Clear Coat Restoration
Questions you didn't know to ask

Any Internet search on clear coat restoration will deliver a mind-blowing amount of information. Chances are you don't have enough experience to even begin asking the right questions.

I used to call the Internet "Information Overload". Now I call it "Misinformation Overload". But the fact that you remain confused means there is still hope for you.

Darren's Note: Clear coat restoration in the context of this page will be about using a machine polisher and car polish to remove unwanted damage to your cars clear coat. Restoring clear coat by permanently creating depth, gloss, and shine to your cars paint (clear coat and car paint are essentially the same thing) through the use of what is called mechanical polishing (polishing with abrasives).

clear coat restoration

Clear Coat Restoration:
Asking the right questions

What are the right questions? Well if you knew that, then you would already be asking. But you don't, so I will be asking for you.

And along the way you will become an informed car owner and an informed consumer. This is a tricky business filled with its share of hype, B.S., and endless so-called experts self-promoting with their bad opinions based on little to no actual experience.

  • What is clear coat
  • What is clear coat restoration
  • What is the best way to restore clear coat

What Is Clear Coat

Before you attempt to restore clear coat, it is a good idea that you have sufficient understanding of what clear coat is and what it isn't.

At the most basic level, clear coat is paint on your car that has no pigment/color to it. And the reason this is important is that clear coat restoration is essentially the same as car paint restoration.

But that is an over-simplified answer. Without overloading you technical data, the major difference between clear coat and traditional car paint is that clear coat oxidizes much differently than old school paint jobs.

Clear coats don't become dull and chalky like the paint jobs of 30+ years ago used to. Clear coats basically dry out, then can begin to peel, flake, and blister. Often the worst cases of clear coat failure are a result of adhesion problems or inferior clear coats used by the car manufacturer's.

oxidized clear coatThe side of this Ford Explorer is a perfect example of how clear coat dries out over time and is in desperate need of some clear coat restoration

What all this ultimately means is that clear coat restoration is a case by case situation. Just know that in most cases you are experiencing a lack of shine, luster, and depth to your clear coat and therefore came looking for ways of clear coat restoration.

Before you get too discouraged, know that in most cases, you can restore your clear coat to a new level of depth, shine, and gloss if you follow which there is much that you can do before your clear coat is beyond help.

How Do You Know If Your Car Has Clear Coat

Your car has clear coat. Yes, it really does.

Most specifically, your car was finished with a clear coat as the top layer of the overall paint system used to finish your car at the factory. Clear coat is part of the overall paint finishing process used by every car manufacturer.

Each car manufacturer will ultimately source their paint, clear coat, and other "parts" of the overall paint system from different vendors. The basic steps and layers of factory paint systems remain the same regardless of the car manufacturer:

  • Body panel
  • Corrosion resistant layer
  • Primer layer
  • Color layer
  • Clear coat layer

Why Are Cars Painted With Clear Coat

Due to increasing air quality regulations, car manufacturer's were driven to find ways to meet the higher standards imposed my government regulations. The base coat (color coat) and clear coat system was develop in direct response to meeting tighter VOC regulations. (VOC stands for volatile organic compounds)

At a very basic level clear coat is simply "paint" with no color to it. This clear layer applied over the color coat serves 3 basic purposes:

  1. The clear coat paint system (also referred to as a 2-stage paint) allows car manufacturers to comply to tighter VOC regulations
  2. The clear coat is what creates the gloss and shine to the color coat
  3. Clear coat filters out damaging UV rays from the sun

If you are old enough to remember the days before the introduction of clear coat paint systems (2-stage paint), you will recall how the paint on cars would become dull and chalky. Red paint jobs were notorious for turning into a chalky "pink" type of color as the red paint oxidized.

Clear coat does not oxidize in this same manner. As a rule, clear coat will simply dry out over time. This drying out process has the ability to take on different appearances based on how neglected the clear coat has been.

Clear Coat Restoration Process

Clear coat restoration can be divided into two areas:

  1. Temporary (paint enhancement)
  2. Permanent (paint correction)

Paint enhancement is as simple and basic as adding a fresh coat of wax to your car. Most people understand that car wax will instantly increase the overall look and appearance to their car's paint, but is also a temporary fix.

Paint correction is the process of using abrasive technology (in the form of compounds and/or polishes) to abrade away unwanted dried out clear coat, dead paint, imperfections, or paint scratches.

This can be done by hand or machine. I personally only recommend attempting clear coat restoration by machine, as attempting to do this by hand is an exercise in futility in my opinion.

And since the industry has developed machine polishers that are amazingly safe, now a true beginner like yourself can achieve professional level results without fear of damage.

Clear Coat Restoration:
What Would Darren Do (WWDD)

In so many instances I am asked by people just to tell them what I would do. Which is why I label this as What Would Darren Do.

I will not only tell you what I would do, but tell you the exact polish I use to deliver the best results possible for clear coat restoration.

  • Wash car (you need to start with a "clean" surface)
  • Decontaminate car paint using clay bar (this is what you can call a deep clean of your car paint)
  • Use a dual action buffer and car polish to polish your car
  • Finish by applying a coat of car wax

This bullet list might seem like a extreme simplification, but those are the exact steps you will need to go through to having the best chance of restoring the clear coat on your car.

Let me cover each step with greater detail so you will have better understanding.

1) Wash Car

I realize this might be an obvious to you as a person, but what you consider obvious, is not so obvious to the next person who might have even less knowledge and experience than yourself.

We all come to the subject of clear coat restoration with different experience levels and different knowledge.

Chemical Guys HOL126 – 14-Piece Arsenal Builder Car Wash Kit with TORQ Blaster Foam Gun & Bucket, (5) 16 oz Bottles (Gift for Car & Truck Lovers, Dads and DIYers)

  • The perfect car wash kit to get you started
  • Top rated products and tools of car washing

Darren's Note: You may have no desire to start washing your car yourself and it is no requirement to wash your car yourself, but you do need to begin with a clean car if you want to follow my instructions for clear coat restoration.

2) Car Paint Decontamination

Your paint should feel smooth when sliding your hand or fingers across it. Unless you have decontaminated your paint (which virtually any person reading this page would not have done yet), your paint will have pollutants that have become bonded to the paint and will cause your paint to feel like hundreds or thousands of little specs of dirt are stuck to it, thus causing your paint to feel gritty.

This might be a totally new concept to you, but what most people like yourself do not know is that all that talk about air pollution is not just about your physical health, but the health of your car paint.

"Air pollution refers to any physical, chemical or biological change in the air. It is the contamination of air by harmful gases, dust and smoke which affects the plants, animals, and humans drastically" as per

Since most people talk of air pollution with regards to humans and nature, very little is discussed with how air pollutants can also be damaging to materials like the clear coat on your car.

The simple understanding you need before you attempt clear coat restoration is to know that some of the pollutants within air pollution have the ability to attach and become bonded to the clear coat.

Firstly, these bonded contaminants are not good for your clear coat in general. Secondly, these bonded contaminants create a gritty feel to your paint (most people want their paint to feel silky smooth). Thirdly, this grit will also cause unwanted friction and interference when polishing the clear coat. This added friction due to the paint not being smooth before polishing will make any clear coat restoration process more frustrating and difficult overall. 

Mothers 07240 California Gold Clay Bar System

  • Perfect kit to remove bonded paint contaminants
  • Use on a freshly washed car, prior to any car polishing
  • Will create a super smooth paint surface ideal in clear coat restoration

Darren's Note: Don't dismiss the value of taking the time to fully prepare your paint prior to polishing. Using the clay bar to remove bonded paint contaminants is not just good for your paint, but will create a super smooth surface that will make polishing your car so much easier.

If you rush this process by skipping it altogether, you can expect to invite more frustration and limited results in your clear coat restoration efforts.

3) Polishing Car

If you have followed the steps to clear coat restoration thus far, you are now ready to polish the clear coat on your car. You will have washed it to remove what I call superficial dirt, and you will have "deep cleaned" the clear coat using the clay bar to remove the bonded paint contaminants that will have stuck to your clear coat.

using random orbital car buffer to restore car clear coat

At this point your car paint will feel silky smooth and now be ideal for the next stage of clear coat restoration.

Polishing your car with a car polish that has actual abrasives is the only true way to restore the clear coat in a more permanent manner. The abrasive particles formulated into car polishes will allow you to "scratch" your way to success by creating depth, gloss, and shine.

Car Polishing Made Simple

Polishing the paint on your car to restore the shine, depth and gloss on your clear coat will involve numerous products and "tools" to achieve desired results.

  • Machine buffer (dual-action, random orbital)
  • Car polishes (compound and polish)
  • Buffing pads (different pads based on desired "cut")

You can shop the necessary items individually, or you can keep your life simple by shopping a car polishing kit like the one from Adam's below.

Adam's Car Polishing Kit

  • Safest possible way to machine polish a car
  • The only polisher I recommend for a complete beginner
  • So safe, you would have to deliberately try and do damage

Darren's Note: Any horror stories of polishing your car with a machine polisher are tied to high-speed r rotary car polishers. The industry has responded to the need of beginners to safely polish their car without the dangers associated with using a high-speed polisher.

These random orbital car polishers are as safe as safe can get! Any beginner can use one safely and effectively to produce professional results right out of the box.

Speed settings allow even the most fearful of people to dial the buffer down to incredibly low speeds, thus allowing a true beginner to ease into the polishing in a way they are completely comfortable with.

Pad Cleaning Brush

  • Use to remove polish build-up as you are working
  • Perfect for foam or micro-fiber polishing pads

Darren's Note: Polishing your car with abrasive polish means you will be removing microscopic layers of clear coat as you polish your clear coat to reveal healthy material. This polishing process will restore your clear coat by creating depth, gloss, and shine.

During this process of using the recommended compound/polish to do this, your polishing pad will begin to build-up with used polish. Using this pad cleaning brush will release this spent polish so your pad remains effective like it should.

I recommend using this brush briefly after every two applications of compound/polish. Simply hold the brush against the moving pad with enough pressure to release the spent polish (this means you hold the buffer against your leg, turn machine on and press the brush against the pad face)

Micro-Fiber Detail Cloths

Kirkland Signature Ultra High Pile Premium Microfiber Towels, 36 Count (Pack of 1), Yellow - 713160

  • Perfect cloths for use in any stage of the clear coat restoration process
  • You can pay a lot more, but these are both safe and economical

Darren's Note: You can obsess over the "best" micro-fiber cloth and you will get overloaded with the endless opinions circulating the topic.

If you have never used a micro-fiber cloth for anything, then this becomes the most important take away. Micro-fiber material is superior to any other cloth material you can use.

Especially when it comes to working on clear coat (car paint), there is no other cloth material I would recommend. You can obsess about the perfect micro-fiber cloth later, but right now you don't have to overthink it.

Clear Coat Restoration:
Tips from Darren

restoring clear coat using Ceram-X

I have laid out the specific products and tools I not only recommend, but use professionally. With that said I want to lay out some additional points to help you achieve the best results as possible on your journey of clear coat restoration.

  • It is always best to polish in a shaded area on a cool paint surface
  • Your clear coat may be so neglected and dried out that attempting to restore your clear coat may simply be unrealistic
  • Apply between 8-12 pea size drops of polish directly to your polishing pad
  • The compound is for the heavy lifting or the initial "cutting" to perform the more aggressive work of restoring the paint finish by removing unwanted paint defects. The polish is used to refine the paint finish to your desired level of perfection
  • Keep buffer flat against car panel you are polishing and work an area approx. 1' x 1' in size
  • Work panel by going side to side and then up and down until area has been completely polished
  • Choose whichever pad you are most comfortable with and "ease into" the process based on your comfort level
  • Do a single section and then check your results by wiping area with micro-fiber cloth to remove any compound/polish residue
  • Repeat using more or less pressure based on the results you are achieving
  • As you become more familiar with using the buffer and polish, you can increase or decrease your working area based on your comfort level

Clear Coat Restoration Summary

At this point you are now armed with the exact information I teach to the countless guys who I have taught how to use a machine buffer and perform clear coat restoration on their own cars.

The information and recommendations I make here are not just the techniques I teach, but the exact steps I use professionally as a professional detailer.

I wish you much success!


Darren Priest

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