Pete Epple Technical Editor
June 1, 2009
Wet-sanding and buffing your paintjob will remove the orange peel from the factory paintjob, leaving a mirror-like finish as well as restoring the original shine. Our test vehicle sports a large amount of orange peel that takes away from the blue and silver hues.

Finish-sanding or wet-sanding may seem scary, but it's actually something you can do at home on a weekend, and the material list is small and inexpensive. All you'll need is a few different grit sandpapers, a bucket of water, polishing compound, and glaze. In the tool department, a dual-action sander (DA), a buffing wheel, and a rubber or silicone squeegee are all you need to complete the job. A DA is key because the sanding surface rotates on two axis providing a smoother final result with less swirl marks than a sander that spins on one axis.

The sanding should be done in stages starting with 1,000-grit sandpaper, followed by 1,200-, then 1,500-, and finally 3,000-grit. The first three stages should be done by hand using a sanding block to ensure the surface area of the sandpaper is even over the surface you're sanding. Sanding by hand without a block will leave uneven areas in the clearcoat finish that will look like waves once the paint is polished. Don't apply too much pressure, as large amounts of force are not necessary to do the job; let the sandpaper do the work. Large amounts of water are necessary for this part of the job, as water acts as a lubricant and helps prevent burning through the clearcoat. In the case of our LX, there are four heavy layers of clear over the Sonic Blue and Satin Silver hues, so sanding into the color wasn't much of an issue. But this will not be the case with a factory paintjob, so proceed carefully.

Chris Matey takes 1,000- 1,200- and 1,500-grit sandpaper to our Stang in order to bring out a mirror-like finish. Matey uses large amounts of water and a foam sanding block to ensure the sandpaper maintains an even contact patch on the paint surface. Sanding by hand without a block will yield an uneven final result that will look wavy.

Eric Matey started sanding with 1,000-grit sandpaper to cut through the top layer of clear. "If you're not sure whether there is enough clearcoat on your car, start with 1,200-grit sandpaper," Matey explains. "This will deliver the same desired effect without removing as much clearcoat." With the sandpaper wet and extra water on the surface, start lightly sanding. Stop every few minutes and squeegee the excess water off the surface. The end result should be a smooth, even surface with no orange peel. With the 1,000-grit level finished, the surface should be smooth--a dull finish is normal through the various stages of sanding. Matey then performs the same steps with 1,200-grit and 1,500-grit sandpaper. The surface will get smoother as you use higher grit paper, and a dull shine will become more prevalent.

With the entire car wet-sanded using 1,000-, 1,200-, and 1,500-grit sandpaper, the final step in the sanding process is completed using 3,000-grit sandpaper with a dual-action sander. The technique is the same and sanding is done wet. Be extra careful in this step because it's very easy to burn through what's left of the clearcoat and expose the paint below when using a DA. This step will remove the rest of the fine scratches left behind by the more coarse sandpapers, and will make the buffing process much easier.

The final result is an orange-peel free, mirror-like finish you can achieve at home.

Polishing Your Paint
The process of wet-sanding your car's paint will leave a smooth glass-like finish, but it will take a little more time to bring out the shine. This is where the buffing process comes into play. Once the crew at Dawn's was finished sanding, Eric Matey went to work with the buffing wheel.

The process is simple. Start with a cloth hat on the buffing wheel and a fine-grit polishing compound. Apply the compound directly to the paint, and spread it evenly with the buffing wheel before turning it on. Polishing takes some patience and a lot of elbow grease. Use long, smooth motions when polishing, and remember that leaving the buffing wheel spinning in the same spot for too long can burn the clearcoat and permanently damage the finish, so keep the wheel moving.

Once the buffing is finished, switch to the foam hat and use a glaze instead of compound. The glaze won't remove any more clear, but will bring out the mirror-like shine and double as a wax to protect all the work you've just put into your newly revamped paintjob.