Keeping a new vehicle in pristine condition is at the top of most car enthusiasts’ list. That’s why it makes sense that when it comes to, perhaps the most common question asked is: “How do I get a scratch out of my car’s paintwork?” There isn’t a blanket answer for that question, but if you have a fairly light scratch, a rubbing compound or polishing compound could be just what you need.
We take the vehicles that pass through the Roadshow garage a lot of places, and inevitably, superficial scratches and swirls happen in car paint. But, the number of cars trading hands among our staff also means we get to try out a wide variety of products to keep them . We spent a considerable amount of time sampling various car paint scratch removers, rubbing compounds and polishes to see which products work with just a microfiber cloth and some elbow grease, and which ones don’t live up to the hype. Below you’ll find our top picks, so read on and see which one is right for you and for some pro tips.
A quick caveat, though: If you have a deep scratch, these might not do the trick. For deeper scratches, a car paint expert is probably in order.
Overall, Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound is a friend to anyone trying to remove a scratch or other surface imperfection from their car paint. It’s affordable compared to similar rubbing compound products, and frankly, does exactly what it’s meant to do: remove scratches and swirls from clear coat. It also breathes new life into tired or cloudy-looking paint. Better yet, you don’t need a dual-action polisher to apply Ultimate Compound as it’s totally safe to use by hand. But, if you really want excellent results, it’s best to invest in some sort of polisher. Plus, working a whole car by hand with a microfiber towel is quite the job. Trust us, we know.
Ultimate Compound works on clear-coated cars and isn’t incredibly harsh, so you don’t need to fret about creating new swirls with this compound. Do know you’ll need to follow this product with a polishing compound to restore shine to car paint, however. After that, your car will look like a million bucks.
Mothers California Gold Scratch Remover truly is a budget pick if you really need to save $10. It’s nowhere near as effective as Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound, but then again, this isn’t a compound. It’s a polish designed to fill in very light scratches around door handles, or a minor scratch on a car’s paint on other areas. Yes, it works, but it will not work miracles. If you’ve got a tougher, deeper scratches on your hands, California Gold Scratch Remover probably isn’t the right product.
If you do have fine scratches in some typical areas of the car, we noticed them fill in quite well after following the manufacturer’s directions. For $10, it ain’t too shabby to remedy a minor car surface scuff mark.
We’re big, big fans of one-step products here. If you can achieve excellent results while cutting the work time in half, by all means, we’re here for it. Chemical Guys’ VSS Scratch and Swirl remover is a wonderful combo product that combines a compound, polish and cleaner elements into one.
We recommend using this stuff with a dual-action polisher for the best results (especially if you plan on doing an entire car) but you can work VSS Scratch and Swirl remover in by hand with some elbow grease. It’s just a lot more work. The results, if you use patience and follow the instructions, are tremendous if your car wears loads of swirl marks and ultrafine scratches. You won’t be disappointed if you take your time to restore your car’s glossy finish with this stuff.
If scratches you wouldn’t consider ultrafine bog your paintwork down, Carfidant can help save the day. We’re not talking giant scratches, but if you have some pesky surface scratch imperfections worse than swirls or a medium scratch, Carfidant’s Scratch and Swirl remover does a superb job at more difficult jobs.
The neat thing about this car scratch removal product is Carfidant says it’s also a paint restorer, though it doesn’t cut like a compound does. In our experience, paint did shine with some more depth after use, which is really a bonus to a scratch removal product. We also love that it’s super-easy to work with by hand with a microfiber cloth, or with a basic orbital polisher. It even comes with its own hand buffer.
This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about 3D One Professional Cutting, Polishing and Finishing Compound. We included it in our 10 best car waxes roundup because so many people ask for a wax that fixes scratches. The truth is, car wax doesn’t fix a scratch in a car’s finish. It can bury and hide it, but it won’t fix it.
Frankly, 3D One’s product is downright awesome. It combined a cutting compound, polish and finishing compound in a single bottle. All you need is dual-action polisher, the proper polishing pad and you can make an old tired car’s paint filled with scratches look top notch once again. No product on this list will fix a scratch deep enough to stick your finger nail in, but if you have a tough job on your hands, we can’t stress enough how 3D One is worth every single penny.
While we love one-step products, perhaps you’re light on accessories and the stuff needed to complete scratch repair. Adam’s Car Scratch & Swirl Remover Hand Correction System comes with two applicator pads so you have fresh tools to work with and don’t need to worry about finding something that works well with these products. The only thing you’ll still need that isn’t included with this scratch removal kit are some microfiber towels to wipe away the product.
The scratch repair kit comes with two products — a scratch and swirl remover and a hand polish. The first more abrasive compound does the tough work of buffing out moderate scratches and imperfections, while the hand polish restores a lovely luster to the paint. It worked quite well in our testing and sits as a great buy for those that need everything to get started.
Comparison of best car scratch removers
|Best scratch remover||Brand||Name||Price|
|For the money||Mothers||California Gold Scratch Remover||$10|
|Ultrafine scratches||Chemical Guys||VSS Scratch and Swirl Remover||$18|
|Small scratches||Carfidant||Scratch and Swirl Remover||$20|
|Deep scratches||3D||One Professional Cutting, Polishing and Finishing Compound||$25|
|Complete kit||Adam’s||Car Scratch & Swirl Remover Hand Correction System||$28|
Things to know about scratch removers
- Scratch repair is tough: That’s the truth. It’s not quick work. It’s incredibly common for individuals to purchase a car scratch remover and believe it will work miracles right away. The fact is, if you can stick your finger nail in a clear coat scratch, you’re probably beyond compound and polish. Instead, a professional will have far better luck with more advanced tools at their disposal.
- Take your time: These car scratch remover products do work. But, you need to follow the instructions and have the right tools at your disposal to help them succeed. If a product needs time to cure, don’t wipe it off immediately. If one requires a dual-action polisher, don’t expect the best results with hand application. If you do things right, the reward is an incredible finish on a car’s paint.
- Scratch removers aren’t just for paint: Check the specific product, but more often than not, you can use scratch removers on , taillights and even auto glass to fix pesky problems.
- Skip the toothpaste: It’s a fun idea, but please use a professional scratch removal product to repair scratches. Toothpaste is for your mouth, first and foremost — not automotive paint and clear coat. If you’re seriously concerned about heavy scratches that won’t come out with our picks, it’s time to talk to a professional.
- Use compounds sparingly: It would take a lot of applications, or some aggressive buffing, but you can wear down a car’s clear coat with too much rubbing compound. In fact, remember these two things: A little product goes a long way on an applicator pad, and if you can fit your fingernail in a scratch, it’s likely too deep to safely fix it.
With patience, the right scratch removal product, elbow grease and more patience, you can take scratches and swirls out of your car’s paintwork. It may take some work, but we promise the end result is absolutely worth the time and effort put into it. Follow these products with one of our top wax picks for added protection and the whole neighborhood will wonder who detailed your ride.