How to remove wax from plastic trim on cars

The problem with wax on rubber or plastic trim, especially textured plastic trim, is that the wax can embed itself into the pores of the plastic and cause it to discolor and look old and faded.

Soap and water won’t remove waxes and paint sealants. They are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water which is why soap and water won’t do much to help remedy the situation. Some people will attempt to cover up the problem by applying a product such as rubber or trim restorer. This will work for a time but most of these products are not permanent solutions and wear away over time, revealing the wax or sealant that is still embedded in the plastic or rubber.

Another solution you may come across as a recommendation is using peanut butter or peanut oil. This sounds pretty far out there and ultimately it won’t remedy the problem. Peanut oil, whether from peanut butter or pure peanut oil, will work similar to how a plastic restorer or tire dressing would.

How to remove wax from plastic trim

The proper way to handle this is fix the source problem and not just treat the symptom. What needs to be done is to actually remove the wax that is embedded in the plastic or rubber.

There are several solutions to removing wax from plastic, rubber, or vinyl trim. Some more effective than others. What we’ve found to be the best and most effective solution is to use Mothers Back-to-Black Heavy Duty Trim Cleaner. Continue reading to learn more about how to remove wax from plastic trim on cars and trucks.

Erasers

If you happen to have an art eraser or a Magic Eraser you may want to give them a shot before spending money trying to solve this problem. I can’t personally vouch for this option but anecdotally it is quite effective. If you have a larger area to clean this probably won’t be the most practical option though. You should also be a bit careful, especially with the Magic Eraser as it can be slightly abrasive and could damage your clear coat. A good idea would be to protect the painted areas adjacent to your plastic trim with some painters tape prior to working on the stained portions. This will give you a good measure of protection and make cleaning much easier since you’ll be less concerned about damaging your finish. Painters tape is a great detailing tool to have on hand. It could be used to help prevent wax from getting onto your plastic trim in the first place, for example.

All Purpose Cleaner

A product that you may have on hand that can remove the wax from plastic or rubber is a good all purpose cleaner. The best approach is to apply it to the problem areas you’re trying to fix and allow it to sit and begin to break down the wax or sealant. Once it has had time to dwell on the wax covered trim for some time you can then use a brush to gently work the wax out of the pores fo the trim. An old toothbrush is a great choice. If you want something a little larger for dealing with larger problem areas you can pick up a detailing brush for only a few bucks. Once you feel satisfied that you’ve thoroughly dealt with the areas, rinse the trim and allow it to dry. After it has dried you can see how well the all purpose cleaner has worked. You may need to make a couple more passes to get the results you’re looking for.

Mothers Back-to-Black Heavy Duty Trim Cleaner

A more purpose-specific solution that has great reviews is Mothers Back-to-Black. Mothers is a very well-known company that produces high quality products and Back-to-Black is no exception. It is specifically designed to not only remove oxidation from sun damage but to also remove wax and other contaminants that build up in the pores of plastic trim. It doesn’t contain an oils or glosses that cover up the problem. It’s specifically designed to attach the problem of stained and discolored plastic trim and remove the discoloration and restore the plastic to its natural, like-new state. It’s fairly straight-forward to use. Apply to the plastic trim you’re looking to clean. Make sure the area being cleaned is dry and cool. Use the included brush to scrub the area thoroughly. Buff dry when you’re satisfied with the scrubbing effort. If you’re going to be purchasing a cleaner specifically for tackling this job, this is the one you want. If you only have a minor spot or two that you’re looking to touch up on your trim you may want to go with a generic all purpose cleaner so you can use it for tasks other than cleaning plastic trim.

Other quality options

McKee’s 37 Wax Remover and Meguiar’s M39 Mirror Glaze Heavy Duty Vinyl Cleaner are both great alternatives if you’re unable to find Mothers Back-to-Black. These products are specifically designed to breakdown and remove wax and not simply cover it up. My experience is that Back-to-Black works best but these two are also excellent performers. If there are other solutions that you’re aware of that have worked well for you personally let me know. I’d love to include them on the list and give them a try myself.

What won’t work

As previously mentioned, peanut butter and peanut oil are not solutions that are going to actually resolve the problem and are not recommended although I suspect they won’t do any damage. The may actual removal of the wax more difficult however since you’re adding an oil on top of the wax. Other solutions that won’t solve the underlying problem are tire dressings and trim rejuvenators. These typically are going to be similar to the peanut solution. Ultimately they’re just going to give the trim a glossy look and eventually it will wear away with weather and time. Ultimately you’ll end up right back where you began.

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Conclusion

One final note to keep in mind no matter which solution you try, always test on an inconspicuous area to ensure that there won’t be any adverse reactions. Your situation may be slightly unique and the plastic you’re dealing with may react poorly to the chosen solution. Better safe than sorry as they say.

The goal of this article is to address the root of the problem and not simply temporarily solve it. Getting the wax out of the pores of the plastic is the only solution that will permanently solve the problem. More modern waxes and paint sealants these days tend to not dry white which limits how obvious this problem could potentially be but no wax is likely to be unnoticeable. Mothers Back-to-Black is our top pick for removing wax from plastic trim. It isn’t the only solution but it is the one we stand by for most situations. Avoid dressings and rejuvenators since they are only temporary fixes. Also avoid the peanut oil and peanut butter idea. I’m not sure how that started but it’s a strange one.

Good luck and happy detailing!

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