Within the world of car care, most professional detailers hate the idea of imperfect paint – as they should. They see orange peel, which is quite literally when your paint is textured like the skin of an orange, and they want to correct it. This requires smoothing the surface by wet sanding through the clear coat and pigment layer… and if you read our last piece on over polishing, you’ll know we’re not the biggest fans of invasive paintwork correction procedures. This article will cover how your car becomes riddled with orange peel, how to fix it, and why I don’t really consider it to be that big of a problem for the everyday car owner.
What exactly is orange peel?
Put simply, orange peel is a textured imperfection in a paint job. You can see it with your eye because the paint is wavy in a sense, and reflects light in different angles around the imperfection(s). The surface will appear bumpy and won’t reflect perfectly. Often times you will find orange peel on panels that have been repainted, but it can come straight from the manufacturer in some cases.
What causes orange peel?
Not just what… it’s who, too. Orange peel is (in part) caused by improper painting technique – often by the manufacturer of the car or a body shop. According to Sherwin Williams, the orange peel effect is caused by premature evaporation of thinner, incorrect spray gun setup (ie. low air pressure or incorrect nozzle), spraying at an angle other than perpendicularly, or applying excessive paint. 90% of the time, it’s human error… which explains why we often see the orange peel effect on high-end, hand-painted cars (Ferraris, Bentleys, etc.).
How do you fix orange peel?
Typically, if it’s bad enough, you need to wet sand. Sherwin Williams (and Dr. Beasley’s, for that matter) recommends starting with a compounding polish to see if you can address the problem without being too abrasive at first. If that doesn’t work, you should progressively get more aggressive as needed. Wet sanding, of course, is the dive-right-in approach that is most commonly used, but this makes my teeth cringe. Basically you wet the surface and the sandpaper, and diminish the clear coat until the surface is smooth. Then you follow with a polishing procedure to further smooth out the scratches you have created with the sandpaper. Because correction is an abrasive process in which you are removing microns of clear coat, in no way does this restore the finish to factory quality or thickness.
If you want orange peel gone for good and your finish restored to factory-like condition (with a full clear coat), the area will have to be repainted – hopefully by someone with enough knowledge to ensure orange peel isn’t created a second time.
So now is when I rant about how correcting orange peel is essentially useless for the everyday car owner. Sure, if you’re a professional or are showing off your Duesenberg at Pebble Beach, orange peel might become annoying. But for most people, you either won’t notice it or won’t mind that it’s there. I ask if it’s really worth correcting, and again, many people will answer yes. But think about this: your brand new Benz has orange peel on the lower left quarter panel. It irks you that it’s there in the first place, but do you really want to remove the factory finish and pay a body shop $800+ to “do it’s ‘best'” to match and blend the panel? Or pay a shop to dig into your clear coat with sandpaper of all things and further diminish its thickness with a polishing procedure? Even without mentioning the money, I still don’t think correcting orange peel is worth it. It’s almost like getting a birthmark removed and expecting no scar. When it comes to paint, one way or another there always is.
Yes, orange peel is fixable. My challenge to you is to question at what cost. In my opinion it’s much easier and more effective to polish the area and smooth out as much as you can without being too abrasive, then follow with a coat of car wax. This will essentially camouflage the blemishes, making them harder to notice. Try it out and let me know if it works for you… if not and you dive right in, I hope you post some before & after photos on our facebook!