Ceramic coating, how long does it take? [Full 4 step guide]

This question's answer may seem simple, yet it is quite complex, involving multiple steps and factors. Let's delve into this topic to give you a clear picture.

Man in gloves applying ceramic coating

The Importance of Thorough Preparation

Before we delve into the timeline of applying a ceramic coating, it's essential to underscore the importance of preparation. 

This initial stage is critical and, depending on the vehicle's condition and size, it could take a day or two.

Your car's exterior surface has to undergo a series of detailed cleaning and paint correction procedures, designed to ensure that the ceramic coating bonds perfectly to your car’s surface which is the clear coat on top of your vehicle's paint. 

Just to clarify for those of you that are not sure what clear coat is. It's a layer of clear lacquer which is applied to new cars paintwork before they leave the factory

New cars with clear coat

For best results, this process begins with a comprehensive wash using a pH-neutral soap and a microfiber wash mitt to gently yet effectively lift and remove dirt and contaminants from the surface.

Why pH-neutral you may ask? The reason is that is a car shampoo used in the two-bucket method of washing is acidic, or contains any harsh chemicals, then it could damage the ceramic-coated vehicle

Next comes the clay bar treatment. A clay bar helps to pull out any embedded contaminants that a normal wash may not eliminate, such as tree sap, road debris, brake dust, and minor scratches. We go into greater detail of this further on in the post

Black car being clay barred

This leaves your car’s surface ultra-smooth and ready for the next step. Use something like this MOTHERS CLAY BAR KIT

The final stage of preparation is the paint correction process. This involves using a machine polisher to remove swirl marks, water spots, and light scratches from the paintwork. It may also involve touching up rock chips. This stage leaves your car's paint looking as good as new, providing the perfect canvas for the ceramic coating. Again this process is covered in greater detail covering all the various factors further on in the post and we have an extensive post on the best ceramic coatings

The Ceramic Coating Application Process

The ceramic coating application follows the meticulous preparation process. Here's where your vehicle begins its transformation. 

The ceramic coating, a liquid nano-ceramic coating, forms a permanent bond with your car's surface, offering a layer of protection that can last for years. This protective layer provides the car with hydrophobic properties, making it resistant to water and other potential damage from environmental contaminants.

The ceramic coating application process itself can take a few hours to a full day. It depends on several factors such as the size of the vehicle, the type of coating used, and the number of layers you decide to apply. Multiple layers may enhance the protective and hydrophobic qualities of the coating.

The application must be done in a shaded area, away from direct sunlight, to ensure the coating doesn't dry too quickly, which could lead to streaks or an uneven finish.

Ceramic coating being applied to a car bonnet

The Crucial Curing Process

After applying the ceramic coating comes the curing process. This stage is critical as it ensures the ceramic coating's durability, hydrophobic properties, and overall performance.

During curing, the coating hardens and forms a strong bond with the paintwork. This process can take from 48 hours to a full week, depending on environmental conditions and the specific product used.

During this time, it is recommended not to expose the vehicle to rain or wash it. Any water spots that dry on the surface could affect the final appearance of the coating. You should also avoid exposing your car to bird droppings, tree sap, and other potential contaminants during this period.

Ceramic coating a car bonnet

A Timeline Overview

So, what does this all mean in terms of a timeline?

From preparation to the final curing stage, the entire process usually spans between 3-5 days. This timeframe might seem significant, but it's an investment for years of protection for your car’s paint job. 

This protection saves car owners the hassle and cost of frequent wax applications and paint correction procedures, providing value in the long run.

The longevity of the coating largely depends on the care and maintenance post-application. Regular cleaning, using clean water and pH-neutral soap, will prolong the coating's lifespan and efficacy. It's also recommended to avoid automatic or touchless car washes as they can be abrasive over time.

Moreover, consider annual inspections by a certified installer or professional detailer to ensure that your ceramic coating is holding up as expected

A Detailed Time Frame to Ceramic Coat a Car

You have two options when it come down to ceramic coating your car.

You can opt to take it to a professional ceramic coating service or do it yourself.

I'm guessing that since you searched for the answer "How long does it take to Ceramic coat a car?" you are figuring on doing it your self. So, I thought I would include a detailed step by step of the whole process for you to follow.

Wash Preparation (Estimated time 1 hour)

Bucket and Wash mitt to 2 bucket wash a car
Step NumberActionDetails
Step 1Hose Down the CarStart by hosing down the entire vehicle using a cold water hose or a pressure washer. This initial rinse helps remove loose dirt and debris from the surface.
Step 2Apply Snow FoamUsing a pressure washer, apply a thick coat of snow foam all over the vehicle. If you don't have a pressure washer, consider making a DIY Snow Cannon.
Step 3Dwell TimeAllow the snow foam to dwell on the surface of the car for a few minutes. As it gradually slides off, it will take the surface grime and dirt along with it.
Step 4Two-Bucket WashPrepare two buckets: one filled with clean cold water and another with warm water mixed with pH-neutral car shampoo.
Step 5Wash the CarUse a wash mitt dipped into the shampoo bucket to wash the entire surface of the car. Frequently rinse the mitt in the cold clean water bucket to remove dirt and prevent scratches.
Step 6Rinse the CarAfter washing, rinse the entire exterior surface of the vehicle using a hose or pressure washer to remove the soap.
Step 7Dry the CarDry the entire car using a microfiber drying towel. Alternatively, you can also use a leaf blower for faster drying.

Now the car is clean you can begin to make the real difference to the shine that will really make the difference. You see many people think it is the Ceramic Coating that makes the surface shine but it isn't! No matter what ceramic car coating or any other level of protection barrier for that matter such as wax or spray wax.

The shine is created by the clear coat on top of the car's finish. It is now time to do this and really make the difference and give the car some proper care.. If you do choose the professional ceramic coating option then you could save yourself a good few dollars by do this yourself before you take the car for its new coating.

So without further ado lets take a look at how to create the SHINE!!

Clay Barring (Estimated time 2-3 hours)

Step NumberActionDetails
Step 1Cut the Clay BarCut a piece off your clay bar. A third or half of the clay bar will be sufficient to start. Knead it until it's pliable, then flatten it into a disc or a pancake shape.
Step 2Apply LubricantSpray the lubricant generously onto a small section of the car's paintwork. It's best to work in small sections to prevent the lubricant from drying out. WD40 works well for this too
Step 3Start ClayingGently glide the clay bar across the lubricated surface. The clay will grab onto and lift away contaminants embedded in the paint. Do not apply too much pressure, let the clay do its job.
Step 4Check & RepeatAfter a few passes, check the clay bar for accumulated dirt. Once it looks dirty, knead and reshape it to expose a clean surface. Continue this process until the entire vehicle has been clayed.
Step 5Dry the VehicleOnce you've finished claying, dry the car completely using the microfiber cloth. Make sure to remove all leftover lubricant from the surface.
Step 6Inspect Your WorkRun your hand over the surface to feel for any rough spots you may have missed. If necessary, repeat steps 2 through 5 in those areas.

Clay barring is definitely the best way to completely remove all surface particles and contaminants for the optimum condition of your paint. You then have the best possible chances of correcting the paintwork before applying the ceramic coating.

Polishing the car (Estimated time 2-3 hours)

Step NumberActionDetails
Step 1Gather MaterialsObtain a dual-action (DA) polisher, polishing pads, car polish of various grades, microfiber towels, and masking tape.
Step 2Inspect the PaintBefore starting, inspect the paint carefully under good lighting to identify all defects, swirl marks, and minor scratches.
Step 3Mask Off Sensitive AreasUse masking tape to protect sensitive areas such as plastic trims, glass edges, and door handles that could be damaged or discoloured by the polisher or polish.
Step 4Apply Polish to the PadApply a small amount of polish to the polishing pad. Start with a mild polish, you can always switch to a more abrasive polish if necessary.
Step 5Polish the SurfaceStart the DA polisher at a low speed to spread the polish, then increase the speed. Move the polisher slowly across the surface in an overlapping pattern, applying light pressure.
Step 6Check ProgressAfter polishing a section, wipe off the residue with a microfiber towel. Check the surface under good lighting to see if the defects have been removed. If not, repeat step 5.
Step 7Repeat on the Entire CarContinue to polish the car section by section until all defects are removed. Remember to regularly clean your polishing pad and to replace it as needed.
Step 8Final InspectionAfter polishing the entire car, do a final inspection under good lighting. Look for any areas that may have been missed and polish them as needed. You can use an ultra violet inspection light for this

Once you are happy all the paintwork is corrected and you have the ultimate shine then and only then are you ready to apply the protective ceramic coating to seal in the shine.

Ceramic Coating (Estimated time 1-2 days)

Step NumberActionDetails
Step 1Gather MaterialsObtain a ceramic coating kit, which should include the ceramic coating solution, applicator pad, and microfiber towels. Ensure you also have a high-quality car surface cleaner to prepare the surface.
Step 2Prepare the SurfaceEnsure the vehicle's surface is clean, free of dust and contaminants. If necessary, use a clay bar or polisher to remove embedded impurities and create a smooth surface.
Step 3Cleanse the SurfaceAfter preparing the surface, use a high-quality car surface cleaner (like an isopropyl alcohol mix) to remove any residual oils or dust. This will help the ceramic coating adhere better.
Step 4Apply Ceramic CoatingApply a few drops of ceramic coating onto the applicator pad. Gently spread the coating onto the car's surface using the applicator, working in a cross-hatch pattern to ensure even coverage.
Step 5Allow the Coating to Flash/DryWait for the coating to flash or dry. This time can range from a few seconds to a couple of minutes, depending on the specific product and environmental conditions. Typically, the coating will change to a rainbow or oil-slick appearance when ready.
Step 6Buff the SurfaceOnce the coating has flashed, use a clean, dry microfiber towel to gently buff the surface. This will remove any high spots and excess coating, leaving a smooth, even finish.
Step 7Cure the CoatingAllow the coating to cure for the recommended time specified by the product instructions, usually between 24 to 48 hours. During this period, the vehicle should not be exposed to rain or extreme conditions.
Step 8Inspect Your WorkAfter the cure time, inspect the car for any missed spots or high spots. If any are found, apply a small amount of coating to these areas, buff it out, and allow it to cure.

This is the longest part of the process due to the length of the curing process. But it is critical you do not rush this process and it is the final but really important step.

Answering Frequently Asked Questions

As part of this comprehensive guide, let’s address some frequently asked questions about ceramic coatings:

Does ceramic coating remove scratches? No, it does not remove scratches but can conceal minor ones. Any major scratches should be addressed in the paint correction stage before ceramic coating application.

Why don't car manufacturers apply ceramic coatings? Ceramic coatings require a controlled environment and substantial time for application and curing, making them unsuitable for a typical manufacturing process. Moreover, not all customers may prefer to have a permanent coating on their vehicle.

Is ceramic coating a waste of money? Not at all. It’s an investment towards maintaining your car’s aesthetic appeal and protecting it against environmental damage.

Is ceramic coating better than wax? Yes, ceramic coatings provide more durable and longer-lasting protection than wax. They also offer better resistance to heat, UV rays, and chemicals.

Is there anything better than a ceramic coating? Paint protection film offers even more protection than ceramic coating but at a higher price point. It’s more durable and can even self-heal minor scratches, but it's often used in high-impact areas rather than the entire vehicle.

In conclusion,

While the timeframe to ceramic coat a car may seem lengthy, it's a testament to the attention to detail and quality of the process. The reward of this patience is a brilliantly glossy, well-protected vehicle that you can enjoy for years to come