Subject: Cleaning Your Paint, Part 1
   by Larry Reynolds

   Cleaning your paint does not mean washing your car - it means removing
   oxidation and contaminants, adding emollients or oils back into the
   paint, and smoothing out the surface of the paint. There are several
   products on the market that will accomplish one, two or all three of
   these functions. In fact, there are so many products by so many names,
   that the correct choice may be confusing. Before we start, let's
   define some broad categories of products.
   A cleaning agent may be either friction or chemical. A friction
   cleaner is usually either a silicate or a clay particulate. If you
   examine your paint through a microscope, it would look like a mountain
   range with peaks and valleys. The friction or abrasive (don't get
   nervous at the word abrasive) type cleaner will clip the tops of these
   mountains off and help fill in the valleys, to approach the optimum
   smooth plane that offers the greatest depth of shine. Friction
   cleaners are usually described as fine, medium, or heavy cut. When in
   doubt, use the least aggressive product. A chemical cleaner will
   usually strip equal amounts of hill and dale and thus not help smooth
   the paint. A cleaner should also remove old wax and other contaminants
   in the paint. Chemical type cleaners are usually more effective in
   removing the remains of 100 m.p.h. bugs, stains, tree sap, and tars.
   Avoid silicone based products as they are not beneficial to paint and
   can cause problems down the road. Ask any professional car painter
   their thoughts on silicone products, and you will usually get a 30
   minute tirade.
   A glaze usually denotes a superfine friction type of cleaning agent,
   usually with essential emollients and lubricating oils, and may even
   contain some mild chemical cleaners. Glazes will usually remove mild
   swirl marks, scratches, refresh the paint with oils, and smooth out
   the finish.
   A polish is normally a non-abrasive product based on a nutrient oil
   matrix and may or may not have a chemical cleaner as part of the
   package. Most polishes use fillers to help cover swirl marks.
   A compound is the "coarse sandpaper" of the paint cleaning world. This
   should be used only if the paint is in serious trouble and all else
   has failed. If you are one step away from 1-800-NEW-PAINT, then you
   may consider a compound.
   Literally a clay/polymer mixture used to smooth new paint and remove
   overspray. This type of product must be used with lots of lubricant.
   The technique of using a clay is a learned skill. Use too little
   lubricant, or get contaminants in the clay, and you have moved into
   scratch city. This is one product that is the fast lane to trouble if
   not used with extreme care.
   A combination, one-step chemical cleaner and a wax. I am not a fan of
   these types of products, as they are required to perform two very
   diverse functions simultaneously. A cleaner should remove old wax, so
   how does it simultaneously apply a coat of new wax? You may wish to
   use this type of product only in emergency situations or on your Yugo.
   There are two broad categories of wax - organic and polymer based. The
   organic waxes may be derived from plants such as carnauba, or from
   varmints such as bee's wax. Some of the K-Mart specials contain
   paraffin refined from dead dinosaurs. The polymer based waxes are
   usually collected from specially trained robotic bees who gather the
   polymer nectar from plastic flowers (or it may be made in chemical
   These types of products are normally solvents designed to dissolve
   surface contaminants such as road tar or bugs. There are two broad
   classifications of solvents - petroleum distillates and citrus based.
   Try to avoid the petroleum products if possible. The quality citrus
   products tend to be more gentle on the paint. Any degreaser/tar/bug
   remover will remove wax. So after you have rid your car of the remains
   of Billy Bee, you will have to rewax the area.
   How often should you clean the paint? The correct answer is based upon
   several factors. If your car is a "garage queen" and only sees the
   light of day once a week or so, then once a year is usually often
   enough. If it is a daily driver, and sits out in the elements day
   after day, then twice or maybe three times a year may be required.
   Your paint will tell you when it needs to be cleaned. It may scream at
   the top of its little lungs or it may be more subtle and simply lose
   its luster and look dull (you know your paint better than I do). If
   the finish is subjected to acid rain and the effects of highly acidic
   bird offerings, then you may have to clean specific areas of the
   finish a little more often. If someone tells you to clean the paint
   each time you wax, then they are either trying to sell you another
   paint job or have an excess of cleaner they are trying to unload.
   Power tools and fine finishes, in my humble opinion, do not mix. There
   is nothing that a power buffer can do that you can not do by hand. The
   advantage of power is speed. This also applies to getting yourself
   into trouble. The edges of your body panels and raised/creased areas
   of the sheet metal have the thinnest layer of paint. When the body is
   painted, the liquid paint will tend to flow away from these raised
   areas. A power buffer will concentrate its energy on the thin paint of
   these high points. This is another way of saying hello to your primer
   or as the professionals say, "burning an edge." If you must use a
   power buffer, use only closed-cell foam pads and use one pad for each
   product. Do not use lamb's wool type of pads as they are swirl marks
   waiting to happen. Most importantly, use only a cleaner/glaze/polish
   type product that is specifically formulated for use with a power
   buffer. The frictional heat of a buffer will cause some product's
   abrasives to flocculate or clump together and make your hood look like
   a newly plowed corn field. Most people do not appreciate this look.
   In Part 2, Cleaning Your Paint, I will cover the use and proper
   application of these products. If anyone has any questions, please do
   not hesitate to give me a call.
   Larry Reynolds also operates Car Care Specialties Inc.,
   Distributors of Quality Porsche Care Products,
   Post Office Box 535,
   Saddle Brook, NJ 07663-0535.
   Phone 201-796-8300, Fax 201-791-9743,