Phantom Water Spots Appearing After Ceramic Coating Application: An Explanation & Removal Procedure

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 Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com – 26 May 2017

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 of the time and effort put into the job.

Unfortunately, this is somewhat of a common issue, occurring much more frequently than reported or admitted by detailers. This problem rears its ugly head with increasing frequency since automotive ceramic nano coatings are now a standardized form of vehicle paint protection. The reason for the increasing occurrence rate of this issue may stem from aggressive solvents contained within ceramic coatings. Also, with IR curing becoming more commonplace, the introduction of heat during the curing process swells the paint, displaying defects previously unnoticed because they were locked too deep within the paint system for detection.

Coating solvents are aggressive enough to partially open up (swell) paint and display defects previously hiding beneath the surface. The type and strength of ceramic coating solvents greatly vary depending on manufacturer and coating chemistry itself. Therefore, not every solvent of 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, or of any polishing liquids, aren’t the cause here. It is HEAT, present at the time of the etching, that is the key culprit here!

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 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 the 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 spots have proven to be a distinctive issue regarding water spotting and their appearance ONLY AFTER the application of a ceramic nano coating. While the mineral content (deposits) of the car are not enough to cause this alone. The etching capabilities of minerals or acidic contamination within water are considerably ramped up with the introduction of heat into the equation. So while there is no definitive explanation . . .  there are two likely possibilities how this phantom water spot etching may have occurred:

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?

Paint is an engineered porous structure that allows for heat expansion and contraction. This is intentional to agree with vehicle substrates, in response to ambient or vehicle generated heat. Taking this into consideration, this removal procedure piggy backs off that theory and utilizes heat to open up paint’s pores in order to access the defects and eliminate them.

The theory behind this is similar to why a barber or aesthetician places hot towels on the face before services. The heat opens up the skin’s pores in order to access deep cleansing of the contamination inside. For a hot shave, the heated skin allows the place to pull up facial hair follicles slightly higher than normal — allowing for that distinctive ‘barber shop closeness.’

Either way the sun, or another source, heated the panel when stagnant water sat on the surface. This allowed the porous paint to open up. As the water dried, the mineral content of the city water or contamination already collected on the surface (or collected in polluted air) is able to penetrate down into the swollen paint structure and etch 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 the water lie trapped within the paint’s porous structure after the paint cools down. Therefore, in order to remove these mineral deposits, heat must be reintroduced to swell the panel to open the 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) with a NON Diminishing Polishing Liquid with a low solvent content on a Microfiber disc, making sure to overload the entire pad with the product.

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.

Method for Checking Mineral Deposits Removal- Using Heat or Steam

OCDCarCare Los Angeles utilizes heat or steam to test if water spot (mineral etching) removal is complete. Several methods 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

Admittedly this is a delicate procedure since the paint correction flirts with the heat threshold of catalyzed clear coat. Therefore, allow the process to go at its natural pace (slowly) and use extreme caution and when heat cycling and performing the paint correction process.

DO NOT try to be a HERO and attempt to remove all water spots in one series of section passes 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 while making 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 catalyst of defect creation and is the key variable for removal. It’s a tricky method to write out and explain fully, but it has proven effective for the prescribed problem many times.

Keep on Buffin’

© Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com – 2017

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

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Christopher Brown

Christopher Brown operates OCDCarCare Los Angeles, specializing in paint correction, ceramic nano coatings, and Auto Detailing Training Courses.
His passion & dedication to car care lead him to writing in-depth articles about detailing in order to share with the car enthusiast & detailing communities. This lead to detailing training courses designed to develop skills, confidence, and results, enabling detailers to increase quality, efficiency, and profitability.

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