How To Wax A Car By Hand or With A Buffer

Chloe Murphy 6 minutes Published: 26/08/2021

If you’ve had your car for a while now, you might notice that no matter how many times you wash it, it just doesn’t have that ‘new car’ shine anymore. 

But, fear not if you’ve worried you’ve been duped by the fancy showroom lighting. You can get that showroom shine back. 

Waxing your car transforms your exterior from dull and dreary to dazzling, and you can do it all by yourself. On top of the lustrous sheen you’ll have for months to come, the wax acts as an extra layer of protection against rain, sun, sleet and hail.

If you’re ready to restore your exterior to its former glory, read on. We’ll cover how you can wax your car both by hand and with a buffer, and how to get that professional look at home. 

Can you wax your own car?

We’ll always recommend you listen to the experts, but when it comes to waxing, there’s really no reason you can’t do it yourself. 

Full car detailing is expensive, so you’ll save some cash doing it yourself, plus you’ll get the satisfaction of a job well done when your car sits gleaming in your drive.

You can either wax by hand, which is pretty simple, or with a buffer, which can be a little more complicated. 

How To Wax A Car By Hand 

Hand car waxing is one of the most simple and effective ways to wax your car, as you’re highly unlikely to cause any damage. All you need is:

  • A microfibre buffing towel
  • Applicator pads
  • Your preferred car wax product (spray wax, paste wax or liquid wax)

For the wax you have a number of options. Carnauba wax tends to be one of the most popular, as the hardest waxes available with an incomparable shine (particularly if you have a black car). But synthetic wax has a lot to offer too. They’re easier to use when applying, and are generally more long lasting.

You can also get a number of triple and dual action products that combine polishing and waxing in just one product. Meguiar 3 in 1 Wax claims to remove swirls and spots, increase your colour clarity and provide long-lasting protection.

1. Wash your car

The first step before waxing your car is to make sure it’s 100% clean. If your car has dirt, dust, grime or bird droppings on it (read how to get bird poop off your car if you’re frequently unlucky), it’ll likely ball into the wax and give you an uneven finish. Yuck.

Many waxes work best with a fresh surface, so if you have any remaining wax residue, it’s best to remove this with a clay bar before you get started. If there are any water spots or scratches, it could also be worth using a polisher first. As waxing is protecting your car, it doesn’t remove any surface contaminants. 

Remember if you’re adding car polish into your maintenance, this comes first before any waxing.

Wash your vehicle with a car shampoo, use a microfiber cloth or towel to dry it off, then ideally park it somewhere cool and in the shade. For an extra shiny exterior, check out our post on how to wash a car, or how to use a car wash if you're feeling indulgent.

2. Apply wax 

It might be appealing to get your waxing done on a nice sunny day, but direct sunlight on your bodywork can bake the wax into your car before you’re even done applying. Aim for cool, shaded conditions and you’re ready to apply.

We know it sounds like the more wax the better the shine you’ll get, but the more wax you apply, the harder you’re making it for yourself. Going overboard when applying wax can mean it’s harder to work in, so if you slather tonnes onto your car, you’re likely to be there for a while trying to even it out. 

For the best results you should:

  • Use a high quality wax. 
  • Take it slowly, applying thin coats with your foam applicator pad.
  • Check your sections before you move on.

3. Work in sections

Unfortunately no matter how you work it, waxing your car can be hard work and a little time consuming. 

It’s best to work in small sections, applying a minimal amount of wax to your applicator pad for each part. Then apply to the section in a vertical motion, avoiding any circular motions as this will leave swirl marks. 

It’s important to remember that at this point you’re just applying the wax (not buffing it), so keep pressure light and don’t try to work too quickly or you’ll tire yourself, and your arms, out. 

4. Buff in the wax

Once you’ve got a full even coat of wax on your car, it’s time to bring back that shine. Using a microfibre cloth or towel, buff the exterior, working across the sections using vertical motions just like when applying the wax. Finally, step back and admire your handy work!

If you think your car needs another coat, don’t rush to go over it again. Your current layer of wax will need time to dry and cure, so check the wax you’ve used for recommendations on when to begin your second coat. 

How To Wax With A Buffer

Waxing with a buffer can be a great alternative to hand waxing, as it takes a lot less effort and time. But, it is also a little more complicated, and comes with its risks if you don’t do it properly. 

1. Clean the car

When waxing with a buffer, It’s extra important to start off with a fully clean car, as you risk scratching the car’s paint work if the buffer comes across any dirt. Just like with hand waxing, wash your car, dry it off, then park in a cool shaded area.

2. Apply the wax

If it isn’t already, attach your applicator pad to the buffer. Apply small dots of wax around the applicator pad, and then a small amount in the middle. 

It’s important to first apply the wax with the buffer off. This adds a small layer of protection to your paintwork, as you won’t be buffing straight onto a dry surface.

Then apply more wax to your applicator pad, turn on the buffer and gently work across the section. You should not need to apply any force as the buffer does all the work for you.

3. Buff the wax

Once your car is fully coated, you can start to buff the wax in. If you have a microfibre attachment for your buffer, remove the applicator pad and use this to buff in the wax. 

Just like by hand, avoid swirling motions and gently guide the buffer up and down. If you don’t have a microfibre attachment, you can complete this by hand following the same steps as hand waxing.

Take a seat and enjoy your newly shining, protected car.

Do you wax your car first or polish?

Polishing and waxing might sound pretty similar, but when it comes down to it, they have two different effects on your car.

Polishing is typically used to address and correct any scratches or minor paintwork imperfections, whilst waxing is used to seal this in and protect your exterior with a smooth, shiny coating. 

When considering what to do first then, it should always be polish first, if your car needs it. Too frequent polishing can begin to lightly wear your paintwork, so if your exterior already looks in great shape, skip right to the wax.

Should I hand wax or use a buffer?

The best car wax really comes down to personal preference, and proper application. Whether you wax by hand or with a buffer, both should have a pretty similar result. 

The best option really is the one that appeals more. Using a buffer could save you a chunk of time and energy, but it also comes with the pressure of using it properly or facing damage to your paintwork. If your car has significant grooves or crevices, it could also be more effort trying to use a buffer to work into these.

Hand waxing does take additional time and effort to complete, but if you prefer to get just as good a result without the risk, it’s your best option. 

Once you’ve got all the steps down, it’s important to remember that waxing too regularly can cause a build up of wax residue over your clear coat, and give the surface of your car a cloudy look. 

For details on how to avoid this and more waxing car care, head over to our post where we discuss how often you should wax your car.