Swirl Marks: A Fixable Car Annoyance

Got swirl marks on your car?

Me too.

And so does just about everyone else out there.

So don’t feel bad. Swirl marks are a part of owning a car.

But can they be removed? What causes them? And can you prevent them?

Let’s chat about these flaws to your car’s finish and answer your questions.

What causes swirl marks on a car?

Your piss-poor car washing technique probably caused most of them. 

I’m kidding. 

Kind of.

Don’t panic. If you’re taking the time to read this article, you obviously care about your car’s finish… so you’re probably washing it carefully. 

But no matter how careful you are, there’s alway the chance that a tiny piece of debris ends up on your wash mitt and causes a couple swirl marks. And over time, these marks add up.  

Understand that washing isn’t the only cause.

You can brush up against your car by mistake when it’s dirty.

Someone might write “wash me” in the layer of grime on your car.

Maybe your kid helped you “clean” you car with a dirty rag he found on the garage floor.

Even cleaning snow off your car can cause problems!

I can go on and on… but I think you get the idea. Any sort of contact with your car’s finish puts it at risk.

Do automatic car washes cause them?

Automatic car washes are great. Especially when you’re short on time. Or if you live someplace with harsh winters.

But there’s lots of contact with your car in an automatic car wash. Think about all those brushes and pieces of fabric flopping around in there. They’ve washed many dirty cars before washing yours. So there’s a good chance there’s a rogue piece of grime on the car wash brushes that can cause a scratch or two.


it’s important to know that modern car washes take measures to minimize swirl marks. According to Tommy Car Wash Systems, “…well-maintained modern express car washes have a number of safeguards in place to prevent swirl marks…” Click here to see the full article.

So automatic car washes aren’t the menacing “swirl-o-matics” that some people make them out to be. You’ll probably get a couple marks, just like you would if you washed your car by hand.

Bottom line… You won’t get thousands of swirl marks on a single automatic car wash visit. If this was happening, do you really think automatic car washes would stay in business?

So are these tiny scratches inevitable?

Pretty much!

Your car is under constant attack. There’s so much that’s out of your control…. Neighborhood animals jumping on your car, you or your passengers brushing up against it by mistake, careless people in parking lots…

I can go on and on with examples. You just have to accept that they’re gonna happen!

Are swirl marks permanent?

Nope! They can be removed.

There’s a few different ways to remove them. If you have severe swirl marks on your car, it might be best to have a professional detailer perform a complete paint correction on your car. To learn what is paint correction, check out this article.

But if your swirl marks are minor, there are some products you can try out on your own that will help remove them. 

Products like Chemical Guys VSS One-Step Scratch and Swirl Remover and McGuire’s Mirror Glaze Swirl Remover can help remove minor scratch marks. Both can be applied with a power polisher or by hand.

How to prevent swirl marks.

The best way to prevent swirl marks is to simply be constantly mindful of them. So try not to rub against your car. Don’t let people lean on your car. And for cryin’ out loud, don’t go to the local kid-run fundraiser car wash (those sponges spend more time on the ground than they do on cars!)

You should also be mindful when washing your car. Use the two bucket method.

And keeping your car as clean as possible helps a lot! Think about it… the less grime you let develop on your car’s finish, the less likely you are to have swirl marks. 

And most importantly, maintain a level of protection on  your car…. Be it a wax, a sealant, or ceramic coating all of these things help create a “sacrificial” layer that helps protect your car’s finish from the abuse it gets every day.

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