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.
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.
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?