It can be upsetting to go to all the effort and cost of getting your car clear coated only to realize that it’s cloudy instead of clear! Once you get past that upsetting moment, it probably occurs to you to figure out the cause of this and what solutions you can employ to fix it. Why does the clear coat on cars get cloudy?
Clear coat on cars gets cloudy, milky, or otherwise hazy when moisture from the environment gets trapped in the clear coat during application. This can be due to rain, high humidity, or extreme temperatures. Ideally, you should make clear coat applications at room temperature with no humidity.
In this article, I’ll be discussing why a clear coat gets cloudy after application, how to fix it, and other relevant topics.
Clear coat is a resin layer similar to paint. However, unlike paint, a clear coat lacks pigment to give it color. The advantage of a clear coat is that it’s applied over a car’s base paint (the ‘basecoat’) to provide it with a shiny protective layer.
Clear coats for cars can get cloudy, hazy, or ‘milky’ for a few closely related reasons – primarily temperature and humidity. There are a few distinct ways that moisture can get trapped between the surface of your car and the clear coat, which can produce subtly different effects often dubbed cloudy or other similar terms.
Several ways clear coat gets cloudy or hazy include:
- If it rained the day of your clear coat application, moisture could get trapped.
- High humidity
- Very high or low temperatures (room temperature with no humidity is ideal)
Clear coat can get hazy and cloudy very quickly, even if you’re paying attention to what you’re doing. Thankfully, there are many methods to help restore the mirror sheen you were looking for when you applied the clear coat in the first place.
Wet sanding is a unique process where you use a type of sandpaper (typically 400+ grit) designed to be used while very wet. The idea behind wet sanding is that the water will help lubricate the sandpaper and keep it from causing scratches or gouges in the coat. This process aims to create very, very fine scratches in the hazy clear coat that will be filled in with polish afterward.
Once sufficiently sanded, it’s time to buff. Buffing involves a loose abrasive like a buffing wheel and a buffing compound like Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound, available from Amazon, which is safe for clear coat and provides a gorgeous finish.
The idea is to scuff up the flawed surface coat and fill in the fine scratches created by wet sanding and buffing with the compound. This will create a high, mirror-like shine when done correctly.
The downside of this method is that for best results, a whole car should be wet sanded multiple times over some time. This means it isn’t a quick fix done in a single afternoon, but the results are stunning.
For a very hazy clear coat, you can try what’s been dubbed the ‘olive oil method.’ This is an anecdotal method passed around automotive forums for years, even if it hasn’t achieved mainstream success. It bears mention that this isn’t an officially supported method of fixing clear coat problems, but if you’re at wit’s end, it may be worth a try.
The idea is this:
- Rub olive oil on a hazy clear coat.
- Rinse it off.
- Reapply a second coat of clear coat.
The olive oil should remove impurities that led to the cloudy coat.
This method isn’t dependent on humidity either – apply the olive oil at any time, under any conditions. Before reapplying the next coat of clear, though, you’ll want to get as close to room temperature with no humidity as possible. This is to make sure you achieve success on the application.
This method is popular because it works not only for car clear coating but in many similar areas such as painting. When paint looks thin, streaky, or otherwise undesirable, you can sand it with fine sandpaper (200 grit or above is optimal) and reapply the desired paint. For best results, you can rub the paint with denatured alcohol to remove dust, dirt, and other undesirable particles that could get trapped in the coat.
As it turns out, the same thing works with clear coating cars as with paint! A first coat is rarely perfect because of environmental factors that you can’t perfectly mitigate, but that’s just where the second coat comes in.
Cloudy or milky clear coat isn’t the only problem that it can face after application. Due to many factors, a clear coat can encounter an array of issues.
- Orange peel. The dreaded ‘orange peel’ is a phenomenon where a newly dried clear coat has the surface texture of an orange – rough and not smooth to the touch. This usually happens when too much clear coat is applied or when not enough reducer is used. Too little reducer will cause it to dry improperly. To fix orange peel, you can use the ‘sand and reapply’ method.
- Running. No matter where, everyone has experienced paint runs in their lifetime. Whether it’s painting the kitchen or clear coating a car, runs are very frustrating to deal with. Running can be a sign that you didn’t wait long enough for your solvent to flash off, or perhaps you just used too thick of a paint. Making sure that the first coat is dry before applying a second will also help keep your paint from running.
- Fish eyes. While the name is a bit charming, dealing with fish eyes is not. These little ‘bubbles’ in a coat of paint or clearcoat can ruin the integrity of a whole coat and force you to sand and reapply. Thankfully, prevention isn’t that hard – fish eyes are nearly always caused by contamination before applying paint. Ensuring your surface is completely clean will minimize fish eyes.
While getting that clearcoat just right can be a hair-pulling experience, it doesn’t have to be. When a clear coat turns out cloudy, there are several methods you can employ to get that mirror shine just how you imagined it.