Paint Overspray Removal on Cars
If you own a vehicle today, there’s a good chance you’ve run into a situation where you need paint overspray removal services.
Or you might be a detail shop owner here to learn more about removing overspray from cars. Which, by the way, is an in-demand and badly needed service. Especially if you live near a city.
Either way, we’ve got you covered. This paint overspray removal page is one of the most popular online resources available anywhere for this topic.
In this detailed overview of all things paint overspray, I will cover the following topics:
- What is paint overspray?
- Overspray Isn’t Always Just Paint.
- Where does paint overspray come from?
- List of Common Sources of Paint Overspray.
- Will My Auto Insurance Cover Paint Overspray Damage?
- Insurance That Excludes Overspray Claims.
- Insurance Deductibles and Overspray Damage.
- How Much Does it Cost to Remove Paint Overspray?
- DIY Paint Overspray Removal at Home.
- Is It Hard Work to Remove Overspray from Cars?
- Wax On. Wax Off.
- Step by Step Paint Overspray Removal Instructions.
- What are Environmental Causes of Corrosive Paint Damage?
- Wash Your Car with a Pressure Washer.
- Can I Use a Pressure Washer to Remove Paint Overspray?
- A Claybar Will Work Miracles on Car Clearcoat.
- Always Have a Clean Surface.
- It Looks Great Once It’s Done.
What is Paint Overspray?
Paint overspray generally concerns unintentionally applying paint or a similar coating to a surface that wasn’t the original target. In other words, you accidentally created a mist of paint spray that floated away and landed on nearby cars, houses, and buildings.
For obvious reasons, it’s not a great situation to be in if you are the person that created the overspray.
And for reference, even though I’m focusing on paint and related coatings, overspray can occur anytime you spray a liquid chemical in the air.
Overspray Isn’t Always Paint
Back before I sold my mobile detailing company, I received a call early one Monday morning from a dealership client. He asked me to come look at something on his car lot. I arrived to find about half of the 200 cars on his lot had acid burns on windshields, headlights, and body paint. If you've never seen this, imagine a permanent haze over all the glass that looks wavy from the inside of the car. So what happened? Well, it turns out the used car lot next door hired a newbie detailer to come in on Sunday and clean a bunch of wheel rims with a hydrofluoric acid based cleaner. He cleaned the rims and made a floating acid cloud that burned cars on several lots. That wasn't even the worst part. The dealer that hired him told us later that he was rushed to the ER in an ambulance. He had serious skin burns on his face, arms, and all around his body. Hydroflouric acid is dangerous. Especially if you don't know how to use it. That was just about the worst thing I've ever heard happen to a car detailer. He eventually closed his business.
Where Does Paint Overspray Come From?
Unfortunately, it’s often left up to the owner of an overspray damaged vehicle to channel their inner Sherlock Holmes and search out nearby clues as to the source of the paint overspray.
Sometimes it’s as easy as looking up to see a bridge or office building getting painted. A simple Google search will result in large numbers of paint overspray horror stories. Like the water tower painter who accidentally covered 900 cars in a wet droplet cloud of epoxy paint.
In those situations, one of the responsible parties will usually hire a paint overspray removal specialist to fix the car paint at your house or take it to their local detail shop or similar facility.
List of Common Sources of Paint Overspray
If you need some ideas on where to look, the following list is a good place to start. Just remember, on windy days paint overspray can travel a fairly good distance before drying and falling to the ground.
- Bridge painting projects. Look for white tarp wrapped bridges. They use industrial epoxy coatings that stick to anything.
- Construction site and large office building painting. They also use epoxies that aren’t clearcoat friendly. The wind up there moves fast.
- Painting Water Towers. Most hold a million or more gallons and are hard to tarp for painting. Both the insides and outsides are painted with heavy zinc primer and two coats of epoxy paint.
- Residential home exterior painting. Never underestimate the power of one painter with a spray gun. They can overspray an entire neighborhood in less than a few hours.
- Wooden decks and porches. The double whammy of epoxy deck stains and polyurethane sealers. Looks like tree sap, but sticks to anything.
- Tree Sap. If you see something that looks like hard, sticky syrup on your car, look above and you will most likely see the tree that caused it.
- Road paint and highway line paint. Highway paint removal is so bad that we gave it a page of its own here on the ADG website. It’s called hot melt marking paint and it’s sprayed on roads after heating it to 392 degrees (Fahrenheit). Road paint removal is difficult but entirely possible to do as a DIY project at home.
Will My Auto Insurance Cover Paint Overspray Damage?
According to insurance claims experts, more than 1,000 vehicles a day are damaged with paint overspray, resulting in damage claims in excess of $500 million annually.
The problem with quoting statistics is that they don’t always give the full picture. If a professional painter causes overspray damage to your car, they are usually liable to pay for damages.
Usually? Well, there’s the little problem of actually getting paid.
Insurance That Excludes Overspray Claims
Unfortunately, not all painters carry insurance. It’s expensive. I’m not justifying their decision, just stating facts. I was an insurance broker for well over a decade, so I know how much contractor liability insurance policies cost. And it’s not cheap.
Insurance companies understand that cost is an issue. So to make these policies affordable, some companies offer cut-rate discount contractor insurance. So some painters have insurance that excludes paint overspray claims to keep the premium costs affordable.
Even if they do have coverage, many insurance companies now include per claim deductibles above $500. This means the painter will be paying out of pocket up to $500 per car.
I’m not a lawyer, so obviously this isn’t legal advice. But it doesn’t take an expert to figure out that your chances of recovering that money might be difficult. Either way, you should always consult with your auto insurance carrier and lawyer.
Insurance Deductibles and Overspray Damage
The other problem with insurance claims is many personal auto policies have $500 deductibles. Most insurance deductibles and overspray damage removal costs aren’t exactly sympatico. Mainly because many of the companies that offer the overspray removal services charge less than $500. That’s not a bad thing, but when it’s not your fault it tends to be incredibly frustrating.
Unfortunately, you might have to pay your deductible or the full cost of the paint overspray removal.
So how can you possibly fix this? Well, I’m not a lawyer so this clearly is NOT legal advice. That said, you should talk to a lawyer about your options for recovering the cost of these damages.
It wasn’t your fault and you should not be out that money. A good lawyer can also advise you about possibly suing the owner of the property that hired the contractor that didn’t have insurance coverage.
Don’t give up if you run into roadblocks. It’s your money, fight for it!
How much does it cost to remove overspray?
How Much Does it Cost to Remove Paint Overspray?
The typical cost to remove paint overspray from a vehicle ranges in price from a low of $150 to a high of $500 or more. These rates are standard for professional detailers or reconditioning techs.
To clarify a few things, the price you pay will greatly depend on the size of the vehicle, the severity of the overspray damage, and where it’s located on the vehicle.
For example, is it just the windshield or is it covering the entire vehicle? And if it’s everywhere, is it a Kia compact or a Yukon Denali XL SUV? Obviously the price points will be wildly different depending on those types of differences.
Another criteria that affect overspray removal prices, is the type of surface. Removing paint overspray from glass windows is measurably less difficult than removing it from body paint or plastic trim.
DIY Paint Overspray Removal
So up to this point, as far as paint overspray is concerned, I’ve covered what it is, how it happens, who is responsible to fix it, and ways you might be able to get reimbursed for your out of pocket costs.
If you exhausted all of those options and you are paying for paint overspray removal out of your own pocket, then you might be interested in fixing the problem on your own.
Let me just point out, upfront, DIY paint overspray removal is absolutely something you CAN try at home. A lot of people think it’s something only professionals can handle, but it’s not.
And it’s definitely NOT expensive.
Is It Hard Work to Remove Overspray from Cars?
Yes, paint overspray removal is very hard work. That’s why detailers charge so much to remove it. And by hard, I mean labor-intensive. Not like back-breaking work moving a truckload of concrete blocks to your backyard.
DIY paint overspray removal is more on the level of setting aside a bunch of hours to take a clay bar and rub it on the outside of your car. And keep rubbing it.
And then wash it.
Wax On. Wax Off.
Removing overspray is one of those things that takes a frustrating amount of time to complete. Mainly because every time you think you’re done, you find some more.
Each time you dry your car after washing it, run your hands over the car again and try to feel for the tiny bumps of hard overspray paint droplets.
When you feel the paint bumps, you do that area over again.
And you will find some. Again. And Again. It’s frustrating how there are always a few that you miss.
Then you keep doing it all over again. And again. And again…
Wax On. Wax Off.
Disclaimer: I am obviously not Mr. Miyagi. I’m good, but not that good. So no, you won’t mysteriously know blackbelt level karate after you are done following my instructions for removing overspray from your vehicle.
You will, however, be as sore as I imagine Danielson was after he spent all day waxing all those cars for Mr. Miyagi.
Step by Step Paint Overspray Removal Instructions
If you are ready to get started, I have included a step by step instruction list for removing paint overspray from your car.
So let’s get started…
First, a quick note. If you have any corrosive damage to your paint from environmental causes, paint overspray removal processes like the following are generally unable to repair damages like that.
What are the environmental causes of corrosive paint damage?
Environmental causes of paint corrosion are issues you’ve heard about in the news for decades. Items like acid rain, toxic industrial exhaust or plant discharge, even bird crap that’s sat on your paint for too long.
These environmental conditions can eat away at your car clear coat and paint. It’s fixable, so don’t think you need to repaint the entire vehicle. That’s usually not the case.
Many auto paint repair and reconditioning services can fix those problems without the need of a body shop.
But the tips I’m including here in these instructions, like clay bars and high-speed buffing, usually won’t fix corrosive damage problems.
So now that we are on the same page, let’s get started.
Wash Your Car with a Pressure Washer
The first step in the overspray removal process is to scrub your car. With soap, obviously. But the more important part of this step is to use a pressure washer during the entire wash process. Even the self-service car washes with the bays sometimes have enough pressure for this step.
Can I Use a Pressure Washer to Remove Paint Overspray?
Well, yes and no. Using a pressure washer while removing paint overspray is effective in blowing-off or loosening droplets of overspray that were somewhat dry when they landed on your vehicle. Even though these droplets still attached to your car, the bond with the clear coat isn’t always strong. Especially if you were quick to fix the overspray damage.
So yes, using a pressure washer will sometimes remove a significant portion of the overspray droplets from your car.
Especially if it was a long-distance that the paint droplets traveled in the air from the paint sprayer nozzle to your car.
The longer the distance traveled, the more dry the droplet when it lands on your car. Ultimately, that results in a bond with the car clearcoat that isn’t as strong as fully wet droplets.
So always start with a good wash and always use a pressure washer.
A Good Clay Bar Will Work Miracles on Car Clearcoat
When it comes to painting overspray removal you need to start with a good clay bar. Detailer’s clay, as it’s called, is a special mix of clay that works incredibly well at removing impurities from your paint.
It’s a simple enough system. You take the detailers clay and wet it. You are also going to need some form of lubricant for the car paint surface. This is always a subject of debate whether you need special lubricants or not.
Some detailers will tell you that you need to use everything from spray-on finish wax to showroom shine products to keep the clay lubricated.
From my experience, a simple solution of Joy dishwashing detergent works great.
Your goal is to keep the clay bar lubricated as you rub it across the clear coat in a circular pattern. So whether it’s spray-on finish wax or Joy Dishwashing Detergent, it will work.
A-One, Two Process
It’s a one, two process. Rub the clay in circles and keep following behind it occasionally with your other hand to feel for the dry bumps that overspray creates.
Keep going over it with the clay until it’s gone, lubricating your work area as needed. Also, keep rinsing the areas you have completed, so you don’t let the clay dry as you are moving forward on the vehicle.
Another cool feature of clay is if you have already waxed the car, the clay bar won’t remove the wax on the painted surface, but it will remove the overspray.
Always Have a Clean Surface
Something else to keep in mind while you are using the clay is that you need to keep folding it back into itself while you are rubbing it.
The clay will start getting dirty as it’s pulling everything off the painted surface of the car. So keep folding it over on itself, and you will always have a clean surface.
Eventually, the clay will need to be replaced, but one bar will do many, many cars. If you are doing this at your home, that one container of clay will last you a long time.
Another thing to keep in mind. Always keep the clay wet. It should come in a bottle with a replaceable cap. Fill the jar or container with your water and Joy detergent solution and put the cap on tight before you put it away after using it. This will keep it ready for the next time you need it.
After you have completed the entire car, you will want to wash the vehicle using your standard car wash soap mix with a soft wool wash mitt.
Once it is dry, you will be able to feel for any areas that you missed.
Can I Remove Paint Overspray with a High-Speed Buffer?
Here’s another issue that many people debate. The question of whether or not it’s possible to remove paint overspray with a high-speed buffer.
I tend to say yes, but only after you have completed the clay bar process. If you don’t, you will be buffing for a very long time.
Anybody who knows anything about high-speed buffing will tell you that it’s best to limit the time that the buffer gets to spend with the paint on your car. Otherwise, you are just asking for burnt paint, ripped molding or other possible damage. It’s not usual, but it does happen occasionally.
It Looks Great Once It’s Done
A car that has been through the clay bar cleaning followed by high-speed buffing and then orbital buffed to remove any swirls looks incredible. Apply a nice coat of Polymer Sealant to the paint after you are done, and your car will be ready for six months until you need to reapply. The paint overspray removal process is not an easy one, but it looks great once it’s done.
When it comes to my preferences for detailers clay, I tend to stick with Meguiar’s brand detailing products. They have a Meguiar’s C-2000 Professional Detailing Clay which is a great product. These clay bars do a fantastic job of paint overspray removal. Highway paint, tree sap removal and more.
If you are interested in a slightly less costly clay bar, Griots Garage Paint Cleaning Clay is a wonderful product and easy to use.
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