Water Spotting & Etching

What is ‘Water Spotting’?

Here in Hawaii, many of our customer’s vehicles suffer from water spotting and acid rain etching. At Car Clean Hawaii we are inundated with questions about why it happens, and how we solve it, from both customers and fellow detailers alike. It’s easier to explain visually, so we decided to make a blog post dedicated to this topic!

The water found in nature, in the form of rainwater, seawater, or the city drinking water pumped up from deep underground wells isn’t just made up of ‘H2O’ alone. It contains various mineral and chemical elements as well. When your car gets rained on, hit by sea spray, accidentally doused by your neighbor’s sprinkler, or you don’t fully dry your vehicle after you wash it, water will bead or pool on your paint, glass, and trim. Because it has nothing to do and nowhere to go, the water will just sit there and do its thing. The ‘H20’ part of the water will evaporate, and leave behind a tiny mound of the minerals it carried. 

As long as the vehicle is protected with coatings that are strong enough to resist strongly corrosive substances, or the contents of the water are benign, water spots can easily be removed. Washing with high quality vehicle shampoo, or wiping with a Quick Detailing Spray or Waterless Wash solution is sometimes all that is needed to remove the most harmless of these water spots. These are things vehicle owners who have a more ‘Hands-On’ approach can often do themselves. 

In more extreme cases, these mounds of minerals can bind together quite durably, and need to be broken down with special chemicals. This sort of work is ‘cuspy’ for the consumer to manage themselves, and often best left to professional detailers with knowledge in material science like Car Clean Hawaii. Many products sold for the purpose of mineral/water spot removal can permanently damage the finish of the vehicle, so it is best to consult professional help when normal washing and QD’ing are not enough. 
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the rainwater in the Islands, and our proximity to the ocean, most of the water ‘spotting’ we see on vehicles is seldom as benign as what has been described… In Hawaii, most of what we see on cars is full-blown ‘Water Etching’. 

What is ‘Water Etching’?

Many of the mineral and chemical components found in the rain and ocean water in Hawaii are highly corrosive to vehicle paint, metal, and even glass. The Pacific Ocean, our volcanoes, our fossil-fuel power generation, and our industry all contribute to making the rainwater and seaspray very damaging for the cars, trucks, and motorcycles on the Islands. Corrosive rainwater is often called ‘Acid Rain’, and falls frequently on the Islands.

Water spots on cars, trucks, and motorcycles in the Islands should be treated very much like bird droppings… They can quickly eat their way deep into the paint, even down to the basecoat or primer if the paint is not adequately protected! The water physically dissolves the paint in that spot!!! 

Much of the ‘Water Spot’ work that we see, is fixing the damage left by actual etching. This requires major paintwork correction, involving heavy polishing or wetsanding (See Paintwork Correction.) to remove the damaged paint until only the unaffected paint remains.

Obviously, this situation is best avoided, by getting your vehicle properly protected sooner rather than later. Too late, and the damage could have become a very expensive problem to fix. 

The damage caused by the rain and ocean water in the Islands is one of the two main reasons we advocate so strongly the use of durable Ceramic Coatings, which are thick and resistant, and can withstand the ravages of nature here. 

Why is my New Car Water-Etched Already? 

   Most brand-new cars sold in the Islands have had to endure an arduous journey, before the protective films are removed, and they are left to rot virtually unprotected in the dealer lots until they are sold. 

During this time, is when most cars suffer their worst damage from both rain and bad washing, and why it is important that the first stop your new vehicle makes is to a reputable detailer. We typically have to fix the damage from manufacturing and transport, before it can truly be yours and perfect. 

We want to write an article on ‘New Car Prep’ soon, as the damage suffered in dealer’s lots extends far beyond water damage. As detailers, we want to improve the standards of vehicles sold in our area. 

How Do I Protect My Vehicle? 

     In the Hawaiian Islands, your best solution to keeping your car safe from harm due to water etching is to get it protected with a Ceramic Coating that is actually capable of resisting such harm. Conventional waxes and polymer sealants cannot keep your vehicle safe in this climate. 

Many so-called ‘Ceramic Nano Coatings’ actually attract water spotting, which is why it’s important not to waste your money, but get it coated at a proper detailer using a high quality coating. All of our packages at Car Clean Hawaii help to protect your vehicle against water spotting, and damaging etching, but simply to different degrees. 

Our Stage 3 – CarPro CQuartz Finest, and Stage 4 – CS-II Titanium coatings are our very best at preventing water spotting with minimal maintenance. These are premier coatings, but reward the owner with minimal vehicle maintenance or worry. 

Our Stage 1 – CarPro CQuartz Classic, and Stage 2 – CarPro CQuartz Professional coatings are more economical, but a little simpler in their makeup. These will protect the paint from deep etching and other damage, since the coating will take the brunt of the harm, but will need more frequent and careful maintenance to prevent from getting superficially spotted. 

The Nano-Sealant included in our Gloss Enhancement package offers the least protection against water spotting/etching, but it is a HUGE bang for the buck, and with good maintenance by the owner or Car Clean Hawaii, can help to minimize the damage of water etching in the Hawaiian climate. 


 Hawaiian rain, sea, and ground water will screw-up your vehicle in a heartbeat. Protect it the very best that you can, using Nano Sealants or – better yet – Nano Ceramic Coatings, and keep it clean and dry after it gets wet. Get a good detailer, like Car Clean Hawaii to help you. We know how to manage this stuff, and can fix a lot of the problems this climate creates. It’s been our job for two decades, and we’ve learned to do it very well. This is our craft, and our knowledge, and we want to share it. 

– The Team at Car Clean Hawaii