What Are The Best Car Scratch Removers? (2020 Edition)
Does your car or truck have a scratch? It’s infuriating how even a small scratch is often so noticeable. Unfortunately, scratches are a fact of life for anyone with a car.
The good news is many surface scratches don’t require professional care. Instead, you can remove them yourself at home with the use of a car scratch remover.
Scratch removers don’t work in every situation. However, the right product is more effective than you may think. Before you spend big at the auto body shop, check out our complete care guide below plus our five favorite products:
- Factors to Consider when Choosing the Best Car Scratch Removers
- Wax and Silicone
- Best Overall – Carfidant Ultimate Car Scratch Remover
- Best Cheap Option – 3M Scratch and Scuff Removal Kit
- Best Value for the Money – Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System
- Honorable Mention 1 – TriNova Scratch Swirl Marks Remover
- Honorable Mention 2 – Shine Armor All-in-One Scratch Remover
- How Do Scratch Removers Work?
- How Effective are Scratch Removers?
- What are the Different Types of Scratch Removers?
- What are the Different Types of Scratch Removal Kits?
- What are the Benefits of Car Scratch Removers?
- What are the Different Paint Layers?
- What are the Different Types of Scratches?
- How Do I Determine a Scratch’s Depth?
- Should I Sand My Vehicle?
- How Do I Apply Car Scratch Remover?
- How Do I Prevent Scratches?
- Shine On!
Factors to Consider when Choosing the Best Car Scratch Removers
Don’t fall for the marketing hype. Every product will list a variety of benefits, but not everything is relevant. Here’s what you want to consider when shopping for a remover.
How much remover do you need? Most removers are available in containers ranging from four to 16 ounces.
You’ll want a larger container if your vehicle has tons of scratches. Generally, larger containers are the most cost-effective option.
However, keep in mind removers and polishes will dry out eventually. Most start to dry after about six months. You don’t want to use any removal substances more than a year old.
Plan your purchase according to:
- The number of scratches on your car
- How often you plan to use the compound.
Wax and Silicone
Removers may or may not contain wax and silicone. Both types have benefits.
Removers without wax and silicone are considered the pure type. They use an abrasive buffing or polishing compound to buff or polish the scratch away. They’re most effective on smaller surface scratches in the clear coat. Generally, these formulas don’t remove scratches entirely; instead, they drastically minimize their appearance. Car wax and silicone-free removers are thin liquids.
Removers with wax and silicone use a different approach. Instead of buffing the scratch away, they fill it in. Compounds with integrated wax hide scratches well, even moderate or heavy ones. On the downside, their effects fade over time. You’ll need to reapply the compound regularly or the scratch will re-appear.
Removing small scratches typically requires a cloth and some elbow grease. However, for deeper scratches, you’ll want heavier tools such as orbital polishers and buffers.
Although the scent of the remover seems might seem like a trivial concern, it’s more important than many people realize. Quite a few products have strong, unpleasant odors. Strong smells make the application experience unpleasant.
You’re not necessarily looking for a product with a fresh, pleasant scent. Instead, you want a remover with a minimal scent or none at all.
Quick Picks: Compare Our Top 3 Favorite Scratch Removers
Best Overall – Carfidant Ultimate Car Scratch Remover
Our preferred solution for small scratches is this compound and buffer kit combo from Carfidant.
- Safe to use for all types of paint
- Easy to apply
- Includes buffer pad
- Adds a brilliant shine
- Pleasant smelling
- Only removes small, shallow scratches
- Can wash away in heavy rain
Carfidant’s specially formulated ultimate compound is our favorite for fixing most common scratches. Your vehicle can look years younger after just one application. It’s professional strength but safe to use for use on all paint types and colors.
Aside from diminishing scratches, the ultimate compound also removes corrosion, oxidation, water spots, and other built-up debris. Restore your car’s original gloss and shine.
The kit also includes a buffer pad. It helps you spread the compound across the vehicle evenly. The pad works for both hand and machine buffing.
Finally, the ultimate compound is pleasant to use. It contains no unnecessary dyes or scents. With no strong odors, it won’t offend your senses while you work.
Carfidant is a trusted name in auto repair. They offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee with the option for a full refund if you don’t notice a big difference in the look of your car.
Best Cheap Option – 3M Scratch and Scuff Removal Kit
3M’s kit includes everything needed to remove scratches and scuffs with minimal effort and maximum effectiveness.
- Complete kit with gear and formulas
- Includes scratch remover and rubbing compound
- Includes foam applicator pad
- Minimize some deeper scratches
- The application process is elaborate
3M Scratch and Scuff kit is our favorite all-in-one removal option. The kit includes a 3000 grit abrasive square, foam applicator pad, a one-ounce packet of 3M Rubbing Compound, a one-ounce packet of 3M Scratch Remover, and instructions.
Operation is simple but a bit different than a standard spray. First, you’ll rub the scratched area with the abrasive square. It uses aluminum oxide to gently but thoroughly sand down any rough scuffs in the paint.
Next, you’ll apply the rubbing compound and scratch remover. They help further diminish the scratch while boosting shine. Although the square works by hand, you’ll get far better results attaching it to a buffing drill.
Like the other removers on our list, 3M’s kit doesn’t treat deep scratches. However, it’s the most effective product on our list for minimizing them.
Best Value for the Money – Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System
This unique system puts the removal power of a clay bar into an easy-to-use spray bottle.
- Removes deep-down debris
- Minimizes the appearance of scratches
- Includes spray, clay bars, and a microfiber towel
- Safe to use for all types of automotive paint
- Features a pleasant, light cinnamon scent
- Clay isn’t as powerful as many other brands
Mothers California Gold offers a fascinating twist on the classic clay bars used by professional auto restorers. The power of a clay bar is now available in a spray. It removes deep-down, embedded debris including metal, tree sap, and paint overspray.
It’s safer and easy to use compared to other types of clay. The compound is pliable and easy to apply. Plus, it contains no toxins or chemicals which are dangerous to your health.
The set includes a 10-ounce bottle of Instant Detailer, a 16-inch microfiber towel, and two 100 gram clay bars. Use the clay bars along with the spray for best results.
Regular use helps prevent the formation of new scratches and dirt built-up. It keeps your car paint looking smooth and shiny.
Honorable Mention 1 – TriNova Scratch Swirl Marks Remover
This simple, safe formula quickly and effectively removes minor scratches from all types of car paint.
- Safe for all paint types
- Includes buffer pad
- The formula removes light scratches
- Removes dirt and adds shine
- Doesn’t remove large scratches
TriNova’s scratch removal compound has an advanced formula which is simple, reliable, and effective. It’s perfect for both hand buffering and with a dual-action orbital polisher. Use it to remove light scratches, dirt, and oxidation.
It’s a smart all-around choice for scratch removal. The light abrasive polish is safe for practically any paint finishes. Plus, because it cleans as well as removes light scratches, you don’t have to worry about the product going dry with lack of use.
The set includes everything you’ll need for scratch removal. You get a 12-ounce bottle of compound plus a high-quality, circular buffer pad. It’s suitable for being applied by hand, or you can attach it to a buffer.
Honorable Mention 2 – Shine Armor All-in-One Scratch Remover
A professional-strength remover with no waxes or polish which removes a wide range of light scratches, swirl marks, and other minor imperfections.
- Professional-quality remover
- Fast and smooth to apply
- Safe for all car paint
- Boost shine
- Small bottle
- Doesn’t work on long or large scratches
Shine Armor’s scratch remover is a no-fuss option. It works on just about any paint. Plus, it’s simple to apply.
The best aspect of Shine Armor’s scratch removal formula is that it’s the strength you’ll find in a professional repair shop. However, it’s also mild enough for home use. You’ll remove light scratches but don’t have to worry too much about removing paint.
It’s the only formula you’ll need. It removes light scratches, water spots, oxidation, contaminants, and swirl marks. Also, it contains no fillers or waxes.
Finally, this is the formula to choose if you hate the chemical smell found in other removers. Shine Armor’s purple formula has a zesty grape scent.
How Do Scratch Removers Work?
You can’t technically remove a scratch. After all, a scratch doesn’t have any substance; it’s the empty space that’s creating the problem.
Instead, scratch “removers” do one of two things:
- Fill the space created by the scratch (compound)
- Minimize the appearance of the scratch (abrasive)
How Effective are Scratch Removers?
In some cases, they remove scratches extremely well. Other times, they don’t do much. A variety of factors contribute to a product’s effectiveness:
- The depth of the scratch
- The length of the scratch
- Scratch’s location on the vehicle
- Your vehicle’s existing paint type
- Your vehicle’s existing paint color
Generally, removing small and fine scratches is a fairly simple at-home project. However, removing deep scratches might require professional buffing and repainting.
What are the Different Types of Scratch Removers?
Scratch removers have two general types:
Compounds fill the scratch then dry to conceal it. They dry clear to allow the car’s paint color to show through.
This type of remover works best when buffed or rubbed into the vehicle. Most compound sets include gear for buffing or polishing.
Compound scratch removers are the most popular option. They’re effective and easy to use. Also – and this is important – compound scratch removers will rarely make the problem worse. If they don’t hide the scratch effectively, you’re back where you started.
Unfortunately, car scratches have a unique construction which makes them highly noticeable, especially in bright sunlight. As light strikes your car’s exterior, the scratch creates a shadow across the surface of the car. The result is an obvious line in your vehicle’s paint.
The abrasive type removes layers around the scratch, so it doesn’t cast shadows. Reduce the exterior so its flush with the scratch. Although the scratch remains, it’s far less noticeable. Abrasive removers can render a scratch near-invisible.
They’re often considered stage one of a two-part process for removing large, deep scratches. After applying the abrasive type, you’ll follow-up with a compound.
However, abrasive scratch removers do require a careful application. The abrasive formula can potentially increase the size and appearance of the scratch. Carefully follow all use instructions.
What are the Different Types of Scratch Removal Kits?
A few different options are available:
A full kit has everything needed to remove scratches. It typically includes formulas, applicators, towels, and other gear. Most sets include a few different formulas with varying strength levels.
Full kits have two major advantages. First, they’re easy to use. You don’t need to search for multiple different products. One kit has everything you need.
Also, all the products in a set work well together. For example, the cloth will spread the formula easily. Everything has effortless compatibility.
Removal compounds are also standalone products. They’re the most economical choice, especially if you already own applications, microfiber towels, and other gear.
Standalone products are often the best value. Think of it this way: When you buy a set, you’re paying for the compound plus all the applicators and other products. So, if you buy a $40 set, you’re not getting a $40 bottle of the compound. However, you can spend the same amount on a bottle of compound instead. You’ll get a much higher quality product.
Polish is another scratch solution, although it doesn’t remove them as much as cover them. It’s effective at hiding smaller fine scratches.
However, they’re not the best choice for treating deep scratches.
Scratch pens are another option. They’re available in a wide variety of colors. You’ll select the color which matches your vehicle.
Their two main advantages are ease of use and speed. You can cover up a tiny scratch in only a few minutes.
However, scratch pens aren’t an effective way to remove most scratches. They’re a complement to other scratch-repair systems.
What are the Benefits of Car Scratch Removers?
The main benefit is simple. Removing scratches improves the appearance of your car. You don’t have to cruise around town in a ride with obvious external damage.
Scratches often expand over time, especially if you live in excessively hot or cold climates. Repairing scratches helps prevent larger issues from developing later.
Also, repairing scratches yourself helps save money. Taking your car to a body shop for professional repair gets expensive – even if your vehicle only has a minor scratch. We’re not talking minor savings, either. DIY repairs can save you hundreds of dollars or more.
Plus, you get the pride of fixing your car yourself. Your car is more than a way to get from point A to point B. It’s your baby, and you want her looking good!
Also, repairing scratches helps your car stay protected against additional damage. The exterior paint acts as a barrier against dirt and debris. Scratches left unattended can result in the formation of rust and corrosion.
Finally, removing scratches improves your vehicle’s value. Any visual damage lowers its trade-in value and the resale price. Fortunately, repairing scratches yourself is a cost-effective solution.
What are the Different Paint Layers?
Not all scratches are the same. The deeper they are, the harder they are to repair. Your car’s exterior has four layers. From the outermost layer moving in, they are:
- Clear Coat
- Base Coat
- Metal/Body Panel
The clear coat is the colorless top layer. Although it does add a stylish shine, its main job is adding protection. It helps the paint resist scratches, fading, UV damage, and other hazards.
Every type of scratch and scuff affects the clear coat. Ideally, you want the scratch only to affect the clear coat because that’s the easiest type to repair.
The next level down is the basecoat. It’s considered the “true paint level.” It’s the color of your car.
Aside from aesthetic, the basecoat helps protect your car’s frame from the effects of rain, snow, sun, and other weather.
Removing a scratch from the basecoat is harder than treating a clear coat scratch, but it’s possible to do with at-home products (hopefully).
Primer for your car works the same as it does for house paint. It helps improve the strength and smoothness of the basecoat. Plus, it helps the base coat stick to the car’s metal body. Primer is a thin layer, but it plays an oversized role in protecting your car from rust and corrosion.
Try to repair primers scratches as soon as possible. Their presence increases the risk of rust and corrosion, forming on your vehicle’s frame.
Unfortunately, primer scratches are difficult to remove. Professional auto body repair is usually necessary.
The deepest level is the metal body. A fairly significant amount of force is needed to scratch down to the body panel. As you’d expect, it’s the worst type of scratch.
You’ll need to visit a body shop. Most likely panel replacement and repainting is required.
What are the Different Types of Scratches?
Scratches have three different classifications:
- Clear Coat scratch
- Paint scratch
- Deep paint scratch
Everything affects the clear coat. A scratch which only extends into this first level is a “clear coat scratch.”
Take a closer look at the color of the scratch. If it’s white, it’s probably a clear-coat scratch. Aside from scratching, the clear coat is also susceptible to rusting and surface staining.
The next level of scratch is a paint scratch. It goes through the entire clear coat into the paint below but stops short of touching the primer.
If the scratch is the same color as your car’s paint, it’s a paint scratch. You’ll need a special type of scratch remover, but repairs are often a DIY job. Not only will you need a kit, but you’ll also need a paint type which matches your car’s color exactly.
The next type of scratch is a deep paint scratch. It goes through the clear coat and base coat entirely into the primer. Removing deep paint scratches is possible… sometimes. It’ll probably need extensive sanding and fairly sophisticated repainting.
The final type of scratch goes all the way down into the vehicle’s metal frame. Technically, it’s usually not referred to as a “scratch.” Instead, it’s damage serious enough to require panel replacement. You won’t find consumer products which can remove a body scratch.
How Do I Determine a Scratch’s Depth?
Determining the depth of a scratch is key in removing it. So, how do you know how deep a scratch goes? Look for two factors:
- It’s color
- It’s texture
As discussed above, the color of scratch gives you clues to its depth. A white scratch typically signifies a scratch to the clear coat. A paint scratch is the same color as your car. If you see the primer, you’re dealing with a deep paint scratch. Finally, if you see metal, your car’s body is scratched.
However, visual clues aren’t always enough. Your car’s exterior and primer color can complicate matters. For example, if your car is white or black, visually determining the depth of the scratch gets complicated.
Texture clues help. Run your fingernail across the scratch. If it sticks momentarily, you’re likely dealing with a paint scratch or deeper. If your fingernail moves across the scratch smoothly, it’s likely only in the clear coat.
Should I Sand My Vehicle?
Many people are reluctant to sand their car’s paint. After all, why would you want to remove paint from your vehicle? The point here is to save the paint, not take more of it off, right?
Don’t be afraid to sand. It’s almost always helpful regardless of scratch size. Plus, sanding is necessary when tackling deep scratches.
Quick Tip: If you can feel a scratch with your fingernail, it’s deep enough to warrant sanding.
Generally, fine sandpaper works best. Look for a grit rating between 2,000 and 3,000. That’s strong enough to remove auto paint but not so strong you’ll scratch up your ride.
If you’re not sure which type of sandpaper to use, check out scratch removal kits. They’ll contain sandpaper safe for use on your car.
How Do I Apply Car Scratch Remover?
Always follow the precise instructions for the specific product. No two scratch removers work exactly alike. However, here’s a basic rundown for general scratch removal:
First, wash your car thoroughly. Any dirt or debris on the exterior can easily result in additional scratches. Make sure the car is completely clean. Check out the Best Car Wash Bucket Kits for gear and cleaning tips.
Next, apply blue painter’s tape to the trim or other areas away from the scratch. Remover residue tends to fly around. Protecting your car with tape and newspaper early on is far easier than removing residue later.
Now you’re ready to tackle the scratch. Rub it lightly with sandpaper. Use a fine grade with grit between 2,000 or 3000.
Rub lightly in circular motions around the scratch. Sanding down the surrounding area helps the scratch blend into the exterior paint. You’re not sanding the scratch away. Instead, you’re lowering the level of the surrounding paint.
Next, you’ll apply the removal product to an applicator. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
However, most products work fine on either a microfiber towel or a foam pad.
Rub the product onto the scratch. Use gentle pressure. Cover the scratch completely using circular motions. The applicator fills the scratch with a compound.
It can be applied by hand or you can use an orbital sander. When applied by hand, you get the most control, especially if the scratch is in a small, awkward area. However, an orbital sander allows for fast, even application.
After applying compound, wipe away excess with a clean towel. Next, you’ll want to buff away any remaining substance.
If you’re lucky, one application is all it takes. However, if the scratch remains visible, repeat the process. You can reapply remover as often as you like, and quite often several passes will create improved results. Sanding deeper and applying a more abrasive compound often helps remove stubborn scratches.
How Do I Prevent Scratches?
Preventing scratches is far easier than removing them. Here’s how:
Wash and wax your car regularly. Tiny bits of debris on the surface can scratch your paint. Keeping your car clean prevents these dirt-related surface scratches from occurring.
Also, park away from other cars whenever possible. Door dings are a major cause of scratches. Give your car plenty of room when parked in public.
Removing a scratch from your car doesn’t necessarily require handing over lots of money to your local body shop. If the scratch is shallow, you can remove it yourself with a DIY scratch remover.
Before choosing a remover, carefully check out the depth and severity of the scratch. Then purchase a product designed accordingly. With the right product, your car can shine bright and scratch-free!