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Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Paint Sealants

If you are looking for a way to add extra durable protection to your paint, or you’re simply not a fan of the wax on wax off weekend ritual many commit themselves to, you should be looking at sealants.

These products have come a long way in recent years. Read on to learn just how awesome sealants have become!

What are Automotive Paint Sealants?

Paint sealants are liquid compounds that are designed to bond to and protect the finishes they are applied. Paint sealants are popular on cars, trucks, RVs, boats, and small personal aircraft.

The purpose is to protect the finish from the sun, weather, contamination, and many other hazards. Unlike traditional wax, paint sealants are mostly synthetic and are almost always found in liquid or cream form.

How are Paint Sealants Made?

Sealants are made by combining amino-functional silicone fluids and other polymers which are held in suspension by emulsifiers, solvents, water, and even wax.

You’ll often see sealants labeled with ingredients such as resins, polymer resins, silicones, and Teflon. These are mostly marketing buzzwords because they are very broad definitions of possible sealant ingredients and may or may not have any real impact on the end product.

Speaking of Teflon….

Teflon is trademarked name for a variety of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). While it may good at being nonstick, it cannot be made into a true liquid for automotive use and does not bond well with paint.

If you see a Teflon wax or Teflon sealant marketing its success on the inclusion of Teflon run, don’t walk, far away from that product.

How do Paint Sealants Work?

Most paint sealants work by bonding with the finish they are applied to. Once wiped on they go through a process of curing where the polymer strands in the sealant cross link to form a tough, hard shell.

Some sealants contain, or include separately, an accelerator for the cross linking process to speed up curing time.

Wax vs Sealant

Waxes contain mostly natural wax products such as carnauba, bees wax, montan, and other substances. Sealants are composed mostly of synthetic compounds. Some sealants are advertised as “synthetic waxes” to pander to the less discerning consumer but are still just sealants if they contain mostly synthetic ingredients.

Waxes tend to impart a more reflective, warm, and wet appearance to the paint than sealants but don’t last very long (6-8 weeks). Sealants on the other hand last a very long time (6 months to a year).

Sealants have come a long way in recent years and I would argue they can look just as nice as wax to the untrained eye.

What are the Benefits of a Sealant?

The polymer technology used in sealants allows it to bond extremely well with paints, gel coats, and other finishes. This greatly increases the durability and longevity of the sealant. This is great for people who don’t want to have to apply wax very often or who have vehicles that operate in harsh environments such as cars near snow or salt water, water craft, RVs, and pull behind trailers.

Sealants are also very easy to apply, often skipping the requirement to dry before removal allowing for a true wipe on wipe off experience. This saves a great deal of time.

Some sealants advertise UV blocking as well. I’ve yet to find a sealant with any meaningful UV blocking regardless of the claims. Your car’s clear coat does a marvelous job of this on its own. Use sealants to help protect your clear coat. This one two punch will ensure the paint below lasts for years.

Sealants prevent contaminants from sticking to your paint. This keeps your paint cleaner and makes it easier to wash, reducing the risk of scratches or marring.

Sealants also prevent water and other liquid fallout from etching your paint.

Lastly, a good sealant helps shed water after rinsing reducing the amount of drying you need to do. The less you have to touch your paint with a drying towel the less of chance there is of accidentally scratching it.

What are the Drawbacks of a Sealant?

Some will argue that sealants don’t look quite as nice as carnauba waxes. This may have been true years ago but today it would be hard for the average person to tell the difference, especially on a light colored car. On darker cars there is still some truth to that statement.

For some people, just knowing that there is a difference whether they can see it or not is enough for them to continue using wax. For those people I recommend using a sealant for the base layer of protection and then topping it with a nice carnauba wax for appearance. Win win.

What Types of Sealants Exist?

Pure sealants vs cleaning sealants

There are two primary types of paint sealant. Pure paint sealers and cleaning sealers (sometimes called all-in-ones or AIOs). Sealers with cleaners in them are designed with solvents and abrasives to remove mild oxidation and very fine scratches for an all-in-one experience.

Sealants with cleaners are not recommended for paints, gel coats, or clear coats that have been compounded and polished already. It’s pointless to further abrade paint that is already perfect. In fact it’s a bad idea because you’re wearing away good paint for nothing!

Unfortunately sealants don’t often advertise the cleaning properties as obviously as waxes do. You’ll have to inspect the label or description of the sealer closely to make sure it’s not a cleaner if you don’t need it.


Within the category of non-cleaning sealants there are two types of paint sealant, wipe on wipe off (wowo) and wipe on walk away (wowa).

Wipe on wipe off sealants are a lot like wax in that you squeeze some out onto an applicator, wipe it on the car, and then wipe it off with a soft microfiber towel. These sealants are easy to work with and affordable.

Wipe on walk away sealants are applied or buffed on and left on. There is no need to wipe them off. Since they dry clear and do not haze there is no fear of getting residue on trim panels or seals.

Temporary vs Semi-Permanent Coatings

Sealants can be either temporary (traditional WOWO) or semi-permanent.

Semi-permanent (sometimes referred to as a coating) sealers are a newer type of sealant that is applied thinly using a special applicator, often dispensed from a syringe, and then left to self-level and cure to a hard protective shell.

Think of it as a clear coat for your clear coat.

These sealants are often more tedious to apply and more expensive than wowo sealants. However, they last much longer.

How Do You Apply Sealants?

Much like wax, sealants can be applied either by hand or by machine. Since sealants are liquid they very easy to work using either method. In either case, the key is to spread the sealant thin and uniformly across the paint.

Hand Application

  1. Put two to three small drops in the center of a foam or microfiber applicator pad.
  2. Apply the pad to your paint with light pressure and work the sealant thinly across the paint. You can use any motion including circular and cross hatch as long as the surface you are sealing is perfectly clean and free of contaminants that could scratch the paint.
  3. Ensure complete coverage by overlapping each pass across the panel
  4. Leave the thin layer of sealant on the paint for the time specified on the bottle (usually 10-20 minutes).
  5. If using a WOWO sealant, buff off the excess sealant with a plush microfiber towel. Again, using your preferred motion to achieve complete coverage.
  6. Leave the sealant to cure before applying another coat. Consult your bottle for cure time. Than can be anywhere from one to a few hours.
  7. Optional: Apply a carnauba finishing to the top of cured sealant to enhance gloss, warmth, and depth.

Machine Application

  1. Install a finishing pad on your dual action random orbital polisher.
  2. Apply two to three small drops of sealant to the pad.
  3. Place the pad against the paint with the buffer off and spread the sealant around the working area.
  4. Turn the machine on to speed one (low) and spread sealant evenly across the panel.
  5. Turn the polisher to speed 3 (medium) and work the sealant slowly (about five inches per second) across the panel overlapping each pass.
  6. Repeat step 5 to all of the panels on the vehicle.
  7. Turn the buffer off while the pad is still against the paint to prevent slinging.
  8. Leave the sealant on the paint for the time specified on the bottle
  9. If using a WOWO sealant, buff off the excess sealant with a plush microfiber towel. You may also use a microfiber bonnet placed over a clean buffing pad on your DA Polisher.
  10. Leave the sealant to cure before applying another coat. Consult your bottle for cure time. Than can be anywhere from one to a few hours.
  11. Optional: Apply a carnauba finishing to the top of cured sealant to enhance gloss, warmth, and depth.

Can I Apply a Sealant over Wax?

No. The benefit of a sealant is that it can bond with the polymers in your paint to provide a durable protective coating. The presence of wax, oils, or other contaminants prevent the sealant from bonding with the paint.

You can, however, apply wax over a sealant. You will not be able to add another layer of sealant once wax is applied so make sure you’ve layered your sealant up as much as you want first.

When Should You Not Apply a Sealant?

Sealants are not recommended for new paint. When I say new paint I mean paint that has just been sprayed on the car and has not yet had 30-90 days to cure. Paints have solvents that continue to work their way out of the paint for the first couple months and sealants can trap them in.

How Do You Remove Sealants from Paint?

Unlike wax, you can’t remove a sealer from your paint by just washing it in dish soap or using a wax and grease remover. You have to use a cleaner such as a pre-wax cleaner such as Adam’s Strip Wash to strip the sealer.

Do not allow any cleaners to dry on your paint.

You will need to wash the panels of your car until you no longer see water beading.

Once you’ve removed the sealant I like to clean up the paint with a wipe down of diluted 50/50 mix of isopropyl alcohol (IPA) with a soft, plush microfiber towel.

What is the Best Sealant for Clear Coat?

Pretty much any sealant is going to be great for a clear coat finish. This is the type of finish that most sealants are designed for. If you’re looking for ease of application a wowo (wipe on wipe off) sealant like Ethos RESIST Spray Sealant is hard to beat. If you want extreme longevity the semi-permanent Ethos Graphene Matrix Coating (longevity of 3+ years) are a perfect choice.

What is the Best Sealant for Gel Coat?

For Gel Coat I like using Gel Coat Labs All Marine Surface Sealant. It works on everything from very lightly oxidized to pristine gel coat and lasts several months.

What is the Best Sealant for Fiberglass?

Most fiberglass is either gel coated or painted and clear coated. Ethos RESIST Spray Sealant and Gel Coat Labs All Marine Surface Sealant are great sealants in this scenario. If you are looking for a semi-permanent Ethos Graphene Matrix Coating is good choice as well.

What is the Best Sealant for Single Stage Urethane?

This depends on the condition of the paint. Single stage paints tend to oxidize faster than clear coated paints. If your paint is in less than perfect condition and you don’t wish to do any extensive correction work then an all-in-one polish and sealant like the Klasse All-In-One mentioned above is perfect.

If your paint is already perfect then Optimum Opti-Seal or Ethos RESIST would be my go to.

What is the Best Sealant for Single Stage Lacquer?

When it comes to sealers, urethane and lacquer paints can be treated equally. See my recommendation above for Urethane.

What is the Best Sealant for Red Paint?

When it comes to deep red and black paints I really like a sealant that has a glossy, wet look to it. The closest I have come to that is a wowo such as Ethos RESIST Spray Sealant. You used to have to layer a carnauba finishing wax over a good sealant to get this level of shine but thanks to advancements in modern detailing products you can get it in one package now.

What is the Best Sealant for Black Paint?

Hands down Ethos RESIST Spray Sealant is a great choice for this. Easy on, easy off (even on hot paint). Deep gloss. Lasts months.

What is the Best Sealant for White Paint?

White, and other similarly light colors, is a special case. It is super good at hiding imperfections and it’s hard to tell the difference in appearance of waxes and sealants.

When it comes to white I always pick something with max durability in mind. I usually end up applying a semi-permanent coating such as Ethos Graphene Matrix Coating. If you prefer a non-semi-permanent then something like Ethos RESIST is pretty bullet proof.

What is the best Sealant and Wax combo for a daily driver?

If you want ease of application, Opti-Seal topped with Collinite 845 hands down just as recommended for white above. Super durable. Excellent appearance. Ultra affordable.

Though, these days, I vote skipping waxes and layering and use a wowo spray sealant like Ethos RESIST.

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