Polishing Carbon Fiber

Carbon Fiber Spoiler Close Up

If you think matte paint’s becoming popular, you should check out what’s going on in the world of carbon fiber. Not only have carbon fiber panels been offered for years on models such as BMW’s M3 and basically every Ferrari since 2001, they’re now combining with unique finishes like matte to provide an even more stunning accent for the super car world. Last week, Andrew and I had the task of polishing up a cloudy and scratched up carbon fiber spoiler on a nearly new 2013 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series. This car, one of less than 60 in the world, is painted Designo Magno Alanite Grey (Mercedes’ signature matte grey) and covered with hints of carbon fiber. Before we get into the process, there’s one quick thing you must know about carbon fiber panels and accents…

Carbon Fiber Is Special

As you may know, carbon fiber is basically thin, strong crystalline filaments of carbon wound extremely tight. The unique process (some more complicated than others) from which carbon fiber is created is something to admire – just watch this. Anyway, by said process is how carbon fiber gains its strength. While being of the strongest materials ever, it’s also one of the lightest. Yep, as you guessed it, this makes it absolutely perfect for super cars. As we see carbon fiber on these cars, the panels or accents are covered with a resin often referred to as “gelcoat”. The gelcoat is designed to surround and support the carbon fiber to keep it safe from micro-buckling, however, the resin itself is not the most durable thing on your car and is actually much easier to scuff or swirl than paint. With that said, it’s time to polish.

How To Polish Carbon Fiber

Because the exposed exterior of the resin isn’t immune to damage, eventually you’ll have to polish. But what product do you use? First off, nothing that requires a machine. You don’t need it. Secondly, we recommend not even using a “polish” per se. Yes, you heard me correct, you don’t need to use a polish. In fact, the best product to use for polishing carbon fiber is a gelcoat specific glaze. A glaze, you ask? Well glazes lightly smooth out imperfections in the surface and fill rather than digging them up – a much safer way to go about hiding them from sight. Polishing with a gritty polish is just overkill for such a delicate and beautiful accent. As you know, the carbon fiber is extremely tough, but the exposed surface of the resin… not so much.

how to polish carbon fiberPolishing Carbon Fiber1. Apply | On this particular car, we didn’t want to get any glaze on the matte finish… this requires taping off the carbon fiber accents and additional precision while polishing. Once taped, we jump right in. Polish the carbon fiber surface in a tight circular motion using a foam applicator and a carbon fiber glaze. Often times it is beneficial to go over once or twice with the glaze to ensure complete coverage.

2. Remove | Once you’ve covered and worked in the glaze, it’s time to remove it. While removing, be sure to use a plush microfiber towel. Cotton towels leave lint behind and can lead to hairline scratches in the resin. After removing completely, examine the surface. It should be spotless, but up close you’ll be able to tell if there are any small areas that may need additional attention. If so, repeat steps 1 and 2 before continuing.

3. Protect | No detailing procedure is ever complete without protecting your hard work. If you leave your carbon fiber naked, tiny scratches are going to happen over and over again and lead to a cloudy looking surface. So what do you do? Give it a paint sealant. I personally recommend sealing the entire car afterward, as this guarantees total protection not just for your carbon fiber, but your paint as well. Remove the tape, and apply protection. If you have a glossy car, the best way to go about this is using Formula 1201. If you’ve got a matte car, we recommend sealing the entire car with Matte Paint Sealant, re-taping around the carbon fiber, and adding an additional layer of carnauba wax to really make the accents shine and ‘pop.’ Both 1201 and Matte Paint Sealant are unique in that they use water to bond instantly and can be applied directly over trim and emblems… making protecting the carbon fiber accents on your car easier than ever.

At the end of the day, polishing up your car’s carbon fiber accents is actually pretty simple. Just remember to use a carbon fiber polishing glaze, don’t stop until you’ve got it perfect, and then seal in your work so it stays that way. So now that you know the secrets to cleaning up carbon fiber panels and accents, when are you going to start? Let us know and share your photos for inclusion in one of our blogs!

Photos from the carbon fiber polishing process: