How to get paint off a car

How to get paint off a car

You can remove paint contamination from a with clay or with solvents. Depending on the nature of the contamination and the extent, you may be able to do it yourself.

We have been removing various kinds of contamination from cars for over 30 years, including paint contamination, and we've seen it all, from industrial accidents to wanton vandalism. 

Paint Transfer

This happens when another car bruises yours in a car park, if one car bruises another, the car with softer paint can transfer from one to another. It can also happen if you hit a painted bollard. The exterior paint on the bollard will be soft and can transfer to your car.

Usually, this kind of paint contamination can be removed with some standard thinners and should come off fairly easily. However, is there has been a collision, expect there to be some scratches underneath which you can either touch in, or it may require the panel to be repainted.

Car Paint Overspray

This doesn't happen so often these days because most of the paints they use to repair cars need to be cooked in an oven and regulation regarding health and safety mean body shops paint cars in enclosed areas with extractor fans. However, small area repairs are still carried out by SMART repair technicians in car parks and at dealerships, and overspray can land on your car. The good news is that it is typically fairly easy to remove using a clay bar. This is a bar of sticky plastic clay rather like Blu-Tack which you rub over your car, and it will remove any contaminants. You can buy these bars at good motor accessory shops, you just need to follow the instructions that come with the packaging.

It can also be good for removing metal particle contamination and tree sap.

Industrial Paint Overspray

This is where things get trickier, may require the services of a professional, and probably a call to the insurance company. 

Fence paint is probably the most common form of contamination we see, as the DIY centres sell sprayers for applying it. If your neighbour, or even you, decide to spray paint your car on a windy day, you could end up with multiple cars splattered with considerable amounts of paint or wood-stain. It is possible that these kinds of paints are very hard to get off and may even stain the paintwork.

There are other kinds of paint that could be sprayed or hand brushed that splatter into the air and contaminate cars. The exterior paints used to paint buildings can be difficult to remove, but by far the worst are the paints they use to paint things like lamp posts, as these are actually a resin. Once they are cured, they are rock hard, bond to anything and are almost impervious to solvents.

We most often get calls about this from contactors who have accidentally contaminated a street full of cars and want a price for putting the lot right. Unfortunately, they are phoning around for prices and will usually not want to pay to have it done properly, so we never hear from them again.

We do, however, hear from people whose cars have been contaminated. Our method for dealing with these cars is to do one hour on the car and find out what works, from there we can give an estimate as to how much we think it will cost. During this one hour, we will try different solvents and different techniques. We might find that the overspray needs sanding off, or it might require a claying disk, which is like the clay bar we mentioned earlier but attached to a machine polisher. Either way, the car will need to be re-polished afterwards because removal will likely mark the surface of the car's paintwork.

Each car we do will have to be evaluated independently as even if they are contaminated with the same kind of paint, it will bond differently to different surfaces. It may be far easier to remove from a new shiny car which just had a coat of wax, than an older car with rough, oxidized paintwork. 

Road Marking Paint

The white lining paint they mark the roads with is incredibly durable and extremely difficult to remove. If you have driven through wet marking paint, and it has flicked up on the underside of your car, it is best you consult a professional. There are special solvents we can acquire from our suppliers that are designed to remove this kind of paint. 


If your car is vandalized, thankfully this kind of spray paint isn't usually too hard to remove with thinners. Unfortunately, these artists tend to target trucks and vans as they offer a bigger canvas, and while it can be fairly easy to remove paint from the oven cured clear coat of a car, it can be far harder to remove from aluminium shutters and Plasticote sides of Luton vans.

Again, it will be worth consulting a professional as we have access to special solvents to remove graffiti and can rectify any surface damage caused during their removal.

Some things are best left to professionals, at the very least, it doesn't hurt to ask.

What not to do!

Do not try to remove it yourself with Brillo pads, wire wool, sand paper, kitchen scourers, Magic Sponge Eraser, oven cleaner, dry cleaning fluid, Vim, Jif, Crunchy Peanut Butter, or any wonder products or DIY hacks you saw on an advert on Facebook or Pinterest! None of these are, "The secrets that the professionals don't want you to know!"

Roughly a third of cars that come to us with some kind of paint overspray have damage on them from where somebody has tried to remove the paint with something harsh and abrasive. It is true, we use harsh chemical, abrasive compounds and even sandpaper, but we have the equipment and expertise to put things right.


There are many reasons that you should act quickly, but also avoid rushing into the wrong course of action. We recommend contacting a professional, and ensuring it's the right kind of professional. There's an old saying that springs to mind, "If all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail".  Contact a good car detailer/valeter in your area, preferably after getting a recommendation. 

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