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Where Do Swirl Marks Come From?

Here are the causes of swirl marks and what to do about them.

Swirl marks are like the arrow in the FedEx logo – after the first time you notice them, you can’t see anything else. To the observant, it quickly becomes apparent that nearly every car suffers from swirl marks to various degrees. The effect becomes even more obvious in direct sunlight.

The first step to dealing with and preventing swirl marks is understanding why they happen. Here are the main causes of swirl marks on your vehicle:

Car Covers

Car covers are a vehicle-lover’s best friend, but only when used on a freshly washed vehicle. Even a couple drives is enough to cause build-up on your vehicle’s surface that will turn into an abrasive when trapped under a vehicle cover. The effect is worse if the car is kept outside, where the wind can baffle the cover against the paint.

Clay Barring

Swirl marks can happen during a clay bar treatment if the detailer isn’t attentive to keeping the bar clean and free of major debris, doesn’t use enough lube, or chooses the wrong type of clay for the paint. Clay barring is the ultimate way to remove paint contamination, but must be done thoughtfully and with care.


Similar to what happens with clay barring, inattentive waxing can lead to swirl marks. Paste waxes can require aggressive buffing that can leave swirl marks if the cloth is even the slightest bit dirty.

Washing and Drying

Keeping your wash mitt clean during the washing process is of utmost importance. If your mitt gets dirty, or is old and worn out, you can actually end up grinding grit into your paint, rather than cleaning it off. We recommend using the Two Bucket Method for home washing, or you can always bring your vehicle to us for a professional wash.

Damage during the drying process usually occurs because of an incomplete wash. Hand-drying a perfectly clean vehicle is good for the paint, but if there is any grit left over on the vehicle’s paint, a clean chamois quickly becomes a piece of sandpaper

Detailing Wipes

Avoid off the shelf products that promise things like “waterless car washes” and “spray-and-wipe convenience”. They don’t work, and end up doing more harm than good.

Removing Swirl Marks

Swirl marks are tiny scratches in the clear coat, so the only way to get rid of them is by polishing. The good news is that because swirl marks are so shallow, they don’t usually require aggressive polishing to deal with. You can find products that promise to fill them in or hide them without polishing, but these “solutions” are short lived.

This procedure can be done at home by dedicated DIYers, you just want to make sure you have the right products and tools at your disposal. A mild polish can remove fine swirl marks, but more serious damage will require a cutting compound.

Professional Paint Restoration

Swirl marks usually afflict the entire vehicle, and performing a full cut polish by hand is not an enviable task! The easiest way to get rid of swirl marks is simply to bring your vehicle to your local pros – Island Detail.

We have professional equipment and products that make the job efficient and flawless. To get rid of swirl marks, bring your vehicle in for an Exterior Detail and get the add-on Cut Polish (for a total vehicle refresh, choose a Complete Detail with Cut Polish). Setting up an appointment is easy, and we are happy to accommodate your schedule – get started right here.

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