Taking away that chore of having to wax a vehicle every 6 to 12 months has given every car lover a reason to celebrate ceramic coatings. However, how to remove ceramic coating from your vehicle when it fails or has been installed incorrectly can quickly turn this miracle product into a nightmare product.
Thankfully, with the right tools and a little bit of elbow grease your vehicle can be looking great again and have you holding the title of “Nicest car in the neighbourhood” once again.
Is It Possible To Remove Ceramic Coating?
Ceramic coatings are a relatively new technology that creates an almost maintenance free paint finish. The chemical compound inside of the nano ceramic coatings creates a surface that bonds to the porous surface of a vehicle’s clear coat.
Once it cures it creates a hard layer of protection that prevents things such as bird droppings, fall out (no, not nuclear), and even light scratches from damaging the vehicle’s finish.
This allows your vehicle to look great day after day.
Even the cheapest ceramic coatings will protect your vehicles for at least 12 months before they need to be reapplied. There are other reasons that a ceramic coating may need to be removed before then.
How To Test A Ceramic Coating
Because ceramic coatings are difficult to remove and do not come off with soap and water it is important to know if the ceramic coating has failed.
You can test the ceramic coatings with a few methods. Some of these methods require experience and proper lighting so if you have any doubts, see a qualified detailing professional for assistance.
Is The Surface Hydrophobic
The surface of a ceramic coating has a high level of hydrophobic qualities. Hydrophobic is a term that is used to describe the properties of a ceramic coating. It means that a substance has the ability to repel water.
In basic terms, does the water bead up and run off the painted surface.
You can test this with a simple cup of water. Pour the water onto the painted surface, watch what the water does. Does it bead up and roll off, or does it spread out and stick to the surfaces.
If it does not bead up and roll off the ceramic coating is losing its ability to protect painted surfaces.
How Does The Surface Feel
This test requires some experience in understanding what a coated paint surface feels like. Running the back of your hand down the painted surface, does it feel slick or slippery to your hand.
If it feels rough in some spots and slick in others it means that the ceramic coating has failed in those portions and it will need to be reapplied.
How Does The Surface Look
This step requires proper lighting to get an accurate idea of the car’s ceramic coating quality. Grab a good light and shine it on your vehicle’s finish. By varying the level and angle that your eyes run down the surface of the body, note the following:
Does the appearance of the surface change? If there is a change in the shine of the paint it indicates that the coating is deteriorating and may need to be removed and re-coated.
Reasons To Remove A Ceramic Coating
Paint coatings do not last forever it can be hard to know how long ceramic coatings last. One thing is for sure, it will fail at some point during a vehicle’s life. There are some things that can happen that cause the lifespan of the ceramic coating to decrease. Let’s take a look at the more common reasons for a ceramic coating needing to be replaced early.
Ceramic Coating Failure
Depending on the ceramic coating that is installed failure can occur. Failure generally occurs due to improper installation but there are a few other reasons that can cause failure to occur.
Symptoms of a ceramic coating failure:
- Peeling of the ceramic coating surface
- Physical damage to the vehicle (Can cause the coating to peel)
- Water no longer beads
Improper Ceramic Coating Installation
Proper vehicle preparation is key to ensuring a long ceramic coating lifespan. With the spread of many do-it-yourself coating kits, improper installation has been on the rise.
If you have any of the following signs you will need to remove the ceramic coating:
- High spots in the coating
- Swirl marks or hazing in the painted surface
- Peeling of the ceramic coating surface
Worn Out Ceramic Coating
The speed at which the ceramic coat may be considered worn out depends on the quality of the product. Even the most high end product will eventually fail.
Look for the following to determine if the ceramic coating is worn out:
- Water no longer beads up and runs off the vehicle
- Heavy swirl marks present on painted surfaces
- The vehicle no longer shines like it used to
Tools Needed To Remove Ceramic Coating
For removing ceramic coating there are many common car cleaning materials that you will need. Microfiber cloths, clean buffing pads, soap and water, and a wash mitt are all items that you should already have at home.
We have outlined some of the more uncommon tools that you will need to remove a ceramic coating correctly.
There are many popular products that will do the job well. Decontamination soap is a product that is chemically designed to remove dirt, strip waxes and sealants, and prepare the vehicle to be prepped for buffing.
A product such as Adam’s Strip Car Wash Soap will remove any embedded dirt and quickly remove the built up waxes and sealants that may be present. These products will not completely remove a ceramic coating but it will remove waxes and other sealants.
A clay bar is a unique car cleaning product. A soft clay bar that is used along with a clay bar lubricant or detailing spray allows you to remove heavily embedded contaminates from the painted surfaces of your vehicle.
Mothers California Clay Bar system in a kit form with two clay bars, a detailing spray, and a high quality microfiber cloth. This is an excellent choice if you have not used a clay bar before as it comes with everything that you need to complete the job correctly.
A random orbital polisher is needed for removing ceramic coatings. As you will learn as you read this is the only true and time tested way to remove a ceramic coating.
Prepare The Vehicle For Ceramic Coating Removal
Anytime that you need to do any work on your vehicle’s paint, you need to ensure that it is clean and free of any dust and debris.
Fully Rinse The Vehicle
Using a garden hose or a pressure washer, first rinse the vehicle completely. This ensures that any contaminants are removed from the paint before you touch the vehicle with a wash mitt or microfiber wash mitt.
Wash The Vehicle
Using the two-bucket method, wash the vehicle thoroughly. This will remove any debris, greases, or solvents that were not removed from the vehicle during the initial rinse.
If you have a foam cannon this would be a perfect time to pre-wash the vehicle, even if you have to make your own snow foam. Pre-washing the vehicle is the next step of preventing dirt from clinging to your vehicle’s paint. An excellent pre wash will remove most of all the dirt. This will make sure that no dirt finds its way into the wash mitt when washing.
After washing the vehicle it will look clean but there can still be things lurking in the paint itself. Small particles of dirt or fallout may have become embedded in the coating and need something a little more powerful to remove them.
A good decontamination soap or wax stripping shampoo will remove all of these particles ensuring that the surface is clean. Make sure you follow manufacturers recommendations when using this type of product.
Make sure that you completely dry the vehicle using a clean high quality chamois. Using a small amount of compressed air can blow the stubborn hard to remove water from trouble spots.
Door handles, trim pieces, and fuel doors are all areas that can be hard to remove all of the water before you start the clay bar process.
Clay Bar The Vehicle
Even after all of these cleaning steps the paint is going to have some pieces of dirt still embedded in the coating itself.
Clay bar to the rescue.
Using the clay bar and lots of clay lubricant, thoroughly clay bar 100% of the vehicle’s surface. The clay bar will embed the dirt into the clay, permanently removing it from the surface of the coating.
Having a clean surface before starting to remove ceramic coating is very important in its success. You do not want to have dirt present as you may end up causing permanent paint damage to the vehicle’s exterior surfaces.
How To Remove Ceramic Coating With A Polisher
There are many ways that you can remove a ceramic coating if you look long enough on the internet. There are many do-it-yourself recipes using wheel acid and other methods.
I personally am not a huge fan of spraying acid all over a vehicle’s paint, thoughts of the paint peeling off to mind when thinking of this process.
Thankfully there is another method to remove ceramic coating safely for people who are not willing to “experiment” on their paint.
The time proven automotive polisher comes to the rescue.
Detailers will all agree that the only proven method to remove the coating itself is by physical removal, or what is known as mechanical abrasion.
Before you start this process you need to inspect the coating itself and its condition. If the coating is worn out and needs replaced you can start with the polisher. However, if the coating is being removed due to an improper ceramic coating installation you may need to remove the thick spots with wet sanding.
If you need to wet sand the thick coating away, ensure that you always use a high grit sandpaper to remove these sections. 3000 grit or higher will ensure that you remove the coating slowly and do not go through the clear coat of your paint.
After any wet sanding is complete, switch out to a random orbital polisher. This style of polisher removes material at a slower rate than a rotary polisher ensuring that the coating or paint is not melted/damaged during removal.
- Install a clean pad onto your polisher and use a light grit polish
- Using the manufacturers recommendations apply the polish to the buffing pad
- Lightly touch the pad and polishing compound to the vehicle’s paint. This will help spread the compound out.
- Start the polisher and slowly move the polisher. Never leave the polisher stationary. This increases the risk of overheating the paint and causing damage to the clear coat.
- Polish one panel at a time, checking often to see if the coating is removed. You can do this by using a cup of water and seeing if the hydrophobic qualities are still present. (Does water bead easily)
This process will take time as the thickness of the ceramic coat will directly change how long it takes to remove the coating from the vehicle’s paint.
When the ceramic coating removal process is complete the surface of the vehicle will be dirty. Any time that you buff a vehicle there is a fine dust that falls on the entire surface of the vehicle.
Remove this by using a wipe down of an IPA solution, a 50/50 mix of water and isopropyl alcohol. Used with a lint free rag this will prep the vehicle for the next coating.
When you are finished you will be able to either re apply the ceramic coating or use something a little more user friendly. If you are a do-it-yourselfer maybe a high quality Carnauba wax will be a little easier to install.
After all, nobody really wants to remove ceramic coatings twice!
Do You Need To Remove The Ceramic Coating From The Entire Vehicle?
If you are removing the ceramic coating from a vehicle it does not need to be removed from the entire vehicle.
Before you remove any ceramic coating make sure that the entire surface of the coating is inspected. It is possible that only one body panel of the vehicle will need to be stripped and the coating re-installed.
However, if the ceramic coating has failed due to age. Replace the entire ceramic coating at the same time to ensure that it retains its paint protection abilities on the entire vehicle.
Don’t Give Up; It Can Be Difficult
As you can see it can take a significant amount of time to remove old ceramic coating from a vehicle’s paint.
The reason a ceramic coating works so well is what causes the difficulty in removing it.
Whenever you use a polisher there is a chance of causing damage to the vehicle’s paint. Take your time and do not try to speed through the process.
This makes prep work very important. We took a long time at the start of this guide to discuss the importance of prepping the vehicle by rinsing, washing, and using a clay bar.
This was not because we were looking to bore you, it is the most important step of completing any type of paint correction on a vehicle. If any dirt finds its way into a buffer pad when you remove ceramic coatings it can cause issues.
The dirt itself can cause noticeable damage and ruin the look of your vehicle that you have worked so hard to make look great! When the polisher and polishing compound is spinning around at high speeds the dirt can cause heavy swirl marks in the paint of the vehicle. If these marks go through the ceramic coat you will need to polish the vehicle before you can install new ceramic coatings.
So don’t give up when you hear the question, how to remove ceramic coating. Instead take your time and with a little bit of elbow grease you will be able to remove ceramic coating safely and have your vehicle looking great in no time.