What are Swirl Marks?

Swirls Marks 101

At Project Detail, we are asked often on a daily basis what are swirl marks and/or how I fix them? It occurred to us that some people aren't aware of swirl marks and most people do not know what is causing them. 

50/50 Shot showing medium to heavy Swirl Marks. Right Side - After 2 Stage Correction.

Swirl Marks are actually a culmination of fine scratches on the surface of the paintwork. When light is shone on the surface of the paintwork, what appears to look like 'spider-webs' or circular marks are what detailers call 'swirl marks.' These are regarded as a paint defects and the side effect of these swirl marks is a duller finish and your car not showing it's true colour.

The reason for making the paintwork look duller comes down to each individual scratch making up the swirl marks. These scratches actually refract the light hitting the surface of the paint. When light normally hits a flat and unscratched surface, the light reflects directly to your eye. We process this as 'Glossy,' therefore the flatter and more perfect a surface is the glossier it looks to our eyes.


When a surface has imperfections and begins developing swirl marks, the surface begins to refract the light and the surface appears dull, increasing in effect as the swirl marks get worse.

BMW E90 in Carbon Black. 50/50 showing true colour after correction versus heavy swirl marks.

Why & how do Swirl Marks happen?

Now that you have an understanding about swirl marks, it's equally important to know why and how swirl marks occur. The major causes can be broken down into a few categories:

  • Incorrect & Bad Washing Techniques
  • Physical Contact with the Car
  • Car Wash Cafe's & bad detailers

The biggest cause of swirl marks is through bad washing methods. We will cover this in a future post in terms of just how important good washing methods are for maintaining your cars paintwork. But believe it or not, your cars paintwork is actually quite delicate. Over time as it gets covered in dust, debris and bird poo etc. these are all 'abrasive' matters. Meaning if they are dragged back and forth they will scratch the car. Therefore, learning how to properly wash a car is important if you wish to prevent swirl marks.

The second reason is harder to determine. Physical contact with our car can and usually happens naturally over the course of the cars life. Whether friends, family or the owner leans on the car or touches the car at some point will ultimately lead to fine scratches developing which in turn become swirls marks.

The final reason is related to the first reason but we feel it must be highlighted again. Bringing your car to a car wash or a detailer whose outlook is not focussed on quality but rather quantity can mean that their equipment is usually called into question too. Dirty chamois, dirty sponges and old towels will often mean your car is literally being sanded while you drink your coffee.

Mercedes SL500. Heavy Correction 50/50 shot - notice the true colour versus the original paint.

Can Swirl Marks be removed?

In short, yes they can. Swirl Marks are thankfully superficial, while they are many scratches they are also very fine. In order to remove swirl marks, paint correction is necessary. To find out more about what paint correction is, click here. Depending on how bad the swirls marks are will dictate what level of paint correction is required.

It is also important that the paint correction process is done properly. Poor polishing skills or rushing the job can also lead to another paint defect known as holograms or buffing trails. Be sure to check out our post about holograms here

Once the correction process is finished, the surface should show a big difference. As seen in the photo's above, the paintwork is returned to a deep lustre and the clarity allows the true colour to be seen.

For more information on how Project Detail can assist your car looking its best, contact us here.