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How to clean car paint

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

Learn how to clean car paint before your car's finish is finished

Learn how to clean car paint before your car’s finish is finished

Details, details, details. If that phrase brings to mind a car with a bright, glossy shine to the paint, you’re probably someone who takes good care of your vehicle’s exterior finish. Professional detailing can be expensive. If you learn how to clean car paint yourself, you’ll save money, help your car hold its value and get a little exercise as well.

The first step in cleaning your car’s paint is to wash the car. Park it in a shady area, preferably not under a tree. Make sure everything you use, from sponges to buckets to drying cloths, is clean and free of any dirt – even microscopic particles can scratch the paint. Use a quality car detergent, a large bucket and a cotton or car-safe mitt.

After cleaning and rinsing the entire car, dry it completely with a 100 percent cotton cloth or a paint-safe drying towel. Don’t use microfiber cloths because they can scratch the surface.

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Now it’s time for the real paint cleaning. The stuff that makes your paint look dull and dirty is oxidation caused by the natural aging and breakdown of the paint. Bringing the life back to your car?s paint involves removing the oxidation, restoring oils back to the paint and smoothing out scratches. Stock up on high quality care car products and get ready to invest some elbow grease.


The type of product you use to clean the paint will depend on the level of oxidation and the depth of the scratches. Cleaners can be either friction or chemical. Chemical cleaners are generally petroleum based and good for removing road tar, tree sap and bug residue. Use a light touch and test in a small area to avoid paint damage.

Friction cleaners contain silicate particles that use gentle abrasion to smooth microscopic peaks and fill tiny grooves in the paint. They generally come in fine, medium or heavy-duty. Always start with fine to avoid damaging the paint. A glaze is a superfine friction cleaner that will also contain essential and lubricating oils. A glaze is an excellent product for removing mild swirls and minor scratches. A polish is a non-abrasive product that is usually chemical based and good for covering swirl marks. Unless you are a professional, avoid compounds or clay which can be difficult to use and are heavily abrasive.

Once you?ve selected your cleaner and read the directions, place a small amount on a cotton cloth or applicator and rub with moderate pressure in a linear rather than circular direction. When there?s only a slight haze left, buff the paint with a clean cotton cloth. Shake the cloth to remove grit, rotate it frequently and switch to a clean one often. Repeat the process if necessary until the oxidation, swirl or scratch is completely gone, then move on to the next spot.

Once you?ve cleaned the car?s entire painted surface and are satisfied with the gloss, wax the entire car with a good quality car wax following the same process as you did with the paint cleaner.

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If you’ve followed these suggestions to clean your car paint, your vehicle should now be shining brightly in your driveway. Unless you live in an area where your car is exposed to a lot of bugs, pollution or dirty roads, you should only need to do this once a year to keep your car’s paint in great shape.


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