Swirl Marks on Car: 3 Causes and How To Get Rid of Them

on September 01, 2021

Over the years, your car tends to accumulate some of the “tough love” from the road. Your hubcaps might get a little scraped up, your headlights become hazy, your serpentine belt starts to squeal at you, and worst of all, you start to collect swirl marks. While these micro-scratches aren't immediately visible or that deep, they really bring down the shine that your car had when it first rolled off the lot. 

All swirl marks are small, circular scratches in the top layer of your car's paint job. They aren’t the worst type of scratch you could get, but over time, you can get enough that they really bring down the look of your vehicle. 

It doesn’t take much to collect them, and there are a lot of ways to get them. But knowing exactly how swirl marks end up on our cars is the best way to avoid them, and if it’s already too late for your vehicle, don’t fret: There are plenty of ways to get rid of them as well. 

 

What Causes the Swirl Marks?

Swirl marks just tend to pop up over time, but what exactly is causing them? More often than not, the culprit is cutting corners. Sometimes people don’t want to go the extra mile, and when that happens, it’s your paint job that pays for it. 

 

1. Dirty Towels

One of the biggest culprits that can cause swirl marks is dirty towels. Drying off your car after a wash with a scruffy towel seems like a safe bet, but the reality is that if there’s any dirt or dust on that towel that you’ll just be adding to the damage. 

Always make sure to wash your towels immediately after using them and properly storing them in a clean, dry bin so that when you need them, you can just reach in and confidently grab one that’s clean. 

 

2. Automated Car Washes

We won’t name any names, but you can probably think of a few automated car washes that you drive by from time to time. While advertised as low-cost, quick car washes, these drive-throughs can seem tempting sometimes. Just drive up and let the rails guide your car through and give you a little clean-up. 

If you’ve ever been in one of these, you know that they are pretty much what they offer: Quick and cheap. You don’t really get the level of cleanliness that you would if you spent the time to do so, but it works in a pinch. The real downside of these is that the machines that they use that slap your car with soap and then “wash” it off are pretty abrasive to the topcoat of your vehicle. 

Especially if you’re driving a dark-colored vehicle, try to avoid these at all costs because you will definitely collect swirl marks quickly. 

 

3. Improper Care

Taking care of your car and making sure you’re driving around the cleanest vehicle on the road is our passion at Shine Armor, but unfortunately, sometimes a small wrong move can end up being damaging instead of helpful. 

When people polish, wax, or clean their cars without following instructions, they run the risk of scratching up the surface of their car, whether it’s from using the wrong equipment or mishandling a product. 

 

How To Avoid Them

The best way to avoid swirl marks is to take the time and wash your car the way it deserves to be washed. Use a high-power car wash soap and use clean microfiber towels to really get all the dirt and muck off. Don’t opt for the automated car wash. If you’re in a pinch, take it to the professionals who know what they’re doing and have the proper equipment. 

Another great way to avoid picking up swirl marks is to make sure that your car is protected at all times. Using a ceramic coating product adds a layer to your car's paint that takes the brunt of the damages instead of the actual paint. 

Products like this create a hard shell that’s more resistant to scratches, kind of like a phone screen cover. You’d rather the cover get scratched up than the actual phone because it’s way easier to replace it. 

 

How To Get Rid of Them

In order to really get rid of swirl marks on your car, you’ll have to go through the process of paint correction. Essentially what you’re doing is removing the clear coat layer on top of your paint job, which is where the swirl marks live. Then you proceed to polish and protect the underlayer to avoid more swirl marks in the future. 

It isn’t impossible to do at home, and it’ll be way cheaper than taking it to the shop, but you will have to know what you’re doing before you get started. Paint correction done improperly is a fast way to mess up your paint, but don’t worry because we’ve got a step-by-step for you to follow. 

 

What You’ll Need

In order to properly correct your paint, you’ll need a few essential tools:

  • Electric buffer: Unless you have incredibly flexible wrists that spin, you’ll definitely want to invest in an electric buffer. You’ll be removing a layer of clear coat from your car, and you just won’t be able to get a smooth enough finish working with your hands. 

  • Buffing/Polishing pads: A buffer machine will likely come with pads, but you want to make sure that you have high-quality pads to get the best shine you can. For the first step, you’ll want buffing pads that go from gritty to fine grit, as well as polishing pads to finish the job. 

  • Microfiber towels: Before and after the process, you’ll be cleaning the car meticulously, so a set of clean microfiber towels will ensure that you can get your car as clean as possible and ready to go. 

  • Masking tape: You don’t want to scratch up any glass or plastic surfaces. Masking tape is great for protecting your windows and headlight covers.

  • Ceramic Shield: Once you’re done buffing and polishing, a strong ceramic-based sealant will ensure that your efforts will last for a few years instead of a few months. 

How To Do Paint Correction Properly

  1. First things first, wash your car. Really make sure to clear any dust or dirt hanging out because anything that clumps up onto the buffing or polishing pads will scratch the paint of your car, which is the opposite of what we want. 

  2. Next, start leveling down the topcoat by using the buffer, buffer pad, and a cutting compound. Apply a few drops of your compound to the pad and start slow and gentle, making consistent circles moving around the vehicle. It’s best to work panel-by-panel.

    Doing these steps in sections will make sure that you always have enough product on the pads and get each area to be smooth. Start with the grittier pads and switch to the finer grit on each section to make sure you’re getting as even of a coat as possible. 

  3. Once you’ve leveled down the entire car, move on to the polish. Switching pads and using a high-quality polish product, do the exact same thing by applying a few drops of polish to the pad and working in sections. Follow the curves of the car with this step and make each move intentional so that the polish goes on smoothly. 

  4. Finally, it’s time for the ceramic shield, which will protect the shine that you’ve just worked hard to get. Most products will have their own directions, so make sure to read the instructions and follow the bottle.

    Ceramic shields offer more protection than traditional wax and last significantly longer; however, you can always use a wax spray after you’ve let the ceramic shield cure for an even richer polished look. 

Advice For Getting a Clean Finish

Before you go off and try to get rid of those swirl marks, there are a few things to keep in mind. Always try to get the best products you can get your hands on. While it might be tempting to save a few bucks, inferior products can leave you worse off than when you started. Luckily high quality doesn’t always mean expensive, like our affordable and powerful ceramic shield protection coating. 

Also, when buffing or polishing, always take your time but keep moving. Never let the buffer sit anywhere for too long, or else you’ll end up overworking one spot, and the goal is to create a completely smooth finish. Maintaining a consistent and gentle speed throughout the process is key. 

Swirl marks are annoying and potentially damaging to the integrity of your car's body if left alone for too long. Paint correction is the best way to get rid of them and make sure your car looks brand new again. 

 

Sources:

Will a Car Wash Hurt Your Car’s Finish? | Family Handyman.

Do Microfiber Towels Scratch Cars? | Auto Care HQ

8 Creative Garage Storage Ideas | The Spruce

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