Have you ever heard of the Liberty Valance Effect? It’s derived from the classic John Ford movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” and one of the most iconic quotes – “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” It basically represents a modern-day reality in social media, journalism and daily life.
Now you’re likely asking yourself, what the F does this have to do with wax, paint sealant, other protection products or a ceramic coating? Well, one of the biggest ‘legends’ about ceramic pro and DIY products is that they enhance and repair paint when applied – which is why paint jobs look brilliant after application. Like many modern legends, this is not entirely accurate.
Ceramic coating -- whether applied by DIY’ers or a pro detailer, is intended to protect the surface where it’s applied. While the nanotechnology allows it to penetrate scratches and imperfections in porous materials, it doesn’t fill swirl marks or scratches to remove them. In fact, it highlights them and makes them more apparent.
In today’s article, we’re going to explain why this happens, how to correctly repair swirl marks and scratches, and how applying a ceramic coating on top of the repaired paint can reduce the potential of these paint blemishes occurring.
Do Ceramic Coatings Fill Some Scratches?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions of potential ceramic coating consumers, and one of the hardest to give a direct answer. Technically, yes, a ceramic coating will seep into scratches and swirl marks that have damaged the clear coating. But it doesn’t fill them to repair the issue or visually remove them.
A ceramic coating is completely transparent and exceptionally microscopic. This is where the whole “nano” term comes into play with a nano-ceramic coating product. The particles of quartz found in ceramic coatings are so small that they bond together inside the scratch, not fill and repair it like a cutting compound or polish.
In fact, this is a great opportunity to explain how cutting compounds and polishes repair scratches and swirl marks.
How Does Polish Repair Small Scratches and Swirl Marks?
Polish essentially is a gritty substance that cuts away at paint (or specifically clear coating) to the point that the small scratch or swirl mark matches the surrounding thickness of the paint. It slowly removes the clear coat and fills those smaller scratches.
It’s the same concept as repairing a swirl mark. It’s basically like using light grit sandpaper but doesn’t damage the paint. If you can feel the scratch with your fingernail, you need to remove it with sandpaper – which itself is a highly technical process and should be completed by folks with automotive paint repair experience like a professional detailer.
What Does Ceramic Coating Do for Your Car’s Paint?
When you ask most car owners why they use a ceramic coating – it’s all about protecting the paint from exposure to the elements, debris, chemicals, and more. It’s not used to repair paint. In fact, ceramic coatings will amplify scratches and swirl marks once it has hardened and cured. They also enhance paint gloss and shine, while reducing car detailing tasks, making it easier to care for by car owners.
Here are a few things that ceramic coatings will help with your car paint.
- Scratch Resistant: Ceramic coatings are scratch resistant – not scratch proof. The resistance to scratching is typically attributed to the hardness and quality of the ceramic coating. Small scratches can be ‘buffed’ out with good ceramic products.
- Protect from Road Salt Damage: Salt is corrosive and will eat away at clear coats quickly if it remains on the vehicle’s surface. This is usually important to those living in cold weather climates.
- UV Protection: The biggest enemy of paint is UV rays. Ultra-Violet light is emitted by the sun. It’s basically radiation (at a very small percentage) which heats up a surface, can eat away at clear coats, and cause damage to the paint surface underneath.
- Corrosion Resistant: Acid rain, chemicals, and even animal waste (like bird droppings and bug splatters) can eat away at clear coats and eventually your paint. Unlike most waxes, the ceramic coating provides a protective layer for the paintwork against corrosion produced by these products.
- Enhance Hydrophobic Properties: The final term commonly used with ceramic coatings is hydrophobic. This relates the ability to repel water. Since the ceramic coating is so flat and slippery, it’ very difficult for the ceramic coating to stick to the coating. This is regarded as having hydrophobic properties or water repellency. It’s also what helps to reduce dirt and debris sticking, and also makes it easy to remove bird droppings and bug splatters. Ceramic coatings are far superior to carnauba wax in this effort.
Effects of Ceramic Coating on Swirl Marks or Scratches
A scratch is fairly simple to explain – it’s a thin etching on the paint surface. Swirl marks are a bit more complex. These are the fine scratches that are hard to see unless you’re looking at the paint at the right angle. It’s usually visible under night lights or direct sunlight.
Under most circumstances, swirl marks will appear more visible on flat surfaces including roofs, hoods, or trunks. You’ll also notice them frequently on fenders and doors. Swirl marks on paint tend to be amplified on dark-colored vehicles. This is just an optical effect, as it’s simply harder to see them on light-colored vehicles.
It’s often assumed that swirl marks are just ‘circular’. That’s not quite accurate. They can appear horizontally, vertically, or sideways – or in the popular circle pattern.
What Causes Swirl Marks on Car Paint?
Under most circumstances, the typical swirl mark is caused by drying a vehicle after washing with a regular towel that has particles of dust or dirt on it. They can also be caused by using ‘used’ car wash mitts, which is why the two-bucket car wash is recommended by most detailers.
A common myth is that using a microfiber towel will eliminate the potential of swirl marks on clear coats. This is simply not accurate. While they will help reduce it’ potential, it’s still possible. This is why it’s a good idea to use a clean microfiber towel anytime you are drying a non-protected clear-coated vehicle.
There are other common sources of swirl marks including:
- Polishing or buffing with used pads
- Using aggressive paint cleaners or polish cutting compounds
- Using polyester applicators or dirty chamois
- Using a dirty car dusting tool
- Using automated car washes
- Not rinsing a car before washing (pre-washing)
- Placing a dirty car cover on the vehicle
Is it Possible to Prevent Swirl Marks?
To quote Obi-Wan – “Only a Sith deals in Absolutes…” Which is why I really hate questions that look for a black or white answer. The truth is, you can’t 100% eliminate the potential of swirl marks. However, there are several ways to significantly put a damper on it happening on your ride.
Step 1 – Use the Two-Bucket Method for Washing Your Car
Instead of taking your car to the local automatic car wash (which is a haven for swirl mark creation) – hand washes by using the two-bucket method. This video below explains the concept of this washing technique – so watch and learn. It really makes a huge difference in reducing swirl marks and cleans your car better than any other technique that I know.
Step 2 – Completely Rinse Your Vehicle when Done Washing
Before you attempt to dry the vehicle, make sure you completely rinse the vehicle off with fresh water. By doing this, you’ll remove any excess debris that might cause scratching or swirl marks.
Step 3 – Use a Chamois to Remove Surface Water
A chamois is a great product for removing standing water from a vehicle surface. The key is ensuring that it’s completely clean itself. Many car owners forget this important step, just slap it on and go to work. This can create scratching, so always make sure it’s completely clean and prepped by fully submerging in clean water prior and ringing out before using.
Step 4 – Apply a Ceramic Coating
A ceramic coating is not scratch-proof, but it can significantly reduce the potential of swirl marks. A ceramic coating works by providing an ultra-thin yet exceptionally strong and flat layer of protection. It’s hydrophobic, so it beads water, so you can dry with fresh microfiber towels with very little effort.
Can Swirl Marks Be Removed?
It is possible to remove swirl marks that are embedded in the clear coating of paint. The best way to remove swirls is to use an electric polishing machine or buffer and a light cutting compound.
The video posted above explains how to best remove swirl marks through a process called paint correction. If you’d like to read more about what’s involved in paint correction, this article will help. Aggressive swirl marks may require wet sanding, clay bar treatment, and other advanced paint correction techniques.
How to Improve Your Paints Swirl Mark and Scratch Resistance
As explained several times in this and previous articles on our website, ceramic coatings do NOT PREVENT swirl marks or scratches. But they are one of the best paint protection products on the market today to improve the resistance of this all-too-common issue.
So – how does a ceramic coating help to reduce swirl marks and scratches?
It’s pretty simple. When a ceramic coating is applied to a porous surface, it fills those microscopic imperfections to provide a completely flat and incredibly hard layer of protection. This hard layer is incredibly hydrophobic, meaning that it’s quite difficult for anything to stick and adhere, including dirt, dust, and other debris.
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It essentially provides a smooth surface to wash, clean, and remove contaminants.
Additionally, since it’s very hard, it’s difficult to scratch. It has a 9H level hardness (as rated on the pencil scale).
Wrapping it Up
While investing in the right car washing supplies, and using the right techniques is crucial for reducing swirl marks, the main thing to get out of this article is to always make sure to protect the paint with some protectant.
Whether you’re using car wax, paint sealants, PPF, or a ceramic coating, having a layer of protection on top of the clear coat will provide a sacrificial layer to reduce the potential of damaging scratches or swirl marks.