Detail Guide - Introduction

Car care questions? Mothers® has the answers. Simply look over the FAQs below for helpful hints and suggestions.

Be sure to also look through our complete Detail Guide. It’s available in Acrobat PDF format so you can save it to your computer, or print it to keep as a handy reference.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for, the Wax Forum is a great, friendly place to ask the experts at Mothers®, and to share ideas from other car care enthusiasts. Visit Mothers® Wax Forum.


1. What is the difference between a polish and a wax?
2. What is a clear coat?
3. How often do I need to wax or polish my car?
4. What is a sealer and glaze?
5. Why can’t I use household cleaners to wash my car?
6. What about once-a-year wax and polish products?
7. What’s the best way to remove bugs and tar without dulling paint or removing wax?
8. How can I tell if I have a clearcoat?
9. Can I wax my vehicle in the sun?
10. How often should I wash my car?
11. Can I use Mothers Natural Formula Pure Carnauba Wax without using Pre-Wax Cleaner first?
12. What is a clay bar?
13. Can I wax too often?
14. My wheels have dulled — how can I make them look good again?
15. Is liquid wax easier to use than paste wax?
16. What can I do to make waxing my car easier?
17. What about those free car washes at the gas station?
18. What type of towel should I use to dry my car?
19. If a little car wash soap is good, is a lot better?
20. Is it a good idea to put a “thick coat of wax” on your vehicle before winter?
21. What can I do about water spots on the paint?
22. Are silicone car care products a bad thing?
23. Why can’t you make your car care products less expensive?
24. I lease my car, why should I care how it looks?


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1. What is the difference between a polish and a wax?
Polishes contain compounds designed to remove scratches from the surface of your paint, while waxes protect your car with a clear, hard coating. Waxes can be either synthetic or natural, though high-grade carnauba wax delivers the best combination of lasting protection and deep gloss. Polishes provide the “shine” for your paint, while waxes provide the “protection.”

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2. What is a clearcoat?
“Clear coat” is a name given to the multi-stage paints used today. A “base coat” is applied with a pigment (color). Then, a top layer of clear paint is applied over the top of the base coat to add depth, brilliance and provide protection for the base coat.

Clear coats still require the same care as the old single-stage paints. Just because the top coat of paint has no pigment in it doesn’t make it impervious to environmental conditions. Top coats of clear paint still oxidize, and the softer paints used today also allow contaminants to easily embed in the surface. These softer paints require modern formulations and technology to protect them against damage.

In short, the need for proper care and maintenance of clearcoat paints is just as important as years ago. Actually, because of their softer, fragile nature, they really should be maintained better than the older single-stage paints.

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3. How often do I need to wax or polish my car?
It depends on environmental elements your car typically endures. If your vehicle is kept garaged on a daily basis, then a polish or wax can last as long four to six months. If your car is kept outdoors under harsh conditions, then it will need to be waxed as often as once a month. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend that a light colored car be polished and waxed at least every two to three months. Dark colored cars on the other hand, will usually require more frequent and specialized attention.

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4. What is a Sealer and Glaze?
When applied before waxing, a Sealer and Glaze helps hide minor scratches, spiderwebbing, swirl marks and other surface imperfections. It enhances clarity and shine, while giving paint that deep, wet look. If left unprotected, a Sealer and Glaze will not last long. It therefore needs an immediate coating of protective wax to truly have long lasting benefit.

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5. Why can’t I use household cleaners to wash my car?
Household cleaners like dishwashing detergent are specifically designed to dissolve grease. Because wax is essentially a grease, household cleaners will remove your car’s wax finish; leaving you with little shine and no protection. Also, some household detergents have micro-fine abrasive in them. These can permanently scratch your car’s surface. Always use a premium quality, commercial liquid car wash. They are formulated to dissolve dirt and grime without removing your car’s beautiful wax finish.

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6. What about once-a-year wax and polish products?
Your car deserves better than once-a-year products. It is likely the second largest investment you’ve made, after your home. Don’t scrimp on the quality of the products you use to maintain it, or the care you give your vehicle. A regular regimen of washing and waxing pays enormous dividends for years down the road. The intrinsic weakness of once-a-year products will become painfully apparent as the years pass.

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7. What’s the best way to remove bugs and tar without dulling paint or removing wax?
Use our California Gold® Car Wash full strength with a soft scrubber sponge before washing. The undiluted Car Wash will help remove bugs and tar without stripping wax or dulling paint. Our Bug Bird & Tire Wipes are effective and convenient — carry a container in your vehicle for fast, easy clean-ups.

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8. How can I tell if I have a clear coat?
Most modern paint finishes are clear coat. The easiest way to tell is to check the paint code on the inside of the glovebox door or door jamb (depending on vehicle make), or by checking your new car’s window sticker. A more ”hands-on” method is to check your applicator (sponge or towel) whenever you use a polish like Mothers® Pre-Wax Cleaner, Sealer and Glaze, or Carnauba Cleaner Wax. If the color of the paint is transferred to the applicator, then you do not have a clear coat. The color you see is the oxidized dead paint being removed by the polish. With a clear coat, the top layer of the finish is transparent and has no color to transfer to the applicator. The color of your vehicle will not transfer to the applicator if the clear coat is intact.

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9. Can I wax my vehicle in the sun?
We recommend you wax out of direct sunlight. When your paint’s finish gets hot, it ”bakes” the wax, hardening it to a point where it can be difficult to remove. Try early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s at a low angle, or try pulling the vehicle under a tree or into the shade of a building. And, applying a wax or polish in sunlight can ”shock” your paint, much like biting into ice cream.

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10. How often should I wash my car?
As often as practical. Most enthusiasts wash their vehicles at least once a week. Some folks wash their cars almost every day. If you don’t have time to wash, try using Mothers® Showtime® Instant Detailer before your vehicle gets dirty. Its unique formulation restores your vehicle’s show car shine in-between regular wash and waxing. But, remember, Showtime® is not a replacement for waxing — it’s a supplement.

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11. Can I use Mothers® Natural Formula Wax without using Pre-Wax Cleaner first?
If your paint is perfectly clean, sure. Try this test. Run the backside of your hand over the paint after washing and drying. If you feel anything but perfectly smooth paint, it’s time to clean using Mothers® Pre-Wax Cleaner or Mothers® California Gold® Clay Bar System.

Pre-Wax Cleaner is also a great way to ”feather” the edges of minor scratches and swirls, making them less visible to the eye. Follow the Pre-Wax Cleaner or Clay Bar with Mothers® Sealer and Glaze and give your car or truck’s finish extra depth and richness. Then, apply the Mothers® Natural Formula Pure Carnauba Wax to protect the polished finish.

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12. What is a Clay Bar?
Clay bars, like the one in our Mothers® California Gold® Clay Bar Paint Saving System, are used to remove contaminants from painted surfaces. With today’s soft paints any contaminants that sit on your paint can quickly become embedded and cause damage. These contaminants aren’t easily removed, even by washing or waxing, but the clay makes it easy.

If you can feel bumps in the paint after washing and drying, chances are you’ll benefit from using a clay bar on your vehicle. Remember to wash your car before using a clay bar, and to always wax afterwards (clay bars will remove wax from your car’s finish).

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13. Can I wax too often?
Today’s paints are softer and thinner than previous years. If you’re going to wax less than six times a year, our Mothers® Original Formula Wax with Cleaners (either paste or liquid) or Mothers® Reflections® Polish are great products to use. If you’re going to wax more often, consider stepping up to our Ultimate Wax System® — this way you can control the frequency of cleaner being used on your paint, and the added step of Sealer and Glaze will give you that extra ”pop” in your paint finish.

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14. My wheels have dulled — how can I make them look good again?
If you own a newer vehicle with original equipment alloy wheels -- and they are not chrome or chrome-clad -- chances are they have a clearcoat. Unfortunately because of the heat involved with wheels, the finish is even softer and more fragile. For these, we recommend your favorite Mothers® car wax for routine shine and protection. Tougher jobs may require either our Plastic Polish or our PowerPlastic® for the unique plasticized clearcoat — both work equally well on clearcoated wheels. Follow each wash with your favorite spray wax — FX, Mothers® or Reflections® — for added protection, quick and easy. Mothers® offers a solution for every type of wheel: non-coated aluminum (use our world famous Mag & Aluminum Polish, the standard by which all others are judged), chrome plated (use our Chrome Polish — formulated for today’s show quality chrome plating), billet (our Billet Metal Polish is just the ticket for those high end billet or forged wheels). A PowerBall® or PowerBall Mini® makes short work of wheel polishing.

See our Detail Guide section for how to tell what type of finish you have on your wheels. A word about anodized wheels — we recommend you use only soap and water on them — polishes may damage this fragile coating.

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15. Is liquid wax easier to use than paste wax?
No, not at all. With today’s modern formulations, paste waxes are just as easy to use as liquids. And, they’re more economical. A can of paste wax will often last through twelve or more applications, while liquids frequently are used up after four or five applications.

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16. What can I do to make waxing my car easier?
Well, for starters, read the directions on the package. We’ve put an enormous amount of research into each of our products. The directions on the package are the direct result of this testing, and are written specifically to minimize effort and maximize results.

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17. What about those free car washes at the gas station?
Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. Many of those car washes use mechanical brushes which can damage your paint surface. In most parts of the country, the water is recycled, meaning your car is getting the same water applied as the rusted out 1974 Plymouth Volare that just pulled out (unless your car just happens to be that Volare). While filters can catch small particulates, they can’t filter out the dissolved salt from winter use, or all those hoards of other nasty chemicals.

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18. What type of towel should Iuse to dry my car?
For years we have used and recommended 100% pure cotton thick-loop terry cloth towels for drying. And though we still like cotton, we have found that the new ultra-plush microfiber towels have won us over.

Microfiber towels come in various blends, qualities and sizes. A thick, soft weave of 80% polyester and 20% polyamide in a size of about 16-inches square is ideal for drying. They have tremendous absorbency power, wring easily, and are scratch-free (don’t forget to remove the tag). You’ll find you can dry an entire car with only one or two towels. Some people like a larger size, which are often also available in a waffle weave. Whichever you choose, as with cotton towels, launder separately and without fabric softeners (the fabric softener scratches paint).

Microfiber towels also come in a variety of colors so it makes it easy to identify one color for each task; i.e., drying, polishing, waxing, etc. We find that a 70/30 blend towel works well for product removal. Buy an assortment.

We also get a lot of questions about the use of a chamois to dry your car. We have found that people who have chronic problems with swirl marks in their paint, especially after the first washing following a flawless detail, are using a chamois. Try microfiber; you’ll be glad you did.

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19. If a little car wash soap is good, is a lot better?
No. Too much car wash concentrate can leave a film on your vehicle. Use about an ounce of car wash per gallon of water.

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20. Is it a good idea to put a “thick coat of wax” on your vehicle before winter?
We don’t recommend it. You’re only going to waste product. If you apply a thick coat of wax, removal will be more difficult, and you may encounter streaking, smearing and pilling (tiny wax balls accumulating on the paint) and your buffing towel may become saturated with wax, causing extra effort in the removal stage. When properly applied, the final wax layer should only be a few mils thick. There’s no way to make this layer thicker. Our suggestion is wash your vehicle as often as possible during the winter months (on those days that get above freezing). If a warm spell comes along (over 50° F), consider washing and waxing your vehicle while you have the chance.

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21. What can I do about water spots on the paint?
Simple — get them off as soon as possible. Carry Mothers® Showtime® Instant Detailer and a clean terry cloth or microfiber towel in the trunk. Attack those water spots before the sun has a chance to evaporate them, and they’ll come right off. Showtime® also works great on gas spills when refueling.

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22. Are silicone car care products a bad thing?
Not necessarily. It’s the type of silicone that’s important. Some low grade silicones are not ”body shop friendly,” meaning they cannot be removed with standard paint prep before body work and painting. All Mothers® products are ”paintable,” meaning they can safely be used in and around body shops, since body shops have the chemical cleaners to prep the surface before painting.

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23. Why can’t you make your car care products less expensive?
At Mothers® we use only quality raw materials in our car care products. Premium ingredients cost more, but the superior results are readily apparent throughout our entire line of Mothers® products. Remember, with car care products you get what you pay for (which means you might think twice before smearing a $2.95 product on a $30,000 vehicle).

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24. I lease my car, why should I care how it looks?
Chances are, you’ll care when the lease ends. If you check your contract, you’ll find that you’re probably responsible for the appearance of your vehicle when it is returned. If the paint is dull and lifeless (because it was never washed, polished or waxed) you could be hit with a reconditioning fee of $500 to $1,000!

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