What’s The Deal With Orange Peel?

Orange Peel vs Smooth

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. 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. It can also 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 has a few different causes. It can be 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. That explains why we often see the orange peel effect on high-end, hand-painted cars (Ferraris, Bentleys, etc.).

How do you fix orange peel?

You need to wet sand if the orange peel is bad enough. 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 it’ll be 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 nano coating. 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 and tag us on Instagram!

  • escape velocity

    I’ve got orange peel on my 2010 White Challenger and I’ve done some research. There are some inaccuracies as you report them. Repainting, sure if you messed up. 2500 grit sand paper followed by Machine Polishing by a three step procedure, such as Adam’s.
    The whole affair is risky for an amatuer with out a paint guage and lots of practice on a junker. Here’s where you are correct: Is it worth it for a daily driver. For me no, I’ve learned not to look at the paint under the florescent lights in the garage. Outside, it’s not noticable. After sealer wax, the white paint glows, and no swirls.

    • Thank you for your comment, I agree I may have been a bit unclear… I added a few sentences to clarify.

      As I stated, a wet sanding procedure (such as the one you mentioned) can be done to remove orange peel. This does, however, diminish the clear coat thickness significantly and does create scratches that polishes are only filling for the time being… this is why you end up seeing swirl marks down the road, no matter how good a polishing procedure is. If this weren’t the case, our cars would never have swirls in the first place.

      The point I was making is that the only way to fully restore the finish to “perfect” factory-like quality and full clear coat thickness is by professionally repainting the affected area (whether it be swirls, orange peel, or etching that has hit the pigment layer). And because repainting isn’t something we look forward to, the only way to really keep your finish as close to factory-new as possible (based on thickness) is by keeping it protected at all times to avoid these problems. You seem to have a similar mindset seeing as you realize how great an albeit “imperfect” finish can look with a coat or two of wax.

      Thanks again for reading and for contributing to the quality of our content.. I hope I clarified a little better this time around.

      • escape velocity

        Thank you for the reply and clarification. I’ve been successful removing swirls and “scuffs” using a Porter Cable and a “Fine Machine Polish” on both a Black MDX and the White Challenger. It never lasts on Black as one drive through a car wash puts them right back on. The Challenger never sees the auto car wash and White is much more foregiving. However, only the owner loyalist is so critical of their paint, finish and protection.
        Each pass with the Porter Cable does take the Clear Coat down, How much, I don’t know but would like to see the data on a factory finish American Car.
        I plan on bringing it in to Simon’s for a wash and it would be interesting to see what the paint guage shows on the horizontal and vertical panels.
        With all this said: James, you have my respect and attention!

  • Alex kwok

    agree. not everyone wiling to scarify the clear coat for the sake of mirror look effect..

    • Alex kwok

      dear James Detmer, kindly let me share this great info at my car detailing blog.thank you so much.

  • Bicklmeier Racing/Restoration

    Reasonable description and advice… very well done!

  • Richard

    I actually work in production paint and do this job 7 days a week working 12 hours a day fixing bad paint jobs for ford, gm, and Nissan let me tell you guys the sad truth when you buy your car off the lot with the factory paint it will have been painted 2 too 4 times and I will have sanded it and polished it out… The factory coat is never perfect and worrying about a good factory coat is just stupid. Your car goes through and electronic painting system unless it is too big or numbers are small enough then a batch painter can do it ( which your better off with than a robot doing it as a man can stop and correct vs a machine that will spray to thin or to thick and not care.)

  • Richard

    Btw unless your car is pushing 60 grand and up don’t expect a good paint job and even then I’ve burned the smaller edges of a mustang window trim panel and still it sent out the door… Factory quality paint is a joke when it is a mass production car. But it isn’t just the production paint companies fault the car manufacturer’s allow a certain amount imperfection on a paint job.

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  • Well although this pamphlet is already quite old i stumbled across it and have some remarks which need to be corrected as they are so blatantley wrong .
    Bentleys and Ferraris and all other high priced / high end cars are actually less prone to orangepeel as they are flattened back after each single of up to 4 layers of clearcoat and then finally the car gets detailed/finished. So i wonder how you can conclude that these cars suffer mor of orangepeel. The other thing that is put wrong is that these High End cars are actually not Handpainted. put up a search on youtube and you can see that bentley and ferrari are robopainted. the only car manufacturer that still used handpainting was Aston Martin. Maybe McLaren