Time To Get That Spray Paint Off Your Car by Yourself
Spray paint on your car doesn’t have to be a death sentence with these tips and tricks for effective removal.
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Few things cause the bottom to drop out of your stomach like finding spray paint on your car. Whether you’ve been vandalized, accidentally drove over a freshly painted road, or been on the receiving end of accidental paint transfer from an object too close to your vehicle, any amount of spray paint on your vehicle creates a daunting challenge for you. And a car that looks anything but spectacular.
You don’t have to cry, however, or run to the dealership only to find yourself staring at a $4,000 bill. The enthusiastic team of editors at The Drive love a challenge, so we’ve come up with a handful of various methods, tips, and tricks on how to effectively and safely remove spray paint from your car.
And in the guide below, you’ll find how to DIY the heck out of removing that dumb paint. It should also make you feel like the Zeus of automotive solutions — i.e. godlike — and that’s never a bad thing.
Removing Spray Paint From A Car Basics
Estimated Time Needed: One hour to days, depending on the extent of the spray paint distribution
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Exterior
Spray Paint Removal Safety
Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless — hopefully.
- Be sure to protect your skin, eyes, and clothing from chemical exposure by wearing the proper gear.
- Anytime you’re working with chemicals, make sure you’re doing it in a well-ventilated area to reduce your risk of respiratory issues and headaches.
- If chemicals do get onto your skin or in your eyes or mouth, follow all manufacturer’s directions for safely flushing or cleaning affected areas and consider calling poison control in the event of accidental ingestion.
- Keep any chemicals or solvents out of the reach of curious little helpers and four-legged friends.
- Check with your local authorities regarding safe and legal disposal of all chemicals that you might use in the process. Chances are high they’re not supposed to be just tossed in the trash or dumped down the drain
Everything You’ll Need To Remove Spray Paint From A Car
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.
- Pressure washer or powerful garden hose
- Protective eyewear
- Mask (optional)
- Microfiber towels
- Chenille or lambswool wash mitt
- Your fave car wash soap
- Paint thinner (for the solvent method)
- Clay bar kit (for the mechanical method)
- Detailing or lubricant spray
- 3-in-1 cleaner wax
- Wax applicator pad
- Headlight restoration kit (if there’s spray paint on your headlights)
- Headlight UV protectant
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking — that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.
Here’s How To Remove Spray Paint From A Car
Let’s do this!
Wash Your Car
The first step to successfully removing spray paint from your vehicle is to give it a thorough washing in order to remove any dust, dirt, or debris that might scratch the clear coat or paint job while trying to remove the spray paint. If you have a pressure washer, it may actually loosen some of the spray paint and make the actual removal process that much easier.
Check out tips and methods for getting a great car wash here.
This method uses chemical solvents, like isopropyl alcohol or paint thinner, to essentially dissolve the spray paint. We find that depending on the amount of spray paint you need to remove, isopropyl alcohol isn’t likely to be a strong enough product to do the job right.
Some sources recommend using acetone, but we disagree. If any acetone drips onto your headlights, door handles, or other plastic components, it can actually permanently damage those surfaces, so leave your wife’s bottle of nail polish remover under the bathroom sink.
- Before going to town with paint thinner on the most visible part of your car, test it out in an inconspicuous spot, like down near the rear tire. If the paint thinner turns the paint yellow or tints it, do not use this method.
- If everything looks good after the initial test, apply some paint thinner to a clean microfiber towel. Don’t apply the chemical directly to the car, as it can drip down and damage your car’s clear coat or paint job.
- Try to rub the towel only where the spray paint is. Use light to moderate pressure, since it’s not the force of the scrubbing that removes the paint, but the chemical reaction of the solvent itself. You don’t need arms the size of Dwayne Johnson to do this job.
- Once you’re satisfied with the results of the solvent, rinse your ride well with a high-powered hose nozzle or pressure washer to fully remove any residue that can continue to sit on the paint and permanently damage your car’s paint job.
- Go over the car with the 3-in-1 cleaner wax to leave a protective layer of wax behind.
- Before the wax fully dries but has hazed over, buff it out with a clean microfiber towel.
Voila! Your car will be just like new again.
This method involves anything you have to physically rub on the paint in order to remove it versus dissolving it.
- Use the pressure washer to loosen and remove as much of the spray paint as possible without damaging the car’s true paint job.
- Take your favorite clay bar and mold it into a workable thin disc.
- Liberally spray the affected area with detailing spray or another clay bar lubricant.
- Rub the spray paint using moderate pressure to remove it.
- As the clay bar gets dirty, flip it over, or fold it over to reveal a clean working surface and keep spraying and scrubbing until the spray paint is successfully removed.
- Use the 3-in1 cleaner wax to further scrub and buff out any remaining yellowing/tinting or slight surface scratches that the spray paint may have left behind.
- Before the cleaner wax dries completely but has hazed over, take a fresh microfiber towel and buff it off to reveal a pristine shine that also includes a nice, protective layer of wax.
- If you have spray paint on your headlights, take your lubricant and clay bar over those as well. If the clay bar isn’t doing the trick, use a headlight restoration kit per the manufacturer’s directions.
- Spray the headlights with a UV protectant once all paint is removed.
Pro Tips to Remove Spray Paint From a Car
Over the years, The Drive’s editors have come to rely on certain professionals across the industry. For this particular how-to guide, we got lots of tips from Chris Magello, who’s the renowned YouTuber of ChrisFix, a hugely popular channel that gives you tons of tips and tricks for DIY car projects.
- While you don’t necessarily need a pressure washer, having one will greatly cut down on the amount of time and elbow grease it takes to remove spray paint. So borrowing one from your neighbor, buddy, or in-laws is highly recommended (unless you’re trying to get arms like Dwayne Johnson).
- If you encounter a particularly stubborn spot that doesn’t want to come up easily with a regular clay bar, you may need to use an aggressive clay bar. Just be sure to use a lot of lubricant and don’t rub with too much pressure.
- If you have any spray paint on the windshield or windows of your car, just use a plastic or metal razor blade to manually scrape it off. Thoroughly wet or lube the window with detailing spray or soapy water, and holding the razor blade at a 45-degree angle, gently scrape off the paint. Don’t use the tip of the blade, as this can scratch your glass.
- DO NOT use the solvent method on headlights. It will permanently damage them.
We know that many of our readers are visual learners who like to see how something is done, versus just reading about it, so check out this video from renowned DIY car guru ChrisFix:
It’s informative and entertaining, so you’re welcome.
FAQs About Removing Spray Paint From a Car
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: Will WD-40 get spray paint off a car?
A: While WD-40 won’t damage your car’s paint, it’s not the best or safest thing to remove unwanted spray paint from a car. Use the methods above, or consider trying a dedicated spray paint remover product, such as Motsenbocker’s Lift Off.
Q: Should I try to remove wet spray paint from my car?
A: If the unwanted spray paint is still wet, it should be removed as quickly as possible before drying. It’s much easier and less time-consuming to remove spray paint that is still wet, versus once it’s dried and really caked-on.
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