Auto Paint Oxidation and How to Prevent It

You can fight against the dull, dusty look that happens with paint oxidation. But professional detailers have the tools and expertise you might lack.

If you’ve just washed your car and the paint has a dusty or milky look, the problem clearly wasn’t the dirt or even road salt you just washed off. In all likelihood, your car’s paint is oxidizing. And if you don’t stop it, things will probably get worse. You’ll soon find yourself seeking a professional auto detailer to assist in solving the problem.

What is oxidizing? What causes oxidation of vehicle paint? And how can it be stopped or even reversed?

Oxidation of car paint defined

First, oxidation is a chemical process – in technical terms, it’s when electrons are lost from molecules – which causes the paint to break down. Oxidation also happens to living matter (human tissue, rotting vegetables). In the case of car paint, oxidation is largely a result of being exposed to heat and sunlight (oxygen also has to be present for oxidation to occur, which is not a problem in most situations involving cars and trucks).

With the oxidation of paint, the oil in the paint erodes, which is what gives the car body surface its dried and chalky appearance. The longer these conditions persist, the more the corrosion and drying. Eventually, the car body metal is exposed, subjecting it to rust (another form of oxidation).

Stopping and reversing car paint oxidation

The DIY auto owner can remove oxidation with a little elbow grease and can-do spirit. To do so, he or she needs several materials, physical strength – and a long day dedicated to the task.

Those materials include what is needed to wash the car (soap, sponge, drying cloths, and of course water), plus rubbing compound, car polish, car wax, and a power buffer.

Wash the car – with car soap, not household detergents or even dishwasher soap – then apply the rubbing compound to the areas that are showing oxidation, using the buffer. Once this is complete, wipe off the paint surface with a soft cloth (microfiber towels also work for this task).

Next, apply car polish, again using the buffing machine. When done, wipe clean again with a soft towel.

Finally, apply car wax to the affected areas and all other areas of the car paint surface. Wax protects against future oxidation. If the formerly oxidized area appears to be shinier than the other areas, that suggests the entire car was suffering from a lesser degree of oxidation.

Because this process might produce spotty shininess, professional auto detailing will almost always produce more professional-looking results. But not all pros offer this in their menu of auto detailing services. The good ones do.

Preventing oxidation from starting

The first line of defense in preventing oxidation is keeping your vehicle out of the sun. But you have to drive it during the daytime, presumably. So that’s where preventive measures come in.

Washing your car, then applying car wax (liquid or paste wax) protects it somewhat. This should be done every month or two, depending on the circumstances facing your car.

More protective products, including sealants and ceramic coatings, provide better protection. Both materials are advisedly applied by professionals.

But again, even with that sunshine, bird droppings, and tree sap remain a threat. Covered parking or car covers are still very important.