How to Remove Swirl Marks

Swirl marks are nothing more than micro marring in the paint surface. Under a microscope, they appear to be scratches but you can’t feel them with your fingers or finger nail. They are very fine and, thankfully, not difficult to remove.

What Actually Causes Swirl Marks?

A high-speed buffer in the hands of a professional can do wonders on a car that has heavy oxidation or minor scratches. Body shop technicians use a high-speed buffer to blend touch-ups to perfection.

Unfortunately, many professional car detailers do not have the training or experience necessary to use the tool properly. The result is uniform buffing pad marks in the paint, commonly called paint holograms or buffer trails.

Incorrect use of a high-speed buffer is not the only cause of swirl marks. Every time you wash or wipe down your car, you create micro marring. The severity of the micro marring depends on your tools and the contaminants present.

The reason swirl marks and other micro marring show up so prominently on black and other dark colors is because the sides of the marring reflect light. When you polish, the edges are rounded and reduce reflection. This diagram shows what severe micro marring might look like in a cross section of paint.

10 most frequent causes of swirl marks:

  • Polishers/buffers with the incorrect pad or an untrained operator.
  • Harsh polishing compounds and paint cleaners.
  • Towels and applicators containing polyester threads.
  • A dirty chamois or a chamois that has not been properly maintained.
  • Wiping down a dusty or dirty car with a dry towel.
  • A dirty car duster or a car duster used on a car with too much dirt on the surface.
  • Not keeping your wash mitt or sponge properly rinsed.
  • Automated car washes with brushes and other wipers.
  • Not rinsing your car completely before washing, or not washing your car thoroughly before drying.
  • Using a car cover when the car or the cover is not clean.
Cars with Buffer Marks Look Terrible
It’s not difficult to see what the problem is here!

The most noticeable areas for swirl marks are the hood and trunk. On dark-colored cars, they might also show up on the doors and fenders.

Bright colors do not show swirl marks as much because they reflect more light. That doesn’t mean they don’t get swirl marks; they just show up more readily on dark colors. Black is the worst of all colors for displaying swirls and other imperfections.

You remove swirl marks by polishing the paint. Polishing out swirl marks without an electric car polisher is a lot of work and your results will be limited. The only good way to do it is with a dual-action car polisher.

I highly recommend the Porter Cable 7424XP. It’s an excellent car polisher and also the most reliable.

After buffing and polishing, the swirl marks and hazing are no longer visible. The paint surface also has a deep, wet look. Scott did a great job using a Porter Cable 7424 polisher, and the truck owner is very pleased.

A dual-action polisher is not the same as a high-speed buffer. They are orbital (random orbit) polishers that cannot damage your car’s paint or create more swirls.

If you’re not familiar with dual-action car polishers, see our comprehensive Car Polisher Buyer’s Guide.

It generally takes two passes to make your car’s paint look new again. On the first pass you use a fine-cut compound, like Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound.

On the second pass you use a finishing polish, like Klasse All-In-One or Meguiar’s M205 Mirror Glaze Ultra Finishing Polish to restore full gloss and a wet-look shine.

Get a Good Kit and Quit Worrying

There are some great car polisher kits, such as the Pinnacle Twins & Porter Cable 7424XP Kit or the Wolfgang Duo & Porter Cable 7424XP Kit. Both kits have all of the pads and polishes necessary to get the job done right.

Next in our Paint Repair Clinic Series: How-to Remove Clearcoat Scratches!