Beginners Car Polishing Guide – How to Remove Swirl Marks!
As some of the regular readers of my blog will know, I recently bought a new ( to me ) car. If not you can read about it on a previous post here.
This was a dream car for me which I found in the exact spec that I was looking for ( albeit it was a long wait to find the perfect one ). This car was second hand with one previous owner. As with any second-hand car, the paintwork is not always in 100% perfect condition. This can be down to previous owners not using the correct washing and drying methods when maintaining their car.
Me being VERY particular about my cars paintwork, it was time for me to put in some time to get my cars paint back to a standard I am happy with. To the everyday person and the untrained eye, the paint looks to be in great condition and it is really hard to tell under natural lighting conditions that there are any issues.
The main problem I am seeing with my TTRS paintwork is light swirling covering the car.
Just as an example, here is the same spot ( the rear wing ) of the car under different lighting conditions.
It’s amazing what the correct lighting will show up on the car’s paintwork. It looks like a completely different car/colour.
Here is another example of Swirling and minor scratches on the roof of the car. Nasty right? If your car looks like this and you want to get it back to a super polished and swirl-free finish, you can follow my beginners guide for removing swirls below.
Beginners Car Polishing Guide – How to Remove Swirls from Your Paint!
The process of removing swirl marks from a car’s paintwork is actually quite a straightforward job, that I believe anyone can do matter how much experience you have in detailing. It is also quite rewarding and you feel a sense of accomplishment once complete.
You can take pride that you are single-handedly responsible for your car looking as good as it does once you have finished.
Broken down to its most basic steps, the process for a beginner to polish a car is as follows
1.Deep Clean and Remove Contaminants from the Surface of the Car
Before you go anywhere near your cars paint with a polisher, you need to make sure the surface of the car is completely free of any contaminants such as tar or road grime. I will go into this step in more detail below but the products you will need are as follows
- A Good Wash Mitt
- Car Shampoo
- Clay Bar
- Iron/Fallout Remover
- Bug and Tar Remover ( May not be necessary depending on the cars current condition )
- A Microfiber Drying Towel
2.Remove Swirls and Defects Using a Compound/Polish
- Machine Polisher ( DA Polisher Preferred for Beginners )
- You Can find some of my recommendations for machine polishers HERE
- Compound and or Polish ( Depending on the severity of the Defects )
- Cutting/Polishing Pads
- Microfiber Buffing Cloths
- Masking Tape ( Not 100% Necessary but preferred )
3.Protect The Car Using A Wax, Sealant or Coating of Your Choice
- Pick a good quality sealant/wax/coating to protect your swirl-free finish
Some professional detailers may say you need a few more steps or products to get the job done ( For example Snowing Foaming the Car in the Prep Stage ) While these are more “Nice to Haves” they are not 100% Necessary as you are going to be following up with a Polishing step afterwards. In my opinion, the more time you can spend with the polishing machine the better the results will be. As much as I want to tell you that it is a quick process, unfortunately, it’s not. Depending on the size of your car, you may want to dedicate 1-2 full days to complete the swirl removal process completely, depending on the severity of the swirls in your car’s paint.
Ok, so you have the products required? Let’s get into the detail of the swirl removal and polishing steps.
Recommended Reading – What is the best car polisher for beginners?
Step 1 – Preparing the car for Polishing
The very first step you must complete before you can start machine polishing your car is a full wash and decontamination of the paintwork. This step is extremely important as your car must be free from all contaminants before you begin.
Be sure to thoroughly clean the vehicle to remove any dirt, debris, bugs, leaves, etc. All of this gets in the way of polishing, and if there’s any dirt or debris left on the surface, it can get caught in the pad while polishing and you could risk doing more damage than good.
1.1 Start by rinsing your car with water. Next, you should work your way around the car with a good quality iron remover such as Iron X or Iron Out and Spray it on any areas you feel need to be treated – this will help remove all of the fallout from your cars paintwork.
You will see this working as the product will react with the iron particles and start to “Bleed”. You should then rinse the car again before moving to the next step.
1.2 It’s now time to move on to the next stage of paint decontamination which is claying. This will remove any embedded contaminants in the paintwork. Detailing clay is specifically designed to glide effortlessly over the surface of your cars paint and grab anything that protrudes from the surface. The particles that it glides over stick to the clay bar and is then removed from your vehicle. By washing alone, these particles will not be removed from paintwork. If you are unsure of how to clay your car you can jump to my guide here
1.3 Once you have completed the fallout and clay removal steps you should move on to a full handwash of the car using a good quality car shampoo. The one I tend to recommend to people is G-Wash by Gtechniq, as I find it gives great lubrication over the car’s paintwork as you are washing.
Pay close attention when you are washing the car and make sure you remove all dirt from the surface. Once you have worked your way around the car with the wash mitt, you can then rinse the car a final time.
1.4 Once you have the wash stage complete, proceed to dry the car using a good quality microfiber towel. You want the care to be totally dry before beginning the polishing step.
Step 2 – Polish The Car Remove Swirls and Defects
There are several different approaches you can take when trying to remove swirl marks from your car. Generally, for light to moderate swirls, you can choose to do either a 1 Step or a 2 step correction. ( Depending on the severity of the defects )
What is the difference between a 1 step and a 2 step correction?
- 1 Step = Using only 1 Polish/Compound and 1 Type of Pad.
- 2 Step = Using 1 Heavier Cutting Compound + Pad on the initial correction of the paint, and following up with the Second Step of Refining with a Polish & Polishing Pad. ( This can usually achieve better results, but can take a lot longer to complete )
Sometimes you can achieve the correction results you want with one polishing step, but most times, for more severe corrections, it takes two steps. It is one of those things you cannot be certain of until you do it.
If you are not sure what type of pad to use on your car while polishing, I have written a full guide on Hex-Logic Pads HERE
Due to the paint of my TTRS not being in too bad of a condition, I have chosen to go for a 1 Step Correction Using a Medium ( Orange ) Hex Logic Pad, paired with Menzerna 400 Compound ( Formerly Fast Gloss ). The Beauty of Menzerna 400 is that it combines the cutting power of a heavy compound but has the ability to finish with a very high level of gloss. This, in my opinion, is one of the best 1 Step Combinations you can go for and is definitely what I would recommend to most people undertaking light to moderate swirl removal who want to do it in a reasonably short space of time.
2.1 The first thing I usually do before starting to polish a car is to get some masking tape and cover up any areas you do not want to get polish residue on, such as plastic bits or glass trims. The white residue is a pain in the ass to remove afterwards, so you are best covering these before you begin! Believe me, you will thank me later!
2.2 For the first use of a polishing pad I tend to put a bit extra polish on the pad to prime the pad. I don’t like the idea of a dry pad spinning on the paintwork, so I tend to use a bit extra before coming into contact with the paint for the first couple of passes. Before I would even consider turning on the polisher, I will always spread it out on the paintwork first, this will minimize the spatter and the sling of the polish.
NOTE! : Do not EVER switch the polisher on when you have polish on the pad and you are not in contact with the paint. This is one sure way to cover yourself and the surrounding area in polish!!!
2.3 Place the polisher on the paint and set it to a speed of 1 and start spreading the polish around the area you intend to work on. I tend to work in a 2 ft. x 2 ft area of the paint at a time. Most people who are not too experienced tend to try work in very large areas at a time, which does not tend to give great results.
You need to let the Compound/Polish do its thing, so you should be working very slowly and making multiple passes over the same area of paint. To achieve the best result, I usually set the polisher to a speed setting of 3 of 4, as this tends to be the best speed for correction ( Don’t make the mistake of cranking it up as high as it will go straight away, more speed does not mean better results )
Another mistake I have seen people make is to use too much downwards pressure on the polisher. For the best correction results, the polisher must be spinning freely on the paint, so only very little pressure is needed. ( On areas like the bonnet or roof, I tend to leave the polish work almost under its own weight )
2.4 Once you have made multiple passes over the same area using a speed setting of 3 or 4, you can then begin to increase the speed of the polisher. I find that this helps the refining stage of a 1 step procedure until the compound is completely broken down. Once you are happy that the polish has done its job, you can buff off the remainder with a microfiber towel or buffing cloth. This will remove any of the remaining residues on the car’s paint.
If like me, you don’t have a fancy detailing studio you can use something like an LED torch to check how the paint is looking after you have finished a section. This will help you somewhat in identifying any remaining swirls or spots you may have missed. This is definitely a handy tool to carry along with you as you progress around the car.
As I was working my way around the car, I noticed a fairly big scratch that I had not seen before and I was fairly shocked. How could I not have spotted this! However, I had full confidence in the Menzerna 400 and the Orange Pad and I knew that it wouldn’t pose much of a problem for the combo. The below two pictures will give you an idea of how good a 1 step polish can be. A couple of passes and the scratch was almost completely invisible.
Pretty Impressive huh? Here is a shot of when I had finished the rear quarter panel, drivers door and half of the roof. You can tell straight away that there is a noticeably deeper gloss to the car’s paintwork. Any bit of light or reflection is just popping. Not bad for some quick work with 1 Polish and 1 Pad eh?
2.5 Continue to work your way around the car in 2 ft. x 2 ft areas, reviewing your work regularly with an LED torch to check if you have removed the swirling from the paintwork. ( Always buff off any remaining polish from the section you are working on, so that you can get a clear view of the paint ) I find it is better to work in overlapping motions as the below diagram shows, it will help to ensure that you do not miss any spot.
As I worked around the car – I could definitely see a noticeable improvement in the gloss of the car and the amount that the paint “Popped”. Under inspection with the light, it was also much better.
This is how it was looking under direct light.
So Far so good! As Darkness was approaching I finished up the polishing process and got ready to apply some protection.
Step 3 – Protect The Car Using A Wax, Sealant or Coating of Your Choice
After spending so much time with the machine polisher removing the swirls, you will want to protect your hard work using a quality sealant, wax or coating. This will help you to maintain your shiny finish while also protecting the paintwork against the elements.
I plan to apply some sort of Ceramic Coating to this car eventually, once I am 100% happy with the paint condition. Until then I am going to use something more short term, as I did not have a whole lot of time left in the weekend after this swirl removal.
For this application, I decided to try out a new ( to me ) product from Gyeon Quartz, called Wet Coat. This is a superhydrophobic coating which should repel water and add protection for up to 3 months. One of the reasons for choosing this in this application was how quickly I could apply it to the car. I was able to add this layer of protection in the space of 15 minutes which was ideal.
I will be posting a full review of this product soon, although I am initially very impressed with the results!
All in all, it was a weekend well spent. For anyone wondering how long it took to remove the majority of swirling from my car, I would estimate it took me between 10-12 Hours Split over 2 Days of the weekend. ( This included all the prep work and decontamination ).
To me, it was worth every minute as I am much happier with the cars finish as it is now. It is not 100%, but it is a massive improvement over its previous condition.
I can now enjoy the car even more, and not worry about seeing the car under unflattering lighting conditions! I think the overall gloss of the vehicle is greatly enhanced also.
Here some pictures when the swirl removal was fully completed and the paint was protected.
Step 4 ( Bonus Step ) – Keep your Car Swirl Free
Now that you have gone to the effort of removing these defects from your paintwork, you should try to keep your car free from dreaded swirl marks in the future.
Some Tips to Achieve this
- Use a proper wash mitt and not a cheap sponge
- Use a Safe Car Drying Technique with a quality microfiber towel
- Wash using a two bucket method, and incorporate a grit guard into your wash buckets
- Never Dry Wipe your car without using some lubrication ( such as a quick detailer )
There you have it, these are the basic steps you need to know for removing swirl marks from your car’s paint, and keeping it swirl free. If you have any questions please reach out to me in the comments or via email and I will do my best to answer them for you. To wrap up – here are some basic tips for Polishing your Car
Car Polishing Tips for Beginners
- Apply the polish first by placing a sufficient amount on the pad and then spreading it onto the car’s finish before turning the polisher on. Turning the buffer on with a large wad of polish on the pad will send the polish flying ( I learned this the hard way )
- Work in small 2ft X 2ft Sections.
- Tape off sensitive areas so you will not cover them in polish residue
- Keep an eye on your work using an LED light source ( Torch or similar is fine )
- Make sure that you keep the pad level to ensure that even pressure is applied ( Don’t use too much pressure, as this will not give you optimal results )
- Buff the polished section until it’s clear, but stop before the polish dries
- Sling the buffer’s cord over your shoulder to keep it away from the car’s finish – you don’t want to be scratching the car at the same time you are fixing another section.
- As the buffer is running, keep it in contact with the car’s surface and turn it off before lifting it up
- Never allow the pad to come in contact with the ground. Even a single grain of dirt that’s left on the pad can leave scratches on your car’s finish. If the pad does touch the ground, replace it or wash it thoroughly, no matter how clean it looks.
- Clean your pads in between panels, as they will begin to gunk up with polish residue. This will diminish the effectiveness of the pad so it is important to keep it clean for best results
Until Next Time,
About the Author – Darren O Hara
Darren is the founder of the DriveDetailed blog and is a keen detailing enthusiast living in the rainy south of Ireland. When he is not cleaning his car he is always researching ways he can improve his techniques and enjoys testing out out new products.
Darren currently drives an Audi TTRS and is a big fan of performance cars.
You can follow Darren on Instagram @darrenoharacork
39 thoughts on “Beginners Car Polishing Guide – How to Remove Swirl Marks!”
It was a very definitive guide Thanks.
No problem , hopefully some will find it useful 🙂
Wow Great washing and drying methods when maintaining their car.I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.
No prob , thanks for reading!
Hi Darren. I find this definitive and helpful guide for washing and drying a car. I don’t know much if all the car washing, drying and polishing products are available always in the market. Do you have any recommendations if ever there’s an unavailability of them or an alternative for those products you recommend? Thanks!
Thanks for your sharing. I always wash my car clean and carefully, use the suitable car wash soap, sure. Then I polish it and wax it. My tip is do not wash the car under the direct sunlight and make sure let the car totally dry after washing.
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Hi Darren, thanks much for detailed write up. So useful for a beginner like me. May I ask any recommended product which can remove swirls. Not sure you mentioned one in the post. Thanks much in advance.
Hi Zaw – if i remember correctly for this guide i used Menzerna 400
You mentioned about Menzerna 400. I misread it. Thanks for your reply.