Why Do Cars Get Swirl Marks: Can You Prevent Them?

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car swirl marks, drying the car, why do cars get swirl marks, how to prevent swirl marks

Those tiny scratches that affect the appearance of your vehicle, especially in the sunlight, are called swirl marks. I’m pretty sure that you ask yourself how they even get on the paint, and today I’ll show you why cars have swirl marks, how they can be prevented, and what you can do to fix and prevent them in the future.

Key Takeaways:

  • Swirl marks appear because of improper washing techniques when washing or drying your car.
  • Swirl marks are very hard to prevent entirely.
  • You can fix swirl marks on your car by polishing it.
  • Swirl marks can be prevented by applying paint protection to your car and by properly washing your car with safe techniques only.

What are Swirl Marks?

Swirl mark is the name for very light scratches that appear on the clear coat. They’re mostly circular types of scratches that distort the appearance of the car.

These tiny scratches or imperfections, called swirl marks, are the most visible on flat surfaces, like the hood, roof, door, or trunk of your car. They especially stand out and show up on the fenders and doors of dark-colored vehicles.

On light-colored vehicles, swirl marks tend to be less noticeable. This is usually because the light paint reflects more light.

What Causes Swirl Marks on Car Paint?

One of the most common causes why cars get swirl marks is when you use a towel to dry your vehicle after it has been washed. If the towel you use comprises dust or dirt in it or use a stiff towel to wipe the car, you can be sure that your vehicle will get new swirls every time. 

However, towels are not the only culprits in this matter. Any incorrect car washing techniques or the use of drying techniques and tools will result in microscopic scratches, which will become visible in sunlight and show up as swirls.

Here are some of the leading causes that lead to the creation of swirl marks in cars:

  • Polishing or buffing your car using the wrong kind of pad.
  • Use a harsh polishing compound or paint cleaner.
  • Incorrect car washing and drying techniques.
  • Use of dirty car dusters and brushes.
  • Use a dirty applicator and towel or chamois that consists of polyester threads.
  • Did not rinse the sponge enough while washing your car.
  • Wipe off the dust or dirt from your car using a dry towel.
  • Placing a dirty cloth or cover on top of your car.
  • Failure to rinse your car thoroughly after washing it.
  • Not washing your car thoroughly enough before drying it.
  • Driving through an automatic car wash that performs car wash using wipers and brushes. 

Typically, freshly painted cars, new vehicles, and those vehicles that have undergone professional auto detailing services are found without swirl marks. 

Can You Prevent Swirl Marks?

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to prevent swirl marks entirely. Still, the good news is that it is very much possible to minimize them by incorporating the right and effective car washing practices and materials.

Even the tiniest amount of dirt that builds up on your car’s surface can likely lead to swirl marks over time. Even if you wash your car carefully, scratches and swirl marks can never be completely unavoidable.

There is dirt everywhere, and it can be incredibly daunting to eliminate it completely. You should focus on adequately washing your car with the right materials to get rid of the dirt and prevent swirl marks. Also, just remember to avoid hasty and automated car washes. 

Essential Tips to Prevent Swirl Marks

Here are some essential tips to prevent getting swirl marks on your vehicle.

1. Purchase the right materials

First of all, you should begin by purchasing a premium quality soap and wash mitt for your car. Rinse the car’s entire surface before washing it to eliminate all the heavy debris, grime, and dirt layers. This can somewhat alleviate the chances of contaminating your wash mitt, which ultimately lessens the chances of scratching your car surface to cause swirl marks.

2. Use a lubricant when needed

The primary cause why your paintwork gets damaged is when you make contact with it. One possible thing to do is to make it tougher to get scratches on your car by offering excellent lubrication when you make contact. 

Lubrication aids in establishing a slippery surface between the washing mitt and the layer of debris and dirt latched onto the clear coat. With the proper application of lubricants, the chances of getting swirl marks can be drastically prevented. This is mainly because you do not use a dry object and rub it across the dry car surface.

This is especially important when clay baring your vehicle. Even though the clay bar is a very paint-safe product, you still need to put some lubricant to avoid any damage.

3. Do not touch the paint

Note that it is essential to maintain minimal physical contact while drying your car. This automatically decreases the chances of scratches. The car wash professionals suggest hosing the water off the car surface before drying, preferably without a nozzle.

Also, they recommend using a top-grade microfiber towel and lubrication while drying to reduce scratches. Many individuals even recommend using a good-quality wireless leaf blower.

This enables you to get rid of 90 percent of the water from the car’s surface without making any physical contact. 

4. Use spray wax (if you don’t know how to apply a liquid or paste wax)

Quite surprisingly, it is also believed that waxing might result in swirling if a lot of scrubbing, rubbing, and wiping off has been involved. Hence, you can also prevent swirl marks by using spray wax and then wiping it off gently from the surface using a clean microfiber towel.

5. Use clean tools

Basically, any product, washing tool, or bucket will cause damage to your car if it is dirty, despite the wonders these products claim to offer. 

For this, you should use the two-bucket method to wash your car. In this method, you will require two buckets, one filled with clean water and the other filled with car washing soap. You first need to dip the wash mitt in the soap bucket to wash off the surface with soapy suds.

After that, put the mitt into the clean water bucket to thoroughly rinse it off before you move on to clean the next spot. It is essential to clean your washing mitt after each wash. This will minimize the possibility of scratches.

6. Add a pre-wash snow foam

Additionally, you can use an extra layer of scratch security with a pre-wash treatment. For this, you will require a snow foam lance and a pressure washer to create the ultimate shaving foam effect.

The snow foam tends to soften the dirt on the surface, which can be easily rinsed off before you hand-wash your car. It also makes a significant difference in the car wash quality. 

7. Upgrade your car shampoo

Using good quality shampoo can make a significant difference in protecting and preventing your car from getting too many swirls and scratch marks.

The best shampoo will be the one that has ample lubrication and is PH-neutral so that it does not strip off the sealant/wax/protectant. Also, it will be better able to rinse through.

8. Throw away the chamois and pat dry

Replace the chamois with a plush microfiber towel to save a bunch of swirl marks. A large microfiber drying cloth is softer than cotton and can absorb more water than the chamois. This enables your entire car to dry without excess water. 

Once you have replaced the chamois with a microfiber cloth, you can further reduce the possibility of getting the paint damaged by pat drying the excess water left on the surface after it has been rinsed off the final time. The microfiber is constructed in a manner such that it pulls water into itself with ease. 

9. Don’t wash your car at automatic car washes

Automatic car washes use brushes to wash your car. Those brushes are usually very stiff and dirty from the previous cars.

I only did this once, and when I saw the damage, I never went to the automatic car wash again. This is the worst thing you can do to your car.

How To Fix Swirl Marks

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to fix swirl marks.

1. Wash Your Car

The first step is to thoroughly wash your car. This will remove any dirt or debris that could cause more scratches during the swirl mark removal process.

  1. Pre-wash the car by using a snow foam
  2. Rinse the car
  3. Fill one bucket with soapy water and the other with clean water.
  4. Dip the wash mitt into the soapy water, wash a section of the car, then rinse the mitt in the clean water.
  5. Repeat this process until the entire car is clean.
  6. Rinse the car thoroughly to remove all soap.
  7. Dry the car using a microfiber drying towel.

2. Clay Bar Treatment

A clay bar treatment will remove any embedded contaminants in the paint that washing alone can’t remove.

  1. Spray a small area of the car with the clay lubricant.
  2. Gently glide the clay bar over the area until it feels smooth.
  3. Wipe the area with a microfiber towel.
  4. Repeat this process for the entire car.

3. Polish the Car

Polishing the car will remove the swirl marks and restore the paint’s shine.

  1. Set the polisher to a low speed and spread the polish over a small area.
  2. Increase the speed and work the polisher in overlapping passes until the polish is fully worked in and the swirl marks have disappeared.
  3. Wipe off any residue with a clean microfiber towel.
  4. Repeat this process for the entire car.

Here’s my complete guide on how to polish a car, so you can follow it.

4. Apply Car Wax or Sealant

Applying car wax or sealant will add a protective layer to your car’s paint.

  1. Apply the car wax or sealant according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Buff off any residue with a clean microfiber towel.

Impact of Swirl Marks on Different Car Colors

Swirl marks can affect all cars, regardless of their color. However, the visibility of these marks can vary significantly depending on the color of your car’s paintwork. Let’s delve into how different car colors are impacted by swirl marks.

Why Some Colors Show Swirl Marks More Than Others

The visibility of swirl marks is largely due to how light interacts with your car’s paint. Darker colors, like black or navy blue, reflect light directly, making any imperfections, including swirl marks, more noticeable. Lighter colors, like white or silver, scatter light, which can help hide these imperfections.

Swirl Marks Visibility on Different Car Colors

Let’s compare the ease of appearance of swirl marks on various car colors. For the purpose of this comparison, we’ll use a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least visible and 5 being the most visible.

Car ColorSwirl Marks Visibility Score
Navy Blue5


Do swirl marks go away on their own?

No, swirl marks do not go away on their own. They need to be polished out using a swirl remover and a dual-action polisher.

Should I worry about swirl marks on my car?

While swirl marks don’t damage your car’s paintwork, they can detract from its appearance, especially on dark-colored cars. If aesthetics are important to you, it’s worth addressing swirl marks.

Can all swirl marks be removed?

Most swirl marks can be removed with proper polishing. However, very deep scratches may require more intensive treatments, such as paint correction or even repainting.


It’s very hard to prevent swirl marks completely. Whenever you’re driving your car, there’s a chance that something will scratch it. However, you can lower the chances of getting them by following the tips in this article.

Most of the swirl marks happen due to incorrect car wash. Incorrect is the number 1 cause of swirl marks, I think.

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