Almost every car owner will deal with a scratch (or more than one!) on their car at some point. Scratches can pop up seemingly out of nowhere, whether it’s due to another driver scraping your car with their door while you’re parked in a parking lot, a branch falling onto your car, or road gravel and debris flying up and hitting the outside of your car as you’re driving. You can even accidentally cause (usually minor) scratches by washing your car incorrectly with overly abrasive products or techniques.
Whatever the cause, when you notice a scratch on your car, it’s always a good idea to take immediate action and remove it ASAP to prevent further damage. Of course, you can bring it to a professional to have it done, but that can be costly (we’ll discuss the cost of professional scratch removal later on in this article)–start by figuring out whether you might be able to take on the task of removing the car scratches yourself.
Keep reading, and we’ll describe the most effective DIY methods of removing scratches from your car, whether it’s a superficial clear coat scratch or a deeper paint scratch, as well as which products to choose to do so.
Types of Car Scratches
Your car can receive a number of different types of scratches, depending on what part of your car is scratched and how deep the scratch goes. Each of these will require a different approach to fixing the scratch, so it’s worth understanding exactly what the different types are so you can “diagnose” your car’s scratches correctly and respond with the correct solution. Here are the most common types of car scratches to look out for:
Clear Coat Scratches
Your car is covered in a clear coat that protects the layers of paint underneath it. If you’re only dealing with a clear coat scratch, you’re lucky – they’re the least serious type of car scratch, making them the easiest to fix. Although clear coat scratches are minor, you’ll still want to deal with them as soon as possible because the clear coat is one of the layers that protects your car’s paint job from fading or getting damaged.
If you’re unsure whether you’re dealing with a clear coat scratch or something more serious, you can check by running your fingernail across the scratch. If your fingernail gets caught on the scratch, it’s a deeper scratch. But if your nail simply slides smoothly across the scratch without getting caught, it’s a minor clear coat scratch.
Paint/Color Coat Scratches
Underneath the layer of clear coat is your car’s paint, otherwise known as its base coat or color coat. You can tell when the paint itself gets scratched because the color will be removed from the area where the scratch is. Because this is a deeper type of scratch, it’s also much harder to fix than a clear coat scratch.
Primer Coat Scratches
These are the deepest and most severe types of scratches your car can experience. The primer coat is the layer that goes on your car before paint is added, so it’s the last layer before you hit the metal body of your car. When you’re dealing with a primer coat scratch, you’ll be able to see the silver metal of the car itself.
It’s important to address these kinds of scratches immediately because the exposed metal can start rusting within a few days, which is very bad and much more difficult to fix. Keep in mind that these kinds of serious scratches might require a professional to correct them.
You may notice that your car’s glass windows and windshields have scratches after cleaning your car using an overly abrasive cloth. If you’re unsure whether it’s a scratch (usually fairly minor) or a crack (much more severe and a potential safety hazard that weakens the entire windshield), you can use the “fingernail test” in this situation as well. Simply run your fingernails over the spot you’re checking, and if your fingernail gets caught on it, it’s almost certainly a crack.
How to Remove Different Kinds of Scratches
How to Remove Light/Surface Scratches with Toothpaste
1. Thoroughly wash and dry the area where the scratch is: Before you try removing the scratch, it’s very important to clean and dry the area thoroughly. Otherwise, you’ll end up grinding more debris into the surface of your car, which will only cause more damage. You can either bring your vehicle to be washed professionally, or you can save money by washing it yourself.
2. Use toothpaste and a microfiber towel to buff the scratch away: According to Family Handyman, “Toothpaste is just as abrasive as 3,000-grit sandpaper and works as a polishing compound.” This is especially true for whitening toothpaste, which is designed to be lightly abrasive to help whiten teeth. Apply about a quarter-sized amount of toothpaste to a clean, slightly damp microfiber towel (other kinds of towels can cause even more damage to your car).
3. Apply the toothpaste to the scratch: You should apply the toothpaste to the scratch with a series of small circular motions and only a bit of pressure, ensuring that the toothpaste is evenly applied to the whole area of the scratch.
4. Rinse or wipe off the toothpaste: Either using another clean, dampened microfiber towel or a hose, you can wipe or rinse off the toothpaste that’s left.
5. Check if the scratch is still there and repeat if necessary: Once you’ve rinsed the toothpaste away, you should check to see if the first round of toothpaste application has removed the scratch. If you can still see it, repeat the process up to two more times (any more than that could cause more damage to your car’s clear coat).
How to Remove Small Scratches with a Scratch Removal Product
Note: These are general instructions for how to use the majority of scratch removal products on the market, but make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific product of your choice before proceeding. Some products might work slightly differently, and it’s important to use them correctly to avoid causing more damage to the surface of your car.
1. Wash and dry the area where the scratch is: Start by making sure that the area of the scratch is as clean and dry as possible to prevent further damage to your car.
2. Use the scratch removal product and a buffing pad/microfiber cloth to buff the scratch away: Start by applying the product of your choice (see the section at the end of this article for our recommendations!) to a buffing pad or microfiber cloth. To ensure that this product is spread out over the pad/cloth, fold it in half and rub it around until it is distributed on the fabric’s surface.
Then use a circular or back-and-forth motion (pick one or the other) with light pressure to buff the scratch out for several minutes.
3. Remove the leftover scratch removal product with another clean microfiber cloth: Use a circular motion to wipe off what’s left of the scratch removal product you’ve just applied.
4. Check if the scratch is gone and, optionally, repeat: If you can still see the scratch, you can repeat this cleaning process up to two more times, but any more than that could harm your car’s clear coat.
How to Remove Deep/Paint Scratches
Note: This is the most difficult type of scratch to remove. If you’re uncertain about your ability to carry out these steps correctly, you could be better off bringing it to professionals (like a body shop) to do it correctly. However, if you’re more worried about the cost and feel confident that you can do this DIY, it might make more sense to go ahead and carefully do it yourself.
1. Wash and dry the area: As always, you’ll want to start by washing and drying the area where the scratch is to prevent additional damage caused by dirt/debris.
2. Gather your supplies: For this more complex car scratch removal process, you’ll need 2,000-grit sandpaper, a microfiber towel, a polishing pad, masking tape, paper, matching car paint, a small/touch-up paint spray gun, automotive primer, and car wax. If you’re having trouble finding the right color match for your car’s paint, check your car’s manufacturer’s specs for the unique code associated with its paint color.
3. Sand the scratch and surrounding area: Sanding in the same direction as the scratch, sand away the various layers of clear coat, primer, and paint to get the area around the scratch down to the metal panel.
4. Spray primer onto your car: Surround the area you just sanded with masking tape and paper to protect the rest of your car’s paint from the paint and primer you’re about to apply. Then spray the primer on that area, laying down three coats while waiting 5 to 10 minutes between each coat.
5. Add several layers of paint: Once the primer is dry, spray the paint onto that area. Apply a few coats of paint and wait 5 to 10 minutes in between each coat to allow them to dry.
6. Wax the area you just painted: Apply about a quarter-sized amount of car wax to your polishing pad and rub it into the car’s surface with medium pressure and circular motions. You’ll know you’re done when the wax is coating the area in an even layer, and your car looks shiny and good as new, perfectly matching the rest of your car’s paint job with no sign of the deep scratch that was there previously.
How to Remove Glass Scratches
1. Wash your windshield: Use a glass cleaner to wash your windshield thoroughly and then dry it with a clean microfiber cloth. If there’s any stuck-on dirt/debris that you can’t remove with glass cleaner, you can use a plastic (not metal!) razor to remove it. Read our comprehensive guide to cleaning the inside of your windshield.
2. Use masking tape to protect the edges of the windshield: On the edges nearest to the scratches you’re treating, including the edges of the windshield wiper, protect them with masking tape. Once you start polishing away the scratches, you don’t want the polish to splatter into a spot where it will be difficult to clean up.
3. Buy a glass repair kit that comes with a cerium oxide polishing compound: Rather than buying the components separately. We recommend buying an auto glass repair kit with cerium oxide and a buffing pad.
4. Put on rubber gloves, goggles, and a dust mask: Buffing away the powder can be dangerous, sending it into the air where it could potentially irritate your eyes and lungs if you’re not fully protected. It’s also a good idea to ensure you’re working in a ventilated space rather than a closed garage, where the irritants will concentrate in the air and are more likely to harm you.
5. Prepare the cerium oxide powder: Pour about two tablespoons of the cerium oxide powder into a bowl to start with, then add approximately one tablespoon of warm water and mix them with a mixing stick to form a paste.
6. Apply the cerium oxide paste: Put the buffing pad on the end of the drill and either dip it into the cerium oxide paste, or apply the paste right onto the scratches. Hold the pad securely against the glass as you move it back and forth across the scratches.
7. Wipe off the leftover paste: Don’t allow the paste to dry onto your windshield, or you’ll be dealing with a whole new mess. Wipe it away with a microfiber cloth, and your windshield should be free of scratches!
How Much Does it Cost to Remove Scratches Professionally?
The answer is: it varies, but it can get very costly.
According to Chase Auto, the cost of removing a scratch can differ enormously depending on the severity of the scratch. They write, “Depending on your car make and model, the color, and your location, prices can range from $3.00 for a quick DIY job to $7,500 for professional repairs and a new paint job.”
Meanwhile, in a survey of 30 body shops, Scratch Wizard found that professional removal of a long scratch with minor paint damage could cost anywhere from $300 to $1,161 but averaged about $630.
Scratch Wizard also broke the estimated cost down by scratch severity:
- Light/surface scratches: $50 to $70
- Clear coat scratches: $150 to $300
- Paint scratches: $400 to $1000
- Primer coat scratches: $800 to $1500
Best Car Scratch Removal Products
All in one kit: Kit includes everything you need to quickly and safely remove fine scratches and blemishes
This kit comes with a scratch eraser pad that attaches to a standard household drill, so although you’ll need to own a drill to use it, it’s worth getting this product if you do because it’ll save you a lot of time and effort. Also included in this kit is Meguiar’s ScratchX 2.0 and a premium microfiber towel, so as long as you have a drill, you’ll have everything you need to quickly and easily erase minor scratches.
Kit includes: 3ea 2"x2" color coded restoration pads, 4oz. spray lubricant, 4oz. paint clarifying compound and a .3oz. clear coat finish pen
Choose this premium product if you’re looking for a complete kit that comes with everything you could need to do a near-perfect scratch removal job. It has a paint clarifying compound, spray lubricant, varying grit sanding pads, and a scratch repair pen.
Scratch Out car compound contains micro polishers that remove fine scratches and swirl marks on your car's coat finish. With each stroke of our polisher for car detailing you'll see the small scratches disappearing.
The most affordable of these three options, it’s also a one-step product–all it requires is the product itself and a clean microfiber cloth, and you’re sure to get excellent results (especially if you repeat the process a few times). Reviewers’ only complaint is the smell, but if you feel that’s a worthwhile tradeoff for convenience and affordability, this could be the right product for you.