Meguiar's 5-step paint care cycle outlines the steps and procedures you need to perform to not only get your vehicle's finish to that "Show Car Shine", but how to keep it there as well. Along the way we'll make some product recommendations that will return repeatable, proven results.

Let's start with a quick video that will give you an overview of the process, then you can scroll down and get more in depth with the whole process.

Step 1: Washing

Simply put, washing is defined as the removal of loose contaminants from any surface. For this step you will need the following products and tools:

  • Car Wash Soap
  • Wash Mitt
  • Bucket
  • Drying towels

Car Washes

Meguiar's recommends using a ph balanced, non-detergent car wash using the correct dilution with a high quality wash mitt. All Meguiar's car washes are non-detergent and offer excellent cleaning ability while lubricating the surface to help dirt and grime glide off the paint instead of grind into the paint. Always wash in the shade and make sure the surface is cool to the touch before beginning.

Ultimate Wash & Wax

Ultimate Wash & Wax is the perfect way to clean and shine your car's finish in-between regular waxing, boosting your protection, glossiness and shine! Meguiar's® Ultimate Wash & Wax is compatible with all Meguiar's® washes and waxes.

Traditional "Wash & Wax" products are typically weak on suds, shine and protection, but not anymore! Meguiar's® hybrid blend of premium carnauba wax and synthetic polymers provides protection and shine while you wash... and the sudsing? It's the Ultimate!
  • Hybrid carnauba/polymer wax protection
  • Incredible sudsing action safely lifts dirt & grime
  • Enhance gloss and shine in one easy step

Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo & Conditioner

Meguiar's® Gold Class™ Car Wash Shampoo & Conditioner is a rich and luxurious product designed to both wash and condition paint in one easy step. The premium formula gently foams away tough dirt, road grime and contaminants without compromising wax protection. Ultra rich paint conditioners clear away debris to reveal color and clarity, leaving paint looking radiant.

NXT Generation Car Wash

Meguiar's® expertise in ESP technology has led to the development of a completely synthetic car wash concentrate that loosens and emulsifies even the toughest dirt and road grime with extreme sudsing action. This pH balanced, non-detergent formula won’t strip off wax protection and is gentle on all painted finishes as well as rubber, vinyl, and plastic components.

Deep Crystal® Car Wash

Deep Crystal® Car Wash contains special ingredients that extend the life of the suds. Dirt and grime are quickly loosened and removed while wax protection is preserved.

Tip: Never use dish washing detergent as it may strip wax protection, promote oxidation and lead to premature deterioration of vinyl, plastic and rubber trim.

Wash Mitts

There are a number of options available for actually washing your car, popular items for this include real lambswool wash mitts, synthetic sponges, even grout sponges like you find at home improvement stores are popular with some Professional Detailers and serious enthusiasts. At this time Meguiar's offers and recommends our microfiber wash mitt as a safe, gentle and effective way to wash your car.

X3002 Microfiber Wash Mitt

Using the 2-bucket method in conjunction with the Grit Guard will reduce the chances of inflicting swirls in your paint. The 2-bucket makes use of one bucket for your wash solution and a second bucket with just plain water to use as a rinse for your wash mitt. The process, then, would be to dunk your wash mitt into the soapy water bucket and wash a panel or section of your vehicle. Then dunk the wash mitt, and any loose contaminants it picked up, into the rinse bucket, swish it around and wring it out. This way any of the loose contaminants will be flushed out of the mitt and settle in the bottom of the rinse bucket. The Grit Guard is simply a baffle in the bottom of the bucket, preventing these loose contaminants from being dispersed back into the water the next time you rinse your wash mitt. Now you can dunk your mitt into the soapy water bucket and wash the next panel or section of your vehicle. As an added safety precaution you can insert a Grit Guard into your soapy water bucket as well.

Tip: Wash and rinse one section at a time, to help keep suds from drying on the surface

A quick Google search will direct you to several online sources for this product.

Drying cloths or chamois After washing your vehicle section by section, it's obviously time to dry the vehicle. You should never just let your vehicle air dry as this leads to water spotting unless you are using something like a DI or RO treatment system, otherwise the minerals in the water will be left behind as the water evaporates. The harder the water, the more spotting will occur.

Selecting your drying towel is every bit as important as choosing your wash mitt. You want something that is absorbent but also very soft and gentle to the paint.

At this time Meguiar's offers two different microfiber drying towels, one is our Water Magnet waffle weave microfiber drying towel and the other is microfiber chamois. The difference is in the surface design and plushness, but both are excellent choices for the safe and effective drying of your vehicle.

X2000 Water Magnet® Microfiber Drying Towel

Meguiar’s® ultra plush Water Magnet® reduces drying time with less wring-outs by absorbing up to two times the water of traditional terry towels. The extra large 22" x 30" waffle texture wrings out easily and leaves a spot-free finish.

X2070 Soft Touch Microfiber Chamois

Meguiar’s Soft Touch Microfiber Chamois offers spot-free performance with less drag than a traditional chamois. It’s easier to wring out allowing you to dry with much less effort! This microfiber chamois is remarkably absorbent and dries soft for instant usability

Tip: Use a stream of water for your final rinse to the vehicle. This will help create a sheeting action that will cut drying time in half and reduce the potential for water spots.

Once you have finished washing and drying the vehicle you can begin evaluating the surface for the presence of various defects that need to be corrected. Defects fall into two basic categories, and while the overall process of "surface prep" will address both sets of issues, you evaluate them differently and treat them differently. The two categories are:

  • Above Surface Bonded Contaminants - these include industrial fallout, paint overspray, tree sap mist, bird droppings, etc
  • Below Surface Defects - these include fine scratches, swirl marks, etching, oxidation, etc

Above surface bonded contaminants often can not be seen but they can be felt. Run your clean hand over the paint immediately after washing and drying the vehicle. Does the paint feel literally "as smooth as glass"? And we don't mean as smooth as the glass on the windshield because it will suffer from the same sort of fallout that contaminates the paint. When we say "smooth as glass" we mean as smooth as the mirror in your master bath at home. Yes, your paint can (and should) feel that smooth!

Below surface defects generally can not be felt, but they can be seen, especially in strong, direct light. Any car will look good in the shade, so inspect your car's finish in direct sunlight or under strong flourscent lights. Good lighting is critical to evaluating the surface.

Tip: Always remove “loose” contaminants by washing and drying the car or using a spray detailer before evaluating the surface

Step 2: Surface Prep - Claying and Cleaning the Paint

Detailing Clay

Removes above surface bonded contaminants like overspray, fallout & tree sap mist
Liquid Paint Cleaners

Removes below surface defects “in” the paint like swirls, scratches and etchings

Claying is a very simple process that usually can be done very quickly. You simply knead and compress the clay into a flat disc, then wet an area of the surface with Meguiar's Quik Detailer spray and quickly glide the clay over the paint. You don't need much pressure at all, just enough to control the clay. It is important to keep the area well lubricated while claying. As the clay removes the bonded contaminants you will feel it start to glide more and more easily. Once the area feels completely smooth to the touch wipe it dry and move on to the next section, continuing this section by section process until the vehicle has been completely clayed.

Meguiar's Smooth Surface Clay Kit provides everything you need to properly clay any vehicle
  • Claying is for removing things bonded to the surface, not swirls, scratches or etchings which are below the surface
  • Claying can be done to paint, glass, chrome and most “hard” surfaces
  • Claying enables clear reflections and car wax to stick or adhere to the paint better so they’ll last longer
  • Knead your clay bar into a flat wafer in order to use it
  • Use a mist and wipe product like Quik Detailer as a lubricant
  • If you drop your piece of clay on the floor, replace it with a new one

Paint cleaning, not to be confused with washing, is the process of removing below surface defects. This is accomplished with a one or more liquid paint cleaners containing a mild abrasive to help deep clean and level the paint. Among the most common type of below surface defect, and the thing that most people complain about, are swirls and holograms. Cobweb or spiderweb swirls come primarily from the washing and drying process when poor technique or tools are used - old towels, dishwashing detergents, coarse sponges, etc while holograms are specific type of defect caused by improper use of a high speed rotary buffer.

Cobweb or spiderweb swirls

Rotary buffer holograms

Liquid paint cleaners should be applied to small areas at a time, no larger than one square foot when working by hand or two square feet when working with a dual action polisher such as the Meguiar's G110 polisher. Working small areas at a time is crucial in order to concentrate the work rather than spreading out over too large an area. Keep the following points in mind when working with any Meguiar's liquid paint cleaner:

  • Paint cleaners do not need to dry before removing and in fact should be wiped off immediately after you’ve worked them over the finish
  • Paint cleaners need to be worked into the finish, they are not wipe on, wipe off products
  • A defect, such as a deep scratch that goes through the clear coat cannot be corrected without repainting or applying touch up paint
  • The harder the paint and the deeper the defect, the smaller the area you want to work at one time
  • Paint cleaners remove everything off the surface of the paint including wax, so after using a paint cleaner you must re-apply a protective coating of wax

  • Removes light swirls, stains and other paint defects
  • Applied by hand or DA polisher

  • Great for removing isolated defects like stains and scratches
  • Applied by hand or DA polisher

  • Removes tough oxidation, stains, heavy swirls and other paint defects
  • Applied by hand or DA polisher

The following video shows proper use of these three different liquid paint cleaners when used by hand or with the G110 dual action polisher.

Tip: If the defect is not completely removed after the first application, a second, third and sometimes fourth application may be necessary

Step 3: Polish

Simply put, polishing is the creation of brilliant high gloss. A pure polish does not contain any abrasive component so it won't remove any defects, nor does it offer any protection so it is not a substitute for wax. While any paint color can benefit from an application of a pure polish, the difference is most noticeable on darker colors.

A cleaner/polish contains both cleaning agents as described in the previous step and polishing oils. These products will remove fine defects below the surface and perfectly prepare the surface for a wax application. You must apply a wax on top of a pure polish.

Using a true “pure” polish is an “optional step” - you don’t have to do it. Pure polishes are safe for use on fresh paint - if your vehicle requires a trip to the body shop following an accident or other damage, you should not apply a wax for 60 to 90 days following the fresh paint job as the paint needs to "breathe" and fully cure. You can, however, apply a pure polish during that time period to enhance the gloss.

A polish does not need to dry, only waxes need to dry. For this reason, after you’re finished working it into and over the paint, simply remove the excess using a microfiber polishing cloth, or a clean 100% cotton terry cloth towel. The degree of effort is much lower than when using a paint cleaner - remember, you aren't removing any defects here, just enhancing the gloss. When applying a polish, never apply too much, thin coats are better than thick coats and easier to remove, thick coats just wastes product.

Pure Polishes

Cleaner Polishes


Remover 2.0

  • M03, M05, M07, Deep Crystal Polish
  • Optional Step to be performed after the cleaning step
  • For use on Fresh Paint the first 30/60/90 days
  • Show Cars, Museum Cars, Serious Enthusiasts

  • M09, M80, M82, M83
  • Removes light swirls and scratches
  • Perfectly prepares paint for application of wax

Tip: For maximum protection, always follow polish with a coating of wax. Meguiar's pure polishes are water soluble, they are not intended to be a paint protectant but to create gloss and beauty.

Step 4: Protect

At this stage your vehicle should have a deep, wet, high gloss finish and be nearly defect free. The paint will feel silky smooth, and the reflections will be crisp and vibrant. Now it's time to preserve that high gloss finish by applying a wax or sealant. "Sealant" is really just a fancy word for a wax product that is fully synthetic. That is to say that all the ingredients are man made and the product doesn't actually contain any natural wax. Sealants utilize the lastest technology in paint protection and will generally outlast a carnauba based wax. Some people still prefer the look and feel of a carnauba wax, so Meguiar's continues to offer these products. Which you choose is, to some degree, personal preference.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when applying a wax is to apply it too heavy. This only prolongs drying time, makes the wax more difficult to remove, and wastes product. No matter how heavy you apply a wax, once it's dry only so much is going to bond to the paint.

Is this how your wax looks once applied to your vehicle? Thin is a relative term, of course, but this is definitely NOT a thin coat of wax. This wax will be harder to remove than it should be, it will take longer to dry, and all that excess is just wasted.

Now this is what a proper, thin coat of wax looks like. This will dry very quickly and wipe off with almost no effort. On a light colored vehicle it will be a bit difficult to see on the surface, but at the right angle you'll notice the hazy appearance of a wet coat on the paint. That's all you need.

Always allow a wax or sealant to fully “cure” before removing. Use the Swipe Test to determine when to remove the wax. To perform the swipe test simply swipe your clean, dry fingertip across the freshly applied layer of wax. If it streaks or is smeary in the area where you swiped then the wax has not fully dried and should not yet be removed. If the area is clear and glossy, however, then the wax is dry and can be removed with a clean, dry microfiber polishing cloth or 100% cotton terry towel. Low temperatures and/or high humidity can prolong the drying time of any wax.

Pure waxes, like Deep Crystal Carnauba, are dedicated solely to protecting the paint. They contain no cleaners or polishes, hence the term "pure" wax.Gold Class Carnauba Plus Wax (a premium carnauba wax) and NXT Generation Tech Wax 2.0 (a premium synthetic wax or sealant) are considered Polish Waxes since they contain some polish in them. They not only offer protection, but the additional gloss provided by the polish.Meguiar's Cleaner Wax is a blend of three steps in a single bottle - cleaner, polish and wax. While it won't give the same overall results as doing the three steps individually, it is an excellent choice when time and/or budget concerns take high priority.

Tip: 2 thin, uniform coats are always better than 1 thick coat

Step 5: Maintain

Now that you've got your vehicle looking the way you want it, and it's well protected, you need a proper maintenance routine to keep it looking it's best. Maintaining involves the frequent removal
of fresh contaminants before they have a chance to bond or etch into the surface. If the vehicle is driven in the rain, or it accumulates more than a couple days worth of dust and industrial fallout, it should be given a proper wash.

Products such as Meguiar's Quik Detailer or Ultimate Quik Detailer will provide the lubricity needed to let you safely wipe away light dust and fingerprint smudges without scratching the paint. A quality microfiber towel is highly recommended for this process - simply spray the product onto the surface of the vehicle, wipe with the towel and then flip the towel to a dry side for a follow up wipe.Ultimate Quik Wax is also a spray on product but should be used after any light dust has been removed from the surface. It can be used in direct sunlight and will not stain textured vinyl or rubber trim. Simply spray it on, spread it quickly with a microfiber towel, and wipe off. Ultimate Quik Wax is not a substitute for a proper liquid or paste wax, but is a great gloss enhancer to use after every wash, and it adds a some extra protection as well.

The following video demonstrates proper use of these products as part of a routine maintenance program that will keep your vehicle looking great, even between washes.

Tip: When Quik Detailer mist and wipe products become slow to wipe off, that’s a sign it’s time to re-apply wax