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How to Find a Car Scratch and Paint Defects When Detailing

In this article you will learn:

  • How to tell if you have paint defects in your vehicle’s paint

  • The differences between embedded contaminants and paint defects

  • How to remove a car scratch, paint defects or embedded contaminants from the clear coat

If you’re new to DIY detailing, you may not understand some of the terms that detailers use when they’re talking about paint correction. You may be confused when you read the phrase “bonded contaminants” in a blog or hear the pros mention “paint defects” in a YouTube video. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to restore your scratched or damaged paint job, let's take a moment to define some of these terms:  

A paint defect is any damage to your vehicle's paint, including scratches, swirls, oxidation or paint transfer. 

Bonded contaminants are any contaminants that have become stuck or embedded in the clear coat, the clear, outermost layer of your vehicle’s paint. Most of these contaminants are invisible to the naked eye.  

Now that you have a clearer understanding, let's walk through the steps of how to identify and correct these issues! 

How to identify bonded contaminants

As we mentioned earlier, bonded contaminants are small soils that have become embedded in your vehicle’s clear coat. These soils may include rail dust, bits of sand, road debris or any other pollutant sharp enough to penetrate the clear coat. Regardless of how well you wash your car, bonded contaminants won’t come clean with regular car shampoo. Chances are your vehicle’s paint is full of bonded contaminants right now. 

Because of how tiny these particles are, identifying when your car has bonded contaminants can be tricky. We know a trick that makes it much easier: 

Place a zippered sandwich bag over your hand like a glove. Then, lightly glide your hand over your vehicle's painted surfaces. The paint should feel smooth like glass, but it’s more likely that you’ll notice small bumps or a gritty texture—a telltale sign that you have bonded contaminants in the clear coat. 

It’s important to remove bonded contaminants from your car before you apply any sort of wax or ceramic coating. Otherwise, you'll be sealing dirt and other contaminants directly into the finish, which can make your vehicle’s paint appear dull and muted. Plus, if your wax or ceramic coating doesn’t adhere directly to the paintwork, it won’t look as smooth or last quite as long. 

how to identify bonded contaminants

Removing bonded contaminants from the clear coat

To remove bonded contaminants, also known as decontaminating the finish, you’ll need to use a clay bar or mitt and some clay lubricant to manually pull these abrasive soils from the clear coat. Apply the specified amount of lubricant to the clear coat and your clay bar or mitt, working in 60 cm x 60 cm sections of the clear coat. Be sure to knead the clay or rinse your mitt regularly as it picks up contaminants, continuing to work your way around the car. Once you’ve finished decontaminating the finish, you’re ready to polish away any paint defects! 

For more detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to use a clay bar or mitt, be sure to check out this helpful guide

before and after

How to identify paint defects

Paint defects result from the everyday wear and tear of our vehicles. Whether they’re scratches, swirls, spiderwebbing, oxidation, pitting or paint transfer, most defects are pretty noticeable; but, in case you’re unsure, here’s a good rule of thumb: if it won’t come clean with a wash or clay treatment, it's most likely a paint defect.  

The best way to go about scratch repair and correcting paint defects is to give your vehicle a good polish to minimize their appearance. If you’ve never used a car polish before, we’re not talking about a shiny coating for your paint; car polish is a fine- grit rubbing compound that removes an incredibly thin layer of clear coat to erase scratches, swirls and other paint defects. Many of these polishing compounds come as part of a scratch repair kit along with several cutting pads, a microfiber cloth and other scratch remover products. 

Once you’ve removed the damaged, outer-most layer of the clear coat, your vehicle will look just like it did when it rolled out of the factory!  

tw paste wax

Correcting scratches and paint defects

Start by closely examining the paint surfaces of your car, checking for scratches, swirls, cloudiness or any other damage to the paint. 

If you only have a light scratch here and there, or one section of particularly deep scratches and swirls, use a scratch and swirl remover, like Turtle Wax Scratch Repair & Renew, to correct the scratched area.  

Or, if you’re dealing with more widespread damage, like minor scratches and swirls across the entire car, we recommend using a polishing compound formulated for more holistic paint correction, like Hybrid Solutions PRO 1 & Done. It’s the ultimate compound, correcting any severity of paint defects. Just pair it with the appropriate cutting pad for a super smooth finish and a deep, reflective shine. 

Apply the polish with a dual action polisher or by hand, if you prefer. Polish one panel at a time, then wipe away any excess polish using a fresh, microfiber towel. For the best results, start at the roof of your car and work your way down and around, finishing with the lower panels. If you used a polish and built-in wax, like Hybrid Solutions Ceramic Polish & Wax, then your job is done! If you used a polishing compound without wax, protect that beautifully restored finish quickly with a spray wax like Hybrid Solutions PRO Flex Wax

For a more detailed, step-by-step guide on how to correct scratches and swirls, check out this handy article

Now that you have the low-down on bonded contaminants and paint defects, you’re much closer to speaking the language of professional detailers—and giving your vehicle an even more stunning, showroom look! 


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