get a lot of questions from people regarding water spots and swirl marks.
Water spots and swirl marks are different problems, but most often the
solution is the same: polish the paint. I'll address each problem
The same water we use to bathe our cars can also
damage our cars' paint. The spots and damage are caused by the
minerals in the water. When water evaporates off of your car's
paint, it leaves behind the trace elements it contains. Calcium and
metals are the most damaging elements found in your tap water, whereas
rainwater may contain damaging acids from air pollutants.
Avoiding water spots is easy if you chase after them. The best
solution is to use a quick
detailing spray after you wash, or as soon as you discover the spots
(i.e., when your neighbor's sprinkler gets you).
If the spots are allowed to dry and bake on, they will attach to and
harden on your paint. When this happens, you need to use a mild acid
to get them loose. Believe it or not, the best acid is also the
least expensive and most available: a gallon jug of distilled white
Expert car detailers have known this secret for years. If you take
your car to a pro, they will tell you about the "magic acid
bath" and charge you $60 or more for the pleasure of smelling like a
pickle. Save the $60, put on some gloves, and get to it.
To give your car the magic acid bath, first wash your car with your normal
car shampoo, rinse, then use the distilled vinegar. Just wipe it on
with a sponge, and rub it in. Do one section at a time, let it sit
30 to 60 seconds, then rinse. When you're done, wash the car again
with shampoo and rinse. By the way, vinegar will remove your wax.
So, be prepared to re-wax your car after the vinegar treatment.
|Sprinklers showered this car
with hard water. The car sat in the sun for several days
causing the hard water deposits to harden. Vinegar will
remove the spots from the aluminum bumper, plastic tail lights and
rubber trim, but the paint will need to be polished and buffed
with a buffer.
If water spots are allowed to stay for more than a
week or so, the minerals will etch the paint. In this case, using
vinegar will remove the mineral spots, but the paint will have etched
spots (dimples). In this case, it is necessary to use a medium
cut polish (if you have a polisher) or a fine
cut polishing compound (for use by hand) to restore the paint surface.
A buffer in the hands of a pro can do wonders on a car
that has heavy oxidation or minor scratches. Most body shops can use
a buffer to blend touch-ups to perfection. Unfortunately, many
detail shops and buffer owners don't know how to use the tool, or they use
the wrong buffing pads or compounds.
Swirl marks are nothing more than micro-marring in
the paint surface. Under a microscope they appear to be a scratch;
however, you cannot feel the scratch with your fingers or finger nail.
reason swirl marks and other micro marring show up so prominently
on black and other dark colors is because the sides of the marring
reflect light. When you polish, the edges are rounded and
diagram shows what severe micro marring might look like in a cross
section of paint.
Incorrect use of a buffer or polisher is not the
only cause of swirl marks. Every time you wash or wipe down your car
you create micro-marring. The severity of the micro-marring depends
on your tools and the contaminants present. Here are the ten most
frequent causes of micro-marring (swirl marks):
- Polishers/buffers with the incorrect pad or an
- Harsh polishing compounds and paint cleaners;
- Towels and applicators containing polyester
- A dirty chamois or a chamois that has not been
- Wiping down a dusty or dirty car with a dry
- A dirty car duster or a car duster used on a car
with too much dirt on the surface;
- Not keeping your wash mitt or sponge properly
- Automated car washes with brushes and other
- Not rinsing your car completely before washing,
or not washing your car thoroughly before drying; and
- Using a car cover when the car or the cover is
The most noticeable area for swirl marks is the
hood and trunk. On dark-colored cars, they might also show up on the
doors and fenders. Bright colors do not show swirl marks as well
because they reflect more light. That doesn't mean they don't get
swirl marks, they just show up more readily on dark colors. Black,
of course, is the worst of all colors for displaying swirls and other
This picture, taken
by Scott Borders prior to detailing, clearly shows buffing
marks and other micro marring created by an inexperienced
dealership detailer with a buffer. No doubt the Ford
truck looked great when the owner took it home, because
most buffer jockeys use a high gloss wax that temporarily
fills the buffing marks and other minor scratches.
|After buffing and
polishing, the swirl marks and hazing are no longer
visible, and the paint surface has a deep, wet look.
Scott did a great job, and the truck owner is very
Swirl marks can be removed by polishing.
Polishing out swirl marks without a buffer is a lot of work. I
recommend polishing your car one small section at a time so you can see
To remove swirl marks, use a good medium
cut polish. Many polish manufacturers market a special polish
for removing swirls. Swirl remover polish formulas typically contain
fillers and oils to help hide swirl marks. Over time, with regular
polishing, swirl marks will diminish. It's very difficult to
completely remove swirl marks. Even the best towels and wash tools
cause some micro-marring.
POLISHING TO REMOVE SPOTS & SWIRLS
If your water spots or swirl marks are severe, I recommend using a product
like Sonus Restore
(SFX-1) or Autoglym
Paint Renovator Follow the application of a fine rubbing
compound with a good polish, such as Sonus
Enhance (SFX-2). Use a good foam
applicator pad to apply polishes by hand. Use a dual-action
polisher to apply polishes by machine.
To keep water spots to a minimum, try using a detailing spray after you
wash. You can also use the detailing spray to wipe away water spots
To keep swirl marks to a minimum, make sure you
have good wash and dry tools. Never wipe, rub or polish in circles
(straight line motions only), and be very careful with the use of buffers
and polishers. If you have repair work done on your car, tell the
painter you want a warranty against swirl marks. This lets them know
you're clued in to a quality job.
Regular polishing is the best way to remove water
spots and swirl marks. Choose a good polish, good tools, and be