Please Don't Take Your Matte Finish Through the Car Wash

Check the label: it’s hand wash only.

Photo by Zulfahmi Khani on Unsplash

A friend of mine got a new Porsche 911 GT3 last year and before he even brought it home, he had it wrapped in a paint protection film by local company Xpel. Porsche doesn’t offer a matte finish for that model, but my friend ordered a satin wrap that mimics the flat exterior appearance. The matte process produces a stealth mode that sails past the metallic-flake finishes without leaving a ripple in its wake, and the trend has been gaining in popularity in recent years. It’s a little more difficult to wash and maintain, though.

Wraps like this one are smart because heat activates the properties that eliminate scratches and swirl marks. They can also tolerate the brushes and flaps in a typical tunnel-style car wash. Matte finishes, on the other hand, require specialty products and care to keep it from looking dull and marred. For instance, matte finishes and car wax don’t work well together.

Kristin Shaw

When a 2021 Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Premium showed up at my door to review last week, it was sporting a sublime Phantom Matte Gray. As the fleet manager got in the other car to drive away, he said, “Oh, uh. Don’t take it through the car wash. It has to be hand washed.”

Oh.

I found out the hard way what it takes to keep the finish looking good; I had to get it photo-ready after parking it under a tree where some birds had used it for target practice. Contrary to urban myth, you can get a matte finish wet and you don’t have to panic when some nasty debris lands on your paint job. It doesn’t eat through it like acid right away; do clean it off when you can to avoid lasting damage.

Cherise Threewitt explains the matte process on How Stuff Works: “Car paint jobs typically include primer, several layers of color and clear coat. The clear coat is what makes the difference between a regular glossy finish and a matte finish. With a glossy finish, the clear coat fills in any imperfections to create a smooth surface, then is polished and waxed to reflect light and create visual depth.

A matte clear coat is left deliberately imperfect, with a texture that diffuses light rather than reflects it. The clear coat also contains matting or texturizing agents to create a haze throughout the layers. Since the trick of matte is in the clear coat rather than in the colored layers, any color can be used to create a matte finish.”

Kristin Shaw

I called the manager at The Finish Line, a local car wash where I take my 2013 Land Rover LR4 for a glow up after it’s finished playing in the mud, to get his expert opinion. He told me they don’t run matte finish vehicles through the tunnel because of the silicones in the soap that adds a slight shine. They offer a special sealant as the alternative to wax for a matte finish, and he recommends Dr. Beasley’s matte body wash. It’s as if your car has sensitive skin and you need those expensive soaps to keep from getting an itchy rash.

Don't forget to keep a supply of microfiber cloth on hand as well, because anything rougher than that can ruin the look of your car. Wash, rinse, lovingly caress, repeat. 

If you happen to get a Supra in Phantom Matte Gray, it's worth the effort. 

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