Skip to Content

Can You Apply Clear Coat After Wet Sanding a Car?

Car detailing enthusiasts know how complicated wet sanding can be. On one hand, wet sanding can give your car that deep, glossy look that’s every owner’s dream; on the other hand, wet sanding can force you to redo an entire paint job.

Sanding a car

You can’t apply a clear coat after wet sanding a car because the wet sanding process helps smoothen out the bumps created when a clear coat is applied. If you apply a clear coat after wet sanding, you may need to repeat the sanding process.

In this article, I will explain why it’s best to perform wet sanding only after a clear coat is applied. We will also take a look at why you should avoid wet sanding the base coat.

Why You Shouldn’t Apply a Clear Coat After Wet Sanding

Applying clear coat on the car

Most people think of sandpaper when they hear the term wet sanding, and wonder why someone would subject their freshly-painted car to such coarse treatment. However, those who have put their vehicle through this process understand the benefits, especially when it’s performed by a professional to spruce up their paint job.

No matter how skilled the painter or how advanced their equipment, it’s impossible to apply a completely smooth clear coat. In fact, car manufacturers use robots to perform the initial paint job and even they don’t get it right.

Most people paint on two to three layers of clear coat and some technicians even apply multiple layers to provide enough room for error when wet sanding.

The final paint coat often contains microscopic bumps that reflect light irregularly, giving the car a shabby look. Wet sanding removes these bumps, leaving a smooth surface that reflects light evenly, producing a pristine, glossy look.

Wet Sanding Helps Removes the Dirt

Anyone who has used sandpaper before is aware of how the coarse material can be unforgiving on car paint. To prevent excessive abrasion of the paint, technicians lubricate the sandpaper with water. Hence the term wet sanding.

Aside from excess abrasion, the water also helps remove dirt and debris that may have gotten stuck on the coat while the paint was drying.

As such, wet sanding helps clear up the obvious imperfections that spring up on the clear coat. Therefore, applying another clear coat after wet sanding would be ineffective and a waste of time.

For the best effect, consider wet sanding after allowing the clear coat to cure for about twenty-four hours. After this time period, the coat will be hard enough to withstand wet sanding, yet malleable enough to facilitate the process.

If you let the clear coat dry for up to forty-eight hours, you may have difficulty sanding off the imperfections. As such you may need to use grittier sandpaper, which will increase the chances of damage.

An Exception To the Rule

Girl driving a car

While it’s best to perform wet sanding after you apply a clear coat, there is one occasion where it’s better to apply a clear coat first. If your car already has a hardened coat, consider painting another clear coat over the existing layer before wet sanding.

As mentioned earlier, a hardened clear coat is challenging to work with, and sanding can cause more damage. If you allow the initial coat to dry for too long, it can be almost impossible to effectively perform sanding on it.

Wet sanding after applying a clear coat is an effective way to tackle a hardened coat that’s collected plenty of bumps and swirls. The idea here is to paint over the hardened coat so it softens up enough and starts to blend with the extra layer of clear coating.

CarCareReport dot com is owner of this article and was first posted on Sep 16, 2022 and was updated on ..

Ideally, you should apply another layer of clear coating after you’ve sanded the car. However, you may run out of coating before applying another layer. In such a situation, it’s alright to paint a clear coating on the car before the wet sanding process.

However, if possible, avoid this inconvenience and ensure you wet sand your car within twenty-four hours after the clear coat is applied.

Do NOT Wet Sand the Base Coat!

Keeping the car dry

When browsing the internet for research on how and when to perform wet sanding, you may find plenty of car enthusiasts advising you to sand the base coat before applying a clear coat. By their knowledge, this process makes the surface smoother and hence more receptive to a clear coat.

While their logic seems sound, it’s best to avoid wet sanding the base coat under any circumstance.

Sandpaper, even when wet, can cause significant damage to the thin base coat. By sanding this layer, you risk removing the base coat entirely and exposing the metal. Aside from the obvious effect on your car’s aesthetic appeal, wet sanding the base coat may require you to repaint the vehicle.

Remember that clear coating doesn’t correct scratches or issues that may be on the base coat. Instead, this layer highlights any irregularities on your base coat. Therefore, before you apply a clear coat, it’s best to rectify these irregularities.

To clear imperfections on the base coat, you will need to use dry sandpaper and scrape the damaged areas. For example, spots with runs can be sanded before clear coat application.

When you consider wet sanding, it’s crucial to remember that a properly wet sanded clear coat elevates the look of your car only when there’s a neat base coat beneath it.


Wet sanding brings a car’s coat to life and smoothens the bumps that form during clear coat application. Therefore, the wet sanding process should happen after applying the final clear coat layer.

It’s best to avoid wet sanding before you apply the final clear coat, so you won’t need to repeat the process. Remember that you can wet sand between clear coat applications if the existing coat has dried for more than twenty-four hours.

First published on Sep 16, 2022 by

However, if you aren’t sure about what to do, it’s best to leave this job to the professionals so your car comes back looking great.

Related Articles

Can You Wax a Car Without Washing It First?

How To Clean Car Wax Applicator Pads

How to Tell When the Car Wax is Dry

Can You Still Buff a Car in the Rain?

CarCareReport dot com first published this article on Sep 16, 2022..

How Long Should Paint Cure Before Polishing?