How to Remove Swirl Marks from Car Paint

Are you annoyed with all the swirl marks on your car’s hood and door panels? Take control and do something about it! We’ll show you how to remove swirl marks from car paint and correct your finish the right way.

These micro scratches in the clear coat are best viewed in direct sunlight. They limit the paint’s shine and gloss, leaving a dull finish. Automated car washes are a big contributor. These machines aren’t as clean as you might think, bashing your car with small dirt particles from dozens of other cars. Using the wrong towels to dry and buff your car can also create micro marring and swirls in the paint.

The Auto Care Geek Team has developed a step by step guide to swirl mark freedom! We’ll start with the basic products you’ll need to get started, then how to put them to work for you.


Important Products You’ll Need

Porter-Cable Random Orbit Sander

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You’ll need a random-orbital polisher, also known as dual-action, to effectively remove swirl marks and scratches. Don’t try this by hand – it’ll take forever with limited results. Random-orbital polishers are safe and easy to use. You’ll get phenomenal results working with a machine polisher vs. hand polishing.

Porter-Cable’s Variable Speed Polisher is our top pick. It’s a well-built polisher that’ll last you years. Stick with the 6-inch model, we’ll explain later.

Astro Pneumatic Tool 4607 5″ PU Hook & Loop Backing Pad

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Backing plates bolt onto the machine polisher. They’re coated with velcro on the other side, which is how you attach the buffing pads. Set aside the plate that comes with the Porter-Cable unit. Instead, you’ll need a flexible plate that’ll contour to your car’s curves.

We recommend using the Astro 5” backing pad. It’s affordable but just as good as the more expensive choices.

Chemical Guys 5.5″ Buffing Pad Sampler Kit

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Buffing pads attach to the backing plate and work as the applicator. They vary by materials, size, density, and more. We recommend sticking with 5.5” foam pads to fit the 5” backing plates. The color of each foam pad usually represents its intensity.

Orange colored pads are considered medium-heavy cutting pads. They’re more dense and aggressive during polishing. They ‘cut’ more into the clear coat to remove widespread paint defects. Use compound polishes or heavy cutting polishes on orange pads.

White pads are light-medium polishing pads. They’ll also handle a great deal, but have less cutting power than orange pads. Use finishing polishes on white pads.

Black pads are finishing pads. They have virtually no cutting power. Use car waxes and sealants with finishing pads. This is typically your last step when working to correct your car’s paint.

We recommend the Chemical Guys Buffing Pad Sampler Kit. It’ll come with the basic foam pads you’ll need. Plus, it comes with their pad cleaner.

Chemical Guys Professional Grade Premium Microfiber Towel

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You’ll need a set of microfiber towels to buff out polish residue. Don’t settle for any old rags or standard cotton towels lying around, they’ll scratch your finish in no time. Microfiber towels are scratch-free, lint-free, and swirl free. Hint, be sure to remove any polyester tags before using – they’ll leave scratches if you’re not careful.

Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound

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Now it’s time for the swirl remover, also called polish! You’ll need two polishes types. Start with an aggressive cut, followed-up with a finishing polish that’ll create a mirror-like finish.

Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound is your aggressive polish, also called a compound. It's the absolute best swirl remover. ‘UG’, will knock out scratches, swirl marks, holograms, and heavy water spots. It’s safe on your clear coat and easily wipes off with minimal residue. UG has been around for years. It’s our trusted compound, along with countless other pro detailers.

Meguiar’s M20532 Mirror Glaze Ultra Finishing Polish

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Meguiar’s M205 is your finishing polish and the last of the two step polishing process. M205 will remove light haze and micro scratches, resulting in a crystal clear finish. It’s a non-gumming formula and super easy to buff on and wipe off. You’ll be shocked just how smooth and mirror-like your paint is after using M205!

Chemical Guys Butter Wet Wax

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The Chemical Guys Butter Wet Wax is one of our favorites, especially when paired with a dual action polisher. It goes on quickly and easily wipes off clean. It creates an amazing shine, adding warmth and depth to the finish. If you’re willing to sacrifice glossiness for more durability, apply a quality paint sealant instead.


How to Remove Swirl Marks from Car Paint Guide

Once you have everything you need, it’s time to get started. Set aside a few hours during the weekend, don’t try to rush the process. Here are the recommended steps to effectively remove swirl marks and scratches:

1 – Tool Prep

Set aside the dual-action polisher, backing pad, and foam pads. Remove the included backing plate that’s already attached to the Porter Cable polisher, use the included wrench. Re-attached using the Astro pad, secure tightly.

2 – Wash

Wash your car by hand, preferably using the two-bucket method. Afterward, move the car into your garage or shaded area. You’ll want to be out of direct sunlight, keeping the paint as cool as possible.

3 – Clay Bar

Clay bar the entire car. If you’re unfamiliar with detailing clay, follow our guide on how to clay bar your car. Make sure to wipe down the finish afterward, keeping it as clean as possible.

4 – Compound Buffing

It’s time to get into swirl remover mode! Grab your machine polisher, the Ultimate Compound, and the orange pad. Attach the pad to the polisher using the velcro backing, make sure it’s centered. Prime the pad by dabbing 8-10 dime-sized amounts across the surface. Start working one section at a time, around 2 x 2 feet. Before you turn on the polisher, press the pad against the paint. Compound polish should be soaked within the pad, along with the paint. Press the pad against the surface, set to speed setting 2-3, and begin spreading the compound around in quick passes. Then, turn it up to 5-6 and let the fun begin. Use overlapping, slow passes. Once you’re done, wide the area clean with a microfiber towel.

5 – Inspection

Check out your results of the first section. Go over the area again if most of the swirl marks aren’t gone. If they are gone, but a light haze is present, don’t worry. The finishing polish will take care of it.

6 – Polish Buffing

Use the M205 Finishing Polish with the white pad. Follow the same steps from before. Prime the pad and rub it against the paint before turning on the polisher. Use a max speed of 3-4 with medium pressure. The Finishing Polish will take care of the rest of the haze and micro scratches. Once you’re finished with the first section, wipe clean.

7 – Inspection

Again, check out the results of the M205 Finishing Polish. It’s doubtful you’ll need more than one application, but double-check all the same. If it’s looking great, move on and finish the rest of your car.

8 – Wax

Your paint is looking great. The swirl marks are gone, leaving a bright clean finish. Apply the carnauba wax using the black foam pad. Use very light pressure, letting the pad float along with the paint. You’re just coating your car’s finish, that’s all. Wipe clean with a microfiber towel.

9 – Clean Up

You’re almost done! Make sure to wash, clean, and dry your foam pads. Caked on dry polish is hard to remove and could ruin your pads.


Maintenance 

That’s it! You’ve successfully learned how to remove swirl marks from car paint! That new car showroom shine is back and better than ever. Just reapply your favorite wax or paint sealant every so often.

Most importantly, we recommend working to prevent swirl marks in the first place. If you’re careful, there’s no need to fully correct your car’s paint again. Avoid automatic car washes like the plague – wash your car by hand, using the two-bucket method. It’ll take a little longer and it’s less convenient, but your car’s clear coat will thank you in the long run. Or, you can try using one of the best power washers for cars to clean your ride without creating swirls and scratches.

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