Yes, we are talking about swirl marks!

What are swirl marks? What causes swirl marks on the car and how do we deal with them?

Swirl marks – a frequent problem to professional detailers and car owners.  Through experience and skill, professional detailers know exactly what to do with them! Set them on FIRE! We’re kidding!

Swirl marks are essentially – ultra-fine scratches on your car’s surface. We’ll explain more in a bit!

Well, how does it happen? While the weather and elements; such as the rain and snow may cause some damage, the majority of swirls happens during a wash. A dirty Mitt, a dropped cloth, automatic carwashes with huge squeegees contains micro particles that cause micro-marrings that buildup over time. This causes the clear coat to haze over time, reducing the gloss, clarity and aesthetics!

Can you guess what are the top contributors of swirl marks?

A side by side comparison of swirl marks (right) and a corrected surface (left)

To the untrained eye, swirl marks can be hard to spot. Most swirl marks may not be obvious enough, without a light source reflecting the imperfections.  Swirl marks are also a lot easier to spot on flat surfaces, i.e. roof, hood or the boot of the car compared to the curved and sides. And, as any detailer will tell you, swirl marks tend to appear “like magic” on darker coloured cars, compared with lighter coloured cars! New detailers often find it difficult to work on a black car because of this! However,  seasoned professionals (like our Kenzo Master Installers, for instance) knows ALL the secrets *wink*.


Causes of swirl marks

As mentioned above, there are numerous reasons that cause swirl marks. Weather, your neighbourhood car wash, a metal brush, leaves and trees brushing against the surface and more!


153 Kids washing car Stock Photos | Free & Royalty-free Kids washing car Images | Depositphotos

With smiles like these boys, who can say no to a carwash?

However, the biggest culprit of swirl marks is…. you guessed it! when your car gets washed, in all the wrong ways! 

But do you know when that happens?

Swirl marks are a novice’s best friend. And they appear mostly due to poor detailing techniques – such as dry wiping, using dirty towels /rags cloths, using scouring and aggressive pads, sponges or brushes!

Here are the top 9 specific causes of swirl marks – Let’s see how many you got right!

  • Harsh towels and application cloth
    Using inappropriate towels, e.g. made of jeans, linen, rough cotton
  • Dry wiping
    Wiping with a dry towel without any lubricants (soaps, enhancers or quick details)
  • Dirty Mediums!
    Using dirty wash mitt/towel/sponges that are filled with contaminants and even sand 
  • Incorrect polishing pad and technique
    Overusing too much product, clogged pads can cause more damage instead of corrections!
  • Brushes with extremely hard bristles
    Brooms, toilet scrubbers, coconut husked brushes are too harsh and hard. Unlike the soft brushes specifically designed for detailing, 
  • Automatic Car Washes – The spinning bristles in conveyor/tunnel type car washes are almost never cleaned or replaced. This means each bristle (or squeegee) contains a mother-load of dirt, contaminants, sand? and more repeatedly hitting your car. Yikes! 

For every answer you got right, you get x5 points! How much did you score?

If you scored more than 40 points congrats you are a detailing pro!

If you got 15 and below, that’s why you’re here right? We’re always learning! And here are more nuggets on how to spot it!

Identifying Swirl marks on your car

Swirl marks, unlike how usually it is portrayed isn’t always circular. They look circular because of the reflection of light on the scratches that looks like a Van Gogh painting! (maybe he had a bad case of the swirls!)

Van Gogh Starry Night - The Painting and The Story

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

See the similarities?

However, a swirly paint-job isn’t a work of art! At least we don’t think so… 

Swirl mark holograms (left) and without (right)

Taking a bright light (torchlight or LED lights), shine it onto the surface. Being out in the sun helps too! Take a closer look at the paint.

If it looks like a nice round sun instead, congrats you’ve got perfect paint!

If you start to see a Van Gogh painting in the works, holograms, reflections that look like the milky way, you’ve got the Swirls!

It’s often assumed that swirl marks are just ‘circular’ (but that’s just old wives’ tale). Sure, they typically appear in circles, but they can also appear horizontally and vertically.

Swirls marks can appear in different patterns

Here’s the thing- these swirls are visible at pretty much any slants- reflecting back to back your eyes in the light or angle reflecting them.

And while circular scratches inflicted into paint are caused by aggressive polishing with either a) wool or b) foam pad, the rest of the scratches are due to the tiny debris embedded in your microfiber cloth (that you might have, at some point, dropped without realizing). Does that ring a bell?

But don’t worry, we’ve got you!

Effects of Swirl Marks and the damage they do!

Swirl marks are microscopic (or larger) pits and scratches on the clearcoat (or coating).

Over time, the pits and marks get deeper and wider. This reduces the clarity and reflection (or gloss) of the surface. In the images below, we can see the pitting done by swirl marks, causing uneven surfaces. Left unchecked, it will get deeper, going into the paint/base coat, eventually causing oxidation and water spots to form.


Swirl marks are signs of clear coat damage

Should I Ignore Swirl Marks and When Should I Get It Fixed?

Light swirls, scratches, etches are perfectly normal over the course of the use of your vehicle over time. Considered normal wear and tear, slight swirls won’t do much damage and can be easily corrected with the right tools and products.

When should you get it fixed?

Here are some top signs that your booking with your nearest detailer is overdue –

  1. When your black car, is now referred to as “the grey car”
  2. You don’t see your reflection (And you’re not a Vampire)
  3. You’ve just gone through a sand storm
  4. The surface of your car feels like sandpaper.

We’re kidding! but, your car should NEVER EVER get to the 4 examples above! Please, we beg you..

Here’s what we recommend: Get it looked at as soon as you can by a professional – they will ascertain the damage, how they can remove it and how it can be protected against further damage. 

Swirl mark removal: Ask A Detailing Professional

Swirl marks and imperfections on the clear coat are often fixed and removed through paint correction.

Paint correction restores and rejuvenates your cars paintwork by eliminating any imperfections that potentially dull and damage your car.  It requires professional tools and polishing compounds which most professional detailers have in their arsenal.

But too much paint correction will eat away at the clear coat, thinning it in the process.

To reduce the damage to the clear coat, protecting the original paint, we recommend a ceramic coating. This acts not only as a sacrificial layer, but it also protects and improves the ease of maintenance. With the abundance of different types of coatings in the market, get one that suits your needs and requirements. You can opt for one of the best coatings in the market, Ecocoat Kenzo, or any one of our amazing range of sustainable and award-winning coatings.

Preventing swirl marks

Here’s the sad truth, every car owner, would have to experience swirl marks at some point in their lives.

Nevertheless, you definitely can minimize them by having a good wash technique. All you need is a high-quality microfiber cloth(s) (emphasis on the plural!) and soap. Different cloths are necessary for the different areas and for washing/drying!

Top Tip: you don’t want to use one cloth for the bottom and top of the car. the bottom of the car tend to have more particles, sand and impurities that can cause more swirls. Use a Pre-wash helps to loosen and remove it with water.

Also, use a good wash that will act as a great lubricant to remove dirt without causing micro-marrings. Try out (if you haven’t already), Ecoclean Wash, our safe and low suds, but high lubricant pH neutral exterior shampoo.

If you prefer a Pre-Wash, check out our newly launched high foam, Ecoclean Blizzard.

Don’t forget to use a 2 bucket wash to prevent cross-contamination. And avoid dirty cloth(s) (especially if it drops onto the road!) to reduce the risk of bad swirl marks.

Well, that’s it! all you need to know about Swirl marks and MORE!  Like what you read? Comment below and suggest to us some of your concerns, we might just write a piece on it! Visit, check us out on Facebook & Instagram, or email us at for any further questions! We are waiting for ya!






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