What causes swirl marks?

January 24, 2016 William Russell

Swirl marks in your paint can look terrible

Swirls, spider webs, webbing, and marring are all ways of explaining those unsightly marks in your paint. A perfectly clean car can look horrible under sunlight or even street lamps when covered in these swirls. 99% of the cars on the road suffer from them and you might even be one of those people driving a swirled up car. But what causes these unattractive lines in your paint?

What are swirl marks?

Swirls are scratches

Swirls are just fine scratches in all different directions reflecting back to your eyes in the shape or angle of the light hitting them.  Swirls can run vertically, horizontally, sidewaysally, and all over the place.  Anything can scratch the surface of your clearcoat if rubbed too aggressively. Even microfiber towels can cause some light marring. This is why sometimes cars can still get swirled when using what one would consider 'proper techniques.'   

Pro Tip: Some people believe swirls are from circular motions. But in reality this is just a wives tale. They are caused from multiple different scratches from all different angles. Circular motion scratches are harder to remove so wiping from side to side is recommended. But circular motion is not the direct cause if swirls but rather improper washing, tools, and products.


How to prevent swirls

It's not easy to prevent swirls on some more delicate clear coats. Cars with generally softer clear coats are more prone to swirling. Colors such as deep black with no flake or pearl can make the swirls more pronounced than a color like light silver which will mask the defects. Many times it's not the color that causes the likelihood of scratching but rather some colors mask the defects that are there better than others.

But it is possible to prevent scratching your car, but it takes responsibility and diligence. Below we will outline a few basic tips to follow when detailing your car.

More tips to prevent swirling

When Washing your car, first start by prerinsing every panel to loosen and remove heavy debris. This will lessen the chance of getting heavy contamination on your wash mitt, which will then be less likely to scratch (swirl).  Also follow the two bucket wash method, which is outlined more thoroughly here in this beginners guide to detailing. Lastly, we recommend using a high quality wash mitt and lubricating soap. Keep the wash mitt clean and always keep the panel lubricated with soap. Our wash, clay, and wax box will cover all your bases for this.

Pro Tip: Unlike what some websites teach... Suds don't mean lubrication, you want more thick soap solution than suds. Suds are actually air bubbles and provide LESS lubrication.


When Claying

Always work on a clean surface, with a clean clay medium, with a high quality lubricant. This is absolutely crucial as claying your car does mar and swirl, always, even the slightest bit. I personally prefer to use a clean and warmed up Clay Towel like the Nanoskin Fine Grade clay towel and lubricated with Nanoskin Glide for cars I am polishing and Nanoskin Shock for quick and easy layer of sealant that is applied while claying! Nanoskin Shock was featured in our It's Better Waxed February Monthly Detailer's Box.

When Drying

Use lubrication and a high grade microfiber towel. This will prevent scratching if you missed a spot, which you might not notice until it's too late. I also recommend using a good cordless leaf blower to quite literally blow 90% of the water off the vehicle with no physical contact. The less physical contact, the less likely it is to swirl your car. If you clayed your car with Nanoskin Shock, the water will bead off so aggressively that you will pretty much completely dry the car with just air. Prior to drying, it is recommended to first 'sheet' the water off of the surface by rinsing the panels down with no nozzle on your hose. This will let gravity pull the water down making drying even easier.

When Waxing

Try to use a product that limits the amount of rubbing, scrubbing, and wiping off you have to do. The less contact, the less swirling. If we use a product like CarPro Reload that is found in this wash, clay, wax box. You can simply apply like a spray wax, spraying on the towel, wiping into the surface, then buffing off gently. No curing, no waiting, no hard wax to try to buff off. There are plenty of awesome products that last months with simple applications. We featured Micro Detailer Spray Wax a few months ago and it's as easy as spray on, wipe off. The less contact, the less swirling. And ALWAYS use high quality, clean and fresh microfiber towels like these edgeless towels we stock that help reduce scratching from stitched in edges.



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