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Proper Wetsanding Procedures

Due to the large amount of requests for information regarding the topic of "Wet Sanding" and Clear Coat Paint care we have developed this special section which focuses specifically on the topic.

Kevin Farrell of Kleen Car Auto Appearance has provided us with the most comprehensive information available on Wet Sanding and Automotive Clear Coat Paint Care.

This is a topic that brings many questions and if not done properly can cost a detailer greatly! 

We encourage visitors to read through all the articles that Kevin has generously provided.

Special thanks to Kevin Farrell for sharing his knowledge and expertise on this important aspect of the Auto Detailing Industry. For additional articles by Kevin, see his article library here on Auto Detailing Network.

Kevin can be reached at his website.

Kleen Car Auto Appearance


Wet Sanding Articles:

Buffing and Polishing scratch resistant clear coat paint

Let’s go back to the days where the only type of paint system used on automobiles was single stage. Cars were painted in either a lacquer or enamel finish. These finishes differed from today’s clear coats in the fact that the pigmented paint of yesteryear was exposed to the elements and direct UV rays of the sun. Therefore, these paint systems would fade and oxidize and had to be buffed rather heavily to bring back the original finish. 

These paint systems differed slightly from each other, but both were basically fairly hard surfaces that required a detailer (or whatever they were called back then) to employ an aggressive buffing procedure. Many guys used very aggressive wool pads, compounds that felt like beach sand and very high speeds on a rotary buffer. Aggression was the norm, not the exception. Even when paint systems changed over to basecoat/clear coat in the early 80’s, the first generation of clear coat was very hard and required those similar buffing methods of a single stage system. Therefore, if a detailer did not know the difference in these paint systems, or was not aware that they were different, he generally would not make a critical mistake in buffing an early generation clear coat.  

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Wet sanding and buffing scratch resistant clear coat

I hope you had your Wheaties and got a good night sleep, because sanding scratch resistant clear coat is not easy. As we discussed in our last article, these clear coats are much harder than conventional clears, so it makes sense that they will be much harder to sand.  

As with any clear coat, you should be skilled in wet sanding and knowledgeable about paint thickness before attempting to do this. You should also have a very good reason to sand any clear coat surface. I speak to many customers, car enthusiasts and many detailers who throw the term of wet sanding around Willy nilly and treat this as if it’s no big deal. Then when they run into problems while sanding, sometimes to a catastrophic degree, they realize the project may have been too big to handle. 

I have written other articles before regarding wet sanding techniques and such, so that will not be covered here in this article. But if wet sanding is to be an option on ANY scratch resistant clear coat, you have to understand what you will be in for. It will be more difficult to remove material. As with sanding ANY clear coat there should be good reasons for doing it. Examples of these would be a car with a deeper scratch, dirt nib stuck in the clear, etching, scuffs, etc. Reasons for NOT sanding clear coat, especially scratch resistant clear would be because of “swirls” or orange peel. I have had people call me requesting or telling me that their car needed to be “wet sanded”. This is always a red flag for me. Since when does a customer need their car to be sanded? They have heard this from either a detailer that just wants to oversell something, or a customer doing internet research and not fully understanding what wet sanding is all about. 

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Understanding, wet sanding and buffing scratch resistant clear coat

There has been much talk recently regarding the newer scratch resistant clear coats. Some are very new and some are a few years old already. However they are here to stay and most car manufacturers will be producing more and more cars with this newer clear coat technology. 

Although these clear coats are not bulletproof, the scratch resistant clears do hold up well to light scratches, stay cleaner as they do not let as much dirt penetrate the surface, and some of them actually “heal” or remove light scratches when left out in direct sunlight. It may seem that these clear coats will put detailers out of business, but that’s not the case. They still need care and they still will need to be buffed out when imperfections get deeper into the surface. 

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It's Still Clear Coat but not so "clear Cut"

We know by now that almost all vehicles are painted in basecoat/clear coat, with the clear coat portion of the paint being what we buff. There is no secret there. We also know that clear coat is still paint, but a clear paint applied over the base or color coat that gives the vehicle its gloss, clarity, and UV protection. It will still mar and show scratches and will still need to be taken care of to keep the finish looking its absolute best.

What is more difficult to understand is that there are many differing variations of clear coat, made by many different paint companies. Many times these variations will be found within car manufacturers and make things a bit confusing and difficult.

So many clears
Car plants use different types of clears from model to model and from brand to brand. Just because we know that today's cars use "clear coat" as the final top coating, it does not mean they will all be the same, and exhibit the same characteristics when being taken care of. Combine the different brands of clear coat with different substrates that they are applied on, and the way they buff can be totally different and very confusing.

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"Wet Sanding" Using a powerful yet dangerous tool.

I'm sure most of you have heard the term "wet sanding" or "color sanding." What do these terms mean and when and how should you use these procedures? Sometimes the only way to remove or lighten a heavy imperfection is by sanding the paint surface. This can be a fast and effective way to remove a heavy scratch or scuff, if you are skilled and very careful. On the other hand, this method may lead to a trip to the spray booth if you are over zealous and not aware of when to stop.

During the process of wet sanding you are actually "shaving" a minute layer of clear coat off the paint surface to level out a deep scratch. This is also the process used to remove scuffs or marks left by other cars. Wet sanding is also used in many body shop procedures such as evening out a run or sag, eliminating dry spray, "knocking down" too much orange peel, or getting rid of dirt that got caught on the finish during the paint process. In many cases wet sanding can be more effective than trying to compound these imperfections out. Wet sanding will not create the heat that compounding will, but many times is more aggressive, and special care must be taken throughout the entire process.

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Wet Sanding For Show and Dough $$ 

Being able to wet sand (or color sand) scratches and other blemishes that are too deep to be buffed out, is something that every detailer should be able to do if called upon. As a detailer, this added skill raises your level of professionalism, saves the customer money by keeping the vehicle out of the paint shop, puts you ahead of your competition who may not be able to perform this type of work, and adds a profit center to your shop.

Another aspect of wet sanding that can generate the kind of income that detailing alone cannot, is wet sanding the entire vehicle to bring the appearance of the paint to show-car like quality. While jobs like these may not be an everyday occurrence, it can be a niche that you can fill for the car enthusiast, show car owner, or a discriminating customer who demands perfection in the paint appearance of his vehicle.

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