How to Prevent Swirl Marks?

Last Updated 17th July 2020

Swirl marks (also known as swirling) are those tiny wisps of scratches that appear in circular patterns on the paintwork of cars. They are primarily caused by poor wash technique, and whilst this makes them somewhat inevitable, it does mean that you can take simple precautions which will help to prevent swirl marks.

I’ve put together some key factors which I believe can help to prevent further swirling on the paint.

Contactless Is Key

Most swirl marks are a result of bad wash techniques, mainly when it comes to contact washing. If you can remove as much dirt as possible without touching the car then you can greatly reduce the chance of damaging paint during a contact wash.

Take the time to pre-wash your car with a grime remover, snow foam, or even just a blast with a pressure washer. By taking this precaution you are removing any dirt that could be dragged across the paint surface during the contact wash.

Ditch the Sponge

Your choice of mitt or pad is incredibly important as it’s the piece of equipment that has the most contact with the paint surface – get this wrong and you’re in trouble.

Sponges & brushes are top offenders when it comes to swirls marks. The rigid brush hairs and unforgiving sponge texture can very easily cause deep swirl marks on the surface of your paint.

Lambswool and microfibre wash mitts are the best choices of wash mitt as they’re made of a much softer material and are generally much better at lifting dirt particles away from the paint upon washing.

Two Buckets Are Better Than One

The two-bucket method is a very effective car washing technique that involves using two-buckets to reduce the risk of re-introducing dirt & contamination to the surface of the paint during a contact wash.

One bucket is your dedicated rinse bucket and contains only water. After a pass on the car during your contact wash, rinse the mitt in the rinse bucket to remove any dirt picked up whilst washing the car.

The second bucket is the wash bucket and contains the shampoo. After rinsing the mitt in the rinse bucket, give the clean mitt a dunk in the wash bucket before having another pass on the car.

By following the two-bucket method you are ensuring that dirt cleaned off the car does not end up back on the car during a wash – in turn, this will help to prevent swirl marks on the paintwork.

Dish-soap is For Dishes

Whilst dish-soap is great for cleaning your dishes, it’s not so great for cleaning your car. It’s a common misconception that dish-soap is a suitable substitute for dedicated car shampoo. Whilst it’s a good de-greaser, dish-soap is designed for cleaning food oils from dishes and glassware, and it will leave your paint dry and stripped of any protective waxes.

Dedicated car shampoos contain chemicals designed to lubricate the paint during a contact wash, fight road-grime and some even contain protective elements which will add an extra layer of glossy wax or ceramic properties to the paint.

You wouldn’t use dish soap to wash your hair, you’d use a dedicated hair shampoo which is designed to clean gently and also condition your hair – and the same goes for using a dedicated car shampoo.

Work in the Shade

On a nice sunny day, it can be very tempting to get the buckets out and give your motor a wash. However, when the paint surface heats up the clear coat becomes a lot softer making it much easier to scratch – causing swirl marks.

Hot paint will also cause chemicals to dry out quicker, potentially damaging the paint even more.

Before each wash, assess the weather and if you’re still unsure do a simple touch test on the surface of the paint to make sure it’s cool to touch!

Dry It Properly

For the drying stage, it’s important to use a proper car drying towel rather than an old bathroom towel. The best towels for drying are those which have quite a high pile and are made with soft fabrics as this will draw water & microparticles away from the paint as gently as possible.

Size matters when it comes to your drying towel as a larger towel will allow you to fold it up and switch to a fresh side as you work your way around the car. Being able to switch to a fresh part of the towel is very important because if you pick up a little bit of grime or dust on the towel, you don’t want to drag this around your car.

Like with the car shampoo, lubrication also has a key role in drying your car. Whilst a clean, good quality towel will help to prevent swirl marks, lubrication will add an additional layer of protection to your paint.

Most detailing sprays (or even some spray waxes) will be fine for this.

Wash It Yourself

You’ve probably heard the phrase “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself”.

By washing your car yourself you have full control over taking the precautions necessary to avoid swirl marks on the paint. This is something which is not guaranteed at an automated wash or hand car wash.