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How to Remove Water Spots on a Car

Cleaning your car is either a labor of love or a chore, but it’s something that needs to be done regularly to keep it in good shape. After finishing your detailing and it’s rained, or you’ve quickly dashed through the car wash, you might have residue left over in the form of odd-shaped white circles. Trying to remove water spots from car paint and glass is strangely more difficult than you’d expect, too.

With some elbow grease and a few simple products, you can get rid of water stains or spots on your exterior. It’s inexpensive, ranging from pennies’ worth of household products to detailing products that are typically under $25.

Learn why you get water spots and how to remove water spots from car exterior components by yourself.

Why do Water Spots Form on a Car?

Water spots on a car can form in a few different ways. The first is when water containing minerals such as calcium and magnesium dries on the surface of the car. The minerals are left behind and can create a visible spot. Hard water is a common culprit and is water that has a high naturally occurring mineral content. When it dries, it can leave mineral deposits on the car’s surface. What’s worse, the hardened minerals can be more difficult to remove than a thick layer of dirt in many cases.

Additionally, even if the water is pure, the water can pick up dirt and grime if the car’s surface is dirty, leaving behind a spot when it dries. The same situation happens in reverse too where dust carried by the wind can settle onto your clean, wet car.

Also, water spots could be etched into the paint. Corrosive substances like acid rain can erode microscopic layers of the paint, leaving behind hazy droplet-sized spots.

How to Identify Water Stains

Water spots on your car appear as small, circular marks that are lighter in color than the surrounding paint. They can be raised or slightly indented and may have a rough texture. They are often found on the hood, roof, and trunk of a car as well as on windows and mirrors. In some cases, they can also form on your car’s wheels and tires and tend to develop near the edges of a window or on the bottom of a door too.

They can also be identified by the fact that they are not easily removed with regular washing and they will appear again after washing the car.

How to Remove Water Spots

There are several methods for how to get rid of water spots on car paint, depending on the type and severity of the spot. Always start with a freshly washed car, and dry it with microfiber towels or a chamois. Here are a few methods that can be used.

1. Clay bar

A clay bar can be used to gently remove surface contaminants, including water spots, from the paint of a car. Mist the section you’re working on with detailing spray or water and work the clay bar over the area. You’ll feel a difference in drag as the spots come off. Finish up with a rinse and wipe dry.

This method will also remove any other contaminants stuck to your paint, but it’s not a good idea if there’s rust or any loose paint or clear coat.

2. Soap and water

A mixture of mild car soap and warm water can be used to gently scrub away water spots from hard water or dust and dirt. A microfiber towel or a soft-bristled brush can be used to apply the soap and water to the spots, then rinse it and wipe dry. You’ll need to use elbow grease and it might take a few tries to completely remove the water spots.

3. Vinegar

A solution of equal parts white vinegar and water can be applied to water spots with a microfiber towel or a soft-bristled brush. The solution should be allowed to sit on the spots for a few minutes before being rinsed off with water.

This method is ideal for hard water spots as the acidic vinegar will help dissolve the minerals.

4. Baking soda

A paste made from baking soda and water can be applied to water spots and allowed to sit for a few minutes before being rinsed off with water. If your water spots might’ve come from bird droppings, tree sap, or acid rain, the baking soda can help neutralize them.

Unfortunately, if it’s etched into the paint already, you’ll likely need to cut and polish the paint to remove the spots completely.

Detailing Products

You can find specialized water spot remover for cars available on the market that can be used to remove water spots. These products should be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Typically, it’s the same as a waterless car wash. Spray the water spot remover or detailing spray onto a microfiber cloth or applicator and wipe the car’s surface. You can also spray directly onto the paint and wipe it dry with a clean towel.

Also, car polish is often successful at removing water spots since there’s a mild abrasive in the compound.

Buy your detailing supplies at AutoZone with thousands of products from popular brands in the industry. Not sure what would be best for your situation? An AutoZone associate would be happy to help out. If the job is too big for you, seek out one of our Preferred Shops to help you do the job.

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FAQ/People Also Ask 

How do I get hard water spots off my car?

Since the discoloration is from minerals stuck to the paint, a clay bar or detailing spray is typically the best type of product to use to remove hard water spots.

Do water spots on cars go away?

Water spots don’t usually go away on their own. Sometimes, all it takes is a car wash while other times a more complex detailing process is necessary.

What is the best water spot remover for cars?

The water spot remover that works best will vary depending on the type of water spot you have. Choose a product that’s safe for paint, glass, metal, and plastic surfaces.

Does vinegar remove water spots on car?

If the water spots are related to hard water, vinegar can be an excellent option. A solution of household vinegar mixed 50/50 with pure water is often successful.

Can you buff out hard water spots on car?

Yes, you can usually buff hard water spots off of car paint. If it’s due to acid rain, a cut and polish may be required.

Are water stains permanent?

In exceptional circumstances, water stains or spots can be permanent. There are no specific criteria as to why except that it will be due to extremely harsh conditions. Spots that are thought to be permanent can almost always be removed with a cut and polish by a professional.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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