How To

Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 3

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by Mike Phillips  More from Author

Cleaning your paint.

First things first... start with a clean car...
The first thing you want to do is wipe the paint clean using a waterless wash. Generally speaking you don't wash classic and antique cars using a normal car wash approach because you introduce water to all the cracks and crevices throughout the vehicle that you cannot get to in order to dry and this promotes rust in places you cannot see nor reach.

A waterless car wash is a high lubricity spray detailer with a combination of gentle cleaning agents embodied in a high lubricity liquid that can be sprayed onto the paint and then gently wiped-off. This will enable you to remove any dust or loose surface dirt while reducing the potential to inflict swirls and scratches during the process.

By using a waterless wash you avoid flushing water over the body and thus avoid getting water into places you cannot see let alone dry. If you have never owned a classic car and contemplated the idea of doing a body-off restoration and the costs involved then you might not understand how important it is to avoid getting a classic car wet. If you have done a body-off restoration and had to deal with replacing rusted floorboards and other integral support components prone to rust then I'm preaching to the choir.

There are a lot of quality waterless car washes on the market and for this project we're gong to use one that's very popular among both detailers and online car enthusiasts, plus it can be purchased in bulk quantities.

Detailer's Pride Waterless Wash with Cobra Deluxe Jr. 600 Microfiber Towels (16 x 16 inches).

Cobra Deluxe Jr. 600 Microfiber Towels have a thick, plush nap which is extremely soft and absorbent, making them perfect for carefully wiping delicate finishes clean with a waterless wash. Because they are thick and plush, they help to spread out the pressure of your hand when you fold them 4 ways. Folding them 4 ways gives you 8 sides to wipe with out of a single towel.


After wiping all the panels clean including the glass, vinyl top, chrome bumpers and trim, the Lincoln is now ready to work on.

The appearance of the paint is dull and lifeless, it's darker than it should be and there are water spots all over the surface.

Just like working on a modern car, the first thing you want to do is inspect the paint by feeling it and checking it for Above Surface Bonded Contaminants.

Above Surface Bonded Contaminants

  • Overspray Paint
  • Tree Sap Mist
  • Industrial Fallout
  • Air-borne Pollution
  • Any contaminant that lands on your paint and makes bond tight enough that it won't wash or wipe off

You can do this with your clean hand or you can use what's loosely called "The Plastic Baggie Test". That is where you take and place your hand inside a plastic baggie like a sandwich baggie and then feel your car's paint. The thin film of plastic covering your hand will intensify your sense of touch and enable you to feel contaminants on the paint that you otherwise could not and would not feel with just your hand alone.

The Plastic Baggie Test

Inspection Results
The paint has a rough feel without the baggie but it really feels rough when I use The Sandwich Baggie Test. The results from my inspection tell me the paint is extremely dirty with Above Surface Bonded Contaminants. These could be air-borne overspray paint, tree sap, industrial fall out, pollution, etc.

To remove Above Surface Bonded Contaminants you want to use detailing clay to clay the paint. Detailing clay is like a hi-tech version of Play-Doh only it contains a special type of abrasive that won't put scratches into your cars paint but it does have the ability to abrade anything sitting on top of the paint somewhat like how sandpaper works.

Using Detailing Clay to Restore a Smooth as Glass Finish
For this project we're going to use XMT Speed Clay and XMT Speed Clay Lube in the XMT Product Line from  

The XMT Clay bar is a whopping 226 grams or 8 ounces of clay! You only need a patty of clay large enough to fit across the face of your four fingers so we'll tear this clay bar in half and save one half for a future project and use this half to clay the paint on this Lincoln Continental.

Next, knead the clay into a round patty kind of like a small pancake, like this. You want to hold it in your hand like this too when you're claying the paint.

The black film on the clay was the black film that was on the paint and this was after only claying about a two foot square section of paint.


As I work through this project and remove built-up contaminants like you see on the face of the clay patty, plus embedded dirt and surface oxidation, you're going to see the color of the car become brighter and brighter as it gets cleaner and cleaner.

Detailing Clay is the most effective way to remove above surface bonded contaminants
The paint on this car has a film of dirt and oxidation over all the panels as do most cars, trucks and s.u.v.s that are daily drivers. It's important to understand that even if you don't own a classic car like this Lincoln Continental, the paint on your car gets just as dirty and contaminated and washing or wiping the paint clean WON'T remove above surface bonded contaminants. That's the job detailing clay does best. Detailing Clay is the most effective way to remove above surface bonded contaminants.

Do the test yourself...
Next time you wash your car, whatever it might be, take a moment after drying it to feel the paint with your clean hand or try out the The Sandwich Baggie Test and if you feel any kind of little bumps on the paint or a surface texture then this is a strong indicator that you need to clay your car's paint.

How long will a coat of wax last?
Also note that a quality car wax or paint sealant is formulated to stick or bond to paint, not
a layer of dirt. Applying a coating of wax to paint in the condition this car was in would be for the most part a waste of time. If your car is a daily driver, that is it's parked outside while you're at work and exposed to the elements, then chances are very good it has bonded contaminants and you need to clay your car's paint.

In this picture I've finished claying all the painted panels and even the glass and the chrome. You can clay anything that has a hard, smooth surface.

Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 1
The secret to removing oxidation and restoring a show car finish to antique single stage paints.

Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 2
Choosing the right polish.

Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 3
Cleaning your paint.

Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 4
Removing oxidation without abrasives.

Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 5
Sealing the paint.

Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 6
The first polishing steps.

Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 7
The final polishing steps.


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