How to Buff Out Scratches and Swirl Marks

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How to Buff Out Scratches and Swirl Marks

Part of properly maintaining a vehicle is caring for its paint job. Buffing out scratches and swirl marks when they first appear allows a car to remain in top condition, and prevents the need for a full paint restoration. By identifying which type of marking has occurred, the car owner can then properly buff it out by using the following techniques.


Identifying Scratches and Swirl Marks

Scratches and swirl marks are different types of marks on the car's paint, and thus need to be treated separately. To identify the type of mark, one needs to understand what each one is and how it is caused.


There are two basic types of scratches to a car's exterior. The first is the easiest to remove and is caused by something rubbing against the car. A discolouration is the surest sign of this type of scratch and is simply a bit of paint being rubbed off the object onto the car. When the car's paint is actually scratched through by something gouging the paint, then the owner of the car must assess the severity of the scratch. If the clear coat is scratched but the paint colour is still visible this is easier to fix than if the paint has been gouged to the point that metal is visible.

Swirl Marks

Swirl marks are usually the result of poor car cleaning and detail. A dry or dirty towel, incomplete washing or rinsing, the rough components in a car wash, and improper use of a car buffer can all lead to swirl marks. These marks are most visible on darker paint colours, but typically are so fine that the marks feel smooth to the touch.


Buffing Out Scratches

Although it may be tempting to try to rub off discoloured spots, never do this as it can actually rub the dirt into the paint and cause further damage. The first step is to carefully wash the scratched area with a clean, lint-free cloth, soap, and water. If the scratch is deep enough to expose metal, apply a matching touch-up paint one layer at a time, allowing it to fully dry before applying the next layer. Once the final layer of touchup paint is dry, or if the scratch has only penetrated the clear coat, use a fine 2000 grit sandpaper to even out the area. Also known as wet/dry sandpaper, it can be found with auto supplies or included with home and garden supplies. Next, rinse it and dry with a clean, lint-free cloth. Recover the repaired area with clear coat. Once it has fully dried, buff out any discolourations with a car polish such as Meguiar and a lint-free cloth.


Buffing Out Swirl Marks

The most important part in buffing out swirl marks is to use a high quality car polish to level out the paint. Most professionals recommend a dual-action polisher, also known as an orbital polisher, to rub in the car polish compound fully without further damaging the auto. After buffing out the swirl marks, be careful in future car detailing to not make new swirl marks.



Repairing auto paint by buffing out scratches or swirl marks is fairly simple. Many car owners can do it themselves once they know the correct procedure and buy the needed supplies. Afterwards, they should take care to prevent future markings to preserve the paint job.

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