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

Last Updated On September 22, 2023

Need to know how to remove spray paint from a car? 

You've come to the right place!

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • What supplies you'll need to remove spray paint from a car
  • The steps required to remove spray paint from a car
  • Other things you'll need to know about spray paint on cars
How To Remove Spray Paint From Car (5-Step Guide)

We've written this quick article to give you a list full of tools that will help you in just about every scenario of car spray paint removal. 

Before you take your car to a body shop, why not try DIYing it? Here are some tips from master automotive detailers who have put in the time to learn the tricks of the trade.

So, before you do remove spray paint from your car, I recommend you read our quick guide on how to do it successfully.

What Supplies Will You Need For Removing Spray Paint From A Car? 

Here is a master list of all things auto paint removal. Keep in mind that dabbing rubbing alcohol or paint thinner onto a vandalized car will most likely do the trick.

The idea is to start with something like rubbing alcohol or a clay bar or correction compound and work your way up to applying a chemical solvent if all else fails. 

Detailing clay bar

Taking a clay bar and some spray wax to overspray is a great way to start removing unwanted paint dots, overspray ,etc.

Plastic/metal razor blades

Plastic razor blades are good at safely cleaning spray paint off of the glass. Because some cars have ceramic tint plus more and more cars even have a ceramic layer on top of the paint job, it's not recommended to use a metal razor blade when detailing---online when it's necessary.

Latex paint may be easy to scrape off from the paint job with a plastic razor without damaging the paint job.

Chemical solvents

Some common solvents you might need for removing spray paint include nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, acetone, lacquer thinner, or paint thinner.

Use nail polish remover as a good paint remover because it has acetone. Also, the small container that comes with the nail polish remover helps the user to not apply too much acetone, as it can eat through paint quickly when used in large amounts. Always use rubber gloves when handling acetone. 

Did you know: It can cost anywhere from $150 to $500 to fix a car's paint job depending on where you go.  Just another great reason to learn to DIY it!

Rubbing compound/Correction compound/Polishing compound

Rubbing compound is called a few different things, and it's an abrasive liquid that is used to correct paint with either a buffer or hand applicator. Rubbing compound is a key detailing substance to keep in the garage for restoring paint.

Polishing pads/Hand polishing applicator

Go on Amazon or to your local auto parts store, and buy some applicator pads for applying paint correction and wax.

Electric buffer/Pneumatic buffer(dual-action sander)

Using a machine to smooth and correct paint, wax, and wet

sand is the fastest method when auto detailing.


You’ll need everything from 80-grit to 2000+ grit sandpaper for auto detailing.

Microfiber cloth

Microfiber towels are always nice to have around for wiping off excess polish/wash, and also for drying the car after it is washed.

Read More >> How Do You Remove Spray Paint From A Driveway?

How To Remove Spray Paint From Car (5-Step Guide)

Now that you know what supplies you'll need to gather, let's walk through the step-by-step method for removing spray paint from your car.

(You can click on any of the link below to jump ahead to that step!)

  1. Evaluate situation
  2. Wash the car
  3. Execute spray paint removal
  4. Buff and wax
  5. Evaluate results

Step 1 - Evaluate the situation

Every paint removal situation is different.

For example, latex paint will come off relatively easily by using rubbing alcohol and a microfiber cloth.

The clay bar is a great method to start with on small areas and move your way down our list if that doesn't. Buy a clay bar off of Amazon for the cheapest price.

The idea is to try less drastic measures, and move forward to more drastic measures like acetone or even light sanding if the paint isn’t coming off.

Step 2 - Wash the car 

Washing the car thoroughly will help identify the affected areas, and it will also help prevent light scratches when rubbing on the surface of the paint job with a rag or clay bar.

Even if you don't have a pressure washer, you can still wash your car with some soapy water and a sponge after rining it clean with the garden hose or even just douse it with clean water from a bucket before and after scrubbing it with a soapy sponge. 

And of course, you could always just run your car through a drive-through car wash.

Step 3 - Execute spray paint removal

Now it’s time to use your best-educated guess on how to get the paint off. Here's a simple order to follow for removing overspray:

Clay bar:

Whether it’s overspray or an ugly wheel paint job, there’s a proper technique for everything.

We recommend starting with a clay bar and some spray wax. 

You could also try warm water and dish soap as a lubrication for the clay bar. 

The clay bar is a great place to start when trying to remove spray paint from a car because it doesn't involve using nasty chemicals, and it also doesn't require any drastic removal of the clear coat. The clay bar is subtle and works great a lot of the time.

Rubbing compound:

If the clay bar doesn't work, try some rubbing compound. Rubbing compound is a great product to keep in the garage for purposes from removing paint overspray to restoring an old car's paint job to like-new condition. 

Rubbing compound/paint correction compound can be found on Amazon or at your local auto parts store, and it can be applied with either a buffer or a hand applicator.

2,000-3,000-grit sandpaper:

Rubbing compound or clay bar didn't work? Try wet sanding with high-grit sandpaper. Sandpaper is obviously a more aggressive method for removing paint.

Chemical solvent: 

Chemical solvents like nail polish remover, lacquer thinner, pure acetone, and other products that are intended for paint/adhesive removal are a last resort when removing spray paint from the car. 

Remember to wear nitrile gloves and safety glasses when dealing with potent chemicals to protect your skin and eyes.

Dab some chemical solvent onto the affected area for potent DIY results.

Paint stripper disc for complete paint removal: 

Did you want to completely remove the paint from the surface? 

Try a paint stripper disc connected to an angle grinder tool or hand drill. 

After you have completely removed the paint with the stripper, start with something like 120-grit sandpaper and keep changing out to higher and higher grit numbers until you create a good flush surface to apply new paint to.

For removing paint from wheels:

Let's say you just bought a used car, and the wheels are tackily painted with some worn-out plasti-dip or aerosol spray paint.

The best way we can find to quickly remove painted wheels is to put on some nitrile gloves and rub acetone on the surface until it comes off. Acetone will remove the paint without taking off material from the wheel. 

Powder-coated wheels:

Most alloy wheels are powder-coated these days. 

Because power-coated is a super heavy-duty paint type of paint that is applied using the help of electricity, professionals typically use something like a sandblast cabinet to remove it. 

We recommend that you take your powder-coated wheels to a wheel-repair professional for the job if the powder coat is damaged, and if you want to paint over a powder coat that's in good condition, then go for it!

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

Step 4 - Wet sand/Buff/wax

After you have successfully removed the spray paint, you might notice that it left your clearcoat looking differently than other parts of the car. 

And if the car had a ceramic coating before, you might want to consult a professional about have that specific body panel wrapped again because all that sanding and buffing will basically erase the ceramic coating.

Wet Sand:

In any case, wet sanding is a great place to start when blending the paint back to a more consistent look(if necessary). 

Use something like 3000-grit sandpaper on the buffer pad in a circular motion. It won't take very many passes when sanding, so just give it a quick once over. 

Then Polish:

Then you can hook up that electric or pneumatic buffer pad loaded up, and load up some rubbing compound/correction compound/polishing compound on there. 

Place the electric buffer flush onto the surface of the body panel, and use some higher RPMs (2000 RPMS) to correct small scratches and blend out any material that was removed in the paint removal process.

Then Wax:

After you have buffed out the surface with correction compound, you can then apply carnauba wax to blend even further.

Then Replace/Install Ceramic Coating (If Necessary):

Consult a professional detail shop to reinstall ceramic coating, or hey, maybe you are the professional detail shop, and you already know what to do!

Step 5 - Evaluate results 

You'll want to thoroughly inspect the results in and out of sunlight, with a flashlight, etc especially if you are doing the job for a customer. Paint jobs are tricky, and some imperfections aren't visible in certain lighting. 

It's always good to step back and take a look at things once you've done them. 

Other Valuable Resources On Removing Spray Paint From A Car

Have you seen a car that has been completely wrapped in a clear ceramic coating? 

We highly recommend you get a ceramic coating if you are looking to get the most out of your car's paint job. A ceramic coating protects the paint to the max and generally lasts a long time. With a ceramic coating, you no longer need to apply wax to your car, nor will you need to correct the paint.

Simply spray your car off with water when cleaning a paint job that has a ceramic coating installed--it's that easy.

Detailers: Keep an eye out for cars that have a ceramic coating on the paint job.

ceramic coatings.

Ask us your questions about automotive painting because we care about your success.

Read More >> What Are The Best Spray Paints To Use On Wheels & Rims?

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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