A guide to swirl marks

Everything you need to know about swirl marks

Today we are going to dig into the specifics of what swirl marks are, how they are caused, and the exact steps to prevent, and remove them.  As a car owner, there are various circumstances, environmental conditions, and product application processes that can leave marks on the surface of a car. These often lead to frustration as when it comes to removal sometimes it’s just not that easy.  

Defining a swirl mark

Swirl marks are defined as micro-scratches that are revealed when the surface is exposed to light. They were given this label and defined this way due to their circular pattern that can be seen when the car paint is exposed to direct sunlight. 


This exposure reveals every micro-scratch that has been inflicted on the surface. People often think that this circular pattern created by wiping or applying wax in a circular motion is what causes said marks, but this is incorrect. These marks and scratches that are on the surface mimic the light source, hence when the car is outside the light source that is mimicked is the sun, hence the circular pattern.

swirl marks

So, what causes them?

The micro-scratches that we can see in the clear coat/ car paint are actually relatively straightforward, however, each scratch obviously is diverse in length and width. Said scratches and marks are titled swirl marks when the following two things come together: the paint surface covered with micro-scratches, and a light source circular in shape. 

Fun fact, it’s specifically black/dark vehicles that show the most swirl marks as bright colored vehicles do not show swirl marks as much as they reflect more light. 

These marks are simply super fine scratches inflicted on a painted surface by the use of incorrect tools being used to clean the exterior, or by wiping the exterior with a dry towel (and therefore rubbing in contaminants into the surface i.e dust), improper washing and drying techniques. 

In summary, swirl marks are caused by:


How to prevent swirl marks:

That being said, that’s exactly how to avoid swirl marks as well. Simply making sure you use the correct tools, in an efficient and proper manner to clean and dry the exterior is exactly how to prevent micro-scratches. 


How to remove swirl marks:

First of all, there is some confusion about how to remove swirl marks. At no point in time can you use wax to remove them or cause them (unless improper use of tools). Although waxes are used for protection and visual enhancement by “filling in” micro-imperfections, they do not remove swirl marks. They do, however, assist in concealing or covering up these micro-scratches temporarily. 

So, if not wax then what is the solution to removing swirl marks?

Here’s where polishing comes in handy. Keep in mind that you’re not technically physically removing the swirl marks but actually removing the surface of the paintwork around them. This evens out the surface making sure that the light reflects in a more uniform fashion rather than in a circular pattern. 

  1. First things first, you must clean and dry the exterior professionally
  2. The second step is to prime your polishing pad with a scratch remover or car polish.
  3. Start with the polisher at low speed and spread the polish around a 3×3 section. Slowly increase speed to a comfortable setting.
  4. Polish in slow, controlled, overlapping motions. Do not apply too much pressure.
  5. When polish becomes transparent, stop the machine and inspect with a flashlight.
  6. If you still have swirl marks left over, you might need a more aggressive pad and polish. If so, switch your pad over to a heavier-cut pad and your polish to a heavy-cut compound. Repeat process from 2-5.
  7. If the swirl marks are removed, move on to the next section, making sure to apply 2 to 3 pea-sized drops after every pass.
  8. Make sure to invest in a Ceramic coating, gloss enhancer, or hybrid ceramic spray to provide long-term protection.


So, there you have it. That’s everything you need to know about what swirl marks are, how they are caused, and the exact steps you need to take to remove them!