Removing Swirl Marks in Clear Coat

The only way to truly remove swirl marks in clear coat is through the use of some form of car polish or compound. At least this is what the industry will tell you.

But this overly simplified answer will do very little to actually educate you as a car owner.

The real answer is more than just finding "the best" car polish or rubbing compound to polish your car to remove swirl marks in your clear coat.

What if I said you are likely operating under bad information to begin with?

difference between swirl marks spider webbing

First things first....

Before you go chasing your tail looking for the best car polish to remove swirl marks in car clear coat, you really need to know a few critical points first:

  • What swirl marks REALLY are
  • Swirl marks, spider-webbing, or buffer trails?
  • The REAL problem with your clear coat
  • What is abrasive technology
  • How to remove swirl marks in clear coat

What Swirl Marks Really Are

Chances are, what you think are swirl marks in your clear coat are not actually swirl marks at all. Unfortunately, this industry does very little to educate people like yourself, but everything to push the latest product on you.

In the professional world of detailing and auto body, swirl marks are really holograms or buffer trails.

swirl marks holograms buffer trails

What you see in the picture above is what swirl marks in clear coat really look like.

A very distinct and unique effect created by improper use of a machine car polisher known as a rotary car polisher. This "hologram" effect can only be created by a rotary polisher.

Holograms get their name due to the way the marks appear to "float" on top of the clear coat and shift every time you shift your angle of perspective.

Difference Between Swirl Marks, Spider-webbing, Buffer Trails

There is no standardization within the world of cosmetic car care or detailing. No governing body or centralized group that sets the record straight with regards to terminology or jargon of this industry.

This means that terms can be used incorrectly, and incorrectly used terms will forever be used repeatedly.

Often I find myself adopting the misuse of terms simply to save time based on my audience. If a group of people use a specific term -regardless of whether it is used properly or not- I may default to the misuse of a term simply to save time.

This is a bad habit, but a habit that many people such as myself default to.

Let's bring some clarity to the topic so you can go away with better understanding than many of the pseudo-experts found on endless social media platforms.

Swirl marks: created by improper use of a rotary polisher (also called buffer trails and holograms)
Holograms: Same thing as swirl marks
Cob-Webbing: The appearance created by the endless scratches on car paint/clear coat
Spider-Webbing: Same thing as cob-webbing

Spider-Webbing: The REAL Problem with Your Clear Coat

There is very little mystery as to why people adopt the term swirl marks when looking at the picture below. It is for this reason the term swirl marks continues to be misused when identifying this unwanted appearance of your car's clear coat.

clear coat cobwebbing

What you have been calling swirl marks in clear coat coat is really what is called a "spider-webbing" or "cob-webbing" effect by professional detailers. 

This unwanted appearance is the most common problem with clear coat and is a byproduct of the endless touching you do to your car as part of normal maintenance like washing, waxing, and even polishing.

This problem only worsens with age due to neglect of needed and required maintenance of your car's clear coat. Regardless of what you are doing to your car -washing, drying, waxing, etc.- there are gentle ways and then there are less-gentle ways.

But regardless of how "gentle" you are with your car, today's modern paint systems will always accumulate superficial scratches that reveal themselves in the form of this spider-webbing effect.

This circular "pattern" is due to the shape of the sun. Since the sun itself is a circle, the reflections from the micro-scratches radiate outward in a circular pattern that produces this effect that is so often referred to as swirl marks.

How to Remove Swirl Marks in Clear Coat

When it comes to removing this unwanted appearance of your car's clear coat, you have two options:

  • Cover them up
  • Remove them

Covering "swirl marks" (spider-webbing) along with other superficial imperfections of your clear coat is as basic as applying car wax.

This is the simplest way to deal with the problem, but is also a "band-aid" solution -a temporary fix at best.

Removing swirl marks in clear coat is the same process as removing any other clear coat imperfections and defects: polishing using a product formulated with abrasive technology.

polishing to remove swirl marks in clear coat

Abrasive Technology: the answer to swirl marks

Just like virtually any defect or imperfection in your clear coat, abrasive technology is the answer to lasting results.

Unlike car polishes that have no abrasives, abrasive compounds and polishes literally allow you to "scratch" your way to perfection.

If this is your first time dealing with what you have come to consider as swirl marks in clear coat, the thought of using abrasives on your clear coat will sound rather scary.

Which would then bring us full circle: you can get temporary results, or you can get lasting results.

Abrasive car polishes or compounds equals lasting results!

Not All Car Polishes are Created Equal

Abrasive technology can be found in countless compounds and polishes.

But the problem is knowing which compound or polish would be the best choice for any beginner looking to deal with swirl marks, spider-webbing, and other paint imperfections.

If you want to cut to the chase and see "What Would Darren Do" (the actual car polish I recommend to anyone, in any situation), then you can go to my page dedicated to discussing in detail, the winning merits of what I consider the best car polish.

polishing clear coat before and after

The picture above shows the results possible when using a superior polish to remove the common problem of spider-webbing in the clear coat on this 1999 Mercedes Benz C280 with dark metallic grey paint.

Darren's Note: At some point during this article, many people will begin to ask what is the difference between clear coat and car paint. Regardless of what you call it, I am referring to the top layer of any paint job. For a deep dive into all things clear coat, you can click on what is clear coat.

Removing Swirl Marks in Clear Coat:
Polishing by hand or machine

If you accept that using some type of polish formulated using abrasive particles, the very next question for many car owners will be this:

Is it better to polish a car by hand or machine to remove swirl marks?

This is heavily debated topic is also a very common concern for any beginner. I will point out the key factors to consider when weighing in on this decision:

  • Machine polishers today are ultra safe
  • Your hand will never produce the same results as a machine polisher
  • Most beginners will make decisions based on bad information

Since I am a fan of machine polishing to remove swirl marks, spider-webbing, paint scratches, or any other imperfections in the clear coat of your car, let me direct you to my page that will walk you through this decision.

At car polishing for beginners, I break this subject down to the specifics of choosing the best type of machine polisher, along with other useful tips any beginner needs to know. .

Swirl Marks in Clear Coat Summary

If you have endured to the end, you can now label yourself as part of a select group of car owners called the "informed". I have come to learn that informed car owners make better decisions with their newly found knowledge.

I hope I have broadened your understanding along with provided some useful tips that will help you get better results in your life with your car.

I hope you return again next time you have a question regarding the cosmetics of your car!


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