Guide to Detailing Vehicles with Matte Finishes

Matte Vehicle Detailing - Ferrari 458

There’s a new trend in automotive paint. For years we have been trying to eliminate swirls, buff out oxidation, and gloss and glaze our way to perfect mirror reflections. Now, some paint jobs on high end luxury sedan and sports cars entering your shop are the complete opposite – and so are the ways in which you detail them.

Matte finishes have been popular with aftermarket enthusiasts, car show scenes and motorcycle owners for years, but now car buyers can get this look right off the new car lot. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and even the Hyundai Veloster have these matte, or “frosted”, color options. What new car owners may not know is that this modern look requires special maintenance and care. While caring for one of these vehicles is not any more difficult than a normal gloss finish, there are some differences in techniques and materials that you should be aware of to ensure a top quality finish. Here are some helpful tips for washing and detailing matte vehicles.

Washing and Drying

Matte vehicles should be hand washed whenever possible – it’s not a requirement but is very highly recommended to ensure the integrity of the paint job. If you want to use an automatic car wash it MUST be touch-less. Matte paint topcoats may scratch if brought through a plastic bristle car wash. It is also important to run a wash cycle without a wax coat, as regular waxes will affect the sheen of the paint.

When handling matte finishes there are some supplies that you need to remove from your arsenal right away. Buffers, polishers, and other electric tools are a definite no. The same goes for any abrasive rags, clothes, or sponges. These can all damage your paint job to the point where it is irreparable. Only high quality microfiber cloths and soft wash mitts should be used.

For hand washing, vehicle manufacturers strongly suggest the two bucket method (one bucket for soap, one bucket for clean water) in order to reduce the risk of contaminants riding on your mitt or sponge and scoring the paint during washing. For this same reason, make sure to use a different set of cloths and mitts for washing wheels. Use a back and forth motion rather than circular as this may cause more visible inconsistencies in the finish. Run your wash mitt in the same direction the wind would flow over your car.

Drying matte paint follows the same guidelines as above; use a non-abrasive absorbent material such as Chamois leather, otherwise known as a Shammy cloth, and be sure to remove all water spots as they are exceptionally noticeable on matte finishes. Large microfiber towels can also be used.

Waxes, Shampoos, Polishes & Protectants

Paint Sealant Application for Matte Finishes

There is no need to buy specific wash or shampoo; any automotive solution will work. Many well-known brands now carry matte-specific detailing products but they are not a necessity for most jobs. A cheaper but just as effective option is to use an alcohol-based window cleaner or a 50/50 mix of alcohol and deionized water.

The one product that you should purchase specifically for matte vehicles is a wax, or more appropriately a “sealant”. Normal glazes and waxes (paste, liquid, or hard) should never be used. These products will spread into the texture of matte finishes and create an uneven gloss sheen across the vehicle. Instead, use a spray sealant that is designed for matte paint to provide protection from UV light and contaminants. Matte sealants are specifically formulated to create a barrier without the glossy finish. There are a few different products on the market today from well-known detailing brands that are reputable and have great reviews and proven results.

Scratches, Contaminants & Blemishes.

Matte Lamborghini Huracan

As stated above, you want to make sure to use soft cloths and mitts on vehicles with matte paint. Even so, do not use excessive rubbing to remove grit, insects, and contamination. This friction can cause gloss spots and an uneven finish. Opt instead for an insect/ tar remover to do the work. Our suggestion is to soak a cloth with the product of your choice and then lay the cloth over the contaminant for 1-5 minutes. After this, remove the rag and the imperfection should be able to be easily wiped away.

Because of the visual properties of matte paint, hairline scratches and swirl marks are less likely to be visible. However, should you get a vehicle that does have a deep scratch or blemish, it will be nearly impossible to remove. Prevention is key, as fillers, cutting compounds, and polishers will only create additional imperfections in the texture of the paint.

As a preventive measure, frequent cleaning is of utmost importance. Like any car, the longer the vehicle goes without being washed, the more difficult it can be to actually get clean. The same thing goes for vehicles with matte paint – when impurities build up into the matte paint it will be much more difficult to remove them without affecting the finish. But with proper care these matte paints will last just as long as their gloss counterparts and still look great.

Oh and one more thing… Be sure to wipe off bird droppings and bug off your paint immediately. Organic material like this can etch your paint, whether it’s gloss of matte. Gloss paint you can buff to remove those marks, but on matte paints such etchings would be impossible to remove.

About the author. Richard is the Product Trainer at, the online superstore for everything automotive including custom wheels, performance, and repair parts. CARID caters to the needs of all levels of automotive enthusiasts worldwide, from the do-it-yourself home mechanic to custom shops and dealers.

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