How To Get Spray Paint Off of a Car
It's a pain, but it can be removed with the right tools.
Time needed: 2+ hours, Difficulty: Moderate, Cost: Around $50
Although it’s possible you might have accidentally sprayed your vehicle while working in the garage or it was the victim of public overspray, the most likely reason a car would be damaged with spray paint is due to vandalism. Spray paint is one of the most common and annoying forms of automotive destruction, and it takes the right know-how, time, and materials to restore your ride’s paint.
But worry not. We’re here to guide you on a path of paint correction that isn’t all that hard to do and luckily doesn’t require too much of a financial commitment. It might seem daunting, but it just takes some knowledge of certain products and patience. So read on, and we’ll happily explain how to get spray paint off your car.
The Safety Brief
While removing spray paint off your car, it’s a good idea to wear eye protection, rubber gloves, a respirator, and work in a well-ventilated area. The rubber gloves aren’t crucial, but spending a solid hour or more working with nail polish remover, paint thinner, or another paint-vaporizing chemical can do a number on your hands. Other products like buffing compound and clay bars pull moisture out of your hands, too. A lot of these chemicals are noxious, so it’s best to do all of this outside or in a well-ventilated area. If you have to do it inside, be sure to use a mask. Finally, to completely avoid the risk of getting one of these chemicals in your eyes, wear some safety glasses.
The Tools & Parts You Need
Grab the essentials and prep your workspace before you start the job.
- Access to water and wash chemicals
- Liquid carnauba wax
- Acetone-free nail polish remover
- Paint thinner
- Clay bar detailing system
- Paint buffing compound
- Paint polish
- Paint wax
- Clean microfiber towels
- Wash mitt
The Task: How To Get Spray Paint Off of Your Car
Read all of the steps first, then use patience and care with each step.
1. Thoroughly wash and dry the car.
This is important, as you don’t want to mix in contaminants and dirt while rubbing on the paint with chemicals. If you have access to a pressure washer and water source, that’s ideal, as you can thoroughly clean the car, then use the pressure washer to help remove loosened-up spray paint. Once it’s clean, dry it off, and pick a spot where you want to start.
2. Try liquid carnauba wax.
The goal of this project is to remove spray paint without damaging your car’s clear coat, so you want to try a natural solution first before getting into the more intense chemicals. With a microfiber cloth, try rubbing carnuba wax over the spray paint. In some cases, depending on the type, severity, and age of the spray paint, the natural oils of the carnuba wax might be enough to break down the paint and remove it. This won’t work in every case, but it’s a good place to start.
3. Test out the weakest chemical first.
It’s important to use acetone-free nail polish remover, as acetone can be tricky to work with and it might damage the paint. Take the acetone-free nail polish remover, put it on the towel (not directly on the paint), and test it on an inconspicuous part of the car, making sure it doesn’t yellow or start removing bits of clear coat or body-color paint. If there are no signs of damage, proceed to trying it out on the spray paint.
4. Try acetone-free nail polish remover on the spray paint.
Next, pour some acetone-free nail polish remover on a clean microfiber towel and start rubbing it on the spray paint, side-to-side, up-and-down, medium pressure, to see if it removes it. With all the paint-removing chemicals, especially paint thinner, try your absolute hardest to only rub it on the spray paint. If you go over, it’s not the end of the world, as buffing and waxing later on can blend that in. Always apply chemicals via the microfiber towel, don’t splash them on the car and start going to town.
5. Try isopropyl alcohol, then paint thinner.
This is bringing out the heavier artillery, so you’ll want to again test it on a discreet part of the car first. Be warned that paint thinner can start to quickly wear away the factory paint, so that’s a last-resort tool. Isopropyl Alcohol and paint thinner should only be used if the nail polish remover doesn’t work. Once again, pour some alcohol onto the microfiber towel, and focus your rubbing on the spray paint itself. You can either work at the spray paint for a while until it’s gone or use a pressure washer and clay bar to finish it off.
6. Hit it with pressurized water.
While the spray paint might not be fully coming off just yet, try hitting it again with the pressure washer. It’s a good idea to do a 20-degree angle or so, and keep the pressure on the low end to make sure the pressure washer isn’t removing any clear coat or body-color paint itself. The above chemicals seeped into the spray paint and loosened it up, and all it needs now is a little persuasion from some fast-moving water to break it off.
7. Clay bar it up.
Next up, grab the clay bar and accompanying detail spray (several companies make convenient kits), mold it into a convenient shape, and rub it on the spray paint and area around it with light yet vigorous pressure until the spray paint is completely gone. There might be some discoloration leftover, but don’t fret, the next steps will most likely take care of that.
Rub the bar on there until it changes color/picks up a lot of paint, then simply knead and fold the clay until a fresh surface is ready to rub on the car.
8. Cut, polish, wax.
The next thing to do is use a cutting compound with a clean microfiber towel around where the spray paint used to be. This pulls out any final, finer bits. Then, go over the entire panel with polish on a clean microfiber towel, then rub it off with another clean microfiber towel. Like removing the paint with chemicals or clay barring, use medium pressure, and work in a circular motion. Like that cheesy wax on, wax off line from that one movie.
Finally, once the panel is all freshly polished, go over it with wax. Detailing sprays are great and save time. In fact, based on how much time you’ve delegated, or how badly the spray paint is on there, a detailing spray or 3-in-1 type of solution could save some time and still yield nice results.
9. Get spray paint off of headlights and glass.
If there’s any spray paint on the headlights or glass, the process is a lot easier. For glass, spray either detail spray, windex, or a soap/water solution on, then use a razor blade at a 45 degree angle to lightly scrape the spray paint off. Avoid using the edges, and be careful not to scratch the glass.
For headlights, avoid using any of the above mentioned chemicals. The pressure washer usually works, and some light work with the claybar, and detailing spray to lubricate it, should pull it up no problem.
FAQs About Cleaning and Removing Spray Paint
You might have some additional questions about getting spray paint off of your car, such as the following.
Q: How can I prevent this from happening again?
A: First of all, it might be a good idea to peacefully and legally figure out who spray painted your car in the first place and pursue peaceful and legal methods for resolving it. Or, look into protecting your car with a clear bra or ceramic coating. These methods can make future spray paint much easier to remove, but nobody can control other people’s actions. Park inside if you can.
Q Is it a good idea to just have a shop do this?
A: Not everybody has the time or means to do it at home. That’s ok, there are plenty of shops out there who can professionally remove it for a fee. Though, be sure to shop around and get a quote, read reviews, etc. Insurance might cover it, but if the cost to remove is less than your deductible, it might not be worth ringing your insurance company.
Q: I tried all of the above and I still can’t get the spray paint off. What can I do?
A: If that’s the case, you unfortunately might have to bring the car to a professional shop for repainting.
Learn More From This Video Tutorial About Spray Paint Removal
Car Bibles’ editors understand that not everyone is a text-based learner. For those kinesthetic people out there, we have your back with a video showing you exactly how to get spray paint off your car. We pulled it from one of our favorite, and most trusted, sources and it’s a great additional resource.
Disclosure: Carbibles.com is also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associate Programs, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Pages on this site may include affiliate links to Amazon and its affiliate sites on which the owner of this website will make a referral commission.