Having swirl marks and minor scratches on your car can be frustrating.
On day where the sun is shining down, you can see almost every imperfection on your paint, especially if it’s a black car.
In this article, I’ll tell you how to remove swirl marks from car paint using your hand or a polishing machine. I’ll also tell you what causes them and how to prevent them, helping your car look better for longer.
Table of Contents
What causes swirl marks?
Swirl marks are small scratches that occur in the top layer of a car’s paint (Lacquer/Clearcoat). This is mostly due to carelessness and/or improper wash techniques.
If you rub your hand over the swirl mark/scratch and it feels smooth to touch, you will be able to remove it with polishing. There is no need for touch up paint or a respray.
Another way to determine this would be to spray it with soapy water, if it disappears for a couple of seconds then it’s a clear coat scratch/swirl. A deeper scratch will stay visible when sprayed.
Swirl marks and scratches are easy to remove for the most part though it can be time-consuming.
You may also find that you can achieve a certain amount of paint correction, it’s unrealistic to expect your paint to look 100% brand new.
How To Prevent Swirl Marks
The best way to remove swirl marks from your car is to avoid them in the first place! While you can definitely reduce the odds of swirl marks occuring, it’s inevitable that some will happen.
I’m guilty of it myself, I’m often too keen behind the wheel. Being close to the vehicle in front makes you right in the blast zone. Anything that the tires flick up will inevitably cause damage to the paintwork, be it stone chips or swirl marks.
Sometimes you may need to accept that you bought a car to drive it. A lot of the time you will not be able to stop swirl marks from happening, it’s just part of wear and tear.
Wrapping your car would protect the OEM paint, so would paint protection film (clear bra) but that’s not a viable option for everyone and it may not even be an option you want to explore (I love my glossy mirror finish). It’s just one of those things you can’t really change.
Stop Touching dirty paintwork
This is one of the biggest factors and you can’t really control it, especially if you don’t own a driveway or a garage.
When parking your car at the side of the road it’s vulnerable to everything. One of the main threats, when your car is dirty, is children and immature adults that think they are a modern-day Picasso drawing dicks and other art in the dirt.
While it seems fairly harmless, all the dust and dirt getting dragged around acts as small rocks, which in turn creates lots of minuscule scratches and swirl marks.
The only way around this is to keep your car clean though sometimes that will also make people want to touch your paint. Really you’ve just got to accept that you can’t control other peoples actions…
Use Safer Washing Techniques
Washing your car can only be a good thing right? Wrong. Washing your car using the incorrect technique or equipment can be a recipe for swirl marks and scratches.
I’ve gone to many roadside car washes which will wash your car using brushes filled with dirt and debris from previous cars, car washes that hand wash your whole car without rinsing the sponge once as well as many other cringe/scratch-inducing techniques.
If you’re paying to get your car washed on a regular basis make sure you find one that knows what they’re doing.
If not, it’s time to learn the correct washing technique to prevent your car from becoming covered in swirls marks.
I also cannot stress how important it is to use the right equipment. 2 Buckets with grid guards, multiple sponges, soft microfibre cloths and a proper car washing soap.
Avoid Drive Through Carwashes
This is a continuation of the “incorrect washing techniques”. It’s really quite sad how many people don’t know the risks of drive-through carwashes.
Having previously worked in a business with a drive-through car wash, I was incredibly surprised at just how many people used these. The lucky ones couldn’t drive in a straight line, therefore, stopped the machine, the unlucky ones came out with a host of new swirls on their car.
The only maintenance these machines get is the electrical side that keeps them running. Car wash companies do not clean the brushes that roll all over your car, it’s a recipe for scratches. Especially once you realize how many cars they actually wash each day.
Dont allow Businesses to Wash Your Car
Another factor you can’t really control. Depending on where you go, some businesses offer free car washes as a part of their service. Pretty nice right?
Wrong, these washes are often half-assed and normally include dragging a hard brush across the surface of your car.
There’s a reason why 309+ “Don’t wash this vehicle” mirror hangers have sold on eBay. Even then I’ve seen them get flat out ignored by service members.
Advantages & Disadvantages Of Buffing A Car
When buffing a car correctly, there are almost zero disadvantages.
After a good polish your car comes away from the process looking much cleaner, glossier and even smoother to touch.
However, there is one disadvantage (if you’d call it that).
During the cutting stage, you’ll be using a compound that “cuts” into the top layer of your car paint. This will effectively “flatten” the clear coat/laquer making it smoother while removing scratches in the process.
Most people don’t consider this to be a disadvantage of buffing a car, rather a necessary step in the repair process.
Continue reading this article to understand the advantages of polishing, the effort it takes and how to avoid making costly mistakes!
Advantages Of Polishing A Car
When done properly, the advantages or pros of polishing a car significantly outweigh the cons.
While most of the benefits are purely visual, it’s a proud feeling to drive your car around town when it’s looking at its best.
Whether you’re buffing the car yourself or paying a professional to do it, here’s the benefits you can expect.
Scratch & Swirl Removal – If you do a multi-stage polish and use a cutting compound, you’ll be able to remove a lot of the light scratches and swirl marks from your vehicle.
Polishing your car can also get rid of some paint transfer if you’ve had a minor collision.
However it wont fix scratches that are deep into the base layer of paint. Click here to learn the different types of car scratches.
Very smooth paint – While you should very rarely touch the paintwork of your car, performing a proper detail and polish will give it a slick and smooth finish.
There are 2 reasons for this.
Firstly, Decontaminating the car is a key step in preparing a vehicle for polish.
Secondly, buffing your car will even out the clear coat, removing highs and lows that were barely even noticeable to begin with.
Mirror finish – The biggest benefit has to be how good your car will look afterward.
A proper 2 or 3 stage polish will completely change the look of your car, removing scratches and adding a level of depth to the paint.
If you’ve ever wondered how people get their cars reflecting like they’re mirrors, polishing is a key part of the process.
Remember! buffing a car will only do so much.
If you have a car that has deep paint scratches or various other defects, polishing your car will only make it look slightly less shit.
“You can’t polish a turd” is a true statement. However, you can make the turd look slightly better.
Disadvantages Of Polishing A Car
Providing you don’t make mistakes or cut corners there’s not really any disadvantages of polishing a car.
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to properly prepare and polish your car, however, failure to do so could make your car look worse.
Here’s some examples of the negatives and things could go wrong…
Create swirls – If you’re using a dirty pad or fail to decontaminate your car 100%, there’s a good chance that taking a buffer to your car will just create more scratches and swirls.
Always make sure your pads are clean and rotate them if necessary. Also perform a full decontamination using a fallout remover or a clay bar before even think about polishing.
Burn through paint – This one’s more for the inexperienced. When using a Dual Action polisher, it’s very unlikely you’ll burn through paint. However it has been done.
Make sure when to constantly move the machine while you’re polishing, otherwise you risk burning through. This becomes even more likely if you’re using a rotary.
Barrier to entry – While you can hand polish a car using a foam applicator and microfiber towel, it’s unlikely to get you the results you desire. It’s also much more effort.
Buying a machine buffer is the way to go, however, they can be pricey. I’ve compiled a list of the best cheap dual action polishers but even then, they can cost upwards of $75.
How to remove swirl marks by hand
The only way to remove swirl marks is to polish your vehicle. This is best done with a Dual Action Polisher (DA), but your hand will suffice.
If polishing by hand is your only option, it’s still better than nothing. You’ll be able to get remove a good amount of swirls but it will take a lot of elbow grease.
Polishing using either method will take time and effort, but obviously you will get much better results using less effort with DA.
When polishing by hand, I’d recommend using an all-in-one polish like Chemical Guys All-In-One Polish, Shine & Sealant, or their VSS Scratch & Swirl Remover.
Just keep in mind when polishing by hand, that you’re not going to get the best possible results. You’ll probably have to put in more effort than your expecting, and it could take many, many passes to remove swirls from heavily scratched panels.
If you’ve already thought about buying a DA, I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Here’s a list of the best dual action polishers for beginners, I compiled the list myself, to prevent beginners from getting burned and buying the wrong equipment!
Step 1: Preparation
Make sure to rinse the panel you’re working on. I’d normally opt for a full wash beforehand to rid the car of any dirt but that’s because I tend to polish the whole car at once.
Once washed dry the panel with a microfibre cloth. Make sure the cloth is soft & clean, the goal is to remove swirls not create even more!
After rinsing put on a rubber glove and give the panel a light rub. If you can hear and feel friction when rubbing the panel there are contaminants located embedded in your paint. If so, you should definitely give your car the clay bar treatment before proceeding with the polishing stage.
Step 2: Polishing
Take your scratch & swirl remover and put 3 small blobs evenly across your Dual Action polisher, dab them onto the panel you’re working on and start polishing back and forth. Don’t push down on the polisher it will only heat up the panel quicker and could make the finish uneven.
If you’re using a sponge or microfiber cloth, apply a small amount of scratch and swirl remover to your sponge and start polishing. When using your hand it’s best that you go in circular motions almost as if you were a polishing disc yourself.
Once you’re satisfied with the finish stop polishing and grab a clean microfiber cloth to wipe the remaining compound off of the panel.
If the area is still hazy after you’ve wiped it down you’ve not polished it enough, try another pass.
If the scratches are still there, try polishing it again but you may need to be more abrasive and use a cutting compound or you might even need to wet sand.
Step 3: Protection
This is an entirely optional step, I personally only do full paint corrections so it’s certain that once I finish detailing I will in-fact apply wax, a sealant or ceramic coating.
It’s not a big deal if you don’t but it can enhance the paint finish and also make for easier washing next time round.
Removing Swirl Marks With A Polisher
To do this, there are 2 types of polishing machines you can choose from, Rotary or Dual Action.
Dual Action is the safest and easiest to use, creating less friction heat by rotating and oscillating at the same time, hence the name “dual action”.
Rotary polishers are ok to use as well, however, they require much more skill. Because they’re often much higher power and spins in the same motion at higher RPMs, there’s much more heat involved, potentially burning the paint or burning through it.
Step 1: Prepare The Car
When polishing your car with a machine, it’s important that the car is 100% clean. This means performing a full wash and giving it the clay bar treatment.
If you try to polish a car covered in contaminants, no matter how small they are, you’ll create even deeper scratches and swirls that may not be able to be polished out.
Step 2: Polish The Car
Grab your favourite polish and apply two or three drops to your polishing pad. You can use your finger to evenly distribute the product around the pad or simply choose a working area to rub your polisher across.
Once you’ve done either of those methods, it’s time to put your polisher to the vehicle and turn it on slowly. This will allow you to spread the polish without any sling.
Finally, ramp up to a comfortable working speed and work in cross hatch motions. Cars with extreme swirls and scratches will require more passes to correct.
Step 3: Remove The Excess Product
Once you’re satisfied that you’ve corrected the paintwork of the panel, simply wipe away any remaining product. After wiping the panel and buffing it, you’ll be able to tell whether you should make more passes, or move onto the next area.
Step 4: Apply Wax Or Sealant
Again, a completely optional step, however, you’ve just spent hours polishing your car. Why wouldn’t you want to protect that mirror finish you worked so hard for?
When it comes to waxing and polishing a car, there are two different ways to do it. You can either do it by hand or machine.
Waxing and polishing by hand is the most effort and will produce the least results.
Using machines is almost always the better option. However, there are a couple of different machines that you can use.
Polishing Your Car With A Drill
The most commonly used machines for polishing your car is a Rotary or Dual Action Polisher. However, polishing your car with a drill is certainly possible.
Is it the most effective method? Probably not but it could be better than doing it by hand.
If you can spend the money, you’re better off getting a Dual Action polisher, but I respect that not everybody can afford it.
Why Polish Your Car With A Drill?
Machine polishing offers a level of paint correction that your hand just cannot achieve.
With drills ranging from 500-2000 RPM and Dual Action Polishers operating as high at 8000 RPM, the machines will reach speeds that your hand cannot. This allows for a deeper paint correction while speeding up the process significantly.
You’ll also find that you’re less tired when using machines and drills.
Gripping an applicator pad and rubbing it on the panel for hours can be taxing on your forearms. You may also drop it and require a new, clean, pad.
Using a drill or machine polisher will be slightly less taxing on your body. Machine polishers are made to be held for long times, and drills, as long as they’re not 18v+ with huge batteries are still pretty lightweight.
The only problem with using a drill to polish your whole car is the fact that it’s awkward to hold and maneuver. It only becomes worse if you have a bigger drill.
I found that polishing the doors and bumpers was easy enough, but as soon as I tried to polish a flat surface such as the hood or the roof, it became much more awkward.
Having a drill polishing kit is useful for everyone. Because the pads are much smaller and stick out from the drill, you are able to work in smaller spaces. They’re especially great for polishing alloys.
What you’ll need to polish your car with a drill
To polish your car with a drill, you’ll want to have a lightweight cordless drill. Any will do, however, I personally own this DeWalt Cordless Combo Kit.
Once you’ve got the drill sorted, you’ll only actually need a drill bit and polishing pads. You can get these kits super cheap, under $20, however, I cannot guarantee the quality.
This Fontic kit comes with 11pcs and boasts an average 4 1/2* rating with over 500 reviews.
Finally, you’ll need a polish. There are many different options out there, but for sake of simplicity, I’m going to recommend using a one-step solution. My favorite is Meguiars Ultimate Polish.
After you’ve bought a drill, polishing kit, and a polishing compound, you’ll be ready to give your car the mirror finish you desire.
How To Polish Your Car With A Drill
Polishing your car with a drill is very easy. Especially once you’ve nailed the technique and how to hold the drill.
Initially, you may find it to be very odd and disturbing, however, with time it will start to feel normal.
The process is very similar to polishing your car by hand, the only difference is that you’re now using a drill. Things become a little more complicated if you use a multi-step compound but for most, that’s not necessary.
Follow the steps below and your car will reflect like a mirror in no time:
- Grab Your Drill & Polishing Kit – Setting up is fairly straightforward. All you need to do is secure the drill bit in your drill and then screw the polishing pad onto your drill bit. Try it out before taking it near a car, you don’t want it flying off and damaging your paint.
- Apply Product To The Pad – Once you’re certain the bit and pad is secure, apply product evenly across your pad. Depending on the size of your pad, 3-4 small blobs will do.
- Spread The Product Across Your Working Area – Whenever you polish you should work on a small area at a time. Dab some polish even onto the area using your drill.
- Make Passes – When you’ve made sure there is polish on the pad and the panel, it’s time to make passes. Drills only have 1 speed, so there may be some sling, just make sure you’re working quick enough.
- Buff The Area With A Microfiber Towel – Once you’re satisfied with how the panel looks, wipe the area with a clean microfiber towel to remove any remaining polish. This will buff the area and let you see a more accurate idea of your finish.
- Repeat – Now that you’ve had a look at the true finish, it’s up to you whether to make some more passes or move on to another area of the car.
Making multiple passes will quickly get you into the law of diminishing returns. Unfortunately, especially with a drill, there’s only so much you can do.
Most light scratches and micro-marring will come out if you put the time and effort into polishing your car properly, however not all.
Click here and learn more about the types of scratches you can expect to see in car paint. This will help you determine whether or not you can remove them, or whether they need to be resprayed.
While using a drill to polish your car is a step up from doing it with your hand. It will take a while to get used to the technique.
Even then, there are better alternatives, especially if you’re willing to invest in the right equipment.
If you have the money, you should buy yourself a dual-action polisher. I’ve already written an article on the best dual action polishers for beginners. This article will tell you everything you need to know to get started, including which DA’s are best to buy.
You could always purchase a rotary polisher. They’re much cheaper, however, they require a certain level of skills and the risk of burning through paint is so much higher.
Rotary polishers are used in professional environments because, in the right hands, they achieve results the quickest.