Paint Decontamination in 5 Safe & Simple Steps

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paint decontamination

Paint decontamination removes particles that have become embedded in your car’s paint. Contaminated paint feels rough and scratchy to the touch. On white or light colored vehicles, tiny rust spots can be visible. Successfully decontaminating your car’s paint restores the glossy feel back to your paint and removes the tiny rust spots.

You can safely and simply decontaminate your paint by following these 5 steps (which we’ll cover in more detail below):

  1. Wash, Rinse, & Dry Your Vehicle
  2. Perform Chemical Decontamination
  3. Perform Mechanical Decontamination
  4. Rewash, Rinse, & Dry
  5. Apply Paint Protection

What is Paint Contamination?

Contamination in your car’s paint most commonly comes from the following:

  • Brake dust
  • Industrial fallout
  • Rail dust
  • Environmental pollution
  • Road grime & grease
  • Adhesives
  • Paint overspray
  • Tar
  • Pollen
  • Tree sap
  • Acid rain

The clear coat on your car is porous and relatively soft. Iron and other types of particles can become embedded in your car’s clear coat. When this happens your paint’s surface will feel rough to the touch. With iron particles, you’ll sometimes see tiny rust spots on the surface of your paint. All of these things signal that your car’s paint needs to be decontaminated.

What is Paint Decontamination?

As you might guess, paint decontamination is the process of removing the contaminants that are embedded in the clear coat of you car’s paint.

Successful and complete decontamination of your paint usually requires both chemical and mechanical decontamination.

The paint decontamination process will be covered in detail below.

5 Steps to Full & Complete Paint Decontamination

Step 1: Wash, Rinse, & Dry Your Vehicle

Tools & Products Needed:

  • Pressure washer
  • Foam cannon
  • Two wash buckets w/ dirt traps
  • Microfiber / Chenille wash mitt
  • Foam cannon car wash soap
  • Wax-stripping car wash soap
  • Microfiber drying towel or blower


  1. Pre-rinse the vehicle using the pressure washer to remove loose dirt from the surface. This will also cool and lubricate the surface.
  2. Apply a thick layer of foam using the foam cannon. Let the foam soak, but do not allow it to dry.
  3. Prepare one bucket with a dirt trap, water, and wax-stripping car wash soap. Prepare the other bucket with a dirt trap and clean water.
  4. Wash the car with the microfiber wash mitt. Rinse in the clean water, ring out, then dip back in the soap bucket. Repeat until the vehicle is clean.
  5. Rinse the vehicle.
  6. Dry with a microfiber drying towel or blower.

Step 2: Perform Chemical Decontamination

Tools & Products Needed:

  • Iron remover spray solution
  • Tar remover spray solution
  • Microfiber towel
  • Water to rinse


  1. Spray iron remover solution onto the clean paint surface. Let sit for 1-2 minutes. Do not let it dry. Agitate with a microfiber towel or wash mitt as needed. Most iron removers will “bleed” or change color to show that it’s working. The active ingredient in iron remover is thioglycolic acid or TGA. The TGA bonds with the iron particles and accelerates the oxidation process. As the particles dissolve, the rough edges let go of the clear coat for easy removal.
  2. Rinse away with clean water.
  3. As needed, spray tar remover solution on any stuck-on tar or adhesive. This is usually concentrated to the areas along the bottom of your vehicle and near the wheels. Tar removers are usually citrus based. These solutions will loosen and dissolve tar particles.
  4. When you see the tar begin to dissolve, wipe with a microfiber towel. Repeat as needed.

Step 3: Perform Mechanical Paint Decontamination

Tools & Products Needed:

  • Clay (bar, block, mitt, glove, or pad)
  • Clay lube spray
  • Water to rinse


  1. Spray clay lube onto a section of your vehicle (1’x1′ section is good). Also spray the clay with lube.
  2. With a back and fourth motion, rub the clay across the surface of the paint until it feels smooth. Once it’s smooth, move on to a new section. The clay is pulling stubborn particles from the clear coat. When the clay looks dirty, fold and massage it until you have a new clean clay surface to work with.
  3. Rinse with water

Step 4: Rewash, Rinse, & Dry

With both chemical and mechanical paint decontamination complete, wash, rinse, and dry the vehicle again. This will ensure that anything remaining from the iron remover or clay is removed.

Step 5: Apply Paint Protection

The paint decontamination process strips the clear coat of any waxes or paint protectants. Now that you have a clean, dry, and decontaminated surface, apply the paint protection of your choosing.

If your purpose for decontaminating your paint is to perform paint correction, this would be the time to do that.

Popular paint protection options include:

  • Wax
  • Ceramic coating
  • Graphene coating

You’re done!

Common Paint Decontamination Questions

Why is paint contamination a problem?

Paint contamination left unresolved will cause pitting in your clear coat. It will also reduce the glossy appearance of your paint, making your paint look aged and old.

How do I test for paint contamination?

First look for imperfections in your paint. Then run your hand across the surface of your paint. If it is not perfectly smooth, but instead, feels rough and scratchy, your paint is contaminated. Also, look closely at your paint for tiny rust spots.

Tar, tree sap, and other contaminants are easier to spot with your eyes.

How does car paint become contaminated?

Car paint becomes contaminated in a variety of ways. It can become contaminated just being parked outside, driving down the road, being transported on a train or semi-truck, or by applying your brakes.

Is iron remover safe to use on car paint?

Yes, iron remover is safe to use on car paint. Its active ingredient is thioglycolic acid or TGA which is safe to use on any clear coat. Iron removers are pH neutral, and turn slightly acidic as they dissolve iron particles. As long as you don’t let the iron remover dry on the surface of your paint, you will not have any issues.

How do I remove tiny rust spots from my car paint?

When you see tiny rust spots on your car paint, most of the time, it’s not your car that is rusting. The tiny rust spots are embedded iron particles that have began to rust. To remove those tiny rust spots, clean the vehicle, then apply an iron remover spray and let it soak. You’ll see the spots begin to “bleed” or dissolve. Before it dries, rinse and dry.

How often should I perform paint decontamination?

You should perform paint decontamination every 3-4 months. Doing it more frequently than this is unnecessary.


The steps for proper car paint decontamination are:

  1. Wash, Rinse, & Dry Your Vehicle
  2. Perform Chemical Decontamination
  3. Perform Mechanical Decontamination
  4. Rewash, Rinse, & Dry
  5. Apply Paint Protection

You should decontaminate your paint every 3-4 months for best results.

Now that your paint is smooth and free of contaminants, improve another part of your vehicle. Explore our other exterior detail guides.

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Tyler Dixon is the founder of, and enjoys all things automotive-detailing. He has had a passion for all things automotive since childhood, and could often be found detailing his parents vehicles at a young age. He enjoys sharing his passion and skills for detailing with others, and is always looking for the next vehicle to transform.

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