Why Does My Car’s Paint Have Swirl Marks?

Why does my car’s paint have swirl marks?
Where they come from and how to fix them

Doesn’t it seem like every car on the road suffers from swirl marks? It is surprising that vehicles of all ages, even less than a year old, are covered in swirls and “spiderwebs” that are clearly visible in direct sunlight. How do they get there, and how do you repair them? We will answer both of these questions right here. Let’s start with how they got there in the first place.

The main causes of swirl marks on your vehicle’s paint

  • Washing: A wash mitt that doesn’t hold water or dirt very well tends to press the dirt against the paint and causes friction during the cleaning process, resulting in light swirl marks. Many local car washes use mitts on hundreds of vehicles a day, so while the first few cars get clean fabric on their paint, the rest get dirt and grime rubbed vigorously onto their paint leaving them damaged.
  • Drying: Drying is the second biggest cause of swirl marks. In fact, washing is, in a way, the most important part of drying because if a vehicle isn’t properly washed and cleaned, the drying process will surely result in quite a few swirl marks by dragging around left over dirt.
  • Clay bar Application: Claying itself is an abrasive and many people don’t realize that it can easily leave marring in the paint. Swirl marks are potential with clay bar decontamination if you get a piece caught between the clay bar and the paint.
  • Waxing: Some waxes, typically the older carnauba paste waxes, are fairly hard to apply and especially hard to remove, requiring quite a bit of pressure during application and removal. As you can imagine, on a vehicle with softer paint it will be that much easier to create swirls with heavier wiping during wax removal.
  • Car Covers: Covers work great for protecting your vehicle’s exterior, but only if it is put on right after a car wash. Even a short trip in your vehicle before replacing the cover is enough to trap dust and dirt under the cover. Then, as wind rustles the cover or people brush up against it, it will cause enough friction to scratch the paint.
  • Dusting: There are a few dusters that are highly recommended and work great but there are some that just drag dust around. We only recommend cleaning the car with a mitt while washing otherwise it is best to leave it be.
  • Detailing Wipes: Any off the shelf product that says you can just spray and wipe your car without water and soap is not telling the full story. You just end up swirling the dirt all over the surface, permanently damaging the surface.

How do you remove those swirl marks for good?

The only way to remove swirl marks is to polish the paint. Many off the shelf products will hide the swirl marks, or attempt to fill them in, but the effect is short lived. Swirl marks are actually microscopic scratches in the clear coat, and they are visible in direct light because these scratches reflect the light differently and give off a clear pattern of the damage. To remove them, they need to be smoothed out with something mildly abrasive and polished smooth again.

If you have the time and energy, this is something you can do for yourself. There are over the counter polishes that remove fine swirl marks and they require you to clean and dry your vehicle, then apply the polishing compound with even pressure. You may need to start with a cutting compound if your swirl marks are very heavy and then finish with a polish to bring it back to a full shine.

Can you restore my paint for me?

Of course we can! Because swirl marks are so common and they tend to affect the entire vehicle, this is something that most people bring into our detail shop and have our technicians manage the problem. The only way to quickly treat a full exterior is with electric polishers, and, considering their cost, it is much more economical to bring your vehicle to the shop than to purchase the machines yourself.

One service we offer with all of our exterior details is a Cut Polish. An abrasive “cutting” polish can be used on your automotive paint work to cut through any oxidized paint and to polish out any scratches in the paintwork. For a paint job that needs a bit more love and car, you can start with an Exterior Detail to get a deep clean from years of highway driving and contamination, or a Complete Detail if your interior has the same sort of trouble. We take appointments daily and can you have your car back to you the same day looking exactly like the day you bought it.

Be in touch with any questions, we would love to hear from you.

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