Water spots are a serious pain in the ass. Beyond the aesthetic detriment, water spots can also lead to scratches that’ll make your car look used and abused. DIY car lovers spend billions of dollars each year on car care products designed to eliminate the potential of water spots.
Whether it’s the elbow grease and sweat-equity used by a do-it-yourselfer, or finding paint protection products to repel water stains, keeping your daily driver or your garage queen free of water spots is a constant battle. Due to this fact, finding a cost-effective and easy way to remove water spots will not only improve the look of your car but can improve resale value.
That’s what we’ll dive into today. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the different types of water spots, what causes them, how to remove and introduce four methods of getting rid of them – for good.
Outlining the Types of Water Spots
You might think that water spots are a one-size-fits-all problem. This would be a bad assumption. In truth, there are three types of water spots, each of them caused by different sources – and each with their own removal processes.
Sometimes, water spots are just a dried-up mineral deposit that can be wiped off with a microfiber cloth. Other water spots leave imprints on the paint surface, while some can infuse themselves on the clear coat.
So -- let’s look at the three types of water spots:
Type 1 Water Spots
Hard water spot and its cause
It’s quite possible you’ve heard of the term hard water spot. Whether it’s in the shower or on your car’s paint, they are caused by the same thing – excessive calcium. This is a water issue – and more common in regions with hard water issues.
These spots are often caused by water that dries onto the vehicle surface with exposure to direct sunlight. A hard water spot is also caused by rain, or specifically, the contaminants picked up from smog and pollution.
Regular water spot
The Type 1 water spot is also referred to as a regular water spot. In most cases, they can be removed by rewashing the vehicle, using a chamois and microfiber towel to completely dry the vehicle.
Type II Water Spots
The second type of water spot is called a Type II or bonded mineral water spots.
Cause of Type II mineral water spot
This is also caused by the same source – dirty water or water with excessive contaminants. When the water dries on the paint surface, and it remains on the clear coat, actually embedding onto the coat.
The embedding or watermarks occur when a water spot (or specifically the contaminant like calcium or smog) dries. It basically soaks into the clear coat.
Removal of Type 1 water spot
The Type 1 water spot or bonded mineral water spot is only removed by leveling the paint by using a machine or old-fashioned elbow grease, a clay bar treatment or combined with an abrasive cutting compound or paint cleaner. This also called paint correction.
Type III Water Spots
When your car is impacted by Type III water spots or etched-in water spots, it’s pretty much a no-win situation. This type of water spot or hard water stains is basically a stain that looks like a faded area on the paint clear coat. While this situation occurs typically on a single-stage paint job without hard clear coating, it can also happen on factory paint jobs.
The good news is that a type III water spot is limited to the upper layer of paint, meaning you can fix them by using similar techniques found in paint correction.
What Are the 4 Ways of Removing Water Spots?
Now that you understand the different levels of water spots, it’s critical that you learn how to remove them and prevent them from occurring again.
But, before we get too hot and heavy into the prevention mode, let’s outline the four proven methods for removing water spots.
1. Complete Two-bucket Wash and Dry
The best way of removing Type 1 water sports is by completing a two-bucket method car wash and completely dry. For those not familiar with the two-bucket method, this article will shed some light on the products you’ll need, and the process for cleaning them.
But – here is a brief recap for review:
To complete a two-bucket wash, you’ll need to start with the right supplies. Here is a list of what you should use:
- (3) 5-gallon wash buckets. You’ll use (1) to wash your wheels and tires, and (2) to wash the car
- 2) Microfiber wash mitts
- (1) bottle of automotive-specific car wash soap or shampoo
- (5) Microfiber towels and optimal chamois
To compete with a two-bucket car wash, follow these general tips. The video above will show you how it’s done:
Pre-rinse the car
The first step is to pre-wash the car by soaking the vehicle down. Just spray water over the entire car before washing.
Wash your wheels
Before starting to wash your car, it’s important to first wash the wheels and tires. This is because wheels collect brake dust, which is made up of microscopic particles of metal. If soap mixed with brake dust is on your car, and not washed off before drying, it will scratch the paint.
Wash one panel at a time
You’ll want to wash and rinse one section at a time using the two-bucket method. Make sure you rinse each section as you go, to keep lubricity.
This is the most important part of helping to reduce more water spots occurring. Use microfiber towels to dry the vehicle completely.
2. White Vinegar Bath
Another simple way of removing water spots (again – usually just the Type 1 and some minor Type II water spots) – is by completing a white vinegar bath or wipe down.
Preparing the white vinegar solution
The white vinegar is mixed with distilled water in equal ratios, applied on the surface using a spray bottle, then wiped off using a microfiber cloth or towel.
Completing the white vinegar bath
Here is how you complete the white vinegar bath.
After you wash the vehicle as recommended above, it’s still possible that there will be water spots remaining. These are generally the Type II or Type III water spots. So, the first step you should complete is to mix equal parts of white vinegar and distilled water in a spray bottle, which acts as a water spot remover.
Spray the vehicle with the vinegar solution. It is best to spray a small section at a time (like 2-foot-by-2-foot sections). Let the solution soak for about 30 seconds, then wipe clean with a microfiber cloth or towel. It’s best to only do this (2) times, as embedded water spots will not be removed this way.
3. Clay Bar Treatment
The next progression for removing water spots is by completing a clay bar treatment -- also known as claying. The video above will explain how this is completed. It’s important to know that this should be completed only after washing the car (two-bucket method) and the white vinegar spray. Here is how it’s done.
Collecting the right supplies
You’ll need three things – a spray lubrication solution, the clay bar or clay bar mitt, and microfiber towels for drying.
Spray the lubrication solution
The spray solution should be applied to individual sections you clay bar. Don’t worry about applying too much lubrication, as the more you use, the better results are produced.
Clay bar the section
It’s best to rub the clay bar in a forward and back motion. Do NOT use in circular patterns as this can cause damage to the paint surface.
Dry with a microfiber cloth
4. Paint Correction or Polishing
The final method used to remove Type III water spots is paint correction. This is also called polishing or using a cutting compound with polish. We’ve written an awesome article on paint correction for DIY’ers, so click the link to learn more.
There are two ways of completing this task. You can either use elbow grease by doing it by hand or use a mechanical polisher. This method is usually followed by adding a coat of wax with high-quality car wax or a ceramic coating product to protect the paint.
Noted below are the general steps for completing DIY paint correction – using the hand or machine polish method.
Apply cutting compound or polish
You need to use microfiber polishing cloth to reduce additional scratching. Start by applying the cutting compound as directed in the video above.
Spread it thin
For optimal results, you want to spread the product thin on a small section at a time. Thicker does not equate to better results.
Rub in the compound
Using the machine or your hands, rub the compound deep into the paint surface. You want to move in an up and down then left to right pattern.
Always defer to experts if you don’t feel comfortable – as this can cause more paint damage if not done correctly. Contact a detailer to see if they can help.
How to Prevent Water Spots
If you’ve read this article and are thinking, “damn, that’s a ton of work”, then you’ll likely follow that thought up with “so – how do I prevent water spots”?
The answer is simple. There are four general ways of reducing the potential of water spots:
1. Using two-bucket method
First, wash the car using the two-bucket method every two weeks. The key here is to NEVER let your car air dry or assume driving down the highway will do the job.
2. Drying with microfibre towel
Second, always use a clean microfiber towel to dry the car completely. Go the extra mile by using compressed air to blow water from window seals, to reduce drips.
3. Avoid sprinklers and puddles
Third, avoid sprinklers or driving through puddles. While this is very hard to do, it’s possible to reduce it by being aware of where you park and drive.
4. Use a paint sealant coating
Finally, consider using a paint sealant or ceramic coating product like Armor Shield IX.
A high-quality DIY ceramic coating provides a microscopic yet exceptionally hard and durable layer of protection. The surface is then protected against developing water spots due to the exceptional hydrophobic properties. This means that it repels water from sticking to the paint. It also contains ingredients that help to provide protection from calcium build-up, which is the root source of the hard water spot.
While a ceramic coating is a great way to reduce them, it’s not a 100% solution. You’ll still need to wash and correctly dry the vehicle. However, the ceramic coating makes this job much easier.
Wrapping it Up
We all know that water spots suck, and now we all understand how to remove and reduce them. As we’ve noted several times, the key to protecting your paint surface is using the recommended steps and supplies to remove them quickly. This will reduce the potential of the calcium and other contaminants from embedding into the clear coat.
By being proactive and using a high-quality DIY ceramic coating product like Armor Shield IX, you’ll significantly reduce the build-up of water spots, and keep your car looking sharp around the clock.