07/14/12 10:41AM detailing, Detailing Tools, Dr. Detail. Cleaning

Dr. Detail..Part 10..So ya Got Swirl Marks eh???

Details... Details... Details!


"You want to compound out that swirl mark ... Huh?"

How to evaluate paint problems.

I've written this article as if you, the reader, are in business... DETAILING.  If not please read this in whatever 'light' applies to you.

When a customer steps up and asks for a compound, what should you do/say?  When they ask for a good wax to bring back the shine, how to take out water spots or remove a scratch -- what do you say?

If your first inclination is to reach for a good compound, acid based spot remover or a cleaner wax, then you need to read on,  PLEASE!

When a customer comes to you to solve his problems, he's going to approach you one of several ways...

1.                  What's a good compound?

2.                  How do you removed swirl marks?

3.                  My red paint is (sun) burnt, what can I use?

4.                  My paint is turning 'white' in spots

5.                  Etc.

First realize that your customer is troubleshooting for you and telling you what to sell or do for him.  In the first approach he's telling you he needs a compound.  In the second he's telling you that his paint is swirl marked.  In the third the paint is "burnt".

The first question you need to (silently) ask is... What the Heck are they seeing in their paint that leads them (the backyard experts) to tell you what problem to solve.  Once you take control and actually begin to determine what the problem REALLY is, at that moment you become a very valuable resource to your customer.  Accepting their evaluation of the problem will leave them with the wrong products and the wrong advice the vast majority of times.  Don't do that to a customer that your future sales depend upon.  If you make each customer happy ,,, during the FIRST meeting... you will gain a customer for the future.

Now, most of you are not selling a customer either products or services, BUT the same following principals apply when you need to evaluate your own paint for detailing.  Pay close attention to the best methods I've found for discovering the true nature of a paint problem so that the correct materials and methods can be used to achieve the least aggressive solution in a reasonable period of time (Dr. Detail's mantra).

First of all you will encounter one of the two following situations when confronted by a customer:

1.                  The vehicle is present, OR,

2.                  The vehicle is NOT present.

 Let's look at scenario "2" first ("1" is easier and will use a lot of what we lean discussing "2').



A customer walks up and asks for a good compound.  The second half of his question will be, "Will it damage my paint".

The assumption is that whatever the customer sees in his paint must be removed with abrasives.  This now becomes a very sensitive situation because compounds, just short of sandpapers, are the most aggressive materials you will use on any paint.  On an aggression scale from 0 to 10, compounds reside in the 9 to 10 penthouse.  Should you really send him home with a compound if his paint really doesn't need it?  He may be very satisfied with the results, but it will only be due to inexperience and his inability to evaluate the final results.  The result will be a seriously traumatized paint which may be significantly thinner than it need be due to the aggression of the compound.  If your customer started with older, thin paint, he may have actually cut through and a dark patch is primer may actually glow through.

When a compound is requested, it will probably be for one of four potential problems:

1.                  Oxidation

2.                  Scratches

3.                  Waterspots

4.                  Orangepeel

Your job, as the person he has trusted for advise and to whom he has entrusted his paint, is to be sure he is protected from his inexperience by substituting your experience.  You now have several questions to ask him.  Among them will be...

1.                  "What problem are you trying to correct?  What did you see?"  Asking why he thinks he needs a compound will challenge his expertise and you may lose a chance at honest communication.

2.                  "How much gloss would you say you have left?"

3.                  "How deep would you say the scratch is?  Can you catch a fingernail in it?"

4.                  "Can you see the swirl marks in the daylight or only at night?"

5.                  "Have you tried to remove the waterspots yet and what did you use?"


Oxidation is to paint is as rust is to iron.  It results from a chemical reaction between Oxygen, usually derived from moisture in the atmosphere, and the surface material.  If the surface is iron you'll get Ferrous (Latin for Iron) Oxide or "rust'.  If the surface is paint you'll get paint oxidation.  Paints oxidize more quickly as they dry out.  You thought your paint was dry a couple months out of the spray booth?  Nope!  "Dry" suggests "devoid of moisture' whereas, in reality, although there may be no water in left in the paint, there are still plenty of liquid materials trapped in the paint.  Some of these are "Plasticizers" who's job it is to keep the paint somewhat flexible and resilient.  Once the sun has worked on the paint for a few Summers it may actually be pathologically dry.  In other words, not so flexible and more prone to cracking.  If the surface we're talking about is a clear coat, that cracking will lead to moisture intrusion which will lead to a separation from the color coat, a blister and finally peeling away.  "Houston"...  welcome to your new paint job.

OK, we now understand oxidation.  Maybe we should look at how to avoid it before we move on.  Glaze/Polish.  The third step in the detail processes made up of Wash/Correct/Condition/Protect is to "Condition" the paint.  Men, ask your wives what hair conditioners do for their crowning glory.  Sure your paint needs conditioners.  They restore the moisture that "Old Sol" has worked so hard to remove.  So how does the clear coat respond when conditioned with Glaze?  No cracks... no path for moisture intrusion to separate it from the color coat... no new paint job!

OK, but your customer, who has been patiently standing there while I've explained oxidation in the last two paragraphs, still thinks he has a need for a "compound".  Ask him, not what he needs, not what he thinks his problem is, not what his neighbor (or even his local detailer) told him to get but rather "What does he actually see"?

Tell me What-You-See?

"My paint is FADED"

If the response comes back, "my paint is 'dull', or 'sun-burnt', or 'faded'" then you now really know something about his problem.  First of all you are 90% sure that it is oxidized.  The solution to oxidation is abrasive cutters or compounds.  Maybe he was right...  it could happen!  But, there is a large range of cutting products that may bring back a clean painted surface, devoid of oxidation.  Which one is best?  On an Aggression Scale of 0 to 10, the least aggressive "cleaner" may be a 5 (Meguiars' Fine Cut Cleaner rates a 5 on such a scale).  More aggressive materials peak at the top -- a 10!  Sometimes the 10 is required but usually not so why be more aggressive than you need to be?  Here's how Dr. Detail determines the proper leave of aggression to select.

Q.                How much gloss would you say you have left?

                                                               i.      Would you say, "Lots of gloss but it needs a little refreshing"?

                                                             ii.      "It's just starting to lose some of it's color.  It'll dulling a little"

                                                            iii.      "It's fairly glossy but you can also see the oxidation dulling"

                                                           iv.      "Some gloss but fairly oxidized"

                                                             v.      "Not much gloss but still a little bit"

                                                           vi.      "No gloss.  Pretty bad.  Maybe even powders off when touched."

This one question is usually enough.  You're still relying on his evaluation of gloss level, but.. Hey... the car's not there... Right?

An answer to this question (6 levels) will lead you to a selection.  Using Meguiar's Professional Mirror Glaze products as examples the selection would go like this.

i.                     Level 5 Fine Cut Cleaner, #2

ii.                   Level 6 Dual Action Cleaner Polish, #83

iii.                  Level 7 Medium Cut Cleaner, #1 (don't ask!)

iv.                 Level 8 Heavy Cut Cleaner, #4

v.                   Level 9 Compound Power Cleaner, #84

vi.                 Level 10   Diamond Cut Compound, #85

Why so many choices?  You want the right products for the job.  When you have choices you can be selective and, not only get the job done right, but also not be overly aggressive... "the least aggressive material to accomplish the goal in a reasonable period of time" (Ta-dun--dun).  Furthermore, less aggressive materials remove less paint, leave finer pad and cutting marks and can be finished with less aggressive materials.

"I have waterspots that I can't get out"

Generally, customers with this problem are not asking for compounds.  They don't know what to do.  When they see a water spot they think... mineral deposits... but, frankly, if you can't, fairly easily, take the water spot off... it's NOT mineral deposits... especially if they are not months or years old.  Mineral deposits are the result of hard water droplets having evaporated and leaving their mineral "hardness" behind.  They sit on top of the paint and can usually be washed or clay-barred off.  Clay bars are great at this job.  But, if a clay bar doesn't pick it up then it's likely to not be a surface deposit but rather a problem below the paint surface.

The alternative to a residual mineral deposit is an etching away of clear coat.  Two causes have been described to explain this problem.  The first is acid rain etching.  Sure rain water droplets can be acidic due to the Sulphuric Acid that is present in our atmosphere created by the degradation of some VOC pollutants.  True, acids can be harsh on the paint (check with your local avian friends.  Birds excrete Uric Acid which can etch paint).  How many times have you seen the results of ignored bird droppings?  That's an acid etching in the paint surface.  Maybe this is the cause, but maybe it's scenario #2.

The second method could be that the water droplet, which beaded on the paint surface, formed the perfect curved surface to simulate that of a magnifying glass, focused sunlight to actually burn away some of the surface clearcoat.  Remember the magnifying glass and that Sow Bug (or more correctly Pill Bug) when you were a kid?  Come on, I know you did it too!  When I explain this scenario to my customers and suggest that the water droplets may have come from a sprinkler instead of rain and during daylight hours, I virtually always get a knowing acknowledgement.

The correction is to treat it like a scratch and to cut the surrounding paint down to blend with the lower surface in the etching.  Now here's a decision you have to make and it's best if you challenge your customer as well.  The more you work to actually remove the water spot the more paint you have to remove.  The safer decision, for the paint, is to cut and smooth it out, as much as possible, without attempting to take it flat and thereby preserving as much paint thickness as possible.  If the owner is the only one who can find the imperfection then it's the best compromise for the paint and owner alike.

"I have a lot of swirl marks in my paint"

Your customer thinks that any circular "scratch" (and swirl marks ARE scratches) is a swirl mark.  It's a very misunderstood term.  Many times I've seen "Swirl Marks" that actually require color sanding or some very skillful heating of the paint with a rotary buffer to soften and blend the paint and scratch (Kids! Don't attempt to do this yourself. The detailer is a highly skilled and trained Professional).

The next question should be, "Can you see these marks during the day or only at night?"  With the possible exception of Black paint, swirl marks are technically so fine that they are not easily visible during the day yet show up only at night under fluorescent and/or point light sources like street lights.  Anything larger are polishing marks and/or scratches.

As a sidebar...

The age old question that pops up at every show is, "Should I apply the material in a circular motion or a linear motion?"  Let's be honest... who cares!  The key is to avoid or eliminate the mark in the first place, however, should a mark be left behind, it will show up more readily if it is circular then if it's linear.  If circular then light coming from any angle will reflect off the scratch making it visible.  If it's linear, you have to stand at a precise angle to the light source to see the reflection.  But, again, if we eliminate all marks... who cares?

Back to the correct selection of product... swirl marks do not need compounds (9 - 10) or cleaners (5 - 8).  What they need is a very mild rouge which can be found blended with a glaze in any cleaner/glaze product.  Returning to Meguiar's Professional products again, their Swirl Mark remover #9 (Aggression Level 3) or Body Shop materials Speed Glaze #80 or , Swirl Free #82 (Aggression Levels 4 and 3 respectively) are the proper choices.  In their Consumer product line, you'll find it marked "Step 2".

If you can see circular scratches during the day, I can guarantee, they will fool you.  Test with a compound.  If the marks come out, move down to less aggressive materials.  There is a good chance that they won't come out with even a compound.  Improper use of rotary buffers can do some real damage.  Compounds applied by hand may not work whereas they may if used with a buffer.  If you choose to play with cured paint "flowout" using a rotary, be aware that over heating the paint may thermally degrade it leaving a burned spot.  I've seen paints successfully worked to remove scratches with a rotary buffer and a wool pad where the pad winds up actually steaming when lifted from the paint.  It's a very risky process and should be left to experienced professionals (notice I said "Experienced" - ask for references).  On the other hand, if it's not a show car and you want to learn, this can be a successful process.  Choose an area not readily visible for your practice or better yet, go buy a Pick-A-Part, or Ecology used panel to learn on.

Finally, you occasionally hear such damage referred to as "Holograms".  The best I can determine when this phrase is used is that the customer can see 'color' in the scratches.  If the scratches are small enough to diffract light they are probably truly swirl marks and can be easily removed with Cleaner/Glazes.


Now you're on the spot!  No more blaming the customer for not telling you all you needed to know.

It no longer matters what the customer thinks he needs.  You will need to figure out how to convince him otherwise or influence him to change his mind and guide him to suggest the real solution.  Wanna' career in politics?

When you look over the paint you can try a couple things to help diagnose the problem.  A wipe down with Rubbing alcohol will remove some waxes and any glaze so you can get a good look at the paint itself.  Oxidation is obvious.  A dulling, rough surface which can be shined with a vigorous finger rubbing is oxidation.  Decide how much gloss is left and select the proper level of cleaner to remove the oxidation.  If compounding you WILL leave pad and cutting marks behind but that's OK because you've improved the original problem.  Successive steps will continue to improve it.

If you find water spots, wet your finger and rub.  If they come off, even a little, you have deposits.  Very light deposits will clay bar off.  Heavier deposits will overly pollute an expensive clay bar.  Usually a vinegar wash (Acetic Acid, a weak acid) will usually do the trick.  Other acid based formulas can be used.  3D International makes the Eraser designed to remove hard water deposits.

If nothing happens when your wet finger dries off, you probably have an etching.  Follow the same procedure described under oxidation removal.  Finally caution your customer to find the source of the water hitting his car.  Either park out of range of the sprinkler and/or buy a car cover.  Even a cheap one will avoid the problem.

Scratches are tough.  Circular scratches should be evaluated carefully.  Get yourself a good, strong magnifying glass.  I have a 16x loop that I bought from a Philatelic catalogue (that's stamp collecting to most of you).  Little 3x glasses are worthless.  You need to get down to where the paint lives to see what's going on.  Just like in TV Forensic Sciences, the body... oops... paint will tell you what's wrong.  If you can see a different color in the scratch than the top coat you have probably penetrated to either primer or the metal substrate.  You can't compound that level of scratch back to health.  Any work on that level will only widen the scratch and make it worse.  If the color is consistent all the way down, that scratch can be rehabilitated.  Using an appropriate level of compound or milder cleaner, work with the scratch a little to smooth out it's the interior sides but then work across the scratch to round off the edges.  When they round off enough, the scratch will tend to disappear although a trained eye may still find it.  If you work inline with the scratch for too long you may actually deepen it without helping to minimize it.

If the scratch is deep enough it will require an application of correctly match paint, followed by a little color sanding and buffing.

Evaluation of the problem is always step one within the "Correction" level of the detailing process.  Incorrectly diagnosing the problem will embarrass you and anger your customer - if you avoid a law suit.  DON'T rely on your customer to diagnose his own problem.  You are supposed to be the professional.  If you are "just" a DIY enthusiast, and God Bless you all, then following these step can make you as good if not better than your local detailer.

So let the shine begin!

Please submit your questions for this column at DrDetail@DrDetailForLess.com and we'll cover them in a future column.  You can also submit your own testimonials and comments about the subjects covered here and we'll try to publish them as well.

Thanx, until next time,

Dr. Detail