How to Remove Swirls from Car Paint

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How to remove swirls from car paint

Have you ever looked at your car’s paint and seen unsightly swirls?

If you own a car, chances are, you have

Swirl marks are probably the most common paint defect you will see as a car owner. It’s no surprise that “how to remove swirls from car paint” is one of the most commonly asked questions in the car detailing process.

Swirl marks are a mass of tiny scratches that may appear like actual scratches under a microscope. They often appear on the surface of the top layer of your paint. Improper washing or drying techniques are the most common culprits behind swirl marks.

Moreover, swirl marks can cause your paint to contaminate quickly, making it harder to keep your car spotless. Frequent decontamination means spending more money on maintenance. The bottom line – you must remove swirl marks as soon as possible. 

Let’s understand more about swirl marks and how to remove them from your car.

What Causes Swirl Marks?

As mentioned earlier, improper washing or drying techniques are the primary cause of swirl marks. 

They include:  

Using Just One Wash Bucket: 

One wash bucket

Most car owners use only a single bucket of soapy water when cleaning a vehicle. Instead, start using a separate bucket of fresh water to clean your mitt or sponge after every pass. This will remove the dirt and corrosive contaminants from the mitt or sponge, reducing the risk of swirl marks.

Neglecting A Pre-Wash (Rinsing): 

You might consider cleaning your car with a wash mitt or sponge. This is a surefire way to drag contaminants across the surface, causing swirl marks. If possible, pre-wash your car using a pressure washer first. This will remove those contaminants without causing any damage to your paintwork.  

Using Harsh Cleaning Products: 

Using harsh car cleaners

Using harsh cleaning products can also cause swirl marks. For instance, towels and applicators containing polyester threads can cause swirl marks that become visible over time. Also, avoid using harsh polishing compounds and paint cleaners, as they will scratch the top layer of the paint. 

Not Drying the Car Properly: 

Swirl marks can appear if using dirty towel

Never dry your car using a dirty towel. Dry it using a clean, soft towel or cloth. 

Using An Automated Car Wash:

Automatic car wash can cause swirl marks

In addition to this, automated car washes can cause swirl marks too. The rotating brushes often hold grit and grime as they wash many vehicles throughout the day. As a result, they may leave micro-scratches all over your car. If you have a new vehicle, avoid taking it to an automated car wash regularly. 

Where Do Swirl Marks Commonly Appear?

Swirls mark can appear on car hood roof and trunk

Swirl marks can be all over your vehicle’s paint surface. However, they are commonly found on flat surfaces like hoods, roofs, and trunks. They are less likely to show up on the sides of your car. 

Swirl marks on dark-colored vehicles are more visible. Black is arguably the worst color for this. As swirl marks are more noticeable on dark-colored cars, you might see them on the doors and fenders. 

This doesn’t mean cars with light colors don’t develop swirl marks. A white sedan may also have them – but they will be less visible as light-colored paint reflects more light. As it is difficult to see swirl marks in direct sunlight, they are often more visible in shady areas or if the car is wet. 

How to Identify Swirl Marks

Before knowing how to remove swirl marks, you must learn to identify them. The average joe may not notice the difference between swirl marks and scratches, but a professional auto detailer should be able to spot the difference. There are a few distinct qualities that separate swirl marks from regular scratches. Here’s what you need to know.

Swirl Marks:

Swirl marks on black car paint
  • Appear like cobwebs or spiderwebs in shape with a consistent diameter 
  • Are the most common types of paint defects 
  • Appear only on the surface of the clear coat
  • Don’t scratch through the paint surface 


Car scratches
  • Have completely random shapes and patterns 
  • Often result from a deep gash or sharp objects like rocks or keys
  • Go deeper than swirl marks
  • Often affect the color layer of the paint
  • May go all the way to the primer 
  • Sometimes reveal the bare metal 

As opposed to scratches, swirl marks are usually no more than 2-4 microns deep. So, they don’t go deeper than the surface of the clear coat of paint. 

Also, there are different types of swirl marks, including: 

  1. Wash Marrings: These defects appear as swirls or straight lines, and the damage varies in area and depth.
  1. Dual Action Haze (Micro Marrings): These are sporadically uniform swirl marks. They are more visible under direct light sources (sunlight or fluorescent) because micro marrings are hairline swirl marks.
  1. Buffer Swirls: These are relatively thicker than other types of swirl marks. The diameter is more consistent, and they are more visible in bright or white fluorescent light.

How to Remove Swirl Marks?

Although prevention is better than cure, it’s not possible to prevent swirl marks altogether. You can use a scratch and swirl remover tool to remove light swirl marks. This is the fastest and easiest way to get rid of swirls. Most scratch remover tools can provide you with professional results. 

But if the problem is more severe, you must know how to remove swirl marks in detail. Here’s a step-by-step process to help you get rid of swirls.     

Step One: Wash Your Car

Pre wash your car before polishing

As you can imagine, the first step in removing swirl marks is to wash your car thoroughly. If dirt and other contaminants get stuck in the outer layer of the paint, you will end up with more swirl marks. Start by pre-washing your car with a pressure washer. This will remove all the dirt and contaminants without touching your vehicle. 

Next, you can use the two-bucket wash method to clean and dry your car. While washing your car, take care of the following. 

  • Use a mild car washing soap. 
  • Start from the top of your car and work your way down. 
  • Pay special attention to areas where swirl marks are most common, such as the hood, roof, and trunk.
  • Rinse your car thoroughly to remove all traces of soap. 
  • Dry with a clean microfiber towel.

Step Two: Use a Clay Bar

Use a clay bar to remove swirls mark

A thorough wash isn’t enough to get rid of all the contaminants. Bonded contaminants like iron fallout from brake dust and construction sites and can get stuck in your paint surface. Leaving them around will result in more swirl marks down the line. That’s why you will need to use a clay bar to remove contaminants like these. 

When claying your car, remember to: 

  • Work in 1ft X 1ft sections (or small sections as you see fit) 
  • Spray clay lubricant carefully 
  • Move the clay bar left to right in straight lines 
  • Avoid heavy pressure as it can damage the paint 
  • Rinse the vehicle after claying 
  • Dry it off with a clean microfiber towel

Note: you have to be careful when using a clay bar. If you have never used a clay bar before, it can be easy to damage your paint. In other words, a professional detailer can clay for you – worry-free.

Step Three: Polish Your Car

Car polishing

After using a clay bar, the paint will look and feel smooth to the touch. In other words, it’s ready to be polished. Polishing will help remove any remaining swirl marks and give your paint a nice shine. If you are using a power polisher, start with a low speed and gradually increase the speed as you go.

  • Start by adding three-four pea-sized dots of polish to the pad.
  • Always use a clean applicator pad.
  • It’s better to polish from the top-down.
  • Move the polisher in small circles to avoid damage.  
  • You can increase the pressure when applying over swirl marks. 

Step Four: Buff Your Car

Buffing is essentially an extension of polishing your car. It helps you work the polish into the paint, giving your vehicle a nice and smooth finish. You can either buff your car by hand using a towel or with a buffer/polisher tool

Buffing By Hand

Car buffing by hand

After applying the polish, don’t let it fully dry. Before it dries, wipe the excess polish with a clean microfiber towel. Next, buff your car until it develops a glossy finish. Keep the following in mind when buffing by hand: 

  • Use a clean microfiber towel or buffing pad. 
  • Keep a couple of microfiber towels or buffing pads handy.
  • Inspect the paint with a flashlight. 
  • If you see swirl marks, polish, and buff that area again. 
  • Continue buffing until you see a glimmering finish.  

Buffing Using Buffer/Polisher

Car buffing with random orbital buffer

You can also use a mechanical buffer/polisher. Dewalt is a well-known brand in this regard. Choose a random orbital buffer as it is safer than a variable speed buffer. The latter is meant for professional detailers because it spins in a circular motion at high velocity, causing its edges to dig into the paint. This will leave burn marks all over your car if used improperly. A random orbital buffer is your best bet if you are DIYing this whole thing.

Here’s how to use a random orbital buffer. 

  • Smear some polishing compound on 1ft X 1ft area.
  • Apply a small amount of it to the polishing pad before turning on the buffer. 
  • Move the machine around one inch per second. 
  • Work on 1ft X 1ft sections. 
  • Make several passes on one section before moving to the next.

However, you have to be careful. If you apply excessive pressure, it increases the risk of damage. If you are not comfortable doing this, you can hire a professional detailer to polish and buff your car. This can help you save a lot of trouble down the line.

Step Six: Wax Your Car

Wax your car after polishing

This is the final step in getting rid of swirls. Claying, polishing, and buffing can also affect the clear coat, which protects your paint from dirt and debris. A weakened clear coat increases the risk of contaminants getting stuck in the paint, resulting in swirl marks. Waxing essentially strengthens your clear coat and prevents the chances of future micro marrings. 

When waxing your car, make sure to: 

  • Only use high-quality automobile wax. 
  • Start with a small amount of wax. 
  • Apply a few drops or a small amount to the pad. 
  • Wax your car in small sections. 
  • Never leave the wax on the car for too long as it becomes hard and dry.
  • Apply the wax in small, circular motions.
  • Remove the excess wax using a microfiber towel.

One more tip is to wax your car in an enclosed space. It can be a tent, carport, or even your garage. Firstly, it will protect your vehicle from dust and other contaminants. If these get into the wax, you will end up with swirl marks sooner than you can imagine. 

Secondly, your car can become incredibly hot in an open space. When you apply wax to a hot surface, it will dry immediately. This will prevent your car from getting the glimmering finish and protection it deserves. 

In Conclusion

Swirl marks are one of the most common defects you’ll face as a car owner. They can lead to problems like contaminating your paintwork quickly and sending your maintenance costs through the roof. Although removing swirl marks is not easy, it is a straightforward, step-by-step process. The DIY process mentioned in this post will help you remove swirls from your car paint quickly and efficiently.
Of course, you can let a detailing expert like Big’s Mobile do the job for you. Our experienced and skilled team offers a range of car detailing services, including removing swirls from car paint. Call (425) 243-9155 or reach out online today for more information.

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These blogs are meant purely for education and demonstration purposes. It contains only general information and may not account for specific issues related to your particular vehicle or situation. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. Read full disclaimer.

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