How to Remove Scratches from a Car – Polish with an Electric Polisher, a Lamb’s-wool Pad and Water-based Rubbing Compound

Pictures were difficult to take because of reflections. This picture is pretty good, you can see the scratches that needed to be rubbed out.

I have a friend who did a stupid thing. Before explaining what happened, I want to remove any reference to a real name or a sex. So I’m going to call my friend “Pat” in memory of that wonderful androgynous fictional character on Saturday Night Live from a few decades ago, performed by Julia Sweeney.

Pat has a fairly new black-painted car and managed to put some scratches in the paint by rubbing up against some bushes while parking. The scratches were bothersome, so Pat took a green Scotch-Brite scrub pad from the kitchen sink and rubbed the paint on most of the car (I can see you cringing). The light was apparently not good enough to allow Pat to see the additional damage being caused, in the form of pretty deep scratches.

So I came along and Pat asked me if anything could be done. Yes it could, I said, but it’s a pretty big job. The way a car is typically painted is with several color coats followed by a clear coat, which is usually a urethane. So it is resistant to heat, unlike the lacquer referred to in my previous post.

This picture shows progress on the right side of the hood, in contrast to the left side.

The way to remove the scratches is to rub them out, either by hand, or with an electric polisher and rubbing pad, together with some rubbing compounds. Auto stores carry several brands of these compounds in increasingly fine grits. They are water-based and easy to use.

Here are the two grits of rubbing compounds I used.

Progress was slow, and I had to be careful not to rub through the clear coat. But the process is actually no different from rubbing a finish.

– Bob Flexner

6 thoughts on “How to Remove Scratches from a Car – Polish with an Electric Polisher, a Lamb’s-wool Pad and Water-based Rubbing Compound

  1. tmsbmx

    I was a automotive technician for over25 years and have seen plenty of bone head moves. But the funniest one was one of the older guy would wipe down his car every night with a red shop rags. We just couldn’t stop him he would argue with you that it’s fine, as you could see all these swirls on the whole car. (If you don’t know these rags are full of metal shavings from other industries that use red rags). I could never understand people who won’t listen to helpful advice. I always listen because you might learn something. Like don’t wipe your car down with red shop rags.

    1. Bob FlexnerBob Flexner Post author

      I have a saying I use often. “You can lead them to the water . . .” It helps me keep my sanity.

      1. glowmann

        Back in the day, when Scotchbrite was new and wonderful, I used it to clean the bugs off my front bumper after a high speed cross country trip. When I was finished, the shiny chrome was rubbed out to a matte finish. The whole bumper, not just where the bug were. Another lesson learned and paid for.

  2. keithm

    Cringing is right. I know someone who used a scrubby pad on a dining table to remove some dried on juice. Then she went a bought a high gloss table that sat in front of 3 walls of windows. And was ultra-fussy about getting the sheen just right. I didn’t give it a week before she ruined it.

  3. Guy

    Once in awhile we all do some bone-headed “stupid thing” we regret, but that was awful nice of you to actually rub that out for your wife…er, friend. Some good advise. I always learn a lot from your posts – and books.

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