How to Remove Water Stains from Your Car

How to Remove Water Stains From Your Car

 The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $15

Water stains on a car can mar the appearance of an otherwise beautiful paint job. Those white-edged splotches and circles seem like they would be easy to remove with a wet cloth, but the stains reappear as soon as you've finished wiping them away. Fortunately, water stains on a car are easy to remove with materials you may already have on hand—you just need to know the proper methods to make it happen.

Follow these simple steps to make water stains disappear from your car, almost like magic.

 Stain Type  Water
 Detergent Type  Dish soap, spot remover, white vinegar
 Water Temperature  Warm and cold

Before You Begin

Stains on your car's body and glass are the ghostly remnants of hard water that have been allowed to dry on those previously shiny surfaces. Hard water contains a high concentration of minerals like calcium and magnesium. As hard water evaporates, it leaves behind traces of these minerals that appear white when dry. To prevent hard water spots from developing, wipe off water drops with a clean cloth while they are still wet.


Hard water spots are annoying because they look unsightly, but mineral residue can become even more menacing—ultimately damaging your car's paint. The longer mineral deposits are allowed to remain on your car, the harder they stick. The stains and spots can etch into the surface, requiring more involved removal and repair methods such as wet-sanding or even an entirely new paint job.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 2 buckets
  • 1 hose
  • 1 sponge
  • 1 soft washing mitt
  • 3 drying towels or cloths
  • 1 spray bottle


  • 1 bottle of dish soap
  • 1 bottle of spot remover
  • 1 bottle of white vinegar
  • 1 roll of paper towels
  • Detailing clay (optional)


Materials needed to remove water spots from a car

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

How to Use a Basic Wash and Dry Method

If you get stuck with water stains, the first thing you need to do is wash your car. This may sound counter intuitive since washing your car may have created the water stains in the first place. So why would you want to do this again? Won't the stains just return?

Not necessarily. Washing will eliminate particles that can scratch the paint surface when you attempt to remove the stains. Plus, a second wash, using the steps below, should help remove the stains left by the first wash.

  1. Prepare to Wash

    Fill one bucket with warm, soapy water, and fill a second bucket with clean rinse water. Have a hose ready as well as a soft washing mitt and/or a sponge, and drying towels or microfiber towels.


    Wash your car when the paint surface is cool. Water evaporates too quickly on a hot car, making it difficult to dry the entire surface with a towel before water droplets dry on their own, leaving more stains.

    White buckets with hose and red sponge to wash and dry car

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Wash with a Soft Mitt

    Use a two-bucket method of cleaning, where you soak the washing mitt in the soapy water and wash the spotty surface. Then, rinse out the mitt in the clean-water bucket. Re-soak the mitt in the soapy water, and continue washing.

    Wiping the car hood with a soft mit

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  3. Rinse

    Rinse the vehicle thoroughly with clean water from the hose, making sure no suds remain.

    Spraying the car with a hose

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  4. Speed Dry

    Start drying the vehicle immediately, wiping with towels or cloths from the top down. Enlist help from an assistant if possible to wipe the water before it evaporates.

    Wiping the car hood dry

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

How to Remove Water Stains With Vinegar

Vinegar is often touted as a miracle substance, capable of cleaning tiles, shampooing dogs, killing weeds, and extending the life of cut flowers. So, it should come as no surprise that vinegar can help clean water stains from car paint. White vinegar is mildly acidic, making it an effective opponent to alkaline mineral deposits.

  1. Mix Vinegar and Water

    Pour equal amounts of distilled water and vinegar into the bottle and gently shake it.

    Mixing a 50/50 vinegar and water solution

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  2. Spray the Car

    Saturate the glass or car body by spraying the compound thoroughly across the surface.

    Spraying the windshield with vinegar

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  3. Fill a Bucket with Vinegar Solution

    Pour the rest of the solution into a bucket, along with a towel. Add more 50/50 solution, as needed to immerse the towel.

    Filling a bucket with water and vinegar

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  4. Place Wet Towel Over Spots

    Lay the towel over the area on the car that needs to be cleaned. Let it rest for about two minutes, then use the same towel to scrub away the water stains.

    Laying a flat towel over water spots

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  5. Rinse and Dry

    Rinse the area thoroughly with clean water from a hose, then dry with a clean, dry towel.

    Rinsing the car off with a hose

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

How to Spot-Remove Water Stains

When you need to remove localized areas of water stains on your car, one of the best ways to do this is with a commercial water spot remover.

All spot removers have different ingredients, but there are some common elements. Clean, distilled water is the base, with mineral oil added as a lubricant. Additional ingredients may include solvents, absorbents, buffers, and conditioners.

Water spot removers work best on paint, glass, chrome, and metals. They're safest when used with glossy paint surfaces, and should not be used on flat or matte surface paint jobs.

  1. Apply Product

    Apply water spot remover to the spotted areas with a foam applicator.

    Using spot remover on a car hood

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

  2. Rub and Dry

    Rub the product onto the paint with two or three passes. Finish by rubbing the compound away with a dry, clean cloth.

    Wiping away the spot remover

    The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Additional Tips for Handling Water Stains

  • For small areas of particularly stubborn water spots, use the professional detailers' secret tool: detailing clay. Much like soft artist's clay, detailing clay comes in small bars that can be kneaded and shaped and used much like an eraser.
  • Detailing clay is used with a lubricant that is included with the product. This specialized clay is best for smaller, localized sections of water spots. It's also best for stubborn water stains since it essentially shears off the mineral residue by force.
Blue detailing clay rolled on car hood to remove water stains

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald