How to Remove Water Stains From Your Car

How to Remove Water Stains From Your Car

 The Spruce / Michela Buttignol

Water stains on a car can mar the appearance of an otherwise beautiful paint job. Those white-edged ovals and circles seem like they would be easy to rub off with a cloth and a splash of water. But the moment the water has dried, the stains just return. Fortunately, water stains on a car are easy to remove with common materials that you may already have on hand.

What Are Those Water Stains on Your Car?

Stains on your car's body and glass are the ghostly remnants of water—hard water especially—that has been allowed to dry on its own.

All water contains minerals; hard water contains even more minerals. As hard water evaporates, it leaves behind trace minerals such as calcium and magnesium. If that water had been wiped off with a towel when still wet, no stains would have developed.

What begins as merely annoying and unsightly can develop into a condition that damages your car's paintwork. The longer these mineral deposits are allowed to remain on your car, the harder they will stick. The stains and spots may etch into the surface, requiring more involved methods such as wet sanding or even an entirely new paint job.

Wash and Dry a Second Time

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. First of all, for any method of removing water stains that you choose, you will need to wash your car as a preliminary step. This eliminates particles that can scratch the surface when you attempt to remove the stains. Not only that but a second wash using improved techniques just might do the trick alone.

You'll need a clean bucket of warm soapy water, a second bucket of clean rinse water, a soft washing mitt and sponge, a hose with clean rinse water, and drying towels or microfiber towels.

Wash the car as you ordinarily would, with a few exceptions:

  • Use the two-bucket method of cleaning, where you soak the washing mitt in the soapy water for cleaning. After cleaning, rinse out that mitt in the clean-water bucket, soak in the soapy water, and continue washing.
  • Wash only when the paint surface is cool.
  • Rinse the vehicle thoroughly with clean water from the hose.
  • Immediately start drying the vehicle from the top-down. Enlist help from an assistant in order to attack the water before it evaporates.

If washing still isn't doing it, try using distilled water to clean the car. While this is a pricey option, distilled water has no minerals to later cause sediment build-up.

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

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Commercial Water Spot Removers

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. A grab-bag of other ingredients acts as 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.

After first re-washing and drying the car, apply the water spot remover to the spotted areas with a foam applicator. Much like car wax, the spot remover is rubbed onto the paint with two or three passes. Finish by rubbing the compound away with dry, clean cloths.

White cloth scrubbing front glass window with red commercial water spot remover

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Detailing Clay

For small areas of 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. Detailing 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


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 be helpful at cleaning water stains from car bodies and glass. White vinegar is mildly acidic, making it an effective opponent to alkaline deposits.

You'll need white vinegar, distilled water, a clean bucket, a spray bottle, an old cotton towel, and paper towels. After first washing the car:

  1. Pour equal amounts of distilled water and vinegar in the bottle and gently shake it.
  2. Saturate the glass or car body by spraying the compound thoroughly across the surface.
  3. Pour the rest of the solution into the bucket, along with the towel. Add more 50/50 solution, as needed to immerse the towel.
  4. 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.
  5. Rinse the area with clean water from a hose.
Glass spray bottle spraying vinegar on car hood to remove water stains

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald