Removing Clearcoat: How To Remove Clear Coat From Car (Step-by-Step)

The clear coat on your car is one of the most important parts to take care of. It protects the paint job underneath, and it also makes your car look shiny and new. There are some things that you may not have known about clear coat.

For instance, did you know how to remove a clear coat safely? There are many ways to remove this coating, but they all require concrete steps to eliminate it without destroying your car! That’s why we created The Complete Guide to Removing Clear Coat!

how to remove clear coat

Equipment Needed to Remove Clear Coat

Clear coats are a type of exterior paint usually applied over the majority of the car before the vehicle is painted. Clear coats were initially produced to fulfill specific needs in vehicle finishes, but they can also be used on boats and other exterior products.

There are many different reasons you might want to remove a clear coat from your car. boat, or any other item. The most common reason for removing a clear coat is because it has become damaged. Here are the pieces of equipment needed to remove the clear coat:

  • A respirator rated for organic fumes is recommended.
  • Impact-resistant safety glasses that fit tightly to the face.
  • Rubber boots cover at least half of the foot and ankles to protect against chemicals, sprays, dirt, grease, oil. etc.
  • Bucket of water enough to wash away any sanding residue.
  • Car shampoo or car soap to use. Dishwashing liquid can also be used, but it needs proper technique because it can cause damage if misused.
  • Vacuum to clean up the sanding residue.
  • Good quality microfiber towels for drying and buffing. Cheap paper towels are not recommended because they tend to leave lint behind. This will do more harm than good, causing you to have to spend additional time removing excess pieces of paper towels from the surface before you can finish polishing.
  • 1500-2000 grit sandpaper to create a smooth and clean surface.
  • Buffing pads to apply a finishing polish to the surface.
  • The buffing compound removes any scratches or swirls left behind by the 400-1200 grit sandpaper.
  • A polishing compound makes the surface shine and creates a protective layer over the newly polished area.

how to remove clear coat

Step 1: Prepare the Vehicle

A man washes his car and prepares to get the clear coat removed.
A man washes his car and prepares to get the clear coat removed.

Wash and remove all dirt and debris from your vehicle using a good-quality car wash soap and sponge. Rinse the car off and then dry it off with a clean cloth or towel. You don’t want any excess dirt to get trapped in the clear coat as you sand it away, especially if your clear coat is still in good condition.

Get rid of all stickers, decals, or anything else that might contain contaminants. Get rid of any loose pieces on your car. such as badges, bumpers, headlights, etc. This will help prevent scratching during sanding.

Step 2: Ready the Other Equipment

Put your bucket of water and car shampoo in the area you will be working on to wash away any sanding residue when finished. You can use dishwashing liquid if it is not too aggressive for the paint surface (i.e.. don’t let it sit on the paint surface for a long time). Be sure to mix your dishwashing liquid with water before applying it.

Put the vacuum nearby to clean up any remaining sanding residue on the surface after you are done wet sanding. If you don’t have a shop vac. use an air compressor or leaf blower instead because they produce greater air volume without the heat and moisture associated with shop vacuums.

Step 3: The Actual Sanding Process

A close up view of a man sanding the car
A close up view of a man sanding the car.

Wet Sanding

Work in small areas, or “blocks’ that are about 18 inches long by 12 inches wide (i.e.. three feet by four feet) at a time because this will make it easier to keep an eye on your progress. Soak your sandpapers in water.

Expert Tip: You will need to use sandpaper and your car shampoo as an additive for wet sanding. This type of surface is perfect because you can clean off any excess residue left behind by using dishwashing liquid or soap and water.

First, use 400 grit sandpaper to gently remove any clear coat peeling or damaged on your car. Using a circular motion, start at one corner of the vehicle and work around it in wide loops until you’ve covered every inch with fine scratches from the sanding paper. Rub slowly to weaken the clear coat.

After sanding the entire block with 400 grit sandpaper, slowly introduce a finer grade of sandpaper. You can now use 800 grit sandpaper. Repeat the sanding process slowly and meticulously.

Then, onto using 1200 grit to remove any remaining fine scratches that may be left behind.

You should repeat this process until the car’s surface becomes smooth and shiny when touched. This might take a few rounds of sanding. Take your time and do not rush.

Dry Sanding

Use dry sandpaper to remove any remaining debris from the surface. The automobile must be dry for this stage. To finish the work, use finer sandpapers with a higher grain number, such as 600 or 800 grit sandpaper. At this point, you should have a perfectly smooth and even finish.

If you’re dry sanding, paying attention to the sanding pattern is very important When removing scratches, it’s best to sand at a 45-degree slant. When it comes to regular scratches, go with the natural grains for the best results.

Step 4: Rinse

After you finish sanding, clean off the surface with soap and water. For this step, you can use dishwashing liquid if it is not too harsh on the paint (i.e.. don’t let it stay on longer than two minutes). Don’t forget to remove any residue left behind by using a shop vacuum or leaf blower.

Step 5: Buffing and Waxing Manual

If you are using a buffer, apply the finishing polishing compound on top of your buffing pad and work in small sections until it turns clear. Use circular motions to apply the finishing polishing compound over your wet sanded area.

Be sure that there is no more residue visible before moving on to the next section. Remember not to leave any areas unworked when applying this compound because it can dry too quickly.

Be sure to keep your buffer constantly moving in a single direction so that you don’t create swirl marks on your car’s surface and apply pressure for extra cleaning power when necessary. However, never put too much into it. or else they will be more likely to accumulate.

Electric or Handheld

A man buffs the car's exterior with a handheld tool.
A man buffs the car’s exterior with a handheld tool.

You can also use a hand-held buffer, but ensure that it is correctly used with the suitable compounds before applying them to your car. Apply waxing polish on top of a clean and soft cloth after you’re finished buffing out swirl marks. Use an orbital or circular motion when using this type of polisher to avoid marks and scratches on the vehicle’s surface.


Once you are finished buffing then be sure to use wax with color enhancers for that extra pop of shine on your car’s surface. Apply the wax in the same circular motion as you would with your buffer. Apply a thin layer of wax on top and let it dry for about 15 minutes.

Use criss-cross patterns until it turns clear on top of your car’s surface. Buff away any excess residue to leave behind an even, shiny finish! Use a clean towel to wipe off the excess wax and enjoy your newly polished automobile!

Going to a Professional to Remove Clear Coat: What to Expect

Some people choose to do it themselves because it may be cheaper. Some people may not have the time or the know-how to remove the clear coat themselves, so they hire someone to do it for them. What can you expect when going to a professional?

The first step is, of course, picking up your vehicle. Depending on where you live, the company may pick it up themselves, or if not. they’ll give you instructions on how to get it there yourself. Once your car is at their facility, they’ll detail it inside and out-cleaning every nook and cranny that might be dirty or dusty with all new paint that’s just waiting for some polish!

After detailing your car, the technician will use the proper tools to remove your car’s clear coat. This process entails sanding down all of the paint that has been affected by weather or any other outside factors, which will damage it over time.

A car coating professional using a tool to remove clear coat
A car coating professional using a tool to remove clear coat.

They’ll take great care not to damage the original paint that lies beneath, which is why they have all these cool gadgets at their disposal! Once the clear coat has been removed and any touch-ups are done, it will be time for polishing.

The technician may or may not let you stand there and watch as they polish out the scratches from the clear coat removal. But you can rest assured knowing that once it’s done, your car will shine like new!

Post-polishing is an excellent opportunity to ask any questions about how long this process takes or if there are any other reasons why they’re performing all of these steps. And of course, it’s always a good idea to ask for proof that your clear coat has been removed.

What will take off clear coat?

Many things can take off the clear coat from a car. For one. scratches in the paint underneath will reveal the car’s original color and cause it to peel off. In addition, abrasive materials such as sandpaper work well for this and chemical treatments such as certain types of solvents or paint thinners.

Acetone is a solvent that will remove the clear coat, but it can also damage the paint underneath. This is why using a solvent-based cleaner, or other chemical treatments are not recommended for removing clear coat because they may cause even more damage than what has already been done to your car’s surface.

Another thing that can take off the clear coat is when there are cracks in the car’s surface. These small pieces will chip away quickly if they contact any abrasive materials or chemicals, thus revealing a different color underneath. It helps to sand out these cracks before using chemical agents on the rest of the paint.

A man using a heat gun to dry the car paint off
A man using a heat gun to dry the car paint off.

A clear coat can also be removed with heat. A heat gun dries the paint off and makes it very easy for any chemicals or abrasives to chip away at the clear coat. It is recommended that you work on small areas of your car. using a towel to remove any chemical agents before they dry onto the rest of your vehicle.

It is always important to use caution when working with chemicals or abrasives on your paint job Make sure that you are not using anything too harsh for the clear coat, as it can damage other parts of your vehicle as well. If possible, test out any chemical agents in a small area before applying them to the rest of your car.

By doing this, you can ensure that it does not harm any other parts of your vehicle before wasting too much time and money trying to remove a clear coat from your entire paint job.

How to Remove Old Peeling Clear Coat

Clear coat gives a finishing touch to our cars. It makes them look shiny and fancy. It also prevents the car paint to fade faster brought about by too much sun exposure. Clear coat is a colorless pigment applied to the car after painting it. It’s a clear resin that is applied over a colored resin.

Expert Tip: Extreme weather, UV rays, and harmful cleaning products usually are the causes of clear paint peeling.

You need not hire someone to fix your peeling clear coat. You can just do it by yourself! The first step is to clean your car and have it prepared for another clear coat application. Then you can proceed with inspecting the damage to assess how much repair you need to do. Put a painters tape and newspaper to contain the area/s that needs repairing.

After that, protect yourself by wearing a mask because the next step is going to get dusty. Sandpapers tend to ruin even the colored paint of your car. You can use Scotch-Brite hand pad to gently remove the peeled clear coat.

A hand using a microfiber towel cloth to wipe the car after sanding
A hand using a microfiber towel cloth to wipe the car after sanding.

In removing the peeled clear paint always start with the edges moving towards the center. Then use a microfiber cloth to clean the aftermath of the sanding process. You can then proceed on applying the clear coat. Make three layers of clear coat. You should also be wise in choosing the clear coat product that you use. You want a scratch resistant one and one that would last longer. You can try a blended clear clothing for that matter. The last step is to blend the old clear coat with the new coating by using a variable speed polisher.

Removing Clear Coat Without Damaging the Paint

Clear coats are essential for increasing the luster and longevity of painted objects such as automobiles. However, clear coats, like any other types of finish, can be scratched and lose their effectiveness with time.

As a result, clear coats must be removed and eventually replaced. Nonetheless, one must consider how to remove the clear coat without damaging the paint. How do you remove clear coat without damaging paint?

Expert Tip: There is a strict process that should be followed in moving clear coat. The tools and materials that will be needed for the procedure are the specialized buffing compound, sandpaper (400 / 800/ 1000/ 1200 grit, wax, electric polisher, 100% wool buffing pads, and spray detailer.

The process begins with washing the vehicle then wet sand the clear coat. Next, is to continue wet sanding with higher grit sandpaper. Then prepare the delicate parts, do the dry sanding, rinse and dry, finish off with grit paper. The last process is to buff the sanded surface, buffing with compound and lastly finish off the polish.

Removing clear coat using acetone

Acetone is a solvent, commonly mistaken for alcohol as they are both colorless. But unlike alcohol, acetone can break down and dissolve other materials. This chemical is commonly used for removing nails paint or inks in your hand if you accidentally fixed your printer without wearing plastic gloves.

On the other hand, a clear coat is the transparent layer of paint mostly used to cover the colored coatings. It adds thickness and prevent “oxidation” of the colored coat. It is commonly used to contain the color of the vehicle.

Removing clear coat using acetone

Does acetone remove clear coat?

Yes. Acetone is a strong solvent and can damage car paint if used excessively. Even a small amount can dissolve paint. It is not recommended because acetone contains carbon, hydrogen, and propanone which make it highly flammable and can eat up clear coat and other car paint.

If you’re going to use acetone, apply only a small amount and splash it with water right away so it won’t etch on the paint for long. There are better alternatives to remove stubborn stains such as using degreasers or diluted alcohol.


Sanding your clear coat can seem daunting but it’s not too hard to do. There are two main techniques you use when sanding, dry and wet sanding. Wet sanding is done with water, and dry sanding doesn’t require any type of moisture.

In both wet and dry techniques, the key is to start with a low grit paper first before moving on to higher grit papers. As we know, a lower number equals more roughness. So you want all of those tiny details scratched out before going in again with a finer-grade paper.

Always remember to take your time while sanding and always check your work! If you have any other questions about how to remove your clear coat, please comment below!

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About Matthew Webb

Hi, I am Matthew! I am a dedicated car nerd! During the day, I am a journalist, at night I enjoy working on my 2 project cars. I have been a car nerd all my life, and am excited to share my knowledge with you!