How to Wax a Car by Hand

how to was a car by hand, freshly waxed mustang

Is there anything as beautiful as a freshly washed and waxed car? Even if it’s not in perfect condition, a fresh coat of wax can make a plain “car” a shining thing of beauty on the road. While it can take some time, applying wax to your car by hand works great 

Waxing your ride does more than simply make your car shimmer, it also protects the paint from the damaging effects of the sun, salt, water, and environmental factors, such as smog and bird poop. 

While everyone might be familiar with the “wax on, wax off” mantra from Karate Kid, it’s not quite as simple as the movie made it out to be. 

We aren’t suggesting that waxing your car takes a Ph.D., but to get the most out of your wax job, you should follow a few tips from detailing pros. 

Let’s talk about how you can best wax your car by hand. 

What You Need

It’s always a good idea to make sure you have everything you need before you begin, so you don’t have to stop and head out to the store to pick up items you forgot. 

Some of the most common things you will need to wax your car by hand include: 

  • Your chosen wax product (check out our wax recommendations for max gloss
  • A few hours to complete the job
  • A cool, dry area for waxing
  • Some water and two buckets
  • Car wash soap 
  • Two sponges or towels for washing
  • A microfiber drying towel or chamois
  • A few rags
  • A few microfiber towels or sponges for waxing

You can add a wheel cleaner and/or glass cleaner to this list if you like. These aren’t necessary, but they will help to make your car look more complete. 


Prepare in Advance

Before you even think about waxing, your car needs to be washed. 

Using the two-bucket method, fill one with soapy water and one bucket with clean water.

Rinse the car off with water, removing as much loose dust and dirt as possible. Using a sponge, wash mitt, or whichever washing tool you like, dip the sponge into the soap and start washing your car. After each panel, rinse the sponge in the bucket of clean water, then dip it in the soapy water again. Work from the top down.

You can wash the wheels using a separate product if you like. Rinse the car thoroughly, again, working from top to bottom. 

Dry the car completely. You can use a chamois, microfiber towel, or whatever you prefer to use. Double-check areas where water likes to pool and hide, including the outside mirrors, license plate area, the windows, and the grille. 

Which Hand Waxing Method Works Best?

Now that your ride is clean, it’s ready to be waxed. 

Some people prefer to use an orbital waxer to save themselves a lot of elbow grease. Others claim you can do better by waxing the car by hand. 

In today’s article, we are going to address how to wax your ride by hand. 

You should have two soft sponges or pads to apply the wax and two or more microfiber towels to remove the wax. 

Whether you are using liquid wax or paste wax, the amount of work is about the same. 

Put a nickel-sized amount of wax on your pad or sponge and begin to rub it into one section of the car. This small amount of wax should cover about a 2 square foot area, which would be about the size of two pieces of writing paper side by side or one on top of the other. 

Keep going until you finish one panel. Flip the sponge to the other side and start on another panel. Continue until the entire vehicle is covered. 

Don’t let the wax touch plastic or rubber areas since they tend t leave a white film on these parts. 

If the pad feels like it is completely saturated with wax, switch to another pad. If you have a large truck or SUV, two pads are generally the minimum. 

Walk around the vehicle and see if you’ve missed any spots. Add a bit of wax if you did miss a spot. 

Clean Up

You want to be sure the wax has time to dry, so this is when you can take advantage of time and clean up. You can dump out the dirty water and soap, then rinse the buckets. Put any washing rags away where they can dry or if you plan to wash them, put them near the washing machine. 

You can put some tire protectant on the tires and go over any plastic trim parts if you like. You might also want to clean the glass, inside and out, while you wait. 

Most wax products will be completely dry within 20 minutes, but if it is colder (under 60 degrees) or if you live in a humid climate, you should wait longer. 

Remove the Wax

Take those microfiber towels and get ready to rumble! 

Rub the towel across the panel. You might need to rub a bit harder or use overlapping strokes to remove all the wax, but as it comes off, you will use less pressure. You should also notice that the panel becomes smooth underneath the towel and you can feel the towel start to glide over the surface. 

When you feel that glide, you know that the wax has been removed. Move on to the next panel, turning the towel as you do so. Flip the towel several times until it looks dirty or feels heavy. When it feels heavy or looks very dirty, switch to a clean towel. 

Double-check to see if you missed any small spots or if there is any leftover wax hiding in the crevices. 


Pro Tips

  • If you plan on selling your car, take a picture of it right now, while the wax is super fresh. Your car will probably never look better than it does right now! 
  • Black and dark colored cars are harder to wax since they show everything. Use a wax that is formulated for black or dark blue cars. 
  • Applying more wax than you need is better than applying too little 
  • If you want to avoid getting wax on certain areas, use some blue “painting” tape or masking tape to cover these areas 
  • Don’t be afraid to try different wax products 



  1. How Often Should I Wax My Car?

It depends! For the average driver, twice a year is usually sufficient. Check out our guide on how often you should wax your car to learn more. 

  1. I Bought a “Car Wash and Wax” in One Product. Do I Still Need to Wax My Car? 

Yes. That thin layer of wax in the wash product will most likely only last a few days. 

  1. Will Waxing My Car Remove Swirl Marks or Fine Scratches? 

Unfortunately, no. You will need to have the car buffed or you will need to use a clay bar to remove some of these problems. 

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