Swirl marks are those fine scratches on car paint that you usually don’t notice until you get up close or light hits the surface of your car at the right angle. They’re not appealing to look at but, unfortunately, they’re a fact of life for most car owners.
Swirl marks stand out the most on flat surfaces, such as the hood, roof, or trunk. On dark-colored cars, they will also show up on doors and fenders. Swirls aren’t as obvious on light-colored car paint because they reflect more light. A common misconception is that swirls are strictly circular in nature. But the fact is they can run in almost any direction – vertically, horizontally, and sideways.
What Causes Swirl Marks on Car Paint?
The answer may surprise you.
The most common cause is using a towel to dry your car after washing. Since it doesn’t
take much to scratch the clear coat on a car, using a soft, clean towel – or even a microfiber towel – doesn’t guarantee it won’t cause any swirls. If the towel has dirt or dust on it, or is a stiff old towel, you can count on creating new swirls every time.
Towels aren’t the only culprits. Virtually any kind of improper car washing or drying tools and techniques can create the microscopic scratches that show up as swirls. Some of the leading causes of swirls include
- Buffing or polishing with the wrong type of pad
- Using harsh paint cleaners or polishing compounds
- Using a dirty chamois or towels and applicators containing polyester threads
- Wiping dirt or dust off your car with a dry towel
- Using a dirty car duster
- Not rinsing your sponge often enough when washing
- Driving through an automated car wash that uses brushes and other wipers
- Failure to rinse your car completely before washing
- Not thoroughly washing your car before drying
- Placing a dirty cover over your car
Can You Prevent Swirl Marks?
The bad news is it’s impossible to completely prevent swirl marks. The good news is you can minimize them by using good car washing practices.
Start by purchasing a high-quality wash mitt and soap. Rinse every surface before washing to remove heavy dirt and debris. This will lessen the chance of contaminating your wash mitt, thereby reducing the chances of scratching the surface of your car. Wash your car using the two-bucket method – one filled with clean water and one with car wash soap. Dip your washing mitt into the soap bucket to wash your car with soapy suds. Then place it into the water bucket to rinse it thoroughly before moving on to the next area.
When drying your car, the less physical contact the better. Car wash pros recommend hosing the water off your car without using a nozzle before drying. When drying, use lubrication and a high-grade microfiber towel to minimize scratching. Many also recommend using a good cordless leaf blower, which can remove 90% of the water from the surface of your car with no physical contact.
Surprisingly, waxing can also cause swirling if the application involves a lot of rubbing, scrubbing, and wiping off, as with standard car waxes. Instead, use a spray wax and gently wipe off with a clean microfiber towel.
Can Swirl Marks Be Removed?
There’s only way to remove swirl marks from car paint, and that’s to polish the paint with a buffer. You can buy products that will temporarily cover up swirl marks, but they don’t last very long and require frequent application. When buffing, use a minimally abrasive polisher and buffing pad, otherwise you can make the scratches worse than they already are. After buffing, the surface of your car should look and feel silky and glossy. Carefully apply a coat of wax, using a microfiber towel to wipe off the wax, and you’re done.
Removing the microscopic scratches that cause swirls may sound simple. But like many DIY car fixes, in most cases it is better left to the professionals. Car paint is very easy to damage, and if you use the wrong cleaning and buffing materials, or don’t have the patience to take the time to do it right, you can end up making the swirls worse or causing other damage to the paint.
If you’re tired of looking at swirls on your car, bring it to the paint specialists at your nearest Fix Auto location. We’ll have your car swirl-free promptly and professionally.