How To Get Paint Off A Car? (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On September 15, 2023

Need to know how to get paint off of your car? 

You've come to the right place!

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • The different methods for removing paint from your car
  • Supplies you'll need to remove paint
  • Tips and tricks for making sure you don't damage your car's paint
How To Get Paint Off A Car? (5-Step Guide)

So, if you're looking for some helpful tips on how to safely remove paint from your car, read below for our best advice on how to get paint off cars.

What Do You Need To Know About Getting Paint Off A Car?

There are a few different scenarios that might require you to remove paint from your car and each one presents it's own process and challenges.

Below we'll break down some of the more common scenarios and help you decide how to approach your unique situation.

Repainting Your Car

Maybe you want to repaint your car, and you want to completely strip the existing paint job off so you can get started. Make sure you start by researching your specific car and repainting process so you can get a better idea of how to remove your car's existing paint job.

In some cases, you will be able to paint over the existing paint with a little prep work (which means you should remove the paint at all) and in other cases, it will be best to completely remove the paint with something like a paint stripper disc.

Overspray/paint splatter

Getting overspray specs on your paint job is more common than you might think. 

As annoying as it is to see overspray all over your clear coat, it's pretty easy to remove by using tools like a detailing clay bar that doesn't remove the existing paint. 

Repainting wheels

Say you just bought a used car and its wheels are painted an ugly color. To remove the paint, you'll have to use something potent like acetone (depending on the type of paint you're working with).

Some alloy wheels are powder coated which is a harder DIY task to accomplish if you don't have a powder coat paint set, however, you can remove powder coated paint with strong chemicals like acetone or another chemical stripper.

Touchup paint

Touch-up paint might require you to remove some of the previous paint for a successful job.

For example, if you park your car close to where painters are working, you could end up with tiny paint specs all over your precious paint job.

Read More >> How Do You Touch Up Car Paint?

Removing Paint You Accidentally "Swapped"

Did you accidentally scrape the side of a pole or – god forbid – someone else's car?

It's pretty common to accidentally swap paint with an object or another vehicle, but depending on the type of paint you swapped with, you might be able to remove it gently enough to keep your car's paint job intact.

There are some methods that just involve WD-40 and some elbow grease, while other methods will involve paint-removing solutions.

Check out the video below for a few suggestions on how to remove a paint transfer.

Supplies You’ll Need To Get Paint Off A Car

The supplies needed for removing paint vary depending on the situation. 

Here's a complete checklist for all of you professional detailers:

Chemical paint strippers 

Chemicals serve well in paint removal, and even though using chemicals isn't always the right solution for the job, they are nice to keep around the garage for when you need them.

While paint thinner is one of the most common paint removal solutions, you can also use acetone, mineral spirits, or rubbing alcohol depending on the specific situation and type of paint.

If you want the best prices, it's best to buy these off of Amazon as they can be pricey sometimes.

Microfiber towel

Microfiber towels help for drying off the car, and they also help for wiping off polishing compound and wax after hitting body panels with the buffer. 

Rubbing compound/correction compound

Rubbing compound is a great scratch remover. You would be surprised at how many light scratches and paint scuffs you will be able to remove by simply buffing them out with some correction compound. 

Wax/rubbing compound applicator pads

Professional detailers will keep both hand pads and circular applicator pads that connect to the electric buffer. Carnauba wax is a great solution for protecting your car's paint job from dirt and UV rays. 

Clay bar

Clay bars come in great for removing small areas and overspray specs without removing the clear coat on the car's finish.

Read More >> How Much Does It Cost To Paint A Car's Rims?

Did you know: A typical car paint job costs anywhere from $1000 to $3500. But, in some cases the value of the car will increase more than that with a new paint job which is a great reason to DIY!

How To Get Paint Off Of A Car (5-Step Guide)

Now that you've gathered your supplies and figured out how to tackle your specific project, here are the steps to get that pesky paint off your car.

(You can click on any of the links below to jump straight to that step!)

  1. Wash The Car Thoroughly
  2. Evaluate Situation/Strategize The Best Solution
  3. Execute Paint Removal
  4. Correction Compound
  5. Wax And Buff

Step 1 - Wash The Car

You'll want to wash your car beforehand to avoid light scratches from dirt and dust. Here's a quick reminder for a DIY car wash.

You can easily wash your car at home by filling a bucket full of warm, soapy water. 

First, park the car in the shade. After dousing the car off with water, use a sponge to apply the soapy warm water all over the car starting with the roof of the car and working your way down.

After you have scrubbed all the dirt and grime off the car, douse it off with water again, and use a microfiber cloth to completely dry off.

Now that the car is clean, the paint will be easier to target and remove. 

Step 2 - Evaluate Situation/Strategize The Best Solution

Since there are a few different situations where you might want to remove paint from a car, you must perform the right solution for the problem.

The idea is to try the least harmful techniques to your paint job (if you aren't' removing it), and if it doesn't work, move on to more drastic measures. 

Paint removal success also depends on the type of paint your specific car has, so do some research before to get a good idea of what your car is painted with (see the paint code) or what type of paint is stuck on your car. 

For example, latex paint from a wall paint job could just easily scrape off with something like a plastic razor blade. 

Here are some steps that you'll need to help prepare you for each specific paint removal situation:

Complete paint removal: 

You'll want to buy the ideal tool for your specific job. We recommend using a paint stripper disc attached to an angle grinder or drill for a fast and easy DIY solution. 

Removing paint from wheels: 

You'll want to park the car in an area where you can comfortably work, and it's

Removing Overspray: 

Get your hands on an automotive detailing clay bar. 

Acetone will also work in situations of extreme overspray, but be careful not to rub acetone too hard into the paint job as it remove too much paint than desired.

Performing touchup: 

You'll want something like 120-grit sandpaper for lightly sanding areas where paint has chipped off when performing touchup on larger areas. You also may want to pick up some 1500 grit sandpaper used for wet-sanding the finish after the fact.

Step 3 - Execute Paint Removal

Use the best method for the job to get the paint off. Here's a detailed section for each paint removal situation to help you perform the work correctly:

For complete paint removal: 

There are a few different methods for completely removing paint, including:

  • Paint remover/paint stripper discs

You can easily find paint stripper discs on Amazon or at your local hardware/home improvement/auto parts store.

  • Paint remover chemicals (acetone, for example)

There are plenty of chemical products that will remove paint. Do some research before you start working with these products though as they can be toxic when handled improperly.

  • Sandpaper(something like 40 to 80-grit)

Sandpaper is always an option for removing paint. For example, you could use a handheld belt sander or an orbital sander with low-grit sandpaper to remove the paint fairly quickly.  

  • Sandblaster

Some professional auto body shops use a sandblaster to quickly and effectively remove all paint from body panels. 

The only downside of using a sandblaster is that you basically have to remove all body panels and isolate them from parts that could be damaged in the process.

  • Pressure washer

Some pressure washers will spray with enough PSI to strip automotive paint. 

  • Paint scraper

On the most basic of levels, you could potentially use a paint scraper to manually scrap the paint off of the car. A paint scraper is a good tool to have around when stripping areas close to the trim and door handles. 

  • Grease remover

Grease remover is good to have around when cleaning up wheels in preparation for paint removal.

For removing paint from wheels:

The easiest way to DIY remove paint from wheels without expensive equipment is by saturating a rag with acetone, and

rubbing the surface of the wheel for a few minutes(could take up to an hour) until the paint comes off. 

If you want more extensive advice on removing paint from wheels, check out our guide below.

Read More >> How Do You Remove Spray Paint From Wheels?

For removing overspray from the paint job: 

Removing overspray can be done with either a clay bar and some spray wax or another cleaning product like glass cleaner or even just soapy water.

You could also try using a plastic razor blade on the paint job to remove small overspray specs. A plastic razor blade works great for removing paint from windows, and you can also use a real blade, but don't use a metal razor blade on tinted windows as it can remove the ceramic tint on the inside of the windows

You could also use rubbing alcohol and a rag for removing latex paint or a small amount of acetone very lightly when removing stronger automotive paints like urethane. 

For touchup prep: 

Touching up small spots doesn't require much prep. Just make sure that the area is clean before applying.

For larger areas, you may need to lightly sand the edges where the base coat separates from the other layers of paint to create a smooth surface for the paint to bond to.

Step 4 - Correction/Polishing Compound

After you have removed the paint, chances are that there are visible scuffs in the paint job that aren't going to come out without a good detail job. 

And sure, you can always pay a professional detailer to give your car a quick detail, but you will save money when detailing yourself while also allowing yourself to buy an electric buffer for the job.

Good tips for applying correction/polishing compound:

Apply a few small dots onto the applicator pad, and place the electric buffer flush onto the body panel you are detailing. 

Turn on the electric buffer, and move it slowly around the panel in a circular motion. You can also use a hand applicator pad and apply the polishing compound by hand if necessary.

Step 5 - Car Wax And Buff

Waxing the car after the job is done will help keep the dirt, UV rays, etc off your car. If you really like your paint job, you'll wax it every couple of months. 

Applying car wax can be done with an electric buffer using the same technique as an electric buffer. 

And yes, you can apply wax with an applicator pad or even a microfiber towel, but it will take much longer than an electric buffer.

Other Valuable Resources On How To Get Paint Off Car

You might need to do some touchup paint after you the paint removal, so check out our page on how to touch up car paint. 

Do you want to go a step further with protecting your car? 

Try installing a ceramic coating that locks the paint job in and eliminates the need for exterior detailing. 

Having a ceramic coating applied to your vehicle by a professional typically isn't cheap, but it is an investment that will help maintain aesthetic value. 

Not sure where to start on your paint removal project? Shoot us a question on our Pro Paint Corner page!

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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