Black Audi

What Are Swirl Marks and What Causes Them?

Swirl marks can make a vehicle’s paint appear dull and faded. It’s not easy to remove them so learning to prevent swirl marks will make your life easier.

They are difficult to avoid. But there are steps you can take that will greatly reduce the chance of creating new swirl marks once you understand what causes them.

Washing and drying techniques are the main cause. But any time you touch your paint you risk creating them.

Swirl Marks
Swirl marks are made up of millions of small scratches.

What exactly are swirl marks?

Swirl mars are fine scratches that appear on car paint that has not been properly cared for. They look like swirls or spider webs because of the way they reflect light. They are not actually circular but are made up of crisscrossing fine scratches.

How washing a black car causes swirl marks.

You are probably already aware that taking your car to an automatic car wash causes swirl marks. The brushes are dirty and put too much pressure on your paint. Swirls are the result.

Two things can cause swirl marks and scratches when you wash your car. One is the media that touches your car. The other is the dirt that’s already on the car.

But you can also create swirl marks when you hand wash your car. Using a brush to wash your car will cause problems because all it does is push the dirt around your car. You also tend to use too much pressure when you use a brush.

A sponge is also something that can cause swirl marks. Dirt gets pushed around with a sponge and you end up grinding it into the paint. Microfibre wash mitts are way better.

Washing a dirty car needs extra care. Scrubbing dirty paint will cause scratches and is one of the top car washing mistakes people make. A pressure washer will help remove dirt before you use a contact wash.

How removing dust from a black car causes swirl marks

Dust can be very visible on black car paint. But how you remove it is super important.

Don’t dry wipe dust from your car. Even if you are using a soft microfiber towel you risk creating swirls.

Using a detail spray to remove dust helps. If you don’t use a lot of it and cover every area with the product you will create swirls. If the dist is light this is usually fine. But for heavy dust, you should do a full safe hand wash or use a rinseless wash or waterless wash.

Paper towels should never be used on paint because they cause swirls.

How drying your car can create swirls marks.

It’s always a good idea to dry your car after you wash it to prevent water spots from forming. But the way you dry your car is very important.

Using old rags or an old bathroom towel is a very bad idea. They don’t soak up enough water. And the fibers on old towels are dry and hard and will cause fine scratches that result in swirl marks.

Another mistake is using a water squeegee. These create scratches.

Using a microfibre drying towel can be safe provided the car is completely clean. If there is any dirt on the car when drying it you will create new scratches.

What Are Swirl Marks and What Causes Them? 1

How waxing your car can create swirl marks.

People are often surprised when I tell them waxing their car can create swirl marks.

Of course, it’s not the wax that causes problems, it’s how you apply it.

If the surface of the car isn’t completely clean you will grind dirt particles into your paint which will create swirls.

If you use a poor-quality applicator such as an old rag you will also create scratches.

Buffing can also cause problems. If your buffing towel isn’t super clean and soft you could cause swirls and scratches.

It’s possible some dirt wasn’t removed when washing. This can detach from paint when wax is being applied or buffed and cause damage.

How using a machine polisher can cause swirl marks.

Incorrect use of a polishing machine can cause all kinds of issues.

The kind of damage caused by machines is sometimes called holograms. They can look like swirl marks.

An inexperienced detailer could use too much pressure or a pad that’s too hard. Also, old or damaged pads are a bad idea. Soft pads are more forgiving.

If the pads are not properly cleaned or don’t have enough polish on them they will cause swirls.

A clay bar can cause swirl marks.

If a clay bar is used without proper lubrication or if the clay bar is too hard or used with too much pressure it will cause swirls and scratches. Clay bars might need to be softened in warm water first.

A clay bar should only be used when needed because they usually create swirls. So consider not using one unless you also plan on polishing your car.


If you’re a detailing enthusiast, you probably enjoy taking care of your ride. However, even with the best care and maintenance, you may still find yourself dealing with one of the most frustrating and unsightly issues – swirl marks.

But understanding what swirl marks are and what causes them might help you avoid creating them in the first place.

READ MORE: How to remove swirl marks from a black car.

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