How to buff out scratches on car

Take a close look at this typical paint scratch

This is a common key scratch on a clearcoat finish. Guess what? It can be repaired at home. Not rocket science!

This happens to everybody, though many people don’t even notice.

Stressing over paint scratches and marring comes with being a meticulous car owner.

Here’s the good news:

Removing these types of paint scratches is quick and easy.

Well, that is with the advent of the clearcoat paint finish.

Here we’ll show how minor surface scratches can disappear like magic!

What’s it take?

An inexpensive scratch repair kit and a drill.

That’s it!

Let’s get started…

First, you need to determine if the paint scratch is fine or deep.

There’s an easy way to do this . Feel it with your fingernail.

You absolutely CAN repair an annoying scratch with this process IF:

  1. You can’t actually feel it or;
  2. If you can feel it, but your fingernail does not catch on the scratch.

At this point, I want to point you in the right direction!

If you can indeed feel it (or you see the primer color or bare metal) visit our:

How-to Repair Paint Chips & Deep Scratches page.

Feel the scratch with your fingernail. If your fingernail catches on the scratch you’ll need to fill it with clearcoat touch-up.

Let me be crystal clear on this.

The damage is minor…

IF you can feel the paint scratch in the clearcoat, but fingernails do not catch.

Rest assured, this type of thing can be fully restored.

Guys, the method is easy!

It just takes a piece of 3000 grit wet and dry sand paper. Polish away those grit sanding scratches with an auto paint polish.

3M’s Excellent Scratch Removal System

3M offers the best DIY fix-it kits we’ve used.

It’s great for clearcoat scratches that haven’t penetrated the color coat layer.

3M’s Scratch Removal System is a complete kit.

It features 3000 grit sandpaper, 2 grades of foam polishing discs, backup plate for a drill and 2 car polish grades.

These are exactly what you need to make a perfect repair.

Check out this 3M video. It shows the ease of removing slight scratches yourself.

I’ll let you in on a little secret.

This is the same process professionals use. It’s just packaged for car owners.

The system is designed for one thing: Dealing with common damage to clear coat.

We’re talking fine scratches on door handles, doors or trunk.

But, how does it work?

It actually removes a very thin layer of the clear coat paint.

Don’t worry! It just sounds bad.

You can rely on the 3M Scratch Removal Kit to help you tackle the job.

Wait a second though!

You’ll also need a drill (1200-1600 RPM). A dual speed cordless drill would be even better.

What else? A microfiber cloth, spray bottle and water.

All you need to remove unsightly paint scratches is a cordless drill and a 3M Scratch Repair System.

Car Scratch Remover: Available at Home

What items in your home can double as car scratch remover products? Watch this video:

1. Shoe Polish

Before applying shoe polish, it is important to clean the area and examine the scratch carefully. Wipe it with soap and water then dry thoroughly. Next, you’ll need a shoe polish that has a darker color than your car paint. Once you apply the shoe polish onto the area of the scratch, it will spread out and fill in the scratch or small dent. Now it will be easier for you to remove the scratch very gently using sand paper. Minor scratches can be removed by sanding down the surrounding area so that the scratch won’t be visible since the damaged area is now at the same level with its surrounding panel. This has to be done very carefully so that you won’t be sanding down too much. If you do, you could be damaging the next layer of paint, worsening the situation. The shoe polish guides you to sand without going too deep. You can continue sanding lightly until the applied shoe polish has been removed. Then you can use a cloth to buff the area and check if the scratch has disappeared. If the scratch is too deep, an auto detailing shop would be your best option.

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2. Toothpaste

Yes, your trusted teeth cleaning partner is, surprisingly, a good car scratch remover too. Toothpaste has natural abrasive components that can erase minor scratches on your car. Just like using any other home remedy, make sure the damaged area is clean. Next, use the toothpaste to buff the area. The best way to do this is to use circular strokes, but there are other ways to buff your car. Wipe clean with a soft cloth and repeat the process if the scratch has not completely disappeared.

3. Nail Polish

This colorful fingernail companion is also a good car scratch remover. Some scratches cannot be removed by buffing or sanding so the best way to deal with them is to cover them up. Nail polish is available in a variety of colors that can match any and every car color. This makes it an effective alternative car scratch remover. You just need to look for the closest color to your car paint that you can find and apply evenly so that the scratch will no longer be visible. If you can still see the scratch after application, you can try other car scratch removers available in the market.

4. Candle Wax

You can also use candle wax to remove light scratches on your car paint. It is not actually a car scratch remover but it can work really well to cover up light scratches. Ensure that the area is clean. Then, rub the candle wax very lightly onto the damaged area. The wax will cover up and seal the scratch.  Be aware that this remedy is only for car scratch emergencies, not a long-term solution.

5. Super Glue

Super glue can serve as a transparent material that will level the scratch with the rest of the surrounding area. Its ability to blend with the surrounding surface makes it a great car scratch cover up. You just need to apply it thinly onto the scratch.

Home remedy options are recommended for minor car scratches only. Take note, however, that they may not be applicable for all types of scratches. So if you are not too sure about what to do, it is best to bring your car to professional detailers to for effective car scratch removal.

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Clear coat refers to the clear top layer of paint that is applied over a colored base coat. It is found on most modern cars. Clear coat increases the paint’s durability, gloss and resistance to harmful environmental effects such as UV rays; similar to a more permanent wax. Typically – and it varies by manufacturer – clear coats are 1.5 to 2 mils in depth (50 – 60 microns). To give you an idea of how thin this really is, 1 mil is 1/1,000th of an inch. As you polish, you’re taking off and removing microscopic amounts of this clear coat, and according to some manufacturers, there are limitations to the amount you should be removing. Here’s what the American companies say is the most you shouldever remove from your car’s clear coat:

  • Chrysler: .5 mils (12-13 microns)
  • Ford: .3 mils (7-8 microns)
  • GM: .5 mils (12-13 microns)

To make this concept easier, the basic idea here is that the more you remove, the less effective the clear coat is. That means every time you polish, you’re compromising the clear coat’s ability to protect the colored paint layer, rendering it more vulnerable to scratches, fading, and discoloration. To help combat this problem, some suggest preservation (filling) over correction (cutting) because it’s the best and only way to keep the clear coat as close to factory thickness as possible without repainting. Before removing or remedying a surface scratch, you must understand what type of scratch it is.

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The basis of scratch science begins with depth. The depth of a scratch will determine whether it can be simply buffed out or has to be painfully repainted. If you were to examine a scratch as part of a cross section, you would notice the surface’s different layers: most commonly metal, primer, color, and clear coat (Figure 1). There are many different types of scratches and identifying their differences is the first step back to a lustrous finish.

  • 1A~1B ScratchesLevel 1A: A minor clear coat scratch is the easiest to take care of and is the most common type of scratch. These are left by almost anything coming into contact with an unprotected surface, even a dirty towel. These are harder to see simply because they’re not too deep, and are easily fixed without causing major harm to the clear coat (ie. hand polishing or light buffing).
  • Level 1B: The deeper side of clear coat scratches aren’t as easily taken care of, but can be effectively removed or reduced by proper machine polishing and rounding. 1B scratches are most commonly related to swirl marks and are caused by automatic car washes, poor technique, dirty applicators, or neglect. These are noticeably deeper than 1A scratches, but haven’t hit the paint.

Level 2 Scratch

  • Level 2: If you’ve noticed a scratch and you can’t see another color behind the pigment of your car, you can be sure you haven’t hit primer or metal. In this case, say the scratch has gone through the clear coat and into the paint itself; the color is still good, so touch up paint will not be necessary.  These are similar to clear coat scratches, other than the fact that you’ve actually taken a bit out of the paint. Since you’ve pierced the paint layer, level 2 scratches cannot be fully removed, but can be polished down to an almost unnoticeable level.
  • Level 3: If a scratch is into the primer, but not the metal, you’re still not going to be able to get it out, but you will be able to make it a lot less visible. At this depth you’ll usually see white or an off-white (even grey) color beneath the paint, signifying that you’re at the primer level. Although you shouldn’t have to worry about rusting at this depth, you should still take action. In this case, use touch up paint on the scratch as soon as possible.
  • Level 4: Level 4 ScratchIf the scratch has hit the metal, you’re going to have to repaint or use touch up paint.At this depth you’ll see a silver color when examining the scratch, and, if left untreated, the surface will slowlytransition to a rust.Neither waxes, glazes, or polishes will be able to fix a scratch that has punctured the metal, no matter what any “magic” product promises. If this situation has occurred, clean out the scratch immediately and grab some touch up paint as soon as possible.


Unfortunately, the world of automobile enthusiasts has deemed machine buffing the ultimate answer to any problem regarding paint. With no offense to the community, this is absolutely wrong if you’re interested in preserving the health, beauty, and longevity of your finish – think vintage cars with original paint. If you’re more of the 3-year lease type and your car has a predetermined lifespan, by all means polish away, but it’s important to realize that proper care can prevent the need to dig into your car’s clear coat in the first place. Also, if you’re set on machine buffing, remember that each time you take a machine to the surface, you will either be removing some clear coat or subjecting your paint to swirl marks.

Preservation begins with a mindset. Truly caring for your car’s paintwork is keeping it properly protected throughout the years, and this proves to be rewarding. As stated earlier, the less of clear coat you remove, the better job you’re doing at protecting the paint. The basis of preservation rests on filling rather than cutting, and keeping the largest amount of factory clear coat on the car as possible. This doesn’t mean that polishes and glazes are to be avoided, but rather the types of products need to be understood. Smoothing polishes and fine polishes are gentle on clear coats, and when used with a finishing glaze, help to fill and slightly round the edges of the scratch – making them less noticeable. Preservation successfully minimizes the appearance of all scratches, even level 4, by limiting the amount of light reflection within a scratch. The rougher and deeper a scratch is, the more light reflects inside the scratch, making it increasingly visible to the human eye (Figure 2). Although hand polishing will do just fine, preservation doesn’t necessarily mean no machines, but rather than a high speed or rotary model, an orbital buffer is preferred for this process.

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Correction is the more aggressive polishing technique and is usually referred to as common practice within the detailing community. Also recognized as high speed buffing, cutting, machine polishing or fixing, correction utilizes more abrasive technology to remove clear coat scratches (1A). The amount of clear coat removed will vary depending on how deep the scratches are that you’re trying to get out, but always remember that the more you buff, less and less clear coat is left to protect the painted layer. By cutting, this process will successfully remove level 1A scratches and some 1B scratches from the paint. Although deeper scratches (level 2-4) can only be shortened and rounded, this process minimizes their visibility by allowing light a direct path of reflection. For paintwork correction processes, leveling compounds are used and utilized in stages – usually a more abrasive compound followed by a slightly less abrasive product, and finished with a glaze before waxing. Similarly to the preservation process, the finishing glaze is used to further smooth and fill any last imperfections after leveling compounds have been used – this helps to provide an even surface for wax application and minimizes the appearance of any deeper scratches that may not have been removed by the compound.

Clean and degrease

How to repair scratches and scuffs to car paintwork

It’s imperative that the damaged area is free from dirt, grease and tar, according to Hall. He uses specialist degreasers and cloths and sets up an awning over the car to protect the repair area from the elements. Humidity and temperature affect the quality of the repair.


How to repair scratches and scuffs to car paintwork

Sanding back the damaged area removes the scratches and ensures that the final repair is smooth. Hall uses both an orbital sander and sands by hand, working from the rough to the smooth grades of paper. He says there’s no standard methodology here: experience dictates the technique and which grades of sandpaper to go for, and it can involve papers anywhere from 40 grit (coarse) to 4,000 grit (ultra-fine).


How to repair scratches and scuffs to car paintwork

The final job is to polish the area. Hall used an orbital machine polisher with two grades of 3M pad to add and buff the polish. He recommends that the car isn’t washed for at least three days, preferably a week, but after that can be cleaned as normal.

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Should you attempt a DIY car scratch repair?

How to repair scratches and scuffs to car paintwork

Hall told us it’s absolutely possible to do it yourself using kit bought at Halfords. You would also save money — typically, a basic bumper repair by a specialist such as ChipsAway will cost anywhere from £160 plus VAT whereas at Halfords, primer, paint and lacquer spray cans cost around just £7-8 each. Sandpaper is very inexpensive.

However, for a repair that isn’t noticeable to the untrained eye, Hall believes you need the right tools and plenty of experience. He says he can never guarantee a factory quality finish but to our eyes, the repaired area on our car is as good as new.

For more examples of Hall’s repair work, visit

  • ChipsAway
  • Dents
  • Paint
  • Paintwork
  • repairs
  • scratches

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