How to Remove Swirl Marks from Car Paint

how to buff and remove swirl mark

One thing that makes a car unpleasant to look at are swirl marks. No matter how expensive or classic the car is, if there are swirl marks on it, it just diminishes the entire look and appeal.

As a car owner, knowing how to buff and remove swirl marks from your car paint is easy when you have the right guide to help you.

As you go along this guide, you’ll discover what swirl marks are, how they form so you can prevent them, and how to remove them by hand and using a machine polisher. Let’s get started!

What are Swirl Marks and What Causes Them?

Swirl marks are the aftermath of improper washing and drying methods. These super fine scratches, or round marks on the car’s paint, appear when you wipe your car with a dry dusty towel. 

You don’t usually notice these microscopic scratches until you see them up close or perhaps sunlight hits the surface of your car.

When left untreated over a period of time, it can cause significant deterioration on the surface of your car’s paintwork. Simply washing and waxing your car won’t get rid of these micro-scratches. You’ll need to have it buffed and polished to restore your car’s clear coat.

How to prevent swirl marks on car?

The best way to prevent, if not lessen, the appearance of swirl marks on your car is to practice good car washing methods. Here are some tips you can easily remember next time you wash your own car.

Tip #1 

Always pre-rinse your car before using sponges or wash mitts with car shampoo to remove dirt and grime. Removing as much dirt from your paintwork as possible ensures that there are no tiny dust or dirt that can scratch your paintwork when you use the wash mitt.

Tip #2 

Use the two-bucket method. Use one bucket for your cleaning solution and the other bucket with clean water for rinsing your wash mitts. Using this method will ensure that your mitts will not pick up any dirt from the shampoo bucket as you rinse with every use.

Tip #3 –

Start cleaning the wheels and work your way up. To avoid splashing dirt and grime back to your clean paintwork, clean your dirty wheels first before working on the panels. Once the wheels are done, you can clean other areas of the car.

Tip #4 –

Always make sure your tools are clean. Use only new or clean microfiber towels and wash mitts. Using unwashed towels or used wash mitts can cause micro scratches on your paintwork which you’ll only notice after washing the car.

How to Buff and Remove Swirl Marks

Now that you know what swirl marks are, what causes them and how to prevent them, it’s time to learn how to remove them from your car paint.

Here’s a step-by-step process you can easily do on your own. But first, you’ll need to have the right tools.

What You’ll Need:

  • Buffer/polishing machine
  • Mild Cleaning Solution / Car Shampoo
  • Wash Mitt
  • Clay Lube
  • Reusable Clay Pad
  • Microfiber Towels
  • 2 buckets
  • Grit guards (optional)

Step 1 - Wash your car as thoroughly as possible

Use a hose or pressure washer to pre-rinse and remove all the dirt and contaminants on your car’s surface. This will prevent the formation of any more swirl marks on your paintjob.

Next, use the two-bucket method to wash, clean, and dry your car. Use a mild car washing soap or any cleaning solution and start with your wheels, which is the dirtiest part of the car.

Work your way around and on top of your car, especially where swirl marks are most common. Rinse thoroughly to remove excess soap and then dry with a clean microfiber towel. Take care to not scratch your car while washing it.

Step 2 - Use a clay bar to decontaminate your vehicle

using clay bar on car

Washing your car helps eliminate dirt and dust on the surface but for bonded contaminants like iron fallout from brake dust and construction sites, you’ll have to use a clay bar.

The clay bar is a soft, malleable substance that can pick up any bonded contaminants stuck on your car’s surface without damaging your paint. If you’re not familiar with using a clay bar, get expert help to avoid any further damage to the paint.

Remember to work in small sections and carefully spray clay lubricant as you go along. Apply light pressure when using the clay and make sure to rinse properly after claying. Finish it off and dry it with a clean microfiber towel.

Step 3 - Polish your car

Your car paint should look and feel smooth after using a clay bar which means it’s ready to be polished. This will give your car paint a nice shine and remove any remaining swirl marks for good.

Use a clean applicator pad on your polisher and start polishing from the top down. Work in small circles with an increasing pressure to avoid damage and completely remove swirl marks.

Step 4 - Buff your car to work the polish into the paint

After thoroughly polishing your car, buff your car and work the polish into the paint. This will give your car paint a nice and smooth finish, and leave it looking new.

Using a buffing machine is more convenient and effective. Use a polishing compound on the polishing pad and move the machine around one inch per second. Work on small sections and make several passes before moving on to the next.

If you are not confident in using a buffer machine, hire a professional to polish and buff your car. If not handled well, your car’s paintwork might be damaged and this can be quite an expensive trouble down the line.

You can also buff your car by hand using a clean microfiber towel and elbow grease. Don’t let the polish fully dry after applying it on your car’s paint. Wipe the excess polish with a clean microfiber towel and buff your car until you see a glossy finish.

Check the surface for swirl marks and if you still see some, polish and buff again. Repeat the process in all areas until you get a glossy, glimmering finish.

Step 5 - Finish off with wax.

Applying a coat of protection can help strengthen your car surface and protect your paint from dirt and debris.

Use a clean microfiber towel or pad to apply wax. Apply it in small, circular motions and remove the excess with a clean microfiber towel.

It’s advisable to wax your car in an enclosed space. However, if you do not have a large enough shade for your car, you can apply car wax properly even without shade


The quickest and most effective method to buff and remove swirl marks from your car paint is by using a machine polisher. First, rinse the car to get rid of any contaminants before applying a scratch and swirl remover in the area.

Start buffing in a circular overlapping motion with a light to medium pressure and then wipe off the excess residue with a clean microfiber towel. Repeat the process until complete.

Now that you know how to buff and remove swirl marks on your car paint, it’s time to get moving. It’s always more convenient and effective to use a machine polisher or buffer. But you can always do it by hand.

If you’re not confident of using a machine polisher or generally polishing and buffing your car on your own, you can always count on River Islands Car Salon to do it for you.

Hiring an expert car detailing service can help you save time plus you’ll always be sure that the quality is top notch. Take the first step towards a clean and brand new-looking car and contact us today!

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