How To Remove Clear Coat Without Damaging Paint – Auto Body Repair Hacks

How To Remove Clear Coat Without Damaging Paint

The clear coat plays a vital role in enhancing the shines and durability of the paints of objects like automobiles. However, they, just like every other kind of finishing, also sustain scratches and diminish in potency over time. This subsequently calls for their removal and eventual replacements.


While it is a common phenomenon, the removal of such a coat need not necessarily have to damage the underlying paint. Our goal in this particular discussion is to let you know how to remove a clear coat without necessarily damaging the underlying paint.

How To Remove Clear Coat Without Damaging Paintpainting tools

Required Tools and Materials

  • 400 grit sandpaper
  • 800 grit sandpaper
  • 1000 grit sandpaper
  • 1,200 grit sandpaper
  • Electric polisher
  • Washing Hose
  • Water
  • 100% wool pad
  • Spray Detailer

Step-by-step Procedures – How to Sand a Clear Coat Without Sanding the Paint

Soak some 400 grit sandpaper

This might appear strange but the first and foremost procedure should be to soak the 400 grit sandpaper in water. To do this, immerse the sandpaper in a bucket full of water for around 10 minutes to an hour. The aim of this step is to empower the 400 grit sandpaper to be able to rid the surface of the automobile of the settled clear coat.

Wash the vehicle

Remove-Clear-Coat-Wash-the-vehicleAfter soaking the sandpaper, you now need to go ahead and wash the vehicle completely. Paint repair and maintenance jobs generally require extra clean surfaces. Take your time to wash your car by soaking it, taking care not to generate new scratches and dents in the process.

Make do with a sponge, medicated soap, and brush to clean the vehicle and rid it of any unwanted blemishes. As soon as you are done with cleaning the vehicle, use a soft and dry cloth to wipe off excess moisture from the vehicle. If possible, be sure to dry the vehicle completely.

Wet-sand the clear coat material

grit-sandpaper-to-continue-wet-sandingNow proceed to wet-sand the clear coat material. Get hold of the 400 grit sandpaper which you had soaked in water in step I above. Rub it gently atop the surface to even out the scratches and weaken the clear coat. Place the sandpaper as nearly as 1 inch away from scratch as possible. Being by far the most significant step in the entire process, you will have to spend a bit of your time to get it right.

Use higher grit sandpaper to continue wet sanding the paint

After you have sanded the entire car with the 400 grit sandpaper, graduate to the finer and higher rated sander. Slowly introduce and use the 800, 1000 and finally the 1,200 grit sandpaper. At this stage, commence sanding at about ½ inches outside the perimeter of the outcomes you attained using the 400-grit perimeter.

To ascertain whether you are making any progress or not, check and feel the outcomes. The best outcomes should appear like the crosshatch. As such, it should also feel very smooth to the touch and hands. You might have to make a couple of extra passes to attain this outcome.

Tape the delicate parts and surfaces of the car

Masking-car-before-repaintAs soon as you are now satisfied with the final outcomes, you have to tape the delicate parts and surfaces of the car. This is in preparation for the application of the undercoat which might normally interfere or even compromise these parts. Examples of these delicate parts include tail lights, headlights, mirrors, handles, screen wipers, and rims.

Dry-sand the Car

Wait for the car to completely dry. Proceed to dry-sand it. Use the finer higher grit sandpapers such as the 600 – 800 grit sandpaper to do the job. As you go about this procedure, you should focus on achieving the smooth even finishes.

It is advisable to sand at an angle of 45° while tackling scratches. For normal scratching outcomes, you just have to flow with the natural grains for optimal outcomes. The aim of this procedure is to come up with some even tone and extra smooth finishes.

Rinse the sanded car

Now pour some water on the car to rid it of the finer grit and particles. Check the nature of the wastewater to see to it that it turns milky. As soon as it turns so, stop sanding. Any further sanding might now interfere with the undercoat. Wipe with a clean cloth and leave to dry.

Polish the sanded portion of the car with some polish

Polish-the-sanded-portion-of-the-carFinish off by applying polish to the sanded portion of the car. Utilize the electric polisher and set it at a lower rotational speed of around 1,200-1,400 revolutions per minute. Work preferably in the cyclic motion as this is the best. It ensures some overlap which sees to it that every bit and piece of the surface is impacted. Make deliberate efforts also to apply the polish evenly to all the regions.

Alternatively, you may use the 100% wool pad to do the job manually, if you do not have the electric polisher. Use the polish sparingly to avoid sustaining burns or compromising the quality of the final outcomes.

At this stage, the scratches will have already disappeared. However, you will still remain with some swirls which you have to get rid of. Switch to a softer polishing pad and use the finishing polish also. You are free to run the polisher at higher revolutions per minute to generate stronger shines much faster.

Clean the polished area

Lastly, clean the polished area to make it look brighter. Apply the spray detailer on the polished spots to bring about the shiny and clean finish. If you so wish, you may also apply a coat of wax. While at it, do not leave the polisher on a single spot for too long. This is because its face rotates too fast and can damage the affected region faster.

Frequently Asked Questions

To finish the post off, I’ve answer a few common questions I get asked.

Does paint thinner remove clear coat?

Paint thinner will damage a clear coat. It may remove the clear coat but it will probably take several applications of the thinner, and in the process of removing you may also remove the paint that the clear coat is protecting.
Before you apply to paint thinner to your clear coat surface make sure that you no longer want that coating. If you want to remove the coating without damaging the paint beneath try using mineral spirits. You can also use fine grit sandpaper to rub away any blemished clear coat areas that might be marring the look of your vehicle.

How do you fix clear coat damage?

You can repair some clear coat damage by using a degreaser to remove any wax that might be present on the vehicle. Then take painters tape and tape off the area where you will be working. You should go about an inch past the clear coat damage.
Use an 800 grit sandpaper to sand the clear coat down and leave a surface area that is roughened up. As you work away from the damage make your sanding lighter. You are trying to establish a smooth transition that does not have a lump or line where the old clear coat ends.
Now you can use a spray on a clear coat to repair the section that you just sanded. Apply in light coats and allow to dry completely before applying the next coat.

What takes off a clear coat?

The safest way to remove clear coat without damaging the paint beneath the clear coat is to use a buffing compound or specialized clear coat removing agent. This is a process that must be done very carefully to prevent damaging the underlying paint.
Apply the clear coat remover according to the manufacturer instructions. Then while the clear coat is wet you want to use an electric polisher and fine grit, about an 899 grit, sandpaper to wet sand the clear coat. You will follow this procedure up by buffing the remainder of the clear coat and film from the remover off of the car like you were buffing off wax.

Can I clear coat over a clear coat?

The answer to this question depends on the condition that the first clear coat layer is in. If the clear coat is in good condition with no visible damages or peeling areas then you can apply another layer of clear coat. This will give your vehicle a deeper shine and create a mirror like image on the surface of the vehicle.
If the clear coat has any damages then you have to repair and address those damages before you can apply a new coat of clear varnish.

Final Note

This task is not for the faint-hearted. It is quite elaborate, requires great patience, and may easily pose some damages to the various parts and components of the car. If you are uncertain about it, you are advised to delegate it to a trained expert or qualified mechanic. The costs which come along with any damages are often too great to bear. Best of luck in your next clear coat removal exercise!

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