When a vehicle is transported by train, friction between the vehicle and the rail can occur, causing tiny metal particles to spark off of the rail, embedding themselves within the paint of the vehicle. These troublesome spots, or “rail dust,” present a unique challenge for detailers throughout the industry.

Since mostly all vehicles are shipped via train from the factory, rail dust can essentially affect any vehicle. The often rust-colored particles are usually more visible on automobiles with lighter paint jobs. However, just because the rail dust might not be easily noticeable, doesn’t mean the damage isn’t there, and a simple wash/wax will not remove it.

“Vehicles that are washed and waxed, but do not get the rail dust removed, will still look dirty, and the paint will feel bumpy when wax is supposed to make it feel completely smooth,” states Good Looks Auto Detailing owner Darron Watson.

A vehicle that appears “dirty” is not the only concern when it comes to rail dust. Watson explains that if rail dust is left on a vehicle for a long period of time, it may eventually “eat its way” through the clear coat of paint and cause permanent damage as a result. He stresses the importance of informing customers of any potential problem areas on the first “walk-around” of the vehicle, especially if rail dust is present.

Detailing shops should definitely inform any client if [his or her] vehicle has rail dust on it,” advises Watson. “The last thing a detailer wants is to ignore rail dust when it’s present and give the customer back [his or her] car with rail dust on it. The customer will wonder [either] why it was not removed, or why [he or she] was not informed.”

The next step: successfully removing the rail dust.

Technologies for rail dust removal

Although rail dust cannot be removed from simply washing and waxing a vehicle, there are fortunately several ways to safely remove the tiny metal particles. Watson offers insight into three of the most effective ways to remove rail dust, including the pros and cons of each method:

  • One of the most popular methods for rail dust removal is utilizing a clay bar. This practice has been around for many years and is still the most common way of removing rail dust. Keep in mind that a clay bar can become contaminated and rendered unusable if dropped on the ground. Clay bars also tend to get used quickly after about six to nine cars. It also can take a long time when using a clay bar to remove a vehicle with medium to heavy contaminants.
  • Many professional shops use an acid-based solution to remove rail dust. This is effective for reaching all the nooks and crannies where rail dust settles, and does not require a lot of scrubbing. An acid-based solution can be more time effective, but only when used properly. If the vehicle is not rinsed thoroughly, or the product is not used appropriately, it can cause paint damage that would need repainting to fix. This method can be the riskiest out of the three.
  • Another way to remove rail dust is by using newly developed technology — an advanced rubber polymer technology. This technology can come in hand-held mitts, or you can purchase “hook-and-loop” ones for a random orbital polisher. It is a little more costly compared to a clay bar, but it has many advantages. For instance, it quickly and safely removes rail dust from any surface, including glass and textured plastic. When used with a provided lubricant, it can pull all contaminants from any surface safely, meaning no harsh chemicals are used in the rail dust removal process. When used with an orbital polisher on a low speed, the removal process goes quickly. The downside of this advanced rubber polymer technology is that it can’t get into small areas and contours of some vehicles. Keep a clay bar handy for final touch-up in these areas.

The future of eliminating rail dust

Manufacturers constantly experiment with various solutions to help the rail dust removal processes become easier, faster and more efficient, explains Watson.

“From adjusting formula potencies, to different active ingredients in their solutions, it’s going to be a never ending battle,” forecasts Watson. “I see the future of automobile paint resisting rail dust for longer periods. [In the future] they could invent a paint that will prevent rail dust from sticking to the vehicle at all, making rail dust removal a thing of the past. Until formulas, paints and chemicals like this are invented, we must use what technology we have to our advantage.”

Watson made sure to take “advantage” of the swiftness and ease of the newly developed advanced rubber polymer technology. “I offered rail dust removal for free with any wash and wax package,” says Watson. “Now other detailers may think I am crazy, but with how effective [the rubber polymer technology is] and the little bit of extra time, it definitely gave me a good edge on my competition.”

When it comes to one-upping the competition, detailers must follow and recognize the latest trends and technologies emerging within the industry to ensure happy customers and a thriving business.

“As detailers and business owners, it is always best to stay on top of current information regarding any new breakthrough technology in our departments, even beyond rail dust removal procedures,” Watson decrees. “Staying ahead of the game means you will have this technology before your competition, which can lead to better results, happier customers and more money in your pockets.”