I’ve heard you can use toothpaste for scratch repair on cars. Is that true?

There are few things more irritating than damaging your car’s paintwork. But scratch repair on cars need not be too expensive. And there is one familiar household product that might be a helpful ally.

What sort of scratch is it?

Before you think about a scratch repair, it’s worth understanding how cars are painted. There are three basic coats covering the metal (and frequently now, plastic) body panels.

First it is painted in primer. Then there’s what’s known as the base coat which gives the car its colour. There are several layers of this to give the paint that deep shiny finish we all love. Finally, there’s what’s known as clear coat. This is a bit like varnish: it’s clear as the name implies and is designed to protect the car’s colour.

You can use toothpaste on clear coat scratches

Here’s why you can use toothpaste to repair light scratches. Toothpaste – and we’re talking the white paste here, not the gels you see increasingly – contains a mild abrasive.

Apply it to a car and those abrasives will rub away the clear coat around the scratch levelling it off. You should apply a blob that’s about the size of a 2p piece. Then rub gently in a circular motion around the length of the scratch with a damp cloth. If it doesn’t work the first time, try it another couple of times.

Be warned: using toothpaste won’t work on deeper scratches.

The deeper the scratch, the harder it is to fix

Scratch repair on cars can be tricky on deeper scratches. Painting a car is a skilled business. Particularly if you want to get a nice shiny finish. It’s not something that you can attempt with a brush or even a spray can – unless you want to make things worse.

For a start, car paint fades over time. So even if you get the right colour, it’s unlikely it’ll be a perfect match for your car. But you can get scratch repair kits.

scratch repair on cars
“I told you there was a low wall there” “Not my fault. Anyway a bit of toothpaste will get it out.”

Scratch repair kits

These are properly developed products and can be effective on deeper scratches. You should read the instructions properly and make sure you understand them. The technique is usually similar to the one you employ when using toothpaste. Just make sure you remove any product that’s overlapping the scratch or it may mark perfectly good paintwork.

You can also use toothpaste on headlights

This is a popular hack for older cars. The glass on headlights gets misted the older it gets. This is because it frequently isn’t glass, it’s plastic or polycarbonate, both of which are lighter, cheaper and easier to shape.

Toothpaste cleans off the misting through the same principal as when you use it on scratches: the abrasives buff off a layer of the misted surface.

First you should wash the car, then mask off around the headlamp so you don’t get toothpaste on the paint. Wipe the toothpaste on using a damp cloth and rinse it off thoroughly. Then let it dry. It’s surprising how well this works.