Ceramic Coatings vs Sealants: The Key Differences


Protecting your car’s finish is super important. You should always have a layer of paint protection to ensure your car’s clear coat is shielded from UV rays, dirt and other contaminants which can corrode it over time and lead to dulling and fading.

There are three main types of paint protection: waxes, ceramic coatings and sealants.

In this article, I’ll be comparing ceramic coatings and sealants, talking about the pros and cons of each and helping you decide which you should go for. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

Ceramic coatings are more durable and offer better protection, more slickness and increased hydrophobicity compared to paint sealants. However, paint sealants require less surface preparation and are cheaper compared to ceramic coatings.

CategoryBest Option
DurabilityCeramic coatings
ProtectionCeramic coatings
Ease of ApplicationPaint sealants
FinishDraw
Dirt and Water RepellencyCeramic coatings
CostPaint sealants

Paint Sealant Overview

Paint sealants are synthetic forms of protection. They are designed to bond to your car’s paint to provide a strong layer of protection from things like acid rain, tree sap, road tar, bird mess and UV rays.

Paint sealants differ to waxes because they are synthetic and not natural. Instead, waxes contain natural materials such as Carnauba wax which comes from plant leaves.

Synthetic paint sealants come in a range of different forms. Some look like paste waxes because they are solid and come in times, whereas others come in bottles and are liquid.

Ceramic Coating Overview

Ceramic coatings form a very durable and transparent layer over your car’s surface. They usually consist of “nanoparticles” which are very small particles that coat your car to form an incredibly tough protective layer.

Ceramic coatings come in a small glass bottle and are always in a liquid format. They are coated evenly over the surface using an applicator and left to flash (typically for 30-90 seconds). The excess is then removed with a microfiber towel.

Durability

First let’s compare the durability of ceramic coatings and paint sealants. Ceramic coatings are far more durable than paint sealants.

Most ceramic coatings last for upwards of one year before they need to be reapplied. Some ceramic coatings even last between 3-5 years before they lose their protective properties.

Check out my complete guide to ceramic coating durability to learn what affects a coating’s longevity.

Paint sealants are far less durable, and usually last around 6 months, depending on the specific product. This is still better than the majority of waxes though, which last around 2-3 months before they need to be reapplied.

Winner: Ceramic Coatings

Protection

So what about the level of protection that ceramic coatings and sealants provide.

Again, ceramic coatings usually come out on top here. The layer of protection that a ceramic coating offers is much stronger than what paint sealants offer. This means that they make the paint more resistant to things like UV rays, tree sap and road tar.

Paint sealants do still offer great protection though, again usually much better than waxes.

Winner: Ceramic Coatings

Application

With both ceramic coatings and sealants, you ideally need a clean and bare surface before application for best results. This means that any old waxes or sealants need to be fully stripped from the paint, and all contaminants (tar, tree sap, iron fallout etc.) needs to be removed using a clay bar. The car will then need to be polished to remove any marring from the claying process, and then panel wiped to remove any oils.

This makes the application process a bit more complicated than waxes, which can be applied over other things like glazes, and don’t need a bare surface.

With a ceramic coating, the steps above are essential. With a sealant, they are just recommended to achieve the most durability.

Ceramic coatings are even more difficult to apply than paint sealants though. You’ll ideally need to do this process inside a garage and the temperature should be between 50-70 degree Farenheit (10-20 degree Celcius) for most coatings. A ceramic coating should never be applied in direct sunlight.

Some coatings work outdoors, but most advise that you use them inside.

Check out my article explaining the environmental conditions needed for ceramic coating application.

You then add a few drops of the coating to foam applicator wrapped in a suede cloth (usually comes included) and wipe it over the surface in straight lines. This must then be repeated in a crisscross pattern. The coating must dry for the recommended time (usually 30-90 seconds) and then be buffed off using a microfiber towel.

Paint sealants are more simple to apply. Again, they should never be applied in direct sunlight, however they can be applied outside as long as it isn’t dusty.

You usually just apply the sealant to a microfiber or foam applicator and then spread over the surface by hand or machine polisher. The sealant is then left to cure according to the manufacturers instructions (usually 1-15 minutes) and then buffed off using a microfiber towel.

Ceramic coatings are trickier to apply, that’s why they’re often applied by professional detailers. However, they can be applied at home if you have the ideal conditions and learn how to use them properly.

Considering apply a coating? Check out my complete guide to preparing for and applying a ceramic coating at home to learn the full process.

Winner: Paint Sealants

Finish

Both paint sealants and ceramic coatings produce a hard and cold looking shine, that looks like the car is wet. This is different to the finish a wax produces which looks warmer.

Generally, there is little difference between the finish of ceramic coatings and sealants. Both will add a nice touch of gloss, but they won’t work miracles.

A truly shiny finish comes from the condition of the paint, not what you use to protect it. If your car’s clear coat has any minor scratches or swirls, then it won’t look as glossy as a clear coat that is completely flat.

If you want the best finish possible, then you’ll need to make sure the paint is properly corrected if it needs to be. This is done by compounding and polishing.

Winner: It’s a Draw

Dirt and Water Repellency

Both ceramic coatings and paint sealants offer good dirt and water repellency. They are much better than waxes because they are more hydrophobic. Generally, ceramic coatings are more repellent than paint sealants though.

One of the main advantages of a ceramic coating is how hydrophobic it is. When water touches the surface, it normally beads up and rolls off very quickly. This prevents dirty water dwelling and drying on the surface.

Hence, washing a ceramic coated car is usually very easy because the dirt comes off much more easily.

Some paint sealants are very hydrophobic as well though. The paint sealant I use, called Fusso Coat by Soft 99 is super hydrophobic and water runs off it super quickly. It really depends on what brand of sealant or ceramic coating you’re going for.

Winner: Ceramic Coatings

Cost

Ceramic coatings are more expensive than paint sealants. Ceramic coatings cost around $50 and upwards, whereas paint sealants usually cost between $20-30.

Ceramic coatings are even more expensive if you choose the most durable one that needs applying professionally. However, ceramic coatings last longer than paint sealants so can be seen as an investment.

Check out my complete guide to the cost of a ceramic coating to learn more.

Winner: Paint sealants

Final Conclusions

Based on these comparisons, you’d say that ceramic coatings are the best option, however, it isn’t quite as clear cut as this.

Personally, I prefer to use paint sealants, because they are much more straightforward to apply, and can be stripped more easily so I can try out new products more often. I also like to use waxes occasionally to give my car that warmer looking shine, and waxes are more easily layered over sealants.

Plus the added durability of a ceramic coating doesn’t matter much to me. I enjoy detailing my car so adding a paint sealant every six months doesn’t bother me at all.

It really depends what you’re after.

If you want the highest level of protection possible, you only want to apply it every 2-5 years, and you don’t mind the extra hassle when actually applying it, then go for a ceramic coating.

If you want something more simple that still offers great protection and finish, and you don’t mind reapplying it every 6 months, then go for a paint sealant.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog to learn more about making your car look it’s best.

Heather

I first became interested in car detailing around 4 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

Recent Posts