How to Wet Sand a Car: A Step by Step Guide to Everything You Need

Wet sanding is a process where sandpaper is used to give smoothness and shine to your car’s paint job.

It’s carried out using a lubricant, usually water and soap, which is believed to be the most effective way to ensure that the paint does not get damaged during this whole procedure.

Dry sandpaper would be too aggressive for your car’s paint, and the liquid will remove grits. You’ll end up having to do a lot of paint correction work (if you manage to burn the paint perhaps), which is anything but fun.

Shiny looking silver car after being wet sanded

In this article, we’ll be walking you through the entire process of how to wet sand a car, stating all the equipment and tools you’ll need to make this successful, as well as the reasoning behind wet sanding your vehicle in the first place.

Ready? Let’s begin!

Why Should I Wet Sand My Car?

Usually, this procedure is done after your car has had a paint job.

New paint sometimes has a slightly uneven texture, which is referred to as the “orange peel” effect. Wet sanding will smooth this out and give a shiny finish to your car.

It will also remove any dirt that may have landed on your car while it was being painted.

If your car hasn’t been painted recently, wet sanding can also be used to correct scratches left and any other imperfections. It works very well, provided that the scratches aren’t too deep. If the metal is showing through the paint, wet sanding the vehicle will not be appropriate.

A word of warning, though: wet sanding must be done properly and very carefully, or else you’ll regret it afterwards. A single mistake could create heavier damages than the ones you’re trying to conceal in the first place.

So, if you’re not too confident in your own abilities to do this right and would rather hire a professional to wet sand your car for you, that might be the safer route for many people.

In reality, many car enthusiasts learn this process but decide not to try it on their own cars, because it must be done paying meticulous attention to detail and using a very light touch. The technique is absolutely essential if you want to succeed in this task.

Not to worry, though – we’ll guide you through this delicate process step by step, and explain everything in-depth so that you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into and what you need to do.

By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll learn how to wet sand your car like a real pro!

What Do You Need to Wet Sand Your Car?

The following is a list of items and materials you’ll need to gather before you start wet sanding your car:

Appropriate Sandpaper

It does seem obvious, but you’ll need the right type of sandpaper.

Never use less than 1200 grit sandpaper on a car’s paint. For deeper scratches, you’ll need to start with a 1200 or 1500 grit papers. You will then repeat the process with finer sandpaper.

If the damage is light, finer sandpaper such as 2000 or 3000 grit will do the job in one go.

Lubricant (Water and Soap)

There’s no need for any expensive lubricants here – all you need to do is to fill a bucket with water and dish soap.

Make sure that the soap is NOT fit for use with wax or polish. You can use dish detergent.

Hand Scissors

You will need a pair of hand scissors to cut the sheet of sandpaper into strips. Standard safety measures apply here when handling scissors.

Sponges and Microfiber Towels

Before starting the procedure, the area must be perfectly clean and dry. After you’re done, you’ll have to wash and dry the area again.

This could be a small part of the car body, or the entire car, regardless you will need a good car wash soap, sponges, buckets and microfiber towels to perform a thorough cleaning and drying.

A Pad or Squeegee

Wet sanding with your hands will cause an uneven sanding job. Instead, using it wrapped around a sanding block, sanding pad or sanding squeegee is the proper way to do it.

Sanding squeegees have different handles, depending on the angle you want to work at. Choose the one that makes your job easier on different parts of the car.

Garden Hose

After treating the area, you will need to rinse it thoroughly. A hose will be useful, especially if you’re wet sanding the entire car.

We’ve suggested a garden hose, but if you don’t have easy access to that right now, any high-quality hose should work just fine.

Power Buffer

After wet sanding, it is essential to polish your car. A power buffer is designed to do just that.

High-Grade Car Wax

Waxing your car will help give it that brand new glossy finish look we all look for.

Also, if you’re sanding only a smaller area, waxing it will correct any imperfections. Plus, it will protect your car’s paint job once you’re done.

Now that you know about all the different items you need to gather before starting the process, let’s look at the actual steps of wet sanding your car.

Wet Sanding Your Car Step by Step

The following is a list that discusses – step by step – how you can wet sand your car the right way.

Prepare the Lubricant

Fill a bucket with water and soap. If that’s not available, dish detergent is fine.

Do not use soapy water that’s fit for use as wax or polish.

Cut the Sandpaper

It’s better to cut each sheet in half. Longer strips will be easier for wrapping the sandpaper around a buffing pad or squeegee.

Soak the Sandpaper

Leave the strips of sandpaper to soak in the lubricant for at least 5 minutes.

Make sure to leave a dry part that will be wrapped around the pad or squeegee.

Wash the Part You Wish to Wet Sand

If you are doing the entire car, wash it normally with soap and water, and remove any dirt or dust.

After it gets clean, dry it well using microfiber towels. The same applies if it’s only a specific part.

Fasten Sandpaper Onto Squeegee

If you haven’t done this before, follow the instructions you’ll find included with the squeegee.

Start Wet Sanding

One last note before you start sanding: make sure the sandpaper is wet.

It’s best to pick a small area of the bodywork to begin with. Start sanding gently, using a circular motion. Never apply too much pressure.

If there’s a lot of paint bleeding onto the sandpaper, this is a clear sign that you’re pushing too hard. By doing so, you risk damaging the paint.

Be gentle and consistent, always applying the same amount of pressure.

Keep Lubricating

The sandpaper should always be kept wet. Never let it dry completely as you work. You can soak it again, or also keep pouring soap and water on the car as you go along.

The liquid will save your paint job from being ruined by the sandpaper.

Treat the Area

To get rid of deeper scratches, you’ll require coarser sandpaper, such as 1200 or 1500 grit.

Sanding scratches your paint, which is why you need to wet sand the deeper scratched areas again.

This time, use finer sandpaper such as 2000 or 3000 grit. By doing this, all imperfections should be gone.

Rinse the Area Thoroughly

Once you’re finished treating the area, rinse it very thoroughly. Use a hose and plenty of water to get rid of any soap.

By the time you’re done, the car’s surface should feel clean to the touch.

Dry the Area

Once the area or whole car is rinsed, make sure to dry it thoroughly using microfiber towels.

Do not let the car dry in the sun! Direct sunlight may cause watermarks.

Polish the Car

The easiest way to do a good job is by using rotary buffers (also referred to as a rotary polisher).

Be sure to only use medium speed and low-pressure settings for the purpose of this task. High-pressure will damage the car’s paint job, so be gentle when polishing.

Wax the Area

The final touch to get your car all glossy and looking brand new is waxing.

For this purpose, be sure to use a high-grade car wax. This will even out any imperfections and protect your car’s paint against fading.

Can You Ask for Professional Help?

Yes, you sure can! If you don’t feel comfortable wet sanding and polishing your car by yourself, you can seek a professional for help instead.

With that being said, be aware that some shops will not agree to wet sand your car unless they have done the paint job themselves. This is because they want to be sure that they can do a good job and not cause any damage.

The cost of wet sanding your car at a professional shop can vary greatly, depending on the severity of the imperfections that need to be concealed, the type of car, and other factors. Usually, a fair cost ranges from $150–$450.

Final Thoughts

So, you now know how to wet sand a car! See, it wasn’t that hard, was it?

This is a very delicate process and there’s absolutely no room for mistakes, though, so you absolutely have to follow all the steps mentioned to a T. It is essential that you take your time and are very careful.

And always remember: if you aren’t comfortable doing this yourself, then please hire a professional to wet sand your car for you. Sure, it’s going to cost you some money, but you may end up paying even more money if you do it yourself and cause damages to your vehicle’s exterior.

We’ve given you all the tips and advice to follow for doing it like a pro, but whether you want to try to do it yourself or seek the help of a professional, we’ve got you covered!

Did you ever try wet sanding your car? Have any useful tips you’d like to share with other readers? Or perhaps you’ve learned a few lessons the hard way, and you’d like to share those with others as well?

Let us know all about it in the comments, and feel free to ask us any additional questions you might have!

Till then, happy wet sanding!

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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