By Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare
“AAAArrrrrgggggghhhh, damn it!” Cries the Detailer. After Phantom Water Spots suddenly appear hours (or the next day) after a ceramic nano coating application.
This is one of THE MOST Frustrating issues today in auto detailing!
It’s a mind boggling situation that can lead to endless frustration, hair pulling, high blood pressure, and sometimes thrown and broken mobile devices or machines. It’s even more frustrating when discovered on vehicle delivery day. To a detailer, this problem instantly feels as if it erased all time and effort put into the job.
Unfortunately, this a somewhat common issue, occurring much more frequently than reported or admitted by detailers.
Since automotive ceramic nano coatings are now a standardized form of vehicle paint protection, this problem had shown up with increasing frequency.
Also, with IR curing becoming a common procedure to cure coatings, the introduction of heat during the curing process additionally swells the paint.
This has a number of implications, but most immediate is that the heat displays defects previously unnoticed because they were locked deep within the paint system– unavailable for normal detection.
Reasoning for the increasing occurrence rate of this issue may stem from aggressive solvents contained within ceramic coatings.
Some coating solvents are aggressive enough to partially open up (swell) paint and display defects previously hiding deeper than surface level.
The type and strength of a ceramic coating’s solvents greatly vary depending on manufacturer and coating’s formulation itself. So not every solvent, within every coating, is powerful enough to swell paint to display phantom water spots. This might be why it is not a problem at the forefront of Facebook coating discussion groups or automotive forum posts.
The solvents of a particular coating aren’t the only cause possible here.
Heat, present at the time of the etching, is the key culprit that caused this issue to begin with!
A Slow and Steady Mind + Process Wins the Phantom Water Spot War
** WARNING: the removal method explained here requires a great deal of PATIENCE and FINESSE for proper execution.
If someone is already upset/frustrated after regular attempts of phantom water spot removal fail, DO NO ATTEMPT THIS METHOD.
Simply take a break and allow emotions to clear before proceeding.
It is ridiculously frustrating to work on this issue for 1, 3, 5, 8 hours, only to make little to no progress and having worked yourself up into an anger ball.
This is why Patience and Emotional Stability are important virtues to access when tackling difficult issues.
THE LAST thing anyone wants is to worsen the issue. An overly aggressive approach could easily turn this process into phone call into a body shop for repainting. And then into a call to the vehicle owner. And, nobody wants to make the call informing an owner of a damaged panel on account of a detailing error.
Note: The removal method in this article may seem counterintuitive. However, at its core, this issue is definitely caused via paint swelling.
Why Do Phantom Water Spots Occur In the First Place?
A similar issue may occur with scratches after intensive paint correction and heat swelling. However, that is usually caused by swelling from the introduction of too much heat via mechanical abrasion and heavy solvents (chemical cut) from aggressive compounds.
Phantom water spoting has proven to be a distinctive issue, with their appearance occurring ONLY AFTER the application of a ceramic nano coating.
Mineral content levels of water, sitting on vehicle paint, are not enough to cause this alone.
However, the etching capabilities of minerals, and or the acidic contamination within water, are considerably enhanced with the introduction of heat into the equation.
So while there is no definitive explanation . . . there are two likely possibilities how phantom water spots occur:
A] Water contacted an pre-existing hot panel.
B] Stationary water sat on top or contacted a panel as it heated up.
How Do These Phantom Water Spots Occur?
Automotive Paint (Clear Coat) is porous structure engineered for constant heat expansion and contraction. This is an intentional formulation for vehicle substrates, in response to ambient or vehicle generated heat.
Taking this into consideration, the removal procedure suggested here piggy backs off that concept. It utilizes heat to open up paint’s pores in order to access the defects and eliminate them.
The theory behind this is similar to the reasoning why a barber or aesthetician places hot towels on the face before services.
Heat opens up the skin’s pores in order to allow for deep cleansing of the contamination inside the pores. For a hot shave, the heated skin allows the razor’s blade to pull up facial hair follicles slightly higher than normal. Just enough to allow for that distinctive ‘barber shop closeness.’
Either way the sun, or another source, heated the panel when stagnant water sat on the surface.
The heat caused the porous paint to swell and open up its pores. As the water dried, the mineral content of the municipal water, or contamination on the surface, or the contamination collected in polluted air is able to penetrate down into the swollen paint structure, sinking deep down or etching into the swollen surface.
When the paint then cools, the pores close up again, hiding the water spots and the mineral etching marks.
This explains why these phantom water spots tend to occur in isolated areas, USUALLY on the horizontal panels of vehicles where the majority of sun exposure and heat regularly occur.
Procedure to Remove Phantom Water Spots Appearing After Automotive Paint Coating Application
► NOTE: This method can only be performed AFTER the coating is removed.
As explained previously, mineral deposits from water seep into and attach themselves within paint’s porous structure after the paint cools down.
Therefore, in order to remove these mineral deposits, they must be accessed and therefore, corrected at the depth within the paint’s structure that they occurred.
To do this, heat must be reintroduced to the panel in order to swell open the paint’s pores.
To heat a panel, use either an IR lamp, tuning it to 100°F on a dial (or use distance to regulate temperature) or put the panel in direct sun the sun for 3-5 min. BEFORE paint correction begins, make sure to let the panel cool so it feels warm but not scalding hot. If you have an infrared thermometer then wait till panel temperatures read 100°F.
Then GENTLY polish the area (preferably with a 21mm Dual Action Polisher) using a NON Diminishing Abrasive Polishing Liquid containing a low solvent content on a Microfiber disc. When adding product, make sure to overload the amount of product evenly over entire pad.
When performing the paint correction, ONLY PERFORM ONE SECTION PASS — meaning a single down and back pass with moderate pressure. Move the polisher at 1 inch per second and allow the polish on the microfiber disc do the work. After a section pass, allow the area to cool for 30 seconds to a minute, then re-evaluate the surface.
Testing Method for Mineral Deposit Removal- Using Heat or Steam
OCDCarCare Los Angeles utilizes heat or steam to test if water spot (mineral etching) removal is complete.
Other methods may include using: IR lamps, a heat gun, steam, or even your breath (if nothing else available) to heat or ‘fog up’ (steam) areas where the phantom water spots appeared.
If the heat or steam displays a clear surface, then the water spots are gone. If the heat or steam displays a silhouette; the spots remain. For spots still remaining, perform another round of paint correction in the same manner as before.
Final Words of Caution About Phantom Water Spot Removal Process
Warning: the phantom water spot removal method mentioned here is a delicate to say the least. This is because the paint correction procedure flirts with approaching the heat threshold of catalyzed clear coat.
Therefore, it is necessary to be extremely patient with this process. The solution must allow the process to go at its natural pace (slowly), using extreme caution and when heat cycling and performing the correction process.
DO NOT try to be a HERO and attempt to remove all water spots with a a series of section passes, back to back, in an attempt to catch up for lost time!
Rushing, will only raise the heat and friction levels too high, placing the affected areas in jeopardy of paint burning.
The intricacies of this procedure are many, but the basic overview is simple. Use heat to access the phantom water spots by opening up the porous paint.
Once the panel is warm, use a non diminishing correction liquid to correct the water spots. All the while, make sure not to over-heat the panel past 150°F since catalyzed clear coat HATES heat, especially when coupled with friction.
In NORMAL paint polishing situations, it is best to avoid heat like the plague. However, in this instance heat was the most likely the catalyst of defect creation and is the key variable for removal.
This is a tricky method to write out and explain fully, but it has proven ultra effective for removal…
As long as care and patience are taken during the entire process.
“ALWAYS Keep Learning to Strengthen Your Passion & Your Business.”
© Christopher Brown – OCDCarCare Los Angeles
- How to Reduce Paint Swelling from Paint Correction: 5 Heat Control Tips - 10 August, 2020
- Detailing Paint Correction: Paint Swelling & Heat Problems Explained - 2 August, 2020
- OCDCarCare on Ammo NYC Podcast: Auto Detailing Lighting – Ep #38 - 21 November, 2019