What causes paint swirl marks and micro scratches?

What causes paint swirl marks and micro scratches?

Shiny vs. clean black paint swirl marks

Most people use the word “shiny” when describing a clean looking vehicle. As do I. But the thing is clean does not necessarily “shiny”. Many vehicle owners find that over time the paint on their vehicle looks less shiny and duller. The fact of the matter is that this happens to almost all vehicles unless they are kept inside a show room where no one is allowed to touch them.  This is referred to as swirl marks. 


Modern paint is a 2-stage paint. It is made up of a layer base color, which is the color of the vehicle that you see. The top layer is the clear coat. This is the layer we feel when we touch the paint. This is also the layer in which most minor scratches are found. Most of these micro scratches or swirl marks can be removed through the paint correction process or buffing and polishing. 

 car paint layers swirl marks

Causes of paint swirl marks 

It is true that some micro scratches are unavoidable if you are actually using your car.  

The most common cause of swirl marks is improper care and washing of the vehicle’s painted surfaces. 

The major factors that can contribute to swirl marks while washing are: 

  • Improper Rinsing (not rinsing completely before washing) 
  • No/Not enough lubrication from soap or other cleaning chemicals 
  • Wrong washing tools (stiff brushes, hard sponges, etc.) 
  • Dirty wash mitt, chamois, sponges, etc. 
  • Misuse of polishers/buffers and/or pads 
  • Dusting/wiping with rag or duster on dry car 
  • Not washing your car thoroughly before drying 
  • Automatic car washes with outdated brushes and other wipers 
  • Automatic car washes with poorly maintained brushes 
  • Using a car cover when the car or the cover is not clean


How to remedy swirl marks? 

It’s possible to correct most swirl marks through the process of paint correction. With the proper use of paint correction tools and compounds the clear coat layer can be smoothed out to bring back a mirror like finish. It is always easier to maintain a paint surface then spend the extra time or money to repair it once its damaged.  

by Chris Blaisdell, CD, Onsite Detail

How often should you have your vehicle detailed?

How often should you have your vehicle detailed?

The average vehicle 

For the average vehicle, a detail at the very least, once a year is recommended. I would actually recommend getting a car detail 2 to 6 times a year. We have many clients who get a detail done every month to keep their vehicle(s) to where they want them to be. This would be a very in-depth interior and exterior cleaning and protection. Most of the vehicles we see have gone way too long without proper care and can no longer be detailed back to their former glory. Besides a deep cleaning and protection, a vehicle requires regular maintenance washing and cleaning with a regular protection application of wax or paint sealant to stay in “like new” conditional as much as possible. Even ceramic coated vehicles need the proper care to avoid damage and problems. 

Other things to consider 

Other things that affect how often a vehicle should be detailed are, but not limited to; 

Tundra Detailed Utah Onsite Detail

Tundra Detailed Utah Onsite Detail

  • How much the vehicle is being used. 
  • What it is being used for. (work, racing, hauling kids around, etc.) 
  • What kind of vehicle it is. (daily driver, classic, exotic, etc.). 
  • If pets are allowed in the vehicle or not. 
  • Where the vehicle is parked. 
  • Climate the vehicle sees or what weather conditions it goes through. 
  • Age of the vehicle. 
  • Personal cleanliness preferences. 
  • Other personal preferences. 

Using a vehicle as a daily driver or a work truck will mean that detailing is needed more frequently to keep it in its best condition possible. 

Weather will also play a role in how clean or dirty a vehicle gets. During winter months in Utah salt is used on the roads to melt ice and keeps roads safe. Unfortunately, this salt will also stick to vehicles and begin to eat away at the paint and other services. The vehicle that goes through this should actually be washed and protected more often in the winter than in the warmer time of the year. 

Many people just prefer driving in a clean car and not having to deal with a mess.  

Annual Detailing Packages 

Many people like to have their vehicle scheduled for regular detail services. That takes the hassle out of trying to get it done when you are busy with life or just waiting until damage has occurred. 

Check out our annual detailing packages to see what we can do for you. 


By Chris Blaisdell, CD, from Onsite Detail