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Everything You Need to Know About Removing Spider Scratches on Paint

Everything You Need to Know About Removing Spider Scratches on Paint

For those who have owned their cars, trucks, or SUV’s for an extended period, it’s likely you’ve encountered spider scratches at some point. Whether you call it spider webbing, spider scratches, or swirl marks, this inconvenient and noticeable paint imperfections are usually the direct result of neglected or poorly treated automotive paint surfaces.

While there are multiple sources and causes of spider scratches, knowing how they are sourced, how to remove them through DIY paint correction, and how to protect your paint surface from future damage is the best course of action to squashing this issue.

That’s what we’ll focus on with today’s AvalonKing blog. In the information below, we’ll introduce the root sources of spider scratches and swirl marks, the role that ‘dry paint’ has in accelerating their appearance, what car owners and others do to cause them, and techniques you can integrate to reduce them from negatively impacting your paint again.

What are Spider Scratches on a Car?

On the left is a classic example of spider webbing or a spider scratch. On the right is the finished product after a professional detailer completed a rather complex paint correction.

Did you know that your car’s paint and your skin are quite similar? They both depend on hydration in the form of natural oils to help reduce the potential of scratching. This is actually the root source of spider scratches and swirl marks.

Let me explain before you hit the comment section.

Our skin receives hydration from natural oils or conditioners – we all know this; right? Well, your car’s paint is protected by a clear coat, that likewise has natural oils. As it’s exposed to UV radiation and other natural elements, the automotive natural oils inside the clear coat begin to dry. It creates a ‘dry paint’ condition, which is actively promoted by car wax companies mainly as a selling point for using their products, but it’s a real thing.

Well, when your skin is dry, it tends to flake and become prone to scratching. The same thing happens to automotive paint, which is why it’s recommended to apply car wax (which contains natural oils) to “hydrate” the paint.

Now, there are other conditions that cause the spider scratch to develop, mainly contaminants on the dry surface, and using other dry materials (like towels) to wipe down the vehicle surface. In fact, spider scratches look quite similar to cracks in human skin, like those on mechanic hands (guys look down for an example.)

What is Meant by the Term “Spider Scratches?”

I hope you’re ready for some education because quite frankly, there is a TON of bad information about spider scratches on the interwebs (see what I did there)?

Spider scratches are those web-like imperfections you see at just the right light angle on automotive paint. They are typically the result of automotive paint (or specifically the clear coat) losing its self-lubricating ability to resist ‘scratching’ due to contaminants. When the clear coat is not ‘lubricated’ the surface is prone to be ‘scratched’ – even by microfiber towels.  

As the image above shows, the scratches appear like spider webs and are typically in a circular pattern that reflects from direct sunlight or illumination at a specific angle. They are common on flat surfaces mainly, but really can be a pain in the ass.

What’s the Difference from Spider Scratches and Swirl Marks?

So, there is a difference between a spider scratch (or commonly known as spider webbing) and a swirl mark. Visually, they look nearly identical. But on the inside, they are subtly different.

A swirl mark is a very light scratch like it can be removed with 3,000 grit sandpaper or even finer – that thin. The swirl mark is typically created by using orbital polishers or car wax applicators or using the wax-on-wax-off method of drying a car with cotton towels.

Spider scratches or spider webbing is a result of using what we automotive paint protection experts keep telling you to do – use a microfiber cloth or towel to dry your vehicle. Now, this is where the dry paint deal we introduced earlier comes into play.

If the surface of the paint (or clear coating) is protected or hydrated with a natural wax or other paint protection product (like a ceramic coating), the paint itself will be protected from developing spider scratches.

You’ll find spider scratches on dark-colored vehicles mainly, but you can also see them on white cars, trucks, and SUV’s as well. Swirl marks likewise tend to show up better on darker colored vehicles.

What Causes Spider Webbing on Car Paint?

So, there is a huge difference in the cause and source of spider webbing on car paint. Essentially, spider webbing is CAUSED by clear coat paint surfaces that can’t flex, and eventually begins to crack. This is due to constant exposure to UV rays, acid rain, and other contaminants that have a ‘drying’ effect on the clear coat itself.

The SOURCE or ACTIVATOR of spider webbing is using recommended microfiber towels or wash mitts to wash and dry a vehicle. If the clear coat surface is not protected by an automotive wax, paint sealant, ceramic coating, or other product, the potential of spider webbing accelerates.

How to Reduce the Potential of Spider Webbing on Car Paint

Hopefully, by now this is fairly obvious to the reader of this article. Spider webbing on car paint is 100% avoidable. By applying a protective layer on top of the clear coat, you’re reducing the ability of UV radiation and other ‘drying’ contaminants to penetrate to the surface of the car.

Car owners can use natural carnauba wax, which contains protective oils that help to aid in the flexibility of clear coats and paints. But it also hardens quite well once it’s exposed to UV rays, providing that hard shell of protection. The drawback is that it only lasts a few months.

A paint sealant does the same job of blocking the harmful elements that leads to paint cracking. It’s basically like using sunblock on your skin, but on a car’s paint, it will only last for a year at most.

The next evolution in paint protection is a ceramic coating. This product uses nanotechnology to penetrate into those microscopic imperfections on a clear coat, filling the holes, allowing flexibility throughout the paint surface, and blocking those pain in the ass UV rays and other crap that CAUSES spider webbing.

Challenges in Removing Spider Scratches from a Car

Like a swirl mark, spider webbing tends to be a very thin scratch, that is cut into the clear coat of paint. The main difference is that it’s not really a scratch at all. It’s cracking in the paint or clear coated surface. This introduces some challenges to fixing spider scratches that are different than normal swirl mark removal.

With swirl marks, you can purchase a cutting compound, slap it on a polishing microfiber cloth or orbital polisher, and go to work. It’s rather simple and quite effective. The cutting compound literally ‘smooths’ the clear coat surface, and eventually, the swirl marks are removed.

Spider scratches are a bit more complex to remove. Since the clear coat is literally cracking, you need to remove a portion of that coating, to the point that it’s smooth. This is a gradual process, that usually involves using more aggressive cutting compounds, cutting pads (of gradual grit and thickness), and progressing to lighter compounds and pads.

When Are Spider Scratches Fixable?

Basically, a spider scratch or spider webbing needs to be resolved and repaired as soon as possible. As the paint (or clear coat) continues to be unprotected, the webbing effect will expand. In the case of webbing, it means the clear coat will continue to dry and become harder to work with for removal.

There is a general rule of thumb (literally) with attempting to repair a scratch. It’s called the thumbnail test. Basically, if you can run your thumbnail across a scratch, and you can hear the nail or paint make a “pop” sound, the scratch is too deep to repair (without heavy paint correction).

One item to remember is that removing scratches is basically leveling the clear coat to match the level of the scratch. The deeper the scratches, the higher amounts of clear coat you’re removing. This has a negative effect, as you’re losing the protection provided by a clear coat.

What are the Steps for Removing Spider Scratches from Your Car Paint?

OK – let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this article. So far in the information above, we’ve clearly defined what a spider scratch or webbing effect is, and how it’s different from a traditional swirl mark. While they are unique in their cause, the solution to repair is essentially identical for both.

It really breaks down to using a cutting compound to remove microscopic layers of the clear coat, until it reaches the same depth as the scratches or ‘swirl marks’ and spider webs. Therein lies the rub. The trick is removing enough clear coat to smooth the surface, without removing too much to reduce its ability to protect the paint underneath.

So – since we really don’t want to steer anyone in the wrong direction, we’re going to outline the general steps for removing both – spider webbing and swirl marks. Since spider webbing is a ‘by touch and feels’ type of repair, it’s best left to a professional detailer if you really want exceptional results.

If you’re going to invest in a high-quality DIY ceramic coating like Armor Shield IX, having a detailer complete this step basically equates to the prep work needed to be completed anyways. This video gives an example of why this is a good investment.

Here are the general steps for leveling the paint surface.

  • Apply the cutting compound with an electric polisher and microfiber cutting pad.
  • Make sure to replace the microfiber cutting pad frequently – I’d suggest every six-square foot section. If you don’t replace the pad, you’re basically just digging a deeper hole.
  • Complete this process until you’ve done the entire vehicle – or area you’re focusing on.  

Protecting Your Paint After Removing Spider Webbing or Spider Scratches On Car Paint

If you’ve followed the steps listed in that video above that explains the cutting compound method, you’ll be ready to head to the final and arguably, most important step – protection. The reason your paint spider-webbed in the first place was due to lack of protection from the elements – specifically UV rays.

So, there are generally three levels of paint protection that a DIY’er can use to reduce the potential of spider webbing occurring again.

Car Wax

Automotive car wax like carnauba wax is the easiest to prep and apply paint protection products. It’s best to use paste wax, as they have more natural oils to help lubricate your clear coating and protect it from UV rays. This option will last about two months, at which point, you’ll have to remove and re-wax the vehicle.

Paint Sealants

Consider this product as a synthetic created car wax on steroids. It does the same job of providing a hard layer of protection to the top of a clear coating and helps to block UV rays from penetrating to the surface. It lasts about a year, but again, you’ll have to remove the paint sealants and apply it once again. Removing paint sealants are a bit more labor intense than car wax.

Ceramic Coating

The ultimate layer of protection for resisting spider webbing on a car’s paint is applying a nanoceramic coating like Armor Shield IX. A ceramic coating fills those imperfections found on any porous surface, like clear coats, headlights, windshields, plastic materials, and more.

Once it cures, it provides an unbelievably strong layer of protection that will block UV rays, acids, chemicals and more from penetrating the clear coat, which thus – reduces the potential of spider webbing and swirl marks.

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Wrapping it Up

At the root of most paint damage is lack of protection combined with using cheap or ‘easy’ car washing methods (like automated car wash facilities). By taking the proactive measure of applying car wax, a paint sealant or ceramic coating, you’ll take a huge step forward in protecting your paint and reduce the chances of these annoying spider scratches.

If you enjoyed this article, then you'll love AvalonKing's automotive care products for Do-It-Yourselfers. We create "No B.S products" for an affordable price. And the best part, we treat our customers like family, so if you have any questions or just looking to chat about cars, we're only an email or call away. Check out our homepage here.

Tim Charlet

Tim is part of the AvalonKing team as a content editor. A 30-year automotive guru, marketing super freak, and accomplished publicist & columnist, “Timmah” is also a licensed NHRA Drag Racer, a proud dad of two, and loves a good Guinness two-part pour.
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