Applying a ceramic coating is like getting dressed for a wedding. It takes patience, practice, and just the right combo of materials.

Unfortunately, unlike a tuxedo or a slinky cocktail dress, removing a ceramic coating takes a tad more work than just dropping your garments upon the sofa after a night of revelry.

In this article, you will learn that in order to remove a ceramic coating, you’ll have to either muster-up some serious elbow grease, or pay a professional to tackle the task for you.

We’ll also cover the reasons why you might want/need to remove a ceramic coating prematurely, as well as the risks that are involved with this procedure. Ah, hell. While we’re at it we might as well cover the three most popular methods for removing a ceramic coating from a car’s exterior too.

Reasons for Removing a Ceramic Coating

A solidified concentration of ceramic coating. Photo Credit: Pan The Organizer/YouTube

Most people purchase a nano ceramic coating product because they are looking for an affordable, low-maintenance product to keep their vehicle shiny and shielded from the elements. A semi-permanent layer of protection that kicks-ass at repelling rain water, road grime, bird shit, tree sap, and really bad 1980s hair band metal.

Alright, so maybe it won’t fend-off obnoxious headbanging ballads, but nano ceramic coatings can keep a crap-ton of other crud from latching onto an automobile… at least… up until it needs to be replaced.

Here at AvalonKing we purposefully use the term “semi-permanent” to describe Armor Shield IX. Why? Because for as hearty as it may be, even the toughest 9H-rated ceramic coating will eventually begin to wear thin. 

But even if a ceramic coating is in stellar shape, there are instances when its removal is mandatory. Here are a few of the more common reasons for prematurely removing a ceramic coating.

Body Work

Once scratches go beyond the clear coat, paint, and primer, becoming deeply engrained in the sheet metal or plastic itself, it might be time to talk to a professional body repair shop. Photo Credit: Micah Wright
Once scratches go beyond the clear coat, paint, and primer, becoming deeply engrained in the sheet metal or plastic itself, it might be time to talk to a professional body repair shop. Photo Credit: Micah Wright

The most common reason for removing paint protectants like ceramic coatings prior to their expiration, is because body work is required. Fender-benders, human error, and various forms of vehicle surface scratch all call for the repair or replacement of an individual body part.

For those individuals who have ceramic coated their car, two very different paths can be taken:

  • Repair damage: If the body damage can be fixed, chances are the body shop will strip the area prior to repair. This means that the removal of the ceramic coating on the panel must be conducted prior to restoration. You would then need to wait at least 30 days for the paint and clear coat to cure before applying a ceramic coating product. As with any ceramic coating installation, proper surface preparation will also be required, even after a fresh coating of paint and clear coat has been applied.
  • Replace body part: In this case, you will not need to remove the ceramic coating, for the new body part will be a blank canvas. If the rest of the vehicle’s ceramic coating is in solid shape, wait 30 days for the paint and clear coat to cure, and then proceed with the necessary surface prep and coating processes.

Applying a New Paint Protection Product

The Ceramic Job - How To Apply AvalonKing Armor Shield IX

The second reason why you might consider prematurely removing a ceramic coating, is in preparation for a fresh coating, or the installation of a completely different paint protection product.

As we mentioned earlier, most ceramic coating products tend to wear thin after 2-3 years. Removing an aging protectant, and then conducting any mandatory surface prep work and paint correction procedures is a crucial part of the reapplication process.

Quick Tip: You wouldn’t put a pair of clean underpants on over the filthy ones you slapped on your ass this morning, would you? The same goes for ceramic coatings. Always remove an old coating before applying a new one, even if it is was only applied a few months prior, and don’t forget to wash while you’re at it.

Fresh Paint Job

An Acura NSX is robotically painted at the Honda PMC building in Ohio. Photo Credit: Micah Wright
An Acura NSX is robotically painted at the Honda PMC building in Ohio. Photo Credit: Micah Wright

The final reason why you’d want to remove a ceramic coating ahead of schedule is because you plan on repainting the entire vehicle. If this is the case, you don’t need to worry about damaging the clear coat, as you’ll be removing that as well. It’s all going to get stripped anyways, so let the pros do what they do best, and worry about ceramic coating the vehicle when they are finished.

Methods for Removing Ceramic Coatings

An example of a clay bar kit, prepped and ready for the auto detailing task at hand. Photo Credit: TriNova
An example of a clay bar kit, prepped and ready for the ceramic coating removal task at hand. Photo Credit: TriNova

Ceramic coating removal is by no means a complex process. Here are a few of the more popular methods for accomplishing this task.

Quick Nerd Note: When possible, always follow the ceramic coating manufacturer’s recommended removal process. Any product manufacturer worth a damn will provide you with detailed steps on how to correctly remove the old product, prep the vehicle or surface in question, and install a new layer.

Chemical Removal

Chemically removing a layer of ceramic coating from a surface can provide quick results. But it can also be a risky endeavor, as it may damage what rests beneath.
Chemically removing a layer of ceramic coating from a surface can provide quick results. But it can also be a risky endeavor, as it may damage what rests beneath.

While most high-quality ceramic coatings are resistant to chemicals, they are not “chemical proof.” There are a multitude of chemical products that will eat into a ceramic coating faster than a brown bear at a hot dog cart.

For instance, alkaline-rich products and pH-heavy chemicals have the ability to cause ceramic coatings to peel-back, or “lift” from whatever surface they have been applied to. The drawback to this method of removal, is that many of these chemicals can also impact the quality of the clear coat underneath.

If you’re going to attempt this process, there are a few general steps you need to follow:

  • Always check to see how harmful the chemical will be on clear coatings and paint. Not doing so may result in you damaging your paint to the point that it needs to be removed and resprayed.
  • Apply the chemical to an inconspicuous section prior to hitting entire body panels. This will allow you to test the potency of the product, and limit damage to the clear coat and paint.
  • When in doubt, don’t do it. This is especially true when the chemical you plan on using is not recommended by the ceramic coating manufacturer.

Clay Removal

Clay your car, and you will be amazed by the amount of crud it removes from your vehicle's exterior surfaces. Photo Credit: LaCuraDellAuto.it/Facebook
Automotive clay can lift all sorts of stuff from a vehicle’s exterior surfaces, including ceramic coatings. Photo Credit: LaCuraDellAuto.it/Facebook

The second method for removing ceramic coatings requires the use of a clay bar, clay mitt, or clay towel. While “claying” a vehicle is a crucial step in the surface prep process, cutting back on the amount of lubrication used turns this synthetic material into an incredibly potent ceramic coating removal tool.

By going light on the lube, you increase the amount of friction being applied to the surface. This makes clay products ideal for lifting old and new ceramic coatings alike.

The main disadvantage to this method, is that it does not remove iron contamination. Iron particles and “fallout” are everywhere, including roadways, and this metallic material cakes onto everything, including ceramic coatings. So be sure to use an iron removal chemical before applying a fresh ceramic coating.

Once complete, follow these tips for removing a ceramic coating with clay:

  • Start by using a traditional clay bar cleaning method. Use lots of lubrication to keep the clay product and the surface it is being slid across extremely slippery. This will help guarantee that all contaminants are removed prior to attempting to penetrate the ceramic coating itself.
  • While applying an even amount of force, slide the clay product in a left-to-right motion. This will help create a consistent pattern which will slowly penetrate the ceramic coating.
  • First pass complete, start a second pass, this time with far less lubrication.
  • Repeat until the entire vehicle has been stripped of its ceramic coating.

Quick Tip: Most clay bar kits come with their own lubrication spray. However, you can make your own lube by using a high quality automotive shampoo, and blending it with water until it resembles a slightly watered-down soapy solution.

Polishing Removal

A vigorous series of passes with a polishing tool and various cutting compounds will eventually lift even the most stubborn of ceramic coatings. Photo Credit: Rightlook/Facebook
A vigorous series of passes with a polishing tool and various cutting compounds will eventually lift even the most stubborn of ceramic coatings. Photo Credit: Rightlook/Facebook

Universally recognized as the most effective method for removing a ceramic coating, polishing is the way to go if you feel up for a little power tool time.

This technique centers around various buffing pads that have been attached to a polishing tool, both of which rely upon different grades of cutting compounds in progressively milder increments.

While the polishing/paint correction process is a common step in the ceramic coating prep and removal routine, it is by no means a procedure that should be attempted by the inexperienced. Polishing compounds, buffing wheels, and powerful polishers do an outstanding job of removing ceramic coatings, but they can also eat-up a clear coat in a heartbeat.

That said, if you feel up for the task, or are curious to see how the process works, here are the core steps for removing a ceramic coating with a polishing tool.

Step 1: Wash the Vehicle

As with any auto detailing procedure, a thorough car wash should always be the first step. Photo Credit: Wilson Auto Detailing/YouTube
As with any auto detailing procedure, a thorough car wash should always be the first step. Photo Credit: Wilson Auto Detailing/YouTube

The first thing you want to do is wash your vehicle. When hand-washing a vehicle, it’s always best to use the two-buckets-and-a-beer method. If you’re unfamiliar with this approach, check out our AvalonKing car cleaning blog article, and don’t forget to snag a cold six-pack ahead of time.

Step 2: Keep It Cool & Seek Shade

Working with a cool surface is important, as it will help keep the clear coat and paint from being damaged. This is why it is important to always do auto detailing work indoors when possible.
Working with a cool surface is important, as it will help keep the clear coat and paint from being damaged. This is why it is important to always do auto detailing work indoors when possible.

While it is important to not wash a vehicle in direct sunlight, it is even more crucial that you keep it shaded. Polishing works best when the surface is cool to the touch, so if the hood or roof is warm to the touch, move the vehicle to a garage or shaded area for a couple of hours prior to proceeding.

Step 3: Get Your Shit Together

Various grades of polishing compound, a power polishing tool, microfiber cloths, and a fresh bottle of Armor Shield IX by AvalonKing mean its business time.
Various grades of polishing compound, a power polishing tool, microfiber cloths, and a fresh bottle of Armor Shield IX by AvalonKing mean its business time.

While the vehicle is cooling, you will want to round-up the following supplies if you haven’t already.

  • (1) High-grade, coarse polishing/cutting compound
  • (1) Medium-grade, thin polishing/cutting compound
  • (1) Light-grade, mild polishing/cutting compound
  • (5) Hand polishing applicator pads
  • (25) Polishing tool microfiber buffing pads
  • (1) Electric polisher
  • (5) Microfiber buffing towels

Step 4: Get Wet & Rub It Out

A wash and dry after the clay bar treatment is completed will help rinse away any debris that may have been lifted during the detailing process. Photo Credit: Wilson Auto Detailing/YouTube
Keeping the vehicle’s surfaces cool and well-lubricated with water will help prevent your polishing procedure from turning into a clear coat stripping session. Photo Credit: Wilson Auto Detailing/YouTube

When using a cutting compound, especially a thicker grade, you should always be applying it to an extremely wet surface. This helps reduce the risk of scratching the clear coat or raw surface underneath the ceramic coating.

Using a fluid left-to-right, followed by an up-and-down motion, hit one panel at a time with the coarsest cutting compound. You’ll know you are done once every portion of the vehicle has been polished and is somewhat hazy looking.

Quick Tip: Many professionals suggest that beginners start by applying heavily abrasive cutting compounds with a hand-held polishing pad. Once they’ve become comfortable with how an electric polisher functions on a slow setting, the hand application process can be substituted for the far speedier power tool approach.

Step 5: Get Down With Those Cutting Compounds

As the vehicle gets stripped of its ceramic coating with each pass, you will want to graduate to a finer grade of polishing compound.
As the vehicle gets stripped of its ceramic coating, transition to a finer grade of polishing compound.

After the application of the most aggressive cutting compound is complete, you’ll want to step down to the medium grade cutting compound, and then repeat the entire process. Eventually you will be working with the lowest grade of finishing polish, at which point you will be removing more surface scratches and swirl marks than ceramic coating.

Quick Tip: As you go, be sure to routinely rinse-off the polishing pad to prevent it from getting gummed-up. However, if it looks super filthy, replace the pad with a fresh unit, remembering to rinse the vehicle to keep it cool and lubricated. Once all grades of cutting compound have been applied to the vehicle, rinse it one more time before wiping it down with some super plush microfiber towels.

Parting Shots

Once stripped of its ceramic coating, the surface of the vehicle is then ready for an isopropyl alcohol wipe-down, followed by a fresh layer of nano ceramic coating.
Once stripped of its ceramic coating, the surface of the vehicle is then ready for an isopropyl alcohol wipe-down, followed by a fresh layer of nano ceramic coating.

Although removing a ceramic coating is by no means a complex affair, it is quite the labor-intensive, and potentially risky procedure.

Having a basic grasp of how paint and clear coats work is essential in solidifying the successful removal of a ceramic coating. So study-up before jumping in head-first.

As with any DIY project, if you feel uncertain of your methods or the potential outcome, seek the input of an auto body and paint expert on the subject. Plodding ahead and hoping for the best is a huge gamble, especially when a pristine clear coat is just a hair’s breadth beneath the ceramic coating you are removing.

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.