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Do-It-Yourself Projects
Erase Chalky Paint
By Mike Bumbeck/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyEasy
Estimated Time180 minutes
180 minutes
Polish your Paint to Look Like New
Automobile paint is by far one of the toughest, most resilient, and flexible types of paint that exists. With proper care, the paint on your vehicle can withstand harsh weather, debris, burning hot sun, masses of flying insects, even kids—and still survive it all looking shiny and new. Even so, every Superman has his Kryptonite.
Polish your Paint to Look like New
Don't Be Dull
The one thing that will dull an automobile paint finish is plain old neglect. The oils and chemicals that keep the paint shiny and tough can literally evaporate, leaving the paint dull and opening it up to oxidation. Oxidized paint loses its shine and ends up with a chalky looking layer on top of what was once a gorgeous finish. Once this process starts, and the paint is left unprotected for an extended period of time, paint surfaces can decay quickly past the point of no return. The reflective, shining, mirror-smooth tropical lagoon that was once the beautiful painted finish on your vehicle can be reduced to the cracked, arid, dusty, dry desert lake bed in less time than you might think. The good news is that if the paint has not gone too long without water and protection, it can be brought back to life with some modern chemicals and old-fashioned elbow grease.

Chemistry 101
Bringing back the shine to dull paint involves two crucial tasks. The first is to remove every bit of old crud and oxidation now smothering the paint's shine as these are signs that destructive layers have actually depleted the paint of its protective oils. The second task is to reintroduce these protective oils back to the paint. There are many products out there to achieve these two tasks. Rubbing compounds containing a slightly abrasive material, or cut, to remove oxidation will achieve the first task. The second task will be achieved by applying polishing compounds containing a milder cut and the oils required to bring back the shine. These products will achieve the second task. Some products bridge the gap between the two. Which product to use is determined by how depleted the painted finish has become.

For some swirl marks along with a water spot or two, a mild polishing compound will usually do the trick. For chalky, dull, heavily oxidized paint, a more aggressive rubbing compound is first required to get the paint ready to accept the polishing compound. A third and equally important task after either a rubbing or polishing compound has been used is a good waxing. The wax keeps bugs and other bad stuff out of the paint, and all of your rubbing and polishing work sealed in and protected against the baking sun, soda-hurling kids, and other harmful elements.

Paint Types
The first and most important thing to determine before starting is the type of paint your vehicle has layered on its body panels. Most automobile paint falls into two categories. The first type is called single stage. This paint is applied in one shot, and is uniform in its thickness. The second type is known as basecoat-clearcoat. Basecoat-clearcoat is applied in a two stages. The dull basecoat contains the color, and goes on first. The clearcoat is applied second, and gives the basecoat-clearcoat paint job its real shine. Since the clearcoat lies on top of the basecoat, it takes a beating from the elements. Extreme care must be taken when using rubbing compounds, polishes or other products that contain any type of abrasive cut in them on basecoat-clearcoat finishes. This is especially true if using power tools such as a high-speed rotary polisher. If the clearcoat is compromised, the only way to bring back the shine is to apply new clearcoat—an expensive proposition at best.
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