How to Remove Brush Scratches from a Car

Before and after image showing how car polishing removes the swirl marks and scratches on the surface of the paint

Nothing is more disheartening than noticing scratches all over your car. You probably don’t care where they came from, you just want to get rid of them quickly without spending too much money. The good news is that this is a straightforward and easy process.

The process involves fully cleaning and drying your car before identifying all of the scratches on your vehicle. Use a dual-action polisher, pad, and solution to do all the heavy lifting. Start with a compounding/ cutting pad and product then move on to a polishing pad and product afterward. After this, your car should be scratch-free.

In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn how to remove brush scratches from a car. As long as the scratches aren’t too deep, you can DIY the whole thing and won’t need a professional. I’ll teach you more about the scratches, introduce some useful products, and give you an in-depth step-by-step guide on how to remove these scratches.

What are Brush Scratches?

Brush scratches go by a dozen different names, but they all refer to the same phenomenon: they’re little scratches that cut into your car’s topcoat and are visible to the naked eye. Most of the time there are a number of scratches within a small section of your car’s paint.

They’re especially obvious on darker cars. If they’re really thin, your paint might just look hazy in the area. Deeper scratches will look white and will be more obvious.

Before and after image showing how car polishing removes the swirl marks and scratches on the surface of the paint on a red car

Even really shallow scratches can be felt by rubbing your fingernail across the surface.

The main takeaway is that these scratches are very minor and surface-level. If they cut deeper than the topcoat, then they won’t be able to be repaired using any simple methods. You’ll need to have a professional fix the topcoat and it’s an expensive problem to have.

Where are These Scratches Coming from?

These scratches can come from a lot of different places. They’re called “brush scratches” because you can find them after driving into the foliage on the side of the road.

Your car’s topcoat is really delicate. All it takes is a little bit of pressure from an object that’s relatively hard, and you’ll be left with a scratch. That’s why keying a car is so common — it’s really as easy as dragging a key across the paint.

You might also experience scratches from road debris, loading groceries into your car, incorrectly polishing your car, bumping into your vehicle, or getting into an accident. As long as the scratches are minor, they all fall into the same category (and the fix is the same).

Is There a Way to Avoid Scratches in the Future?

Unfortunately, a lot of scratches are outside of your control. Sure, you can do your best to avoid an accident and not run into bushes, but that’s not going to completely avoid scratches. All it takes is a stray rock bouncing down the highway and you’ll be left with a scratch.

The only way to truly avoid scratches is to park your car in a garage and never take it out or touch it. At that point, it’s hardly a car at all.

My advice? Just drive your car like normal and fix any scratches after the fact.

Pro Tip: Use a Polisher, Don’t Do it By Hand

In the following sections, you’ll see two different guides. The first guide will explain the process if you use a dual-action polisher, and the second guide will describe how to remove the scratches by hand.

Professional car detailer buffing the surface of the car's black paint with a polisher to remove scratches and swirl marks

In my opinion, you should use a tool and avoid doing this by hand. There are a few reasons why:

Tools are quicker. Above everything else, using a polisher will get the project done quicker. The tool is spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute, which is way faster than you can move your arm. This means you can glide through the job and be done in no time.

Tools remove deeper scratches. Polishers also provide more cutting power. This allows you to remove deeper scratches than you would be able to do by hand.

The finished product will look cleaner. Since everything about a polisher is smooth and effortless, you’ll get a beautifully-finished car when you’re done using it. You can also vary the pads that you use on the polisher, which blends the area perfectly with the surrounding topcoat of your car.

Understanding How “Cutting” Works

In the rest of this guide, I’ll be talking about “cutting” a lot. This is the process of removing a thin layer of your car’s topcoat.

For reference, the topcoat is a clear lacquer that is applied on top of your car’s colored paint. The sole purpose of this topcoat is to protect your car from rust, paint chipping, and damage to the body.

Unfortunately, the topcoat is very delicate. All it takes is a slight bump from a harder material and you’ll get a scratch on your car.

A professional detailer polishing the car with an orbital polisher with red LED lights in the background

This is where cutting comes in. As long as the scratch is contained within the topcoat, it can be removed. A polisher is used to cut down the topcoat, removing the top-most layer of it, to a certain depth. The more cutting power you have, the deeper into the topcoat you’ll go.

By removing the topcoat far enough, the scratch will disappear. This is only possible if you cut deep enough.

In the world of detailing, different pads and products are used to achieve different levels of cutting. A compounding or cutting pad offers the most cutting power, which means it has the best chance of removing a scratch.

How to Use a Dual-Action Polisher

Using a dual-action polisher is easier than you might think. The tool is the more user-friendly version of an orbital polisher, and it gives you a lesser chance of messing up your topcoat.

To use it, you’ll hold the tool with both hands. Select the speed you’d like and turn on the tool. Always start and stop the tool with the pad in contact with your car.

For cutting, use the highest speed possible. For polishing, use the middle-most speed setting.

AVID POWER Buffer Polisher, 6-inch Dual Action Polisher Random Orbital Car Buffer Polisher Waxer with Variable Speed, 3 Foam Pads for Car Polishing and Waxing, AEP127

AVID POWER Buffer Polisher, 6-inch Dual Action Polisher Random Orbital Car Buffer Polisher Waxer with Variable Speed, 3 Foam Pads for Car Polishing and Waxing, AEP127
AVID POWER 6-inch Dual Action Polisher Random Orbital Car Buffer

Once the tool is running, you’ll just move it side-to-side, then up-and-down in the same area of your car. This is called “cross-hatching”, and it’s the technique that professional detailers use.

You’ll only want to apply about 5 pounds of pressure to the polisher as you use it. In other words, let the polisher do most of the work for you. Applying too much pressure can lead to further scratching your car.

Move with a consistent speed and pressure in order to get the best results.

How to Prime a Polishing Pad

Whenever you use a pad on your polisher, you’ll need to prime it. This process ensures the solution is evenly spread and will have the most impact on your car while you use the polisher.

For this guide, stick to foam pads. They’re easier to identify, easier to use, and typically cheaper than other options on the market.

Car detailer putting buffing compound on the orbital polisher by priming the polishing pad

To prime a pad, apply the product across your pad. In this example, I’ll be using a compounding solution. I would put a few squirts across the pad, then use a gloved finger to spread the solution evenly across the pad.

From there, add one more dime-sized blob in the middle of the pad. Add a quarter-sized blob of product on your car’s body where you are about to polish.

Once you start polishing, you’ll want to routinely check the pad to see how saturated it is. If the pad gets dried, you can “dry buff” your car, which will create even more brush scratches. Continuously add more product to the pad and swap out the pad if it gets too dirty or worn.

You Don’t Need a Professional

As you’ll see in the following sections, you really don’t need a professional if you want to get rid of minor scratches. You can DIY the entire process with a very small learning curve.

It entails owning a dual-action polisher, but this is a versatile tool that can be used over and over again. In reality, owning one of these polishers will make future polishing and waxing a lot easier.

How to Remove Brush Scratches from a Car: Step-By-Step Guide

To start, I’ll outline how to remove these brushes “the professional way”. This involves using a dual-action polisher and some other equipment that you might find in a detail shop. The good news is that these are one-off purchases that you can reuse for the life of your vehicle.

Equipment Needed

  • Dual-action polisher
  • Compounding pad
  • Compounding solution
  • Polishing pad
  • Car soap
  • Polishing solution
  • Microfiber towels
  • Optional: blue painter’s tape
  • Optional: liquid wax

Step 1: Thoroughly Wash Your Car

You’ll want to have a clean car in order to correctly go through this process. You should never use a polisher on a dirty car. The embedded debris can be used to further scratch your car and it can make things much worse.

To properly wash your car, you should use a professional automotive soap. Read the bottle to understand what mixture to use between the soap and water.

A close up of a man hand washing his Tesla Model 3 car with a sponge and car wash cleaner front end bumper radiator grille

Fill a bucket with water, add the soap, and mix it up. Use a series of fresh microfiber towels to apply the soapy water to your car and make sure you wash all of the car, not just the scratched area.

Use a hose before and after applying the soap in order to prime and rinse your vehicle, respectively.

Step 2: Dry Your Car Completely

After washing the vehicle, you’ll want to completely dry it. Why? Letting the car airdry can lead to water spots. It can also ruin the detailing solutions that you’re about to use and dilute everything, resulting in a worsened final product.

To dry, use clean and dry microfiber towels and wipe them across your car. As one towel gets too saturated, swap it out for a new one.

Step 3: Examine Your Car

Before you break out any of the tools, take a second to look over your car. You might have noticed brush scratches in a certain area, but there might be more hiding somewhere else. Now that your car is cleaned and dried, scratches should stand out more.

Mechanic auto body specialist inspecting the body of the car after repairs

Any time you find a little imperfection or scratch, take a picture of it. This will help you remember where the scratch is later on.

For this guide, you’ll only be looking for scratches on the painted surfaces of your car’s body. This won’t work for unpainted metal, plastic, or glass.

Step 4: Mark the Trouble Areas

This is where painter’s tape can come in handy. You can put a little piece near the parts of your car that have brush scratches on them. Make sure you don’t push down on the tape too hard and don’t leave it on your vehicle for too long.

Step 5: Do a Spot Test

Next, it’s time for a spot test. This should be done whenever you want to apply a product to your vehicle for the first time.

The idea is that you’ll practice on a tiny section and see how the product reacts. Doing this will ensure you don’t mess up when you apply the product to a larger section of your car. This can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

Close up of a black car's paint after being polished with a before and after on each side - doing a spot test

For this spot test, you’ll be using the dual-action polisher, both pad options, and both liquid products (compounding and polishing).

This should be done in an area that isn’t highly visible. Personally, I like putting it on the bottom portion of my car’s rear bumper or quarter panel.

Check out the previous part of this guide that explains how to use the polisher and pad.

Step 6: Section Off the Area

Whenever you use a polisher, you should stick to a single section at a time. Professional detailers suggest sticking to areas no larger than 1’ by 1’. This allows you to focus on applying the solution without skipping any parts of your car.

For this step, you’ll want to section off the part of your car that has brush scratches. If these are present on your side mirrors, then you’ll want to just tackle one mirror at a time.

If the scratches are on your car’s body, you might want to use the blue painter’s tape to create a physical area with four pieces, 1’ long each. This helps identify the section.

You’ll only be polishing within this section, one section at a time.

Step 7: Use a Dual-Action Polisher with Compounding/ Cutting Pad

This is where the technical stuff happens. Grab your dual-action polisher and put it on the highest speed setting. Get a cutting pad (yellow or orange), put it on the polisher, and grab the cutting solution you’ll be using. Prime the pad and add that extra drop to your car before getting started.

You’ll want to use your polisher across your car only in the section you specified.

Chemical Guys BUF_HEXKITS_8 Hex-Logic Buffing Pad Kit, 6.5 in. – 8 Items

Chemical Guys BUF_HEXKITS_8 Hex-Logic Buffing Pad Kit, 6.5 in. - 8 Items
Chemical Guys Buffing Pad Kit

This pad, speed, and product combination will give you a high level of cutting, so you should notice the scratches going away pretty quickly.

Make sure you’re not just using the polisher on the scratches. This will make your topcoat uneven and will make the low point very obvious as you look at the car. You’ll want to polish the entire 1’ by 1’ section in order to correctly blend your topcoat.

Step 8: Wipe Down the Area

It’s never a good idea to let detailing liquid dry on its own. Once you finish one section of your car, you’ll want to use a clean, dry microfiber towel and wipe down the area. This will get rid of excess product, and it helps you avoid hazing.

Step 9: Check the Scratches

At this point, the scratches should be gone from the section/s that you just polished. Take some time to closely examine the areas. If the scratches are still there, then there’s some bad news for you.

They’re too deep and no longer just brush scratches. If that’s the case, you’ll need to reach out to a pro to reapply your topcoat and work their magic.

Close up of a blue car door handle with fine scratches visible against the light caused either by animals or car cover scratches

If the scratches are gone, then that’s great news. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for the remaining sections that have scratches in them. You’ll want to keep repeating them until all of the scratches are gone.

Remember where these scratched areas are because you’ll need to go back to them in step 10.

Step 10: Use a Dual-Action Polisher with Polishing Pad

Now you’ll be going through those areas with a pad and solution that offer less cutting power. They’re called polishing pads, and they’re used to smooth everything out.

The cutting pad you used in the previous steps is very rough and abrasive. It can make the area of your car look unsightly. This polishing pad will make it smooth, shiny, and beautiful.

You’ll repeat the exact same process of priming the pad, but this time you’ll be using a black or white pad and a polishing liquid solution. Turn your dual-action polisher speed setting down to the middle-most speed.

Use your dual-action polisher in one section with the same pressure and motion that you used previously.

Step 11: Wipe Down the Area

Again, you’ll want to wipe down this area with a microfiber towel once you’re done. It gets rid of excess product and ensures you have the best final look.

car detailer wiping the surface of the car with a microfiber towel with red LED lights in the background

Step 12: Check the Sections

Repeat steps 10 and 11 for the other sections of your vehicle again. Remember to change the pad if it gets too dirty, saturated, or starts to fall apart. Also, be sure to reapply the product if the pad gets dried out.

Once you’ve worked out every section that previously had scratches, take a closer look at these sections. Are they smoothed out and nice-looking? As you look at each section, there should be no indication that there used to be a scratch here.

Congratulations, you just successfully removed brush scratches from your car.

Optional: Wax the Rest of Your Car

Since you already washed, dried, and primed your car, why not wax it? This will only take a few more minutes, and everything is already set up. Additionally, the wax will add a little bit of protection, which is great for avoiding scratches in the future.

Use a black pad on your dual-action polisher with a liquid wax solution. Alternatively, you can hand-wax your car, but it’s going to take longer and won’t look as good at the end of the day.

For waxing, you’ll want to remove any blue painter’s tape you have on your car. Instead, you’ll slowly work across your car and hit every part of your vehicle.

This wax will protect your vehicle and add a shiny layer on top of your topcoat. It’s important that you don’t compound or polish your car after waxing because that will just remove the wax and make your paint look uneven.

Removing Scratches from a Car Without a Dual-Action Polisher

What if you don’t have a fancy dual-action polisher and you still want to get rid of scratches? It’s still possible, but the process won’t work as well. If the scratches are deep enough, then hand-removal won’t have any effect. Regardless, here are the steps to do the same project without the polishing tool.

Steps 1-6: Identical as Above

The good news is that the first 7 steps are identical whether you have a polisher or not. You’ll want to wash, dry, examine, mark, spot test, and section your vehicle as described in the previous section.

Step 7: Use a Microfiber Towel and Cutting Solution

Now, grab a clean, dry microfiber towel. You’ll need a whole stack of them for this project. I’d suggest folding it into quarters. This allows you to unfold and refold the towel in order to get 8 usable sides.

The cutting solution will be applied directly to the towel. You’ll use the towel to wipe your car in a side-to-side motion.

A man detailing a red car polishing and coating the car with wax on the clearcoat for protection

Avoid moving the towel in tiny circles. This can actually scratch your car further and leave you with a hazy car after the fact.

You’ll need to apply about 10 to 15 pounds of pressure since you don’t have a polisher to help you out. Remember to keep the pressure and speed consistent as you apply the solution to this area.

Again, stick within the confines of the 1’ by 1’ area.

Step 8: Wipe Down and Check the Area

Once you finish applying the solution, wipe down the area with a separate, dry, clean microfiber towel. This gets rid of excess product.

Take a look at the section. If scratches are still present, then repeat step 7 in the same area. If the scratches are gone, then repeat step 7 in the next section and keep going until all of the scratches are removed.

If you try to remove the scratches twice and they don’t come out, then they’re too deep to be removed by hand. You’ll need to either use a dual-action polisher or reach out to a professional detail shop to help you.

Use a Professional Detailer, Not a Mechanic

If you need professional help, a mechanic won’t be able to do much. In this case, there’s nothing mechanically wrong with your car that needs to be repaired or replaced. Instead, it’s all contained in the topcoat of your car.

Professional car detailer polishing a white car with a dual orbit polisher

Consulting with a professional detailer is best, not a mechanic. Detail shops typically offer impressive interior and exterior cleaning. Part of exterior cleaning involves washing, waxing, polishing, and cutting your car’s body. As you saw in my step-by-step outlines, these are the major points involved in removing a scratch.

Alternatively, you can go to a body shop, but they’re typically used after an accident or after your car’s body goes through some serious damage. They’ll be able to handle your project, but they might not want to take it on since it’s much smaller than what they’re used to.

Conclusion

Now you know exactly how to remove brush scratches from a car. I just covered an in-depth guide for removing scratches with and without a dual-action polisher. For more ultimate car care guides, check out the rest of my blog. In addition, see what car products I highly recommend.

Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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