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Getting Bugs Out of Paint

Posted by on 6/21/2013 to Natural Hazards

When bugs splat against your vehicle, their acidic viscera can eat through the top layers of your paint job and cause lasting damage. To avoid costly touch-ups, you need to get those bugs out off of your paint job as soon as is practical.

Especially in the South, bugs can destroy your paint job unless you take steps to remove them, fast. It seems everyone has their own, never-fails remedy to prevent bugs from damaging paint; we'll discuss a number of home remedies alongside commercial-grade products like detailing clay and SEM Solve.

Commercial-Grade Solutions

Our go-to solution for getting bugs out of paint is detailing clay. Detailing clay may remind you of Silly Putty, at first touch, but it is anything but silly.

Detailing clay works by adhering to contaminants and lifting them away. While your paint job may look perfectly flat, a magnified view of its surface resembles the broken terrain of desert hard pan. Airborne contaminants, dust, and bug juice can settling into these cracks and valleys, leaving them out of reach to any cleaning strategy which skims over the surface.

(As a side note, this is why we wax cars - buffing wax into these irregularities creates a smoother, easily-shined surface, while sealing them out of reach of dirt and grime.)

Removing bugs from paint with detailing clay is relatively simple, for all the elaborate prescriptions that surround popular home remedies. Start with the higher-grade, red detailing clay (for moderate to heavy contaminants), massage it over the offending insect, and peel evenly to remove. It really is that easy.

Following up with blue detailing clay - for lighter, smaller particulates - may be necessary to leave a perfectly clean surface. Red clay is great for heavy work, but sometimes fails to penetrate smaller irregularities.

If you've encountered a serious swarm of bugs, on the other hand, detailing clay itself may not be sufficient to remove all of the ichor they leave behind. In that case, serious solvents may prove necessary; we recommend SEM Solve, which is capable of removing anything from tar and grease to bug guts.

Home Remedies

Just as everyone gets bugs in their paint, it seems everyone has their own home remedy for removing them. While we recommend you stick with proven solutions like those we've discussed, above, one of these may do in a pinch.

Just remember: always test these solutions in a small, unobtrusive spot before going all-in on the larger job. If they result in a damaged finish or unpleasant residue - or simply don't work - it's best to find that out in a controlled test before tackling a larger, more visible surface area.

We stand by commercial solutions, like detailing clay and professional-grade solvents, and only offer these remedies for informational purposes. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

Baking Soda

Take a damp rag and dip a corner of it into baking soda, then use it to scrub at the bug stains. We're not sure how this works - baking soda may alter the chemical composition of the ichor, or it may be functioning as an extremely fine sandpaper - but a number of our older customers swear by it. No one in our garage has tried it, yet, so your feedback would be interesting.

Baking soda isn't inherently toxic, at least, which recommends it over our next two popular home remedies: diesel fuel and WD-40.


Is there anything WD-40 can't do? Beyond its lubricating properties, you'll see WD-40 recommended for everything from cleaning oil and tar from skin (which we don't advise, for what it's worth) to removing stubborn grime from tools. We've also heard it advanced as a solvent for getting bug ichor out of paint, though it leaves a good deal of residue which must be scrubbed away afterwards.

Diesel Fuel

We hesitate to recommend diesel fuel as a solution for getting bugs out of paint; while inexpensive and widely recommended, petroleum diesel is seriously toxic stuff and shouldn't be handled without appropriate precautions.

Chemically, it's easy to see how petroleum diesel would tear right through insect ichor - the sulphides in lower-quality diesel can peel palladium out of spent nuclear fuel. It's also used as a drilling mud additive in regions without effective health and safety regulations.

Diesel may certainly tear through bug ichor, but may damage paint and have other, unhealthy side effects. We wouldn't have mentioned it at all if so many shade tree mechanics didn't swear by the stuff; use with caution if at all. In our own garage, we prefer to use detailing clay whenever possible, following through with chemical solvents only as necessary.

Further Reading

For more guidance in the use of detailing clay to remove bugs, overspray, and other contaminants from vehicle paint, check out some of these great tutorials and resources:

ñ  AutoGeek's Show Car Garage: How to Use Detailing Clay

ñ  Detailing Clay: Starter's Guide from DetailingWorld

ñ  Applying Auto Detail Clay

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