Finding a stain sucks – plain and simple. Whether it’s that hard to remove stain on the carpet, or etching or damage to your car paint surface, it’s an endless challenge to get rid of them. But it’s not impossible.
In fact, today’s automotive chemical cleaners are better than ever at removing dirt, dust, and other debris. Many of them can remove even the hardest to remove paint stains -- and you don’t need to be a detailer to improve the condition of your paintwork.
Obviously, the sooner you find a stain – the better your chances are to remove them and restore the surface area to original condition. But, like all damage, not all paint stains are the same.
This is what we’ll discuss in today’s AvalonKing blog – introducing you to the most common car paint stains and how to get rid of them. So, let’s get cracking.
What are the Most Common Car Stains?
When you notice a paint stain on your daily driver or garage queen – don’t panic! It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s not even on the paint itself – typically. Most paint stains etch themselves on the clear coat, which serves as a protective layer just for these unfortunate situations.
However, there are some car paint stains that are easier to remove than others. Here are some of the most common ‘stains’ that cause car, truck, and SUV owners bat-sh!t nutty.
The leading contender in the common car paint stain – that’s not a stain at all is paint oxidation. Oxidation is a process that eventually develops rust or damage to metals. With automotive paints, it starts with a scratch or a dent, that penetrates the clear coat, and the paint surface – to expose the bare metal to oxygen, water, or salt.
As the oxidation process begins, the metal eventually corrodes, which develops rust. Unfortunately, if rust builds up, and can eventually damage body panels, chassis components and other metal parts to the point they need to be replaced.
Paint Swirl Marks
Another misunderstood stain is a scratch – and most of us call them paint swirls or spider webbing. Paint swirl marks are small, yet quite visible etchings or scratches that are embedded in the clear coating.
Most of the time, swirl marks are caused by using regular towels or non-recommended car washing supplies and methods for washing or drying a car. Taking your car to automated car washes can likewise cause spider webbing damage to paint surfaces.
Swirl marks can be very thin to aggressive. The level of the damage is conditional on the source of the swirl mark, how often it’s done, and whether you have paint protection products applied – like a car wax, paint sealant, or ceramic coating.
Tree Sap Stains
The next level of paint damage is caused by Mother Nature. Tree sap stains are predominately recognizable by their glue-like spot appearance. As tree sap falls from branches, leaves, or the tree trunk itself, and lands on the vehicle paint, the acidic acids within the sap serves to burn into the clear coat, leaving a highly noticeable stain etched – that many find it difficult to remove.
Bird Droppings & Bug Splatters
Similar with tree saps stains, bird droppings and bug splatters damage paint surfaces through acidic contaminants found in their formulation. The damage can occur within a matter of hours of exposure, and are typically accelerated based on direct sunlight, excessive heat, and yes – the diet of the said bird who dumped their load on your ride.
Car Paint Stains Simplified
So – let’s simplify this; most stains found on car paints are caused 100% by outside sources. The stain is not on the paint – but the clear coating – or protectant that is applied on top of the paint surface. Stains can happen on other automotive surfaces and materials, like plastic trim, convertible tops, and headlight covers.
The stains above are quite difficult to remove – through cleaners, degreasers, or simple automotive car care products. They typically involve the use of polishing or cutting compounds, and electric orbital polishers. This method essentially cuts into the clear coat until the depth of the stain has been removed.
There are some stains, mainly due to water or contaminants found in water, that also exist. Let’s address those as well.
Defining Water Spot Stains
A water spot is itself a stain. They are top layer stains that don’t necessarily etch into the clear coating – rather they stick on top of them. This fact makes water stains much easier to remove. Most of the time, water spots are caused by dried mineral deposits. Sometimes they can be easily removed with a microfiber towel, while some require a chemical cleaning agent or automotive soap.
There are three general water spot types:
The first level of water spot is a type 1 spot. It is caused by hard water or excessive calcium deposits found in general tap water. You can remove them with a chamois, microfiber towel, rewashing, or using a quick detailer spray.
The second layer to water spots is the type 2 spot. Another word for them is a bonded mineral spot. It’s sourced by the same thing – excessive levels of minerals found in tap or wastewater. This type of water spot can soak into the clear coat, and usually need to be removed with a chemical cleaning agent.
The etched in water spot is known as the type 3 water sport. If the water spot is not removed – the mineral deposits will embed inside the top layer of the clear coat – and require more aggressive removal procedures to be followed.
How to Remove Car Paint Stains
The main problem with this section is – there simply isn’t a black and white, yes or no method for removing them. It really depends on the depth and level of the paint stain, the source of the stain, and other crucial details that will determine how to remove them.
A few of the factors you should consider before starting to remove these stains include:
The source of the stain: If the paint stain is caused by anything acidic, it’s more than likely that the stain is deeper into the clear coat than non-acidic sources. This will likely require paint correction. Here is the main problem, there is a point when you can cut past the clear coat, and into the paint itself.
How long the stain has been on the surface: The length of time that the stain has been on the surface will also dictate the removal. Stains that have been on the clear coat for a matter of days might be removed with a simple car wash, while others on the surface for months – will require aggressive methods of removal.
Your experience: There are some paint stains that are more complex to remove. It’s literally a ‘let’s try this – review it – and let’s try some more…’ – mentality. This is where experience with auto body maintenance and repair comes in quite handy.
As such, this is a process that I would recommend – for the novice DIYer and those with moderate detailing experience.
Steps for Removing Car Paint Stains
When you find a stain on your rides paint surface, there are a few best practices to follow that will help you with the removal process.
Step One – Wash and Dry the Vehicle
The first thing to do – that will provide you with a clear canvass to work on, is to wash and dry your vehicle – correctly. Now, there are a lot of ways to skin a cat with washing your car, but if you’re going to remove a paint stain, you should wash using the reliable hand washing, two-bucket method. Click this link to review how to complete the two-bucket wash if you need some reference.
Step Two – Make a White Vinegar Spray Solution
Once your car has been completely washed and dried, make a white vinegar spray solution. White vinegar is a great product (when thinned out with a 50/50 ratio of distilled water) that is great for removing many surface stains.
Here is how this is done.
- Grab a 16 oz spray bottle that is completely clean and has been washed out.
- Fill it with 8 oz of white vinegar and the remainder of the bottle with distilled water. *Make sure to use distilled water – I mean, spend the dollar to buy a gallon of distilled water – it really makes a difference when the water is pure.
- Once the bottle is filled, shake it up, and spray onto the surface where the stain exists. Let the solution sit for about 30-seconds to let it soak in.
- Wipe the vinegar spray solution with a clean microfiber towel.
If the stain remains, try this one more time before proceeding to the third step. Most of the time, this works on Type 1, 2, and some Type 3 water spots. It can also work on fresh bird dropping or bug splatter stains.
Step Three – Clay Bar Treatment
Walking down the paint stain trail we’ll arrive to our next stop – clay bar or clay mitt treatment. Some people simply call this claying, which involves using an automotive grade clay, some lubricant spray (which is basically concentrated car wash soap at a thicker solution percentage) and sliding the clay bar or mitt over the surface.
This video will explain in detail how clay bar treatment is completed. If you’d like to read an article with written steps, this link will help.
Step Four -- Paint Correction
If you’ve completed each of these three steps, and that damn stain remains, your final option is paint correction. This includes using a polishing compound along with a microfiber applicator pad, and an electric-powered orbital polisher. Unfortunately, it’s paint correction that tends to be the ‘let’s try this – check it out – and do it some more’ process, where having experience is needed.
Again – for reference, this video will help. For a step-by-step article, here is your link.
How to Prevent Paint Stains
There is no way to spin this – removing paint stains can 100% be avoided. This is where using a high-quality paint protection product like a DIY nano-ceramic coating is helpful. A nano-coating uses nanotechnology to fill the microscopic peaks and valleys found on solid, porous surfaces.
Once the imperfections are filled, the coating hardens, to provide an extremely flat and hard layer of protection. This produces a sacrificial layer of protection – which prohibits hard water, tree sap, bird droppings, bug splatters, and other stain producers from embedding on the clear coat or unprotected surface.
A product like Armor Shield IX can protect your vehicle from developing paint stains. It also keeps your car cleaner for longer periods, as it produces a hydrophobic surface that’s freaking epic – and much better than ceramic sprays, car wax, or paint sealants.