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Old 28th January 2007, 13:44   #1
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Default Swirl Removal - The Basics

In this thread I hope to give a quick guide to the basics of removing or masking the dreaded swirl marks in paint - both by hand or machine, this guide covers both.

Clear Coat Paint
I will focus on modern clearcoat paint, as the majority of cars are now coming supplied with this type of paint, though what is here is applicable to single stage finishes too.

If you look at a cross section of clearcoat paint, you will three three basic layers of paint on the bodywork of the car - the base coat, the colour coat and the clear coat:

If for example you get a deep scratch in your paint, you may see a different colour of paint revealed - this means you scratched down through the colour coat and into the base coat at which stage machine polishing cannot remove the scratch, yu'd need to fill and wet sand and then polish but thats a story for another guide!

What Are Swirl Marks?
If you look at your car under a bright light, for example sunlight, sometimes you may see very thing scratches in the paint. There can be lots of these, like someone's draped multiple spider's web across the paint. Here's a couple of pictures of what quite severe swirl marks look like:

These tiny scratches are catching the light such that it masks the colour underneath and you don't see it. This robs the paintwork of its true deep colour. Shown below is a single swirl/scratch mark in the clearcoat of paint (not to scale):

The sharp edges of the swirl mark are catching the sunlight and directing it up to your eye so you see sunlight along the swirl mark, not the paint colour. This is why these bleminshes are particularly prevelant in bright lights - sunlight, halogen lights in petrol stations are kinds of light that really show up the marks!

Where Do Swirls Come From?
Swirl marks can be inflicted to paintwork by a variety of means, and ultimately the bad news is that its nearly impossible to avoid inflicting swirl marks altogether to paintwork. However, severe swirl marks can be avoided and amoungst other things, these are caused by:

Poor Wash Technique - washing using a sponge traps grit between the surface of the sponge and the paint, dragging sharp grit across the paint and scratching it. Automated car washes do this on a grand scale by essentially battering grit into the paintwork and should be avoided at all costs.

Using the Wrong Buffing Towels - using the cheapest cotton stockinette you can find in Halfords will inflict swirls to the paint as the material is hard and unforgiving, itself inflicting scratches without even the need for grit particles!

However, all is not lost when swirl marks appear, it is possible to either mask them (by hand) or remove them completey by machine polishing...

Filling Swirl Marks - Recommended for working by hand
One method of getting rid of swirl marks is to basically fill up the mark with a filler (a bit like anti-wrinkle cream!!) so that there's no longer a hole and sharp edges to catch the light. This method I prefer for working by hand as it does not require massive effort to break a product down (see machine polishing later), and by hand this method achieves better results.

Below is a diagram showing a swirl mark that has been filled with filler:

This can be achieved by using products such as paint cleansers, some glazes and even some sealents contain fillers. When applying a paintwork cleanser, work the product well into the paint to fill the swirl and be prepared for a prepeat application if more filler is required. Some products which contain fillers, there are many others:

Meguiars NXT Tech Wax
Meguiars #21 Sealent
Menzerna Finishing Touch Glaze
P21S Gloss Enhancing Paintwork Cleanser
Pinnacle Paintwork Cleansing Lotion

If maskig swirls by hand using this filling technique, a generic recommendation I would go for would be:

1. Paintwork Chemical Cleanser - work this well into the paint with medium pressure and remove from surface immediately - working on small areas at a time (2' by 2' roughly). Repeat application if necessary. Example products to use here are: Meguiars Deep Crystal Paint Cleaner; P21S Gloss Enhancing Paintwork Cleanser; Pinnacle Painwork Cleansing Lotion. These cleaners also help remove oxidisation from the paintwork too.

2. Glaze and Seal - can be done in one step or too, glazes will deepen and wetten the shine and most will further fill and hide the swirl marks. Sealents protect the shine and seal in the fillers, as they can be washed away very easily. For light colours I find Clearkote Vanilla Moose Wax Hand Glaze works very well, followed by Poorboys EX-P sealent. Apply the Clearcoat in circular motions first with medium pressure then finish in a fore and aft motion. Work on small areas at a time and remove residue straight away. For the Poorboys EX-P apply to paint and leave for an hour to cure and then remove. For dark colours I prefer the single step of Meguiars NXT Tech Wax which is a glaze/sealent combined - apply to whole car, leave for an hour to cure and then remove. Repeat this step 24hrs later for additional coverage which helps to ensure even coverage.

3. Optionally, top this off with a pure wax to give the icing on the cake, and you choices of wax are endless but a good starting point for light colours would be Poorboys Nattys, and for darks Poorboys Nattys Blue - apply to one panel and remove immediately as if left too long to dry, it can be a bit of a pest to remove.

While filling the swirls works in the short term, there is the disadvantage of what happens when the fillers fade and leave the original swirl marks as shown:

The swirl mark starts to come back which will then require filling again in order to hide it and this process goes on and on. By hand, this is the most effective way to hide swirls, but you can do better by machine....
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