One of the most annoying things to deal with when you’re trying to keep your car clean and shiny is swirl marks.
If you’ve ever had them, then you know they’re a common paint defect that is both unsightly and annoying.
They are microscopic scratches in the paintwork that you can’t necessarily see until the light hits them – you may think that your car looks perfect, only to see it in direct light and notice several swirly lines where there shouldn’t be any.
Paint swirls range from fine to deep scratches; the more severe the swirl mark, the deeper the scratch will be, and the more difficult it will be to remove.
Luckily, it is possible to remove all swirl marks without damaging your vehicle’s finish.
The method you use will depend on the types of scratches you are dealing with – if they are light scratches that are mainly confined to the top surface of the paint, you should be able to simply buff them off, but deeper ones may require a full polish.
If this sounds daunting, don’t worry: we’re here to help you learn the best tips and tricks for getting rid of those pesky swirls efficiently.
You don’t even need any particular qualifications, as anyone can achieve great results with the right information and enough dedication.
You’ll have your car back looking it’s best with a clean finish in no time!
What Causes Swirl Marks?
First of all, it is important to understand why swirl marks exist and the various things that can cause them.
If you’re unaware of these, then you may be confused at where they came from when you’ve been careful to maintain your car to the best of your ability.
Having correct information at your disposal is an excellent weapon in the fight against swirl marks, so you can minimize your risk of them in the future.
On a scientific level, a swirl mark is caused by air pockets trapped between the primer and topcoat layers of the paint.
When you drive over an object or bump into something, the impact forces the air out of the surface of the paint.
This causes the paint to look uneven and streaky when light shines on it, although certain paint colors come off worse – light-colored cars are most affected, while dark cars can get away with swirl marks more easily.
Swirls may even be invisible on black paint, unless you look very closely.
We’re not too concerned about the mechanics, however, as the practical side of swirl marks is the bigger issue at play.
Basically, the largest proportion of all paint swirls is caused by improper car care and touching your paintwork unnecessarily.
When you do this, you introduce a certain amount of friction on the surface, which leaves micro – scratches in the paint.
It’s even more of a problem when there are particles on the microfiber cloth that you’re using, since these get worked into the paint.
Usually, a swirl doesn’t affect all of the paint layers – just the top one.
This means that you can take off the top layer using an abrasive product, while leaving the underneath ones intact. Still, it’s an annoying thing to contend with.
Deeper scratches may penetrate more layers of paint than lighter ones, so these will require a more thorough polishing process.
Automatic Car Washes
Automated car washes have long been the enemy of the car detailing industry, because they are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to paint swirl marks.
Grit from previous cars gets stuck in the rollers, and are then dragged across your own paint surface when it’s your turn.
An automatic wash may be a convenient and quick solution for getting your car clean, but it can have dire consequences for your beautiful paint job.
Our advice is to avoid automatic car washes altogether.
Chances are, if you are as much of a car enthusiast as we are, you’ll be washing your own car anyway – most of us would be queasy at the thought of anyone else touching our pride and joy, let alone an automated system!
A dirty wash is even worse than no wash at all, so bear this in mind whenever you’re running short on time.
Step By Step Guide
To remove light swirl marks and micro scratches from your car, follow these steps:
- Clean the area using soap and water. You will need to conduct a full wash of your entire car so that you don’t miss any parts.The best way to do this is using the two-bucket method, which is demonstrated here.
- If the paint surface feels bumpy after you’ve finished washing it, you will need to use a clay bar to smooth it out. This involves simply scrubbing the surface with the clay in small sections at a time (using plenty of clay lubrication) to get rid of paint contaminants, then buffing it off.
- Apply a swirl remover directly onto the paint surface, taking care to do so correctly as per the product instructions. There is a large selection available on Amazon.
- Work the product in circular motions using buffer cloths, so that you cover the whole area affected by the swirl marks.You may need to switch out the buffer cloth you are using for a fresh one if it picks up lots of residue. After all, a dirty cloth can play havoc with your beautiful paint job.
- Wipe off any excess residue with a fresh, high-quality microfiber towel, revealing shiny, clean paint underneath. Always use a light source such as a flashlight to check that you have removed all the swirl marks before you stop working on them.
When you need to shift tough swirl marks, it is necessary to use a polishing machine – this is often carried out by qualified automotive detailers, but it is just straightforward enough for an amateur detailer to manage.
Read this guide instead to find out how:
- Wash your whole car thoroughly, just like you would for micro – scratches. This is especially important when machine polishing, because any dirt on the paint surface that gets caught on the polishing pad will end up adding even more scratches even faster.
- Apply an iron fallout remover, such as this one from auto detailing company Adam’s. This step is particularly vital here, but many also complete it for their smaller scratches. It basically breaks down all of the iron fallout from things like brake dust, which is a contaminant. Rinse well after use.
- Use a clay bar for paintwork that still feels rough to the touch, so that any embedded particles don’t get caught in your polishing pad.
- Check the condition of the paint – you already know that there are deep swirl marks in it, but now you should analyze further: are there layers of swirls that make the surface look dull overall? If so, you will need to both compound and polish the car. If not, you can just polish it.
- Fix the foam buffer pad in place on your polisher plate, making sure it’s directly in the center. Apply a few drops of a reverse scratch remover onto the pad.
- Start your machine polisher on a low setting to begin with, until you have achieved an even coverage of polish across the panel you’re working on. Then gradually increase the speed so that it’s still comfortable to use.
- Continue to buff in a controlled manner, using overlapping motions. Stop the machine as soon as the polish turns clear – if you can still see swirl marks, then carry on polishing the area (you may need to change to a more aggressive pad at this point).
- Once the section is free from swirl marks, you can wipe away the polish residue and then move on to the next section. Repeat the steps 6-8 of the polishing process until the whole car is complete.
Protecting Your Finish
Now you’ve removed your swirl marks and got your car back to looking its best, it’s a good idea to protect the delicate paintwork from further paint swirls.
Correct washing on a regular basis can be helpful, but there are also specific products you can purchase that will provide a high level of protection.
These will help keep your car looking shinier for longer, whether you view it in pitch black or full sunlight!
Choose A Wax Or A Sealant
A coat of wax or sealant can provide an extra layer of protection for your car.
Sealants and ceramic coatings are more durable than waxes, but are in turn more expensive.
Also, different people prefer different types of products, so you might have to read up on them to know what would suit you best.
There are a wide variety of these on offer, which means it could take you a while to familiarize yourself with the market.
If you’re stuck, take a look at this handy guide for how to choose the ideal one for your needs.
Preventing Swirl Marks
Chances are, you’ll want to avoid having to go through the tedious process of removing swirl marks as much as you can, so the best thing to do is try and prevent them from happening in the first place.
Here, we will talk you through some effective ways of doing this, including things you may not have heard of or thought about.
The best way to prevent swirl marks is with a ceramic coating, which is a liquid polymer that you apply to your vehicle’s exterior by hand.
It essentially offers additional car paint protection, making it harder for anything to interfere with your paintwork.
Many people choose to get this professionally applied by a specialist auto detailer, since it is a lot of work and is best to have someone who really knows what they’re doing.
Also, the coatings themselves are often expensive, so you wouldn’t want to risk messing it up.
However, others prefer to take care of the application themselves.
Any ceramic coating will come with thorough instructions telling you how to apply it properly – we recommend that you read these carefully before you get started, so that you understand exactly what you need to do.
Read through them more than once, in case you missed something the first time or need to reinforce what you’ve digested.
It may also help to watch a video on the internet that shows a professional detailer carrying out the process, especially if you have no idea what it will likely entail.
Try this video by the Chemical Guys – this uses their own product called Carbon Force, but most ceramic coatings will work in similar ways.
If nothing else, the general application and buffing process will be the same; they may differ on things such as how many coats you need to apply, or how long to leave the car in between coats.
Using the Correct Cleaning Tools
As we know, the majority of swirl marks are caused by using improper washing methods and equipment when taking care of your car.
These must be chosen carefully so that you don’t end up causing accidental damage and making your car look worse than it did to start with.
Firstly, the towels.
You should use a clean microfiber towel – if not a brand new one, then at least one that has been cleaned thoroughly and doesn’t have any particles trapped in it.
Many people think that dry towels are necessary when you’re cleaning and drying your car, as you should try and reduce the friction as much as possible to reduce your chances of leaving marks.
However, towels that are too dry lead to paint swirl marks in the first place, so keep your microfiber cloth slightly damp.
The commercially-available cleaning products you apply to your car can also be bad news when it comes to paint swirl marks, if you use the wrong type.
Some of these can contain harsh chemicals and abrasives that do more harm than good to your paint, and even encourage more surface dirt to collect.
Always make sure you’re using clean water, too – if it helps, you may find a hose easier than a bucket for this reason, as you’re less likely to get bits falling into the water.
Using a product known as a quick detailer should be enough for most of your general detailing needs, and many car care companies produce their own version of this.
We recommend something like Gtechniq Quick Detailer, available in regular or large quantities on Amazon.
Alongside your quick detailer, you should be using a wash mitt, which is a soft cloth that you wear on your hand for easy manual polishing.
This is the best type of pad to use, as it is friendly to your vehicle.
It’s true that paint swirl marks are a pain in the neck for all automotive detailers, as well as amateur car enthusiasts who just want to look after their vehicles.
They can wreak havoc on the paint on cars, whether your finish is colored paint or black paint.
Bad wash routines are the number one cause of swirl marks, so it pays to reconsider the cleaning supplies you are using and switch them out for more appropriate cleaning tools where applicable.
We also recommend using two buckets of water each time, and always have a clean cloth or clean towel to hand, as well as a clean applicator pad.
Last but not least, protecting the car in between washes is vital for maintaining a buttery-smooth and shiny finish.
Whether you use a wax or sealant, you must make sure you apply it properly.
Our best recommendation is a ceramic shine coating such as Gtechniq Crystal Serum Light, which can protect against swirl marks and other signs of paint damage for up to 5 years!
There are many automotive detailers around the country who would be eager to help, since their passion is presenting cars to the best of their ability and giving them a brilliant shine.