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What Is Wet Sanding a Car?

Unpainted car panels

When you think of sanding, you probably imagine sandpaper that’s scratchy, rough and definitely dry. So, what is wet sanding? This process is used to make a surface as smooth as possible and remove paint scratches so the finish looks brilliant and unmarred. While it might seem counterintuitive to sand your car’s finish, there are times when sanding the surface is a good thing. Here’s when and how to wet sand your car.

What Is Wet Sanding?Autobody Repair

Usually when you sand a surface, it needs to be dry. If you sand a wet surface, like spackle on a wall, it can make a giant mess. But wet sanding your car uses a lubricant, like water, between the sandpaper and your car’s surface to get a smooth finish rather than scratching the living daylights out of your car.

Wet sanding can be used when your vehicle has a dull finish. It helps remove tiny scratches and imperfections in the clear coat that aren’t individually visible but can cause the original shine to lose its sparkle. You may also want to wet sand if you’re doing bodywork to ensure that the surface of the vehicle is smooth before applying paint.

How to Wet Sand Your Car

Here’s how to wet sand your car to remove scratches and restore the finish:

  1. Start with a clean car. Thoroughly wash the outside of your car before you start wet sanding. You’ll want to get rid of as much dirt as possible. This is especially important if there’s debris like tar or bugs stuck to the paint and you’re wet sanding the paint rather than the primer or bodywork.
  2. Keep the surface wet. It’s called wet sanding for a reason. The surface you’re working on should be wet at all times. You can’t add too much water, so when in doubt, add more. Make this manageable by keeping a squirt bottle full of water handy throughout the process.
  3. Use a light hand. You don’t want to give it your all and press as hard as you can on your car while you sand. Be sure to use a gentle hand at all times. You’re not trying to scour away the surface — you’re just removing dirt and smoothing any imperfections on the surface. It’s not a big deal to use an extra swipe of the sandpaper, but if you get carried away and sand off too much paint, you can’t undo what’s done.
  4. Don’t sand in circles. Circles are fine when you’re applying wax to a car, but not when you’re sanding. Instead, you’ll want to work in a back-and-forth motion, sanding in a straight line to get the best look possible.

Wet sanding is a job that requires finesse and a light hand. Taking the time to wet sand your car, whether you’re smoothing out primer or working on a clear coat, can make a considerable difference in how the vehicle looks and keeps.

Check out all the sanding products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on wet sanding, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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