Water Spots Appearing After Ceramic Coating Application: Explanation & Removal Method

This Porsche 911 suffers from extreme phantom water spots that show up after paint correction and ceramic nano coating application.

By Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare 

AAAArrrrrgggggghhhh, damn it!” Cries the Detailer. After Phantom Water Spots suddenly appear, hours or days, after a ceramic nano coating application job is completed.

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 automotive paint swelling.

How Automotive Water Spots Generally Occur

The Types of Water Spots discussed here are moderate to severe. They are classified this way because they are at or below the painted level. They will not be removed with a simple wash. This means they have caused some level of damage to the paint system.

During their creation the sun, or another source, heated the panel when stagnant water sat on the surface. Or the surface was already hot as water contacted the Surface.

The heat caused the porous paint to swell and open up its pores. As the water dried, the mineral content of the water, the contamination on the surface, or the contamination collected, when rain contacted polluted air, was able to penetrate down into the swollen paint structure. It eventually sunk deep down into the paint’s structure or chemically damaged (etched) the hot swollen paint.

When the paint cools, the pores close up again. This brings the paint back to its normal size, hiding the water spots and the visible mineral etching damage.

This explains why the most extreme water spotting tends to occur on the horizontal panels of vehicles. These areas receive the majority of sun exposure and therefore the most heat on a regular basis.

Automotive Water Spots: The Physical Creation Factors

Phantom water spotting seems to be a specific issue. Generally the water spots tend to appear only after the application of a ceramic nano coating.

Mineral content levels within water, sitting on vehicle paint, are not enough to cause this alone.

HEAT is the X factor here that really ties the room together.

The etching capabilities of water’s mineral, acidic, or contamination content, 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.

Why Phantom Water Spots Aren’t Detected or Fixed During Paint Correction

Automotive Paint (Clear Coat) is porous structure. It is engineered to deal with heat by constant thermal expansion and contraction. This allows the paint to maintain its integrity and protection characteristics on different vehicle substrates, in response to ambient or vehicle generated heat.

In general, the majority of detailers who see a vehicle with moderate to heavy defects and water spots take an aggressive approach. This is done because they understand a certain level of labor will go into removing these defects.

These aggressive approaches often include:

  • large stroke machines
  • microfiber cutting pads
  • heavy cut compounds with aggressive chemical cut
  • heavy pad pressure
  • over-cycling compounds & polishes
  • slow arm speed

On top of that many detailers use aggressive chemicals to strip the vehicle of contaminants in the preparation process leading to paint polishing. Additionally, after paint correction is completed they use heavy solvent wipe products to remove the carrier oils of compounds and polishes.

The combination of of aggressive polishing variables, listed above, combined with strong solvent chemicals may cause massive amounts of heat and paint swelling.

Paint’s thermal dynamic structure is exactly what causes the issue of Phantom Water Spotting. And some paint systems are more sensitive to heat than others. This means their tendency to swell, and to a higher degree, is increased. This means they have the capability of hiding defects more easily.

This swelling increases the size of the paint. As the paint swells larger and larger the water spots are hidden by the swelling. This is very similar to an ankle is almost immediately hidden minutes after a severe twisting.

With enough heat and friction introduced, the paint system swells to the point there the water spots are completely undetectable. They will not be able to be detected until the paint system has returned back to its normal state. For some paint systems this process happens within hours, and others it takes days for the swelling to subside.

The removal procedure for phantom water spots, explained below, piggybacking off the engineered thermal dynamics of automotive paint. Heat must be introduced to open up paint’s pores in order to access and remove the defects, at the level they were created or currently sit. However, the heat introduced is completely controlled and done with extreme care.

The theory behind this is similar to the reasoning why barbers or aestheticians place hot towels on the face before services.

The heat introduces to the paint allows it to open up just enough to access, and carefully remove, the contaminants and defects at the point they were A) Created or B) Where they currently sit.

Removal Procedure for Phantom Water Spots 

NOTE: This method can only be performed AFTER any and all coatings are removed.

As explained previously, mineral deposits from water seep into and attach themselves within paint’s porous structure after the paint cools down.

To remove these mineral deposits, they must be accessed at the depth within the paint’s structure where they occurred or there they currently sit.

To do this, heat must be reintroduced to the panel. This swells open the paint’s pores for access and removal.

  • Heat the 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.
  • 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 cycling or steam to test if water spot (mineral etching) removal is complete.

Other methods may include using: IR lamps, a heat gun, or even your breath (if nothing else available) to heat or ‘fog up’ 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.

If no equipment is available, spraying water to a towel and wiping it evenly over a surface may show the ghosting of water spots.

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 series of back to back (or more) section passes, attempting 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.”

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For more auto detailing and car care related topics please browse: OCDCarCare Los Angeles’s – Auto Detailing Article Archive

Christopher Brown
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