Can Ceramic Coatings Get Swirl Marks and Scratches?

Ceramic coatings are widely regarded as the ultimate protection for the exterior surfaces of a car, but just how much protection do they actually provide?

In this article I’ll be addressing the “scratch resistant” claims of ceramic coatings and explaining why they may still get scratched and swirled, and how to prevent and even fix it.

Can a Ceramic Coating get Swirls and Scratches?

Ceramic coatings can get swirl marks and scratches if the car is washed improperly, for example by using sponges and brushes. Ceramic coatings are harder than waxes, sealants and bare clear coat paint so less likely to get scratched and swirled, but they are not scratch-proof.

Ceramic Coatings Offer Some Scratch Protection

Ceramic coatings offer far more “scratch resistance” in comparison to waxes and sealants, and of course bare paintwork. This is because they are extremely hard and hence, more difficult to scratch.

However, it’s very important to note that ceramic coatings are more scratch-resistant and are certainly not scratch-proof.

To understand this concept we need to address the different types of scratches that may be inflicted into the car’s paintwork.

Types of Scratches

On a modern car, the paint will have the following structure.

The clear coat protects the colour coat underneath but is unfortunately quite soft. These means it is scratched relatively easily.

The most common cause of clear coat scratches or swirl marks is when the car is being washed. Using abrasive tools such as sponges and brushes will cause swirls, along with other unsafe practices (more on this later).

Clear coat scratches are not really visible in full conditions but can be easily identified in direct sunlight and often look like swirls or spiderwebs.

A ceramic coating sits on top of the clear coat in order to protect it. Ceramic coatings are usually 4-5 times harder than clear coat paint, but can still get scratched if washed improperly.

Example of very heavy clear coat scratches and swirl marks

Other types of scratches that are visible in all lighting conditions (usually have a white or grey appearance) that are caused by scrapes with other vehicles or objects will not be prevented by a ceramic coating. Unfortunately, ceramic coatings are not tough enough to withstand this kind of damage. The same goes for paint chips.

Check out my complete guide to the pros and cons of ceramic coatings so you know exactly what to expect.

Some Coatings Offer More Resistance Than Others

All ceramic coatings should provide some level of resistance to clear coat scratches and swirls, but some provide more protection than others.

Ceramic coatings are rated on a hardness scale. This hardness scale refers to the hardness of pencil which is capable of scratching it when held at a 45 degree angle. The scale goes from H (softest) to 10H.

If a coating is free from damage when pressing a 9H pencil at a 45 degree angle, it will receive a 9H rating. If it is damaged by a 9H pencil, but not by an 8H pencil, it will be rated 8H, and so on.

Although there are some coatings with a 10H hardness, they are rarer and relatively new. Most professional grade coatings will have a 9H rating. Many consumer level coatings have a 9H hardness rating, but some have a lower rating, the most common being 3H.

Since 9H coatings are harder than 3H coatings, they are more resistance to scratches and swirl marks.

It’s important to note though that you should try to prevent swirl marks by using safe wash practices regardless of what coating you’re using. All ceramic coatings will scratch if enough abrasion is applied.

How to Prevent Swirls and Scratches

There’s little you can do to prevent deep scratches from bumps and scrapes except be a careful driver and hope others around you show the same consideration.

However, lighter clear coat or coating scratches usually occur during the wash process so there are plenty of ways to prevent them.

Here are some tips:

  • Pre-wash the car using either snow foam or a citrus pre-wash spray and a pressure washer to remove the bulk of the dirt before making contact with the paint.
  • Use a dedicated car shampoo instead of dish soap or any other household products.
  • Never use a sponge or brush to wash the car. Instead use soft, clean microfiber wash mitts.
  • Start with the top of the car and work your way downwards.
  • Rinse the mitt periodically using a bucket of clean water or pressure washer, or or swap it out for a fresh mitt if it becomes too contaminated.
  • Dry the car using a soft, clean microfiber towel.
  • Use separate buckets and tools for the paint and wheels.

Want to know how to get the best performance out of your coating? Check out my complete guide to washing and maintaining a ceramic coated car for everything you need to know.

Important Note!

Never use a clay bar or polish on a ceramic coated car. These are both abrasive and will scratch the ceramic coating.

Check out my articles on these topics to learn more:

How to Repair a Scratched Ceramic Coating

If you have noticed scratches and swirl marks on your ceramic coated car then you first need to know if they are in the coating itself or in the clear coat underneath.

If your ceramic coating was professionally applied then it’s highly likely these scratches are in the coating and not in the paintwork underneath. A car needs to be polished before a coating is applied to remove clear coat damage so it is not locked in by the coating.

If you want to fix minor scratches and swirls in a ceramic coating then you can use a product like CarPro Essence Plus. It is non-abrasive, so will not remove the coating, but contains ceramic coating repair agents to fix minor swirls and scratches.

If on the other hand, the scratches are in the paint (not the coating) and you want to remove them then the coating will need to be removed, the paint polished and then the coating reapplied which is a pretty big job!

Looking to learn more? Check out this complete guide to ceramic coatings for more information.

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Heather is a professional car detailer & valeter based in Cheshire and the owner of Auto Care HQ. A familiar face in the car detailing community, she has written over 200 car detailing guides on and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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