The Challenge of Delicate Paint
There has been plenty of talk on this, and other, detailing forums about how best to deal with difficult to correct or "hard" paint. But not much is discussed when the paint is so delicate that almost no matter how you touch it, it comes out looking somehow worse than before you started working on it.
We've seen MOL members suddenly horrified to find that a product they've read about, and seen fantastic before/after images touting the virtues of, simply can't give the same sort of result on their car. Our Customer Care Center receives calls about how a given product seemingly damaged the paint on a customer's car. Often times this is actually due to a very aggressive applicator being used and not the product at all, but sometimes it is down to the product. In either case, a test spot would have helped prevent the problem.
That does NOT mean the product is no good. It simply means that it isn't the best product match for that paint. We've seen plenty of comments from new users about how a wax or pure polish didn't remove their swirl marks, and more experienced users know that those products are simply not designed to correct that issue - they are just not aggressive enough. So no harm, no foul. But no progress either. Fine, just step up to a more aggressive product. But in this article we're talking about the exact opposite situation: those rare times when a product almost makes the paint look worse, even if it does remove the original defects.
Fortunately, this situation is quite rare indeed, but when it does happen - and put yourself in the place of the car owner who experiences this - it's extremely annoying and frustrating. How are you supposed to deal with that? What product do you choose? How do you use it? A test spot can help determine that.
Forum member Epileptic (known to his parents as Jay) has a 2008 Honda Civic sedan with extremely sensitive paint. We've seen him at Thursday Night Open Garage sessions, struggling to get a clear high gloss shine out on this car. Most processes he's tried end up hazing the paint and making it look dull. So, we invited him down to Meguiar's Garage so that we could experiment a bit and see what's what. Here's what we came up with.
We lined up a collection of products, from mild cleaner waxes to powerful paint cleaners, and did a variety of test spots on the hood. Each product was used with a fresh foam applicator pad, by hand. We applied each product twice, using each as directed.
As we suspected (knowing ahead of time that this paint is extremely delicate), Ultimate Compound did a good job of removing the defects in the paint but it left the finish looking very hazed. Stepping down to SwirlX we found a high level of defect removal, and with a lot less hazing. But still, the haze was there. Cleaner waxes such as our traditional Cleaner Wax, D151 Paint Reconditioning Cream, ColorX and M06 Professional Cleaner Wax only moderately reduced the swirl marks (which were quite heavy), in varying degrees depending on the strength of each. But at least they did not haze the finish. Of course, each of these had the added benefit of leaving wax protection at the same time, making them decent one step products. Overall, however, none were quite up to the task of fully removing defects. They were good and made a definite improvement, but we wanted more. You'll want more, too.
As mentioned, Ultimate Compound left the paint looking hazy. Here's a close up of the UC treated section alongside the small area that remained untreated while under the masking tape. The reduction in swirls is better than what this looks like - the level of haze just makes the whole thing look, well, far from desirable.
But here's another potential issue when working by hand on very delicate paint like on this Honda. It's very easy to develop pressure points under your fingertips, which translates into overly aggressive product application. We've even seen times where the user's finger marks could be seen in the paint following such an application. And using a terry cloth applicator on delicate paint just makes the situation even worse! Now, obviously the way Jay is putting pressure on this pad is not very good technique. But new users make mistakes like this. Still, even correct technique can create finger pressure points on very delicate paint.
So how do you counter that problem? You need an applicator, and the foam applicator is really the safest bet. But if your finger pressure can translate into paint damage........ ugh! Well, we tried out a little adaptation of hand application and put to use a W8204 polishing pad with a S3HP hand pad. This gave us much more uniform pressure across the pad (and onto the paint) along with a more ergonomic applicator. In short, the pressure points were gone.
Win - win? Well, it's an improvement in as much as the haze is both reduced and much more uniform in appearance. But there is still haze, even when using something as mild as SwirlX. This paint is that delicate! What's really important to keep in mind, however, is that the haze is actually quite minor and very uniform - meaning it is quite easy to correct with a very mild product.
Those of you with a lot of experience correcting paint understand the concept of trading a severe defect (heavy swirls, maybe even sanding marks) for a less severe, more predictable defect (light holograms, a bit of D/A haze, etc). You also know that your new, more predictable defect is very easy to remove with a less aggressive follow up product. And the exact same concept applies here. To remove the haze from any of the more aggressive products, we simply followed up with a quality cleaner wax - ColorX. M06 Professional Cleaner Wax and M66 Quick Detailer also work very well for this step.
Just how effective was ColorX at removing the haze? The image below shows the result. We took the Ultimate Compound test spot, as seen in the lower left, and split it in two, applying ColorX to half of it. And the difference is striking. But what's also great about this is that the application of ColorX was not a heavy elbow grease operation. Sure, we used a bit of pressure, but not like trying to remove heavy defects on "hard" paint. It was actually quite easy. And the results speak for themselves. You can clearly see the cross pattern created by the masking tape as we marked off the hood for the various products - and the level of swirls protected by the tape. But you can also see how badly hazed the UC treated area is, and this is what is so understandably upsetting to those who have experienced this. But look at the section right next to it; that was achieved with just a quick follow up of ColorX!
This is the same area, closer up, taken from around the side of the car. So the lower portion is after treating with UC only, the upper section showing the follow up with ColorX. And if something as simple as ColorX can remove the heavy haze of an aggressive product like Ultimate Compound, the lighter haze of SwirlX is no match for it. And SwirlX did a great job of removing the swirls in the first place, as you'll see in a moment.
Here's a close up shot of the difference between an area treated only with SwirlX, and the same area followed up with ColorX. It turns out that this particular paint was workable enough (or "soft" enough, as some would call it) that SwirlX was actually all the punch needed to remove the defects. Yes, it left a bit of haze, but less than UC, so the haze was a breeze to remove. Keep in mind the concept of using the least aggressive process to get the job done! Doing a test spot will tell you if you're being aggressive enough or not. When dealing with very delicate paint, you really want to go easy so as to avoid causing any more marring than necessary. With really delicate paint even a minor change in product or process can have a huge impact on the outcome.
OK, so what have learned from all of this?
Well, first of all............ wait for it.........DO A TEST SPOT!!! That is how you find out if you have really delicate (or really "hard", or really cooperative) paint in the first place. If you take anything away from this, let that be it. We can not stress this enough, especially for people who are new to paint correction. There is nothing worse than thinking a product/process is right for your paint just because you've seen so many great write ups using that product, only to discover it's not - after you've done the entire car! Paint systems differ, and the approach needed to work on them will differ accordingly. Usually the differences are fairly minor, but in some cases, like with extremely delicate paint, a very unique approach must be used to achieve the desired result.
Secondly, you don't need to work terribly hard to correct defects in really delicate paint. If anything, a lighter touch is less invasive to the paint, creating less hazing and other problems. You may need a couple of easy passes with SwirlX, but that's actually less work than a really "hard" paint that needs two highly labor intensive applications of Ultimate Compound!
Third, pay close attention to the type of defects you're initially trying to remove and compare them to what the paint looks like after your initial paint cleaning step. If the original problems are gone (water spots, fine scratches and swirls) but the paint looks really hazy and/or you can visually see your finger marks in the paint, odds are your paint is extremely delicate and you're being more aggressive with it than necessary.
Fourth, if you really want to use something like NXT Tech Wax 2.0 or Gold Class Carnauba plus, you can certainly do so as a last step. But you will need to use the refining ability of a good cleaner wax first in order to remove the haze of the paint cleaner. Otherwise, these non cleaning waxes won't have the ability to remove the haze. They may hide it a bit, but probably not enough to satisfy you, even if you're only a bit picky about the appearance of your finish. In fact, it's the people who fail to do a test spot and just go straight to wax that end up annoyed and frustrated at the end of it all.
Keep in mind that all of the above relates to hand application of products designed to remove defects. Using a tool like the G110v2 or other D/A changes the picture significantly. Still, you may well find that a very mild product is all that's needed to correct typical swirls, water spots, etc on these paints. The extra power of the tool coupled with the movement of the pad usually means that SwirlX one time takes care of the problem and even leaves less haze. Sometimes. It depends on the paint. We've even seen situations where ColorX alone (or M66 or D151) was sufficient all by itself when D/A applied. But do a test spot first to make sure.
In fact, when everything was said and done, even though we still had that patchwork of test spots on the hood, we gave the whole car a once over with ColorX on a G110v2 with a W8207 Soft Buff 2.0 polishing pad. This is what we got:
OK, so we've beaten the idea of a test spot into your heads (so we aren't using bold text for it any more), but hopefully we've also gotten you thinking about just how different various paint systems can be. And if you think this concept is only useful for those who are new to paint correction, think again. Look back to this thread we made last year - we spent a lot of time testing and eliminating products and processes before finally settling on one that worked. Imagine if we had just said "OK, this doesn't look too bad" and just jumped in with M105 on the D/A. We would have spent hours working on the car, been left with a mess, and forced to do the whole thing all over again! Any time you approach a make and model of car you've never worked on before, be prepared to adapt your process and product selection. Pay attention to how the paint is responding to your inputs. Stop and evaluate your progress - don't just jump in blindly and have at it. You never know how that paint is going to react until you do a ..............