Wintry weather, salt from the roads, and an abundance of grit and grime can leave your car looking a mess and cause damage. Waxing it will protect the bodywork, but is it okay to wax a car in the winter?
It’s possible to wax a car in cold weather as long as the surface temperature of it is at around 60°F / 15.5°C. Car wax thickens in the cold, so a liquid wax may be difficult to put on or take longer to dry and cure than usual. Alternatives comprise spray-on wax or a waterless wash and wax product.
Can You Wax A Car In The Winter Or Cold Weather?
Waxing a car in winter is possible, but there are some factors that you need to consider.
Consider these factors when waxing a car in the cold:
Extremes in temperature aren’t good conditions for waxing a car – whether hot or cold. Obviously, the optimum seasons are in the spring and autumn, as car wax products perform better when temperatures are moderate, besides which such conditions are far more comfortable to work in.
It’s necessary to bear in mind that the car wax needs to set before it’s polished or buffed for it to be effective. This usually takes about 10 minutes but could be much longer, depending on the given surface temperature and other factors.
The most important aspect is surface temperature, meaning that of the vehicle. It may be cold out, i.e. the ambient/outside temperature is low, but waxing in direct winter sunshine is doable on cold days. Under such circumstances, not only does the little bit of heat provided by the sun warm up the panels on the vehicle, but it also helps dry the wax layer applied for buffing and supports the curing (hardening) stage afterward. Touch the surface of the vehicle and judge for yourself if it’s warm enough or not (a minimum of 55°F / 12.7°C).
This can be lower than the surface temperature, even significantly, depending on the amount of direct sunlight and wind chill factor. The warmer it is generally, the quicker liquids dry, aiding the drying and curing stages of car wax.
It is important to say that the ambient temperature is not nearly as important as the surface temperature of the car. As long as the surface temperature is moderately warm, as mentioned in the paragraph above, it is not a problem if the ambient temperature is relatively cold.
Waxing a car in direct sunlight is generally not recommend. The heat from the sun can bake in the wax into the car, damaging the paint and preventing the car wax from working properly.
In winter or cold temperatures it can be helpful to wax the car in direct sunlight in order to heat the surface up to a temperature around 60°F/15°C. Just make sure that the surface does not get too hot or the wax will be baked into the paintwork.
As for airflow, or any wind or breeze that’s blowing, the movement of air promotes evaporation and encourages liquid products to dry. For example, using an electric fan in a garage will quicken the process of drying the wax and curing it. Turning on a heater would be a good idea, too, obviously.
Car waxes have solvents inside that need to evaporate in order to leave the wax layer on the car. Airflow helps the evaporation process and makes the whole waxing process a lot quicker.
What Temperatures Are Acceptable For Waxing A Car?
I checked some manufacturers to find out what temperature they recommend for waxing a car. Sadly this information is not found easily and some manufacturers do not give any recommendations.
Nevertheless, here is what I found online:
|Manufacturer||Surface temperature minimum||Surface temperature maximum|
|Turtle Wax||55°F / 12.7°C||85°F / 29.4°C|
|Meguiar’s||55°F / 12.7°C||no upper limit if the car is in the shade|
|Soft99||above 32°F / 0°C||/|
As you can see, there is not a lot of information online.
The recommended range of temperature for waxing a car is between 60°F / 15.5°C and 85°F / 29.4°C. Car wax will still be liquid at 50°F / 10°C and can be put on, however, there’s a risk of undesirable streaks or smears appearing on the surface at below 55°F / 12.7°C.
Should it be very chilly, then the wax may be so cold it can’t be applied as it’s too thick. Test it by putting a little on the paint and then pass a finger over it to see if it wipes off without difficulty. If so, you’re good to go. The best choices for such days would be a simple car wax in liquid form, although a spray-on wax or even an all-in-one waterless car wash product would be more appropriate should this test fail.
Remember that any direct sunlight on wintry days is going to aid the waxing process, so don’t get disheartened. Instead, carry out the finger test described above to find out if conditions really are suitable for waxing the car or not.
It may be necessary to consider applying only a light coat of wax on particularly cold days, as this could dry and buff off more easily, but test it out first. Remember it’ll only provide limited protection from the elements, though.
You can also work in multiple thin layers. This decreases the risk of any residue on the car’s paint and thin layers also dry a lot faster. Apply a few thin layers of car wax in order to speed up the process and protect your car.
Another option in a garage for speeding up the drying and curing processes is to use an electric fan in the space, as it aids the evaporation of liquids through the movement of air.
Is It A Good Idea To Wax A Car In Cold Weather?
Winter weather and chilly days don’t make for good conditions for waxing a car. The main issue is that the cold may prevent the wax from drying properly if the surface temperature of the vehicle isn’t at least 55°F / 12.7°C.
It’s a good idea, however, if there wasn’t an opportunity to wax it before the winter. In fact, put on a little more than usual should the thickness of the liquid or paste allow for it. This is where your buffing skills will shine, as the movement will generate the heat necessary to spread the wax. Leaving the vehicle in the sun or somewhere warm afterward is advisable, as it’ll help cure the wax, so give it some time to do this before using the car again.
Here are the negative effects of waxing when it’s too cold:
A primary issue is ensuring that the wax cures, which requires heat, if only a minimal amount. This is why it’s tricky when temperatures are lower than 60°F / 15.5°C. If the surface temperature is sufficient, it’s worth going with relatively ordinary liquid wax. Spray-on wax will give some protection and is simple to put on but doesn’t protect to the same extent as a full wax finish.
However, when conditions are really chilly, there’s a chance the wax will streak or swirl, meaning the application doesn’t take properly and results in minor lines or swirl marks of wax on the surface. These can be removed easily enough, but it’s a situation best avoided.
Liquid and paste wax will thicken in cold temperatures, making them difficult to apply and work with. An option in freezing weather is to use a waterless wash and wax product that not only cleans the car but also gives it a protective finish, although it can be a bit pricey. This obviously avoids using water in ice-cold weather, which might be challenging, and the matter of it being too chilly for ordinary car wax to work its magic effectively.
Suitability Of Car Waxes Or Products In Cold Weather
|Type of car wax/product||Grade||Notes|
|All-in-one waterless car wash and wax||A||No water is required, and there’s the added bonus of protective wax, which results in a clean car no matter how cold it is. The product creates a slippery surface for removing and dissolving dirt particles. A little expensive, but a great option if using water is out of the question.|
|Spray-on car wax||B||This is a convenient and easy way to wax a car, making it a great option in the winter. It protects less than a traditional wax product, though. Good for really cold conditions and for topping up an existing wax layer.|
|Liquid car wax||C||Lends the car’s bodywork a long-lasting wax finish and gives great protection. It’s usually necessary for the surface temperature to be a minimum of 60°F / 15.5°C (although some can be applied at 55°F/12.7°C). Also consider the ambient temperature and air flow as these affect positively and negatively the drying and curing processes.|
|Paste car wax||E||Thickness might be an issue, here, but it depends on the exact product. Remember that liquids and pastes thicken in cold weather, so it could be more difficult to apply and buff off than in warmer conditions. The least suitable of all products for the winter.|
Consider the key factors of surface temperature, ambient temperature, the extent of direct sunlight and airflow when choosing whether to wax your car, and the most suitable product for the job.
Going with a simple liquid wax is probably the best choice if it’s warm enough to wash the car outside in the winter sun, as using a paste is likely to be hard work due to its greater thickness.
Should it be too cold for a traditional liquid wax, then applying a spray-on wax to a clean vehicle is a good option. Still too cold? Then go with an all-in-one waterless wash and wax, though this is the most expensive solution.