished the paint on my bright sports cars to a mirror-like
finish, but the paint lacked depth until I added a coat or two of a
quality Carnauba show car wax. These expensive Carnauba waxes are blended
with oils that wet the paint and keep it looking wet until the wax
evaporates or washes away.
I always remember standing back admiring my work after the final coat. My
Guards Red Porsche, in particular, just glowed and radiated energy. The
Carnauba wax gave the paint an almost liquid look that could not be
matched. It's funny, though, how your memory plays trick on you.
I recently buffed out and waxed a buddy's 1987 Guards Red Porsche 911. I
love the color and, after working out a few surfaces scratches, the paint
buffed out to its original quality. My friend wanted to finish off with a
coat of wax from his $120 jar of Zymol Concours that he saved for special
occasions. The final result was a huge improvement, however, I could not
help but notice how the older 911's finish paled next to my new vehicle.
The clearcoat finish on new vehicles creates the depth and high-gloss
shine that I once labored to achieve. Is Carnauba wax a relic on new car
When I purchased my Porsche Cayenne S nearly two years ago, I literally
stopped using Carnauba wax. The finish on the Cayenne is wonderful, and it
does not take a lot of maintenance to keep it looking great. What I really
started to notice is how quickly surface contamination makes the paint
finish loose its intense shine. Yet, all I have to do is wash and use
detailing clay to get back the finish clarity.
The Mystery of Carnauba Show Car Waxes
Getting back to what I wrote in The Perfect Shine, it's no small
coincidence that using a Carnauba show car wax as a last step product
creates results. Most of these waxes are loaded with oils and silicone
polymers that create incredible gloss. The gloss comes at a cost, however,
as these wax finishes are not durable. Car enthusiasts who use these soft
waxes do so at the expense of time and money. In normal use, high gloss
Carnauba show car wax finishes rarely last more than a couple of weeks.
The wax is too soft and simply burns off from exposure to sun and wind.
Unless you are preparing your car for show, your time and money are better
spent applying a high-gloss, durable synthetic wax (sealant) that can be
applied in multiple layers for improved gloss and durability. For show
cars and extreme detailers, a Carnauba show car wax on traditional black
and red finishes will continue to be the winning ticket until someone
figures out how to build the same jetting (wet finish look) qualities into
a synthetic wax.
What Do Clearcoat Finishes Really Need?
If the purpose of the clearcoat is to add depth and gloss to the final
paint finish, wouldn't it be counterproductive to apply anything that
does not buff out to be as clear as the clearcoat itself? Carnauba wax in
its natural form is not clear. It creates a dull, milky white film on the
leaves of the palm tree from which it is harvested. Have you experienced
the white stain residue most Carnauba waxes leave in cracks and crevices
after waxing? It follows that Carnauba wax will distort the perfectly
clear appearance of a new or well-maintained clearcoat finish.
What the modern clearcoat finish requires is proper cleaning, light
polishing to remove fine cobweb scratches and swirl marks, and clear,
durable protection. Carnauba wax cannot meet this demand.
Will Carnauba Paste Wax Survive New Regulations?
I have previously written about the changes in automotive paint technology
(see "Modern Paint Care"). The U.S. and other responsible governments
are demanding significant reduction in the use of volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) in manufacturing processes and consumable products. In
January, 2005, new VOC regulations hit the U.S. car care industry like a
ton of bricks. As of this time, car care products may not contain more
than 15% VOC by volume. This is bad news for Carnauba waxes, which all use
a significant quantity of light solvents, like mineral spirits, to soften
the Carnauba wax from its original rock-hard form into a workable paste or
Some car care manufacturers went back to the drawing board to redesign
their products and others simply dropped products that could not
effectively be re-engineered. Meguiar's, as an example, dropped their
#16 Carnauba Paste Wax and replaced it with NXT Generation Paste Wax,
which meets U.S. VOC regulations, but does not contain Carnauba wax.
Several small wax makers confided that they are struggling to make their
Carnauba paste waxes comply with VOC regulations. As a result, we may see
many carnauba paste wax manufacturers quietly remove Carnauba from their
marketing and formulas, and allow newer polymer-based wax technologies to
take over. Some small wax makers may even continue making their original
formulas until government sanctions force them to stop. Currently, the
industry is largely self-regulated.
Carnauba Wax is Dead... Long Live Paint Sealants
So let me, once a huge fan of Carnauba show car waxes, publicly proclaim
Carnauba wax as dead! Long live the new king, paint sealants and synthetic
waxes. Sure, we'll continue to see the Carnauba Dinosaurs on the shelves
at the local auto parts store, and in the hands of extreme enthusiasts,
but they are quickly being shoved to the back row by modern synthetic
To learn more about proper clearcoat finish care using synthetic waxes
(sealants), see Modern Paint Care.
Autopia Car Care Recommends:
(for new and like-new paint finishes)
(for finishes that require some restoration)
Carnauba Wax (for show car owners and extreme detailing