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

Swirl marks are tiny scratches you can observe on the car paint, which usually do not come into notice until you see them from up close or when the light hits your car surface at the right angle. The majority of the people who merely use their cars for commuting purposes might not even be concerned about why cars get swirl marks and how they can prevent them.

Usually, cars get swirl marks and scratches due to implementing wrong or improper techniques in washing or drying the vehicle. These scratches are not appealing, but unfortunately, they are unavoidable. You can still prevent these marks by taking your car to a professional auto detailer or learning and implementing the proper techniques of washing and drying your vehicle.

A car enthusiast and perfectionist will be severely annoyed by such scratch marks. In contrast, for a full-time severe auto junkie, they can be incredibly problematic and hideous. 

Various things can cause swirl marks on the clear coat of your car. Mostly, swirl marks are harmless in themselves. However, if you leave them unattended, these swirl marks might significantly damage your car paint. In this guide, I’ll highlight some of the reasons that cause swirl marks and how you can play your part in preventing them. 

What is a Swirl Mark?

Swirl mark is the name for very light scratches that appear on the clear coat. They’re mostly circular type 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 uses 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 most leading causes that lead to the creation of swirl marks in cars:

  • Polishing or buffing your car using the wrong kind of pad.
  • Using 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.
  • Wiping 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 clay bar is a very paint-safe product, you still need to put some lubricant to avoid any damage.

3. Do not touch

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 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 wipe it off gently from the surface using a clean microfiber towel.

RELATED: 9 Best Car Waxes For An Amazing Finish (2021)

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.

For even safer wash, check out my guide for 3 bucket washing method. Also, make sure that every wash bucket have a grit guard inside.

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. 

RELATED: Why It’s Important To Pre-Wash Your Car With Snow Foam?

7. Upgrade your car shampoo

Using a 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 brushed to wash your car. Those brushes are usually very stiff and dirty from the previous cars.

RELATED: 7 Reasons Not To Use Automatic Car Washes

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.


It’s very hard to completely prevent swirl marks. 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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