The only time you'd ever want paint protection to fail is when you're about to apply a new one. Any old wax or coating that hasn't decayed away will prevent the fresh protective layer from properly bonding to the paintwork, in turn causing improper paint protection.
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This is why it's so important to prepare the surface by breaking down any remaining waxes, as well as surface contaminants that may have been missed during the cleaning stage. Paintwork needs to be as clean as possible before it's sealed, which means a good panel wipe needs to be used to properly prepare the panel.
The best panel wipes
MOTHERS CMX Surface Prep
The best panel wipe
A traditional surface wipe from MOTHERS, this will cut through polish, old sealants, oils and grease to make the surface as clean as possible for applying any coating. It's silicone-free and pH neutral, meaning it's not as abrasive as others and can be safely applied to plastic trim, wheels and even tyres. The fact the spray is biodegradable is a welcome addition too.
Gtechniq Panel Wipe
The best panel wipe for removing polish
Made up of a blend of solvents and alcohol, Gtechniq Panel Wipe is a powerful cleaner and our top pick for preparing a car for coating. Applied via a microfibre towel, this wipe will shift polish residue and ensure that body panels can bond to a paint coating as best as possible. Gtechniq does state that this wipe shouldn't be applied to PPF, vinyl, plastic, rubber or resprays so it's important to do a small spot test first.
Bilt Hamber Cleanser
The best gentle panel wipe
The laboratories over at Bilt Hamber do things differently, and this non-abrasive panel wipe does without the isopropyl alcohol but doesn't sacrifice the cleaning ability. Bilt Hamber claims it'll remove excess waxes as well as road film and tar deposits, all without risking softening paintwork as can happen with IPA-based wipes.
Autotek Panel Prep Degreaser
The best aerosol panel wipe
A cruder panel prep than other options, this spray wipe is solvent-based and designed primarily for degreasing panels before coating. It's suitable for use on both unpainted and painted metals, and can be used to shift grease, waxes tar and silicone. Interestingly, it's also suitable for cleaning most plastics and even cleaning concrete.
Break the wax down
As well as sealants, ceramic coatings and graphene coatings too. Panel wipes are perfect for removing these coatings once they're near the end of their protective life, ensuring that any new coating will properly bond to the paintwork giving the best protection possible.
Most panel wipes (also known as IPA wipes) are made up of a combination of distilled water, solvents and isopropyl alcohol. However, there are more and more options on the market that are less abrasive and won't risk softening the paint.
Will panel wipes shift other contaminants?
While most panel wipes will break down tar spots, grease and unwanted adhesives, they shouldn't be considered as a replacement for a proper car wash before applying a paint sealant. IPA-based wipes are rather harsh cleaners and while they won't do damage if used appropriately, they shouldn't be used to clean an entire car.
Can panel wipes be used for polishing?
If you're machine polishing a car and removing a fair amount of paint then a quick clean with a panel wipe will remove any excess cutting compounds, polish and paint residue. It will also ensure that the surface is as clean as possible for the best possible results.