Car Wax Stripping (How To)

Image Credit: Auto Galaxy via Flickr

Image Credit: Auto Galaxy via Flickr

Car Wax Stripping (How To)


Stripping car wax from your finish can be necessary before applying a ceramic coating, paint protection film, or switching wax brands, among other reasons. There are many methods of car wax stripping, and some work better than others.

The best method for removing carnauba wax or paint sealant (aka hybrid wax) is a paint prep solvent. Body shops use this when they need to ensure their automotive paint bonds flawlessly to body panels.

An isopropyl rubbing alcohol (IPA) wipedown is also a common option but can be less effective than a paint prep.

Detailing wax strippers can do a good job with the plus of being safe for automotive trim.

Strip wash automotive shampoos aren’t as effective but they are probably good enough for a reapplication of the same paint sealant or wax. I wouldn’t trust them as the only method of prepping your finish before applying a ceramic coating.

Continue reading to learn about all of the methods and the best way to remove car wax.

Car Wax Stripping (How To)

  1. Find a shaded area to work
  2. Wash your car thoroughly 
  3. Spray a paint prep solvent or diluted IPA onto the paint surface
  4. Allow the product to sit for approximately 30 seconds
  5. Buff and wipe away with a microfiber towel
  6. Repeat on all panels of the vehicle
  7. Let dry for 30 minutes before applying new paint protection

How to Remove Car Waxes And Sealants

How To Use Spray-On Wax Remover

The best method for removing carnauba wax or paint sealant from your car’s finish is to use a spray-on wax remover. It’s relatively simple to use, but you must use care with these powerful wax removers not to damage rubber and plastic trim. You also want to ensure you don’t scratch your clear coat by removing the wax or sealant.

  1. Find a shaded area to work in to begin the job and ensure the sun won’t dry the products used
  2. Wash your car thoroughly to ensure it is as clean as possible before trying to remove wax
  3. Apply Kleanstrip Prep-All or Gtechniq Panel Wipe onto a manageable area of the paint surface
  4. Allow the product to sit for approximately 30 seconds to give it time to break down the wax
  5. Buff and wipe away with a microfiber towel to reduce the potential for swirls and scratches
  6. Repeat on all panels of the vehicle until all painted surfaces that had wax have been cleaned
  7. Allow your car or truck’s surface 30 minutes before applying new paint protection to allow residual chemicals time to evaporate

Gtechniq Panel Wipe

Paint protection requires a pristine surface and this solvent can get the job done well. It’s safe for use on most surfaces, even plastics. But as with any harsh solvent, be sure to test it an inconspicuous area before you apply to large areas.


Kleanstrip Prep-All

Ceramic coatings require a pristine surface and this solvent can get the job done well. It’s safe for use on most surfaces, even plastics. But as with any harsh solvent, be sure to test it an inconspicuous area before you apply to large areas.

Removing Car Wax with Rubbing Alcohol

You can use rubbing alcohol to remove the layer of car wax from a vehicle. However, rubbing alcohol needs to be diluted with water before applying it to a vehicle’s paint. After diluting your solution of rubbing alcohol, you can apply it to the paint of your car and let it sit on the wax. Within a few minutes, the car wax on your vehicle will soften, and you can wipe it off of the finish.

Wax Stripping Car Wash

Several products, such as Adam’s Strip Wash Car Wash Soap, are designed for stripping the wax off of a vehicle’s surface when you wash the car. These products typically need to be applied to the surface of your finish and rinsed off to remove the car wax on the vehicle’s paint. However, for a high-quality finish, you can still wipe off your vehicle and use other methods of stripping car wax off of the finish while using a wax-stripping car wash soap.

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Adam’s Strip Wash is a car wash shampoo that is designed to strip car waxes and sealants during the car washing process. No wash is going to completely strip wax or sealant but it will do a fair job and allows you to kill 2 birds with 1 stone.

Removing Carnuba Wax With A Clay Bar

Removing Carnuba wax can be a simple process that takes time and patience. Carnuba wax is much easier to remove than its counterpart, paint sealer. There are various products, compounds, and solutions available to detailers to remove Carnuba wax.

You can remove Carnuba wax by using detailing clay. A clay bar will grab onto and remove particles that adhere to the surface of your clear coat by embedding them into the dense clay. When you use a clay bar to remove Carnuba wax, you need to keep the surface of your vehicle lubricated as you clay the paint so that the clay bar will glide across the finish.

You can also remove Carnuba wax from paint by applying a spray-on pre-wax cleaner before washing the vehicle. The cleaner reacts with the Carnuba wax to loosen it from the vehicle’s paint without damaging the paint itself. Alternatively, you can use polish to remove Carnuba wax, but these polishes are abrasive and will remove not only the wax but also a thin layer from the top of the clear coat.

Removing Car Wax with Dish Soap

A dish soap like Dawn Dishwashing Detergent isn’t going to do a very good job of removing wax or sealant. It’s harsher than a proper pH neutral car wash shampoo so it shouldn’t be used for regular washes and will slightly degrade your paint protection, but it isn’t going to come close to stripping wax away enough to give you a good base for reapplying wax. It would be an even worse idea to try to apply a ceramic coating after only using dish soap.

Removing Car Wax with Vinegar

You can remove car wax with vinegar due to its acidic properties. Vinegar, however, is not a strong enough solvent that will completely remove car wax. Instead, vinegar breaks down the car wax and may cause it to smudge when being removed from a vehicle, causing a dull appearance.

Removing Car Wax from a Plastic Trim

Car wax can be difficult to remove from the plastic trim since the wax sets into the pores of the plastic when it is applied. As the wax and plastic pieces age together, the plastic can look faded. However, by using the proper method, you will easily remove car wax from the plastic trim of your vehicle.

When you want to remove car wax from plastic trims, you will need to use a direct approach rather than applying a product to the plastic and waiting for the car wax to fall off. Many of the products available for customers to use only cover up the issues that car wax produces with plastic rather than remove the wax altogether. A Magic Eraser, which the Mr. Clean brand makes, can remove the wax in plastic by picking up the wax residue in its pores and removing it from the plastic. Alternatively, a large eraser can work on the plastic as well.

Mother’s also produces a trim cleaner, known as Back to Black Trim Cleaner, capable of removing car wax from plastic trim pieces. Designed specifically for use on black plastic trim pieces, the Mother’s Back to Black Trim Cleaner allows drivers to apply a solution to their vehicles’ plastic trims, which will loosen the wax and particles on the trims. After you loosen the debris from the plastic trim, drivers need to use the brush included with the trim cleaner to scrub the wax and other debris off of the plastic.

There are several options that detailers can use to remove car wax from plastic trim. However, each alternative will also require you to scrub the plastic of their car or truck free of any car wax. The alternative options are all-purpose cleaners, McKee’s 37 Wax Remover, and Meguiar’s M39 Mirror Glaze Heavy Duty Vinyl Cleaner.

Check out our article on removing wax from plastic trim.


Dealing with Car Paint

Removing Old Wax before Waxing a Car

Before you apply a fresh coat of wax to your vehicle, you need to remove the old layer of wax. Removing the old layer of wax allows the new coat to adhere to the vehicle’s paint better. Additionally, if you choose not to remove the old wax before applying a new layer of wax, the old wax on your finish can leave streaks as you use it. Ultimately this will dull the shine that your new coating will produce.

Removing Sealant from Car Paint

As with Carnuba wax, there are various methods that you can use to remove paint sealant from the finish of your car or truck. However, you will need to be especially careful with paint sealant due to its strong bond with your clear coat. If you are too aggressive while removing the paint sealant, you can easily cause fine swirls and scratches in the finish.

To remove paint sealant from your finish, you can use pre-wax cleaners and wipe the surface with a microfiber cloth to loosen the sealant. As you gently wipe the pre-wax cleaner with a microfiber cloth, you will gradually remove the sealant. Wash your vehicle before applying a new coat.

Several products are available solely for removing paint sealants from vehicles. Among these many products is P21S TAW. These products can be harsh on your paint, so you will need to take extra care when you are using them.

Isopropyl rubbing alcohol can remove sealant from the finish without damaging the vehicle’s paint. The isopropyl alcohol, however, needs to be diluted with water before you apply it. In its undiluted format, isopropyl alcohol is too harsh for your clear coat.

The Effects of Rubbing Alcohol on Car Paint

Isopropyl rubbing alcohol doesn’t have much effect on a vehicle’s paint when you dilute it. However, in its undiluted form, rubbing alcohol can potentially damage the finish. Depending on the type of paint on a vehicle, undiluted isopropyl rubbing alcohol can remove paint from the car or truck. This is usually only true for older vehicles with single-stage paint.

The Effects of Vinegar on Car Paint

Vinegar is an acidic solution capable of removing wax, but not the paint itself. Automotive detailers commonly use vinegar to remove water spots on vehicles after the vehicles dry. While it can be used to strip wax it isn’t the most effective choice.

Common Problems

Car Wax is too Hard to Remove

Car wax can sometimes be difficult to remove from your finish. In these situations, do not use brute force to remove it. This can lead to damaging your vehicle’s paint. There are several ways to easily remove wax from your car or truck when it has hardened.

When removing car wax that has hardened on your vehicle, you will want to first soften the hard wax by applying some fresh wax on top of it. This remoistens the dried wax with the solvents in the fresh wax needed to soften it. Wipe the wax off with a microfiber cloth after the hardened wax has gotten softer. 

Car Wax That Has Dried On

You can also try using a clay bar to remove smaller areas of hardened wax. When removing dried-on car wax, the finish needs to be rinsed and dried first, providing a cleaner surface for the clay bar to be used. After the paintwork is rinsed, the clay bar will also glide more smoothly over its paint. Also, you will wash any abrasive grit away to reduce the chance of causing fine swirls and scratches in the clear coat.

When you clean your finish using a clay bar, you should work in small sections. Claying your vehicle in smaller areas will ensure that you clean the surface more thoroughly and make the job much more manageable.

Car Wax Stripping Products

Panel Wipe Car Wax Remover

A panel wipe car wax remover allows a detailer to spray their car with a solution and wipe the wax off of the vehicle after the solution has loosened and broken down the wax. Kleen-Strip Prep-All and Gtechniq Panel Wipe are examples of excellent car wax removing products.

Wax-Stripping Car Shampoo

Wax-stripping car shampoos, also known as pre-wash wax removers, are products that you can spray onto your vehicle to remove its layer of wax or sealant. Adam’s Strip Car Wash Soap is an excellent example of wax-stripping car shampoo.

Homemade Car Wax Remover

There are a multitude of car wax removers that you can make at home. From vinegar solutions to rubbing alcohol solutions, you can easily make your car wax remover from the convenience of your own home. However, you will need to research the products you are putting on your vehicle to make sure that you aren’t risking the condition of your paint.

You can use isopropyl rubbing alcohol at home to remove car wax and paint sealant. This is commonly referred to as an IPA wipedown. However, when you plan to use rubbing alcohol as a homemade wax remover, you will need to dilute the alcohol with water. The ratio of water to alcohol that you can use varies but a 50/50 split is safe for most vehicles.

You can use vinegar in its undiluted form as a homemade car wax remover. When you use vinegar on your vehicle, you need to apply it in sections on the vehicle’s paint and use a microfiber towel to wipe the surface clean of waxes or sealants.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I use to remove car wax?

There are many products that you can use to remove wax. Clay bars are excellent products for removing wax, but many other excellent car wax removal products.

Will dish soap remove car wax?

Dish soap is not designed to be used on cars or trucks but will remove some wax. Dish soap is designed to break down tough grease spots due to the detergents in them. These detergents will also break down car wax. However, dish soap usually will not completely remove wax from your paintwork, potentially leaving uneven patches of car wax or sealant.

Will claying a car remove its current layer of wax?

Claying a car or truck will remove wax. When a detailer clays your finish, the clay bar pulls contaminants from the paintwork through the bar’s adhesive physical properties. Claying adequately prepares the paint for a fresh coat of car wax or paint sealant by removing impurities, including old wax or sealant, from the surface of your car or truck’s clear coat.

Will car polish remove car wax?

Mildly abrasive car polish will remove car wax from a vehicle. The polish removes car wax by polishing it away with its fine grit. Polish will also remove a very thin layer from the top of the clear coat. Polishing is typically only done to remove fine swirls and scratches in your clear coat and shouldn’t be used primarily for stripping away old wax or sealant.

Will my car’s wax be removed when I wash my car?

When washed with a proper automotive shampoo, washing your car or truck doesn’t remove much, if any, wax or sealant. However, frequently washing or using the wrong type of soap will cause the wax to wear away more rapidly.

What is the difference between Carnauba wax and paint sealant?

Carnauba wax is an all-natural wax and is often referred to as “true” car wax. Carnauba wax is preferred by automotive enthusiasts who want a superior shine for their car or truck. Usually, those that are competing in car shows. Carnauba wax has largely been replaced by paint sealant since carnauba wax usually only lasts days while paint sealants usually last months.

Paint sealants are commonly referred to as car wax but often don’t contain any wax. Paint sealants are a superior synthetic alternative to natural Carnauba wax. If you see names like “hybrid wax” or “synthetic wax,” you know you’re dealing with a paint sealant. Many paint sealants may include some Carnauba wax to help boost its shine, but the real benefit comes from the other ingredients.


There is a lot for you to know before you begin removing wax from your car or truck. Between the many products available and the many methods that you can use, you should take the time to consider which product and process fit your needs best before you begin. Properly removing and reapplying car wax or a ceramic coating to your car or truck will provide you with lasting protection, an easier to clean surface, and incredible shine.

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