Does Compound Remove Clear Coat?


Your car stays outdoors most of the time. As such, damage on its paint is inevitable. The exterior of the car sustains damages from elements such as rain, UV from the sun, oxidation, and pollutants and contaminants. 

The car will also have minor scratch and swirl marks. You can correct minor issues through waxing and buffing, but when you need a more permanent solution, a compound product comes in handy. But does compound remove clear coat during car maintenance?

Does Compound Remove Clear Coat? 

Compound doesn’t remove clear coat. A compound uses abrasive substances suspended in a paste or liquid. The abrasive will eat away a very thin surface of the clear coat to remove blemishes and damage without removing the coat. The coat a compound removes is very thin, more than ten times thinned than paper, so that it doesn’t remove the coat. 

However, you need to avoid using a cutting compound too often. Every time you use the compound, it eats away a thin layer of the clear coat. If you use it often, it will eventually remove the clear coat. 

The coat of your car has three layers. The first layer next to the metal is a primer; on top of that is the color paint, which is covered by the third layer, which is a clear coat. The clear coat protects the color paint, ensuring that your car’s coat doesn’t fade or sustain damages from scratches. 

Unless your car coat gets deep scratches and cuts, most of the damage is on the clear coat. As such, when you need to restore the look of your car’s coat, you only need to sand away the clear coat and everything will be good to go. 

What is a Compound? 

A compound is like liquid sandpaper. It uses abrasive compounds suspended in a liquid or a paste to eat away a very thin layer on the clear coat of your car. 

Compounds fall into two main categories; rubbing compounds and polishers. Rubbing compounds are also known as cutting compounds. However, rubbing compounds have a higher grit rating, making them ideal for fine work. 

If your car coat has deep scratches and so many other damages, you need to go for a cutting compound. The coarser and harsher abrasives in cutting compounds make them ideal when you need to remove a thicker clear coat to remove more damages. 

The Meguiars Ultimate Compound is one of the most popular cutting compound products. It has a high abrasive quality, but still not harsh enough to remove the clear coat.

Compounds also come in the form of polishers. If your car coat has very small scratch and swirl marks, you need a polisher compound. Unlike cutting compounds such as the Meguiars Ultimate Compound, polishers do not leave any minor scratches when you use them. 

When Should You Use a Cutting Compound? 

A compound comes in handy when you need to correct damages on paint. If the car has stains or blemishes, or scratch or swirl marks, a detailing compound will help you. You can use a compound when you need to:

  • Correct minor scratches that may not be visible, but you can feel them when you pass your hand over them. If the scratches are deeper than that, you may need a different product or to repaint the section
  • Remove oxidation that makes your car paint look dull. If the oxidation is severe, where your car paint fades and starts cracking, you may need to remove the paint and repaint that section of the car coat. 
  • Remove impurities such as tartar, spray paint, and sticky sap.
  • Other substances you can remove include blemishes and water spots

If your car is new or its coat is in good condition, you do not need a compound as it will remove part of the clear coat. Instead, you can use another product such as wax to protect the surface of the paint. You need to clean your car before any detailing process. 

What Happens if I Remove Clear Coat? 

If you remove a very thin layer of the clear coat without exposing the base layer, there will be no issue. The clear coat protects the base coat from damages and fading. As such, you need to preserve the clear coat so that you never have to repaint your car often. 

If you want to avoid removing the clear coat, you can use other products such as wax. However, wax will only mask the scratches. The only permanent solution is to use a compound.

A good compound product should only remove a very thin coat that will still leave the base coat protected. After compounding, your car will remain glossy and aesthetically appealing, but you will not expose the base layer. 

As long as you do not cut away the clear coat too much, compounding is safe for your car coat. As long as you do it moderately, you will never remove all clear coat from your car. 

Can You Over-Compound and Remove All Clear Coat? 

A new car has a clear coat of thickness between 35 and 50 microns. When you compound with a harsh product, you remove about 10 microns of the clear coat. This means that even after three compounding sessions, you may still have a thin layer remaining to protect your car, but that may not be enough. 

If you completely remove the clear coat, your base coat will remain at the top. The clear coat has several UV inhibitors that protect your base coat. Removing the clear coat leaves your base coat exposed to UV and other elements such as acid rain.

If you remove more than 15% of the clear coat, the coat loses its protective qualities. If you continue removing the coat, you lose most of the protective qualities and your base coat starts to fade. As such, you need to avoid over-compounding to keep your car coat looking pristine. 

How Often Should You Compound Your Car Coat? 

There is no direct answer to this question. The prevailing conditions and elements in your environment determines how much damage your car coat sustains. If you only drive your car to and from work and the environmental conditions are mild, you can compound once after a few years. 

If you live in an area where the sun is so hot, the rain is acidic, and you drive off the road a lot, you may need to compound often. This means you will eat away at a thick layer of the clear coat. After two or three compounding sessions, you may need to repair the clear coat to maintain the protection the coat offers. 

Other factors that determine how often you should compound include:

  • The aggressiveness of the polish
  • The level of damage on the clear coat
  • The hardness or softness of the paint
  • The age of your car 

If you have previously compounded your car severally, you may need to avoid compounding again. 

You can use a paint depth gauge to test the thickness of the paint remaining on your car coat. The remaining thickness of your car will determine how safe it is to compound. The only challenge is that these paint depth gauges cost hundreds of dollars.

Car Coat Correction: Compound vs. Wax

Compounding cuts at a layer of your car’s clear coat to make it look smooth and glossy. Wax, on the other hand, fills the scratches and masks them. Wax also adds a layer of protection that keeps off dust and other substances from affecting your car.

Think of wax as a cosmetic correction strategy and compounding as a permanent paint damage correction solution. If your paint has scratches, and you use wax to fill the scratches, the wax wears off with time and the scratches are visible again. 

If you need to remove the scratches and blemishes, you need a compound. The compound removes microscopic layers of the top coat of your paint using abrasive compounds. After compounding, you can then apply wax on the surface of the paint to add a layer of protection. 

Note that, when you wash your car, the wax comes off and you are back to where you started. Once you understand the differences between compound vs. wax, you will know which one to use and when. 

Closing Thoughts

There are several detailing processes that a car owner needs to understand. These include waxing, compounding, buffing, polishing, and sealing. Each of these detailing processes is important for the beauty of your car.

Buffing is a general term. You buff when you need to improve the shine of your car after polishing or detailing. Compounding and polishing are terms that mean removing a microscopic layer of your clear coat using a liquid or paste abrasive substance to remove scratches and other marks. 

Waxing, coating, and sealing are all terms that refer to adding a layer on the surface of your car to protect the coat from elements. You can do two or more of these detailing processes during a single session, depending on the effect you need. 

Some compounding products have wax and oils that add a layer of protection after removing the scratches and swirls. Choose the right product and your clear coat will be safe, your car will look better, and your work will be easy. 

Kern Campbell

I've had a passion for four-wheel-drive vehicles since I was a kid riding in the back seat of my Grandfather's Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I have owned a lot of vehicles over the years. They each have their pros and cons and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you so you can find the vehicle that's just right for your needs.

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