Why You Should Never Polish a Matte Car

Caring for a matte car is definitely more complicated than caring for a gloss finish. There are definitely some thing you need to know about owning a matte car, if you’re used to caring for gloss finish cars.

In this article, I’ll be talking about why matte paint and polishing are two things that should never be mixed. Then I’ll tell you what you should do instead. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

Matte paint should not be polished because it will make the finish look uneven. Matte paint is textured, unlike gloss finishes which are smooth. Polishing flattens the paint causing it to look shinier because light will reflect off the surface more evenly.

Polishing matte paint won’t make it look like a gloss finish, but it will permanently change the characteristics of the paint. When you polish certain sections, the finish will look very inconsistent. The only way to fix this would be to respray the area.

Matte Paint Structure

First, let’s talk about the structure of matte paint compared to gloss finishes.

Your car’s paint consists of two main layers, the base coat (the colour), and the clear coat. The clear coat is around 3x thicker than the base coat.

The primary aim is to protect the colour coat from UV rays which cause fading, corrosion, and other contaminants like bird mess, tree sap and road tar.

The clear coat also determines whether the car looks glossy or matte. Check out this diagram.

Gloss finish
Matte finish

Whether the paint looks matte or shiny, depends on how the light reflects off the surface.

If the surface is flat, the light reflects evenly, and the paint looks shiny. If the surfaces is uneven, then the paint looks matte.

What Does Polishing Do?

Let’s be clear about what polishing actually does. Polishing is not the same as waxing.

Waxing is when you add a layer of protection to your car’s paint. Polishing is when you remove a layer of the paint.

Polishing is used to remove scratches. You can either do it by hand or using a machine polisher, to cut away the paint to reveal a fresh and flat layer. Polishing doesn’t remove deep scratches. It only removes clear coat scratches.

So you know when you see a gloss finish car in the sun and it’s covered in spiderweb scratches and swirls, well those are what polishing tries to remove.

Polishing creates a flatter surface which makes the light reflect evenly. This makes the car look glossier and shinier.

Polishing Matte Paint

Now let’s talk about what happens when you polish matte paint.

Well the same thing happens when you polish a gloss finish and when you polish a matte finish, it flattens the surface.

But this really isn’t what you want with matte paint. If you flatten the surface, the paint will look glossier.

Polishing matte paint

Polishing Matte Paint Isn’t Even Necessary

The good news though, is that polishing matte paint isn’t actually necessary at all. Like I mentioned earlier, polishing only removes clear coat scratches, not deeper scratches that can be seen in all lights like this one.

Since matte paint is already imperfect, you can’t see clear coat scratches anyway. So there isn’t ever a situation where polishing a matte car would do any good.

How to Remove Scratches in Matte Paint

So what about those deeper scratches, what do you do about them?

Since you can’t polish a matte car, the only way to remove or minimise scratches is to re-paint the area.

There are two ways to do this.

  1. Take the car to a professional to get the panel resprayed
  2. Touch up the scratch using paint yourself

Of course, taking your car to a pro is the best way to remove a scratch, although it can be expensive.

Touching up the scratch using paint yourself is a much riskier option, and you can actually make it look even worse. If you want to do this, make sure you purchase the paint from your car’s dealership to ensure the colour is a perfect match.

Does Matte Paint Scratch More Easily?

Matte paint can scratch as easily as a gloss finish. Scratching can of course be inflicted by direct damage to the paint, for example if your car get’s bumped or scuffed.

These are the deeper scratches which can be seen in all lights because they have gone through the clear coat. However, milder and less visible scratches can also be inflicted in the clear coat for example when washing with a sponge.

These clear coat scratches are only really visible in cars with gloss finishes. They tend to dull the finish and can be seen clearly in direct sunlight.

Since matte cars already have imperfect finishes, you won’t see these clear coat scratches. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wash your car carefully though. It’s important to preserve the clear coat so it protects the colour coat from UV rays, acid rain etc.

How to Care for Matte Paint

Looking after matte paint is pretty different to looking after glossy paint. Here are some of the most important points you need to remember.

  • You can’t use regular wax on matte paint because it will make the finish look shinier. Always use paint protection specifically designed for matte paint.
  • Wash matte paint regularly to avoid contaminants like bugs, tree sap and bird mess from bonding to the paint.
  • Never use sponges to wash the paint because they can scratch the surface. Instead use a microfiber wash mitt.
  • Use shampoos that don’t contain any wax. You can also get shampoo specifically designed for matte paint.
  • Use microfiber towels to dry the paint, not bathroom towels. Microfiber is much safer and won’t scratch the clear coat.

Caring for matte paint is more complicated compared to caring for gloss paint. Make sure you check out my complete guide to cleaning and protecting a matte car to learn everything you need to know.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog to learn more about making your car look its best.



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 autocarehq.com and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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