Detailing matte vehicle surfaces

Detailing matte vehicle surfaces

What you should know about this emerging trend in automotive paint.

You have probably noticed on the road, or at your carwash or detail shop, 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, the paint job on the high-end luxury sedan entering your shop is the complete opposite — and so too are the ways in which you detail it.

Matte finishes have been popular with aftermarket enthusiasts, car show scenes and motorcycle owners for years, but now customers can get this look straight from the new car lot. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Hyundai are a few car manufacturers offering matte, or “frosted,” color options for select vehicles. What customers may not know is that this popular surface 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 you should be aware of to ensure a top-quality finish. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss helpful tips for washing and detailing matte vehicles.

 Washing and drying processes

Matte vehicles should be hand washed whenever possible. Although not required, hand washing is highly recommended to safeguard the integrity of the paint job. If a customer wants to use an automatic carwash, it must be touchless. Matte paint topcoats may scratch if brought through a plastic bristle carwash. Additionally, run a wash cycle without a wax coat because regular waxes will affect the sheen of the paint.

When handling matte finishes certain supplies should be removed from a detailing arsenal right away. Buffers, polishers and other electric tools should not be used. The same goes for any abrasive rags, cloths or sponges. These can all damage a customer’s paint job to the point it is irreparable. Only use high-quality microfiber cloths and soft wash mitts.

For hand washing, vehicle manufacturers strongly suggest the two bucket method (one bucket for soap and another for clean water) to reduce the risk of contaminants riding along on a 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 because a circular motion may cause more visible inconsistencies in the finish.

Drying matte paint follows the same guidelines as mentioned above. Use a nonabrasive absorbent material, such as chamois leather. Moreover, make sure to remove all water spots because they are exceptionally noticeable on matte finishes.

 Matte solutions

Buying a specific wash or shampoo is not needed; any automotive solution will work. Many well-known brands now carry matte-specific detailing products, but they are not necessary for most jobs. A cheaper but effective option is to use an alcohol-based window cleaner or a 50/50 mix of alcohol and deionized water.

The one product a detailer 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 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. Today, a few different products are available from well-known detailing brands that are reputable and have great reviews and proven results.

Care and maintenance guidelines

As stated previously, you want to use soft cloths and mitts on vehicles with matte paint. Even so, do not use excessive rubbing to remove grit, insects and contaminants. This friction can cause gloss spots and an uneven finish. Opt instead for an insect/tar remover to do the job. Our suggestion is to soak a cloth with the product of your choice and then lay the cloth over the contaminant for one to five minutes. Then, remove the rag and the imperfection should easily wipe away.

Because of the visual properties of matte paint, hairline scratches and swirl marks are less likely to be visible. However, any deep scratches or blemishes will be nearly impossible to remove on a vehicle. Prevention is key. Fillers, cutting compounds and polishers will only create additional imperfections in the texture of the paint.

As a preventive measure, speak with matte customers about the importance of frequent cleaning. Like with any car, the longer a vehicle with matte paint goes without being washed the more difficult it can be to actually get clean. When impurities build up into the paint, it will be much more challenging to remove them without affecting the finish. However, with proper care, these matte paints will last just as long as their gloss counterparts and still look great.


Richard Reina is the product trainer at, the online superstore for everything automotive, including custom wheels, performance and repair parts. caters to the needs of all levels of automotive enthusiasts worldwide, from the do-it-yourself home mechanic to custom shops and dealers. Check out’s extensive selection of products at

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