How To Keep Your Car’s Matte Paint or Wrap Looking Fresh

Matte car paint and wrap cleaning guide highlights:

  • It’s more difficult to keep a car with matte paint clean because it requires special cleaning products and procedures
  • The best way to maintain your matte-painted car’s appearance is to hand-wash it with matte-specific cleaners and invest either in matte-specific sealants or protective ceramic coatings
  • Cars with matte vinyl wraps are easier to clean, but they have their own additional care requirements

Whether or not you keep up with the latest color trends, splashing new or extra shades on your car is a popular modification. And while there’s no shortage of stunning car paint options, the matte look is still going strong. Hence why vinyl wraps, which mimic the matte look for a lot less, also draw plenty of appreciative eyes. However, whether you go wrap or repaint, a matte car requires some special care to look its best.

Matte car paint is harder to maintain than non-matte paint

The rear 3/4 view of a matte-black-painted Lamborghini Aventador on a city street
Lamborghini Aventador with matte black car paint rear 3/4 | Marc Kleen via Unsplash

Full disclosure, I used to be an automotive paint engineer. So, believe me when I say that matte car paint is a pain to work with. And that has to do with what makes it matte.

All car paint has three basic layers: a primer for the surface metal, a mid-coat that provides the color, and a protective clear coat. Normally, the clear coat fills in any minor surface imperfections, creating a smooth surface for light to reflect off. Hence why most cars are so shiny. A matte-painted car’s clear coat, though, emphasizes the bumpiness of the primed-and-mid-coated surface. This creates interference, kind of like oil in a puddle, which creates that cool, hazy look. And that’s where the headaches start.

For one, you can’t wax or polish a car with matte paint. That would fill in or remove the surface imperfections and thus the matte appearance. Secondly, a matte clear coat isn’t formulated exactly like a regular clear coat. Thus, you can’t run a car with matte paint through an automated car wash.

Furthermore, you can’t use conventional cleaners to wash your car, as they can also ruin the clear coat’s effect. And unless they’re the wash-off kind, tire shine/cleaning products are a no-go for the same reason.

If all this sounds like matte paint, er, clear coat, is way delicate, that’s not entirely accurate. Like other car paints, it will protect your car’s metal body from minor damage. And it arguably hides minor scratches better because of its appearance. However, once a car with matte paint gets scratched or dinged, it’s more difficult to fix. Remember, you can’t polish or buff out the scratches, because that would remove the matte effect. And if the damage is deep or severe enough, a pro will have to replace the entire damaged panel.

How do you keep a car with matte paint clean?

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Although matte paint makes a car harder to clean, it’s not an impossible task. It just requires some additional tools and care.

Firstly, always hand-wash a matte-painted car, Kelley Blue Book reports. Secondly, use cleaning solutions specifically formulated for matte paint. And thirdly, always use clean microfiber cloths to clean and dry your car. Also, if your clean matte car suddenly gets splattered with random grime or bird poop, don’t despair. But if you don’t have any matte-specific detail spray on hand, at least soak the contaminated area with some clean water.

In addition, matte cars truly benefit from paint protection techniques. Because of the matte effect, you can’t use paste wax or a similar product. But there are matte-specific protective sealants that do the same job, though you need to re-apply them every few months. However, there is a longer-lasting form of protection: a ceramic coating. It’s more expensive, but it lasts for several years and won’t ruin the matte look.

Also, don’t try to use a clay bar to clean a car with matte paint. Because the matte surface isn’t smooth, the bar won’t work properly.

Is maintaining and cleaning a matte vinyl wrap just as hard?

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If you don’t want to deal with the matte paint headache, you might think giving your car a vinyl wrap is a better option. But that’s only partially true.

On one hand, vinyl-wrapped cars can go through automatic car washes if they’re brushless. Also, you can clean a vinyl wrap with gentle automotive detergents, though wrap-specific ones are preferable. Just avoid solvents, oil-based solutions, as well as kitchen and bathroom cleaners. And in a pinch, you can pressure-wash a car with a vinyl wrap, but again, gently.

However, vinyl car wraps have their own maintenance quirks. Firstly, they’re more sensitive to heat, UV light, and environmental pollutants. Also, even if you keep a vinyl-wrapped car covered properly, the wrap simply doesn’t last as long as a paint job. And if you don’t replace degraded vinyl quickly, it can damage the paint underneath it.

In short, maintaining your matte car’s appearance isn’t as easy as keeping a glossy car clean. But for some, the style is worth the pain.

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