How to Remove Light Scratches from Car Paint

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There is no better feeling  than taking ownership of a new car or truck. Opening the doors smelling that distinct new car smell. Taking a look at the outside you see a shiny, rust free paint job that shines in the sun.

However the new car feeling only lasts so long.  Anyone who has ever owned a new car knows what it’s like to get that first scratch. That first scratch is always devastating to a new car owner. Some even call it the new car curse.

Thankfully depending on how deep that first scratch is, it can be easily fixed with a little bit of time and effort. We’re going to look a little bit more in-depth on how to remove light scratches from car paint.

Light scratches are the ones that are very minor scratches, the scratches that don’t go through the clear coat. We’ll even discuss how to identify if the pain scratches are too deep, and when your car needs to be taken to a body shop to be repaired or possible get a new paint job. 

 How to Identify Light Scratches in your Car Paint

When inspecting the scratch in your car’s paint you’re going to need to check a few things. How large is the scratch? How deep is the scratch?

The best tool for identifying the type of scratch that you have is your eyes and fingernails. Once you find a scratch on your vehicle you need to first  inspect it with your eye. You’re going to look to see how deep the scratch appears. If the scratch appears deep, you will need to use your fingernail to determine how deep.

Infographic describing how thick paints are in car paint

By using your fingernail you can tell if the scratch has only affected the clear coat. Or worse, the scratch has gone through the clear coat and into the base coat of the paint.

Taking your fingernail rub it gently across the scratch, if you feel the scratch with your fingernail this means that the scratch is very deep and has gone through the clear coat. This doesn’t mean that the scratch can’t be fixed. This simply means that it is a deeper scratch and requires different techniques to repair correctly, such as having the vehicle repainted.

Another thing to consider when you have deep scratches is if it has gone deep enough to go through the clear coat. The clear coat is the protective layer of paint that is sprayed over top of the base coat to protect it. The clear coat protects your vehicle from things like UV damage, bird droppings, and tree sap.

The solution to a clear coat scratch depends on the condition of your vehicle and how you want it to look. If it is an older vehicle, you may choose to use one of the do-it-yourself options that are available to repair the scratch. However, if the vehicle is brand new, you should take the vehicle to a body shop to get a professional opinion on how to repair it correctly. Once the clear coat becomes damaged it keeps getting worse and worse.

If your fingernail glides across the scratch then it would be considered a light scratch. This guide is going to teach you more about how to remove light scratches from car paint. With this guide you will also be able to remove light swirl marks or scuff marks  that may appear on your vehicle.

Tools Needed to Remove Light Scratches from Car Paint

You are going to need a few tools to be able to remove light scratches from your car’s paint.  Many of these tools you may already have in your home garage. Here is a list of the tools and items that you will need to remove the light scratches from your vehicle.

You will need;

  • Clean microfiber cloth
  • Car wash soap
  • Clean five gallon bucket 
  • Chamois
  • Rubbing compound/polishing compound/swirl remover
Image of swirl remover, microfiber cloths. Items needed to remove light scratches

What is the Difference Between Rubbing Compound, Polishing Compound, and Swirl Remover

These compounds are simply referred to as buffing compounds. They are very similar products and to understand what they are we need to understand how they work.

The clear coat on your vehicle is 30 to 50 microns thick. I know this is a hard thickness to understand but just know that your clear coat has thickness. When the clear coat is lightly scratched the surface can be restored  by polishing and removing a portion of the clear coat to show the undamaged section below. 

These various compounds remove a very small amount of clear coat by using a liquid that contains rough materials among other things. These rough materials are very similar to what you would see on sandpaper.

Unlike rough sandpaper, the grit in these compounds is very fine. When they are used they only remove a  small amount of the thickness of the clear coat from your vehicle. The main difference between polishing and rubbing compounds is the roughness of the grit that is inside the liquid.

Just like sandpaper has different grit ratings, paint correction compounds do as well. A rubbing compound has a rougher grit than a polishing compound or swirl remover would. These compounds would have what you would refer to as a finer grit.

If you are removing only a very small light scratch, it is recommended that you use a Polishing Compound. However, if your scratch is very large or the scratch is heavier than what you would consider a light scratch. You would use something like a rubbing compound.

Professional detailers have a large variety of different compounds that they can use to complete car paint corrections. They use different compounds to remove different types of damage to paint, we are going to do the same. When removing light scratches from car paint a Polishing Compound will work the majority of the time to  remove them from the clear coat.

Which Scratch Removal Brand is Best

As we discussed above there are many differences between which compound is best for  your light scratch. There are many manufacturers that make scratch removal compounds that you are probably familiar with.

We suggest two of the more well-known brands to use. These are products that are readily available at your local auto parts store as well as many different online sources. 

The Turtle Wax Scratch Repair and Renew is a good option for removing light scratches. It is a liquid compound that  can be easily applied to a microfiber cloth when removing the scratch.

The other compound that we suggest is Meguiar’s Car Scratch Remover ScratchX2.0. This is a swirl and scratch remover that applies as a liquid as well which can then be applied easily to the affected area. 

There are many other options out there, if you are not sure which one to use, ask your local car detailing supplier. Car detail suppliers have an excellent working knowledge of which compound will work best for you and when it should be used. 

They can be an excellent source of information for all of your car cleaning, detailing needs.  

How to Remove Light Scratches from Car Paint

Before beginning the process you will need to ensure that the vehicle is clean. I always recommend that you wash the vehicle from top to bottom before starting. If you leave the vehicle dirty, the dirt can accumulate in the microfiber cloth causing swirl marks when you are attempting to remove a light scratch. 

image of a person hand washing a dark gray car

Once the vehicle is washed ensure that you dry it with a high quality clean chamois. Once the vehicle is dry you can inspect the scratch and the surrounding area of the scratch in more detail. 

Apply the rubbing compound to a clean microfiber cloth. Slowly apply the rubbing compound on to the scratch. Once the rubbing compound is spread around the affected area evenly you will need to begin the process of removing the light scratch.

Using a circular motion apply light pressure to the microfiber cloth in the affected area. When you apply light pressure to the rubbing compound it begins to polish the clear coat surface. You will need to ensure that you take a clean microfiber cloth and wipe off the rubbing compound periodically.

A hand that is polishing paint to remove a scratch

Once the compound is removed you will then be able to inspect the light scratch area to see if it is  removed. Once the scratch is removed you will then need to wash the vehicle once more.

This makes sure that any remaining rubbing compound is removed from the paint and will not cause any further scratches.

If you normally wax your vehicle you need to include one more step. When using a polishing compound, the wax is going to be removed from the clear coat. You will need to re-wax the vehicle to ensure that it is properly protected again after fixing the light scratches. 

Using a Polisher to Remove Light Scratches from Car Paint

You can also use a polisher instead of a microfiber cloth to remove light scratches from car paint as well. The steps are very similar to what we described above.

There are a few things that you need to be aware of before using a polisher. Using the incorrect polisher can actually burn or damage your paint. When removing light scratches from car paint a rotary polisher is not recommended.

A DA polisher is the best tool to use to remove light scratches. The DA stands for dual action. Not only does the  polisher rotate in a circle but it also rotates from side to side at the same time. This creates less heat and also less cutting action. This prevents do-it-yourselfers from damaging the paint worse than when they started. 

DA polisher that is removing scratches in a car body panel

If you are unfamiliar with these different types of polishers, please use a DA polisher to prevent any damage that you may cause to your paint.

Hopefully this guide will help answer the question of how to remove light scratches from car paint. It may not be the most difficult do-it-yourself repair but it does require a few steps that need to be done in the correct manner.

Always make sure you wash the car before you start and  always make sure you always use a clean microfiber cloth. In my shop I use a colour coding system for my microfiber cloths. A blue cloth for example is used for cleaning interior panels, yellow cloth is used for rubbing compound or other buffing compounds, and white microfiber cloths are used only to remove wax. 

 It is a fairly simple method to follow and allows me to always use a clean towel when I’m working with clean paint. 

John Morris
John Morrishttps://autoknowit.com
John Morris is the technical editor for AutoKnowIt.com. His years of experience in automotive repair as well as an automotive professor have prepared him to ensure that even the most technical information is accurate and concise at all times.

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