Whether you own a car, truck, motorcycle, camper, or any other vehicle with wheels, it’s likely that you’ve had to think of the easiest form of bug removal. Getting the bugs off your paint without causing damage is important no matter what you’re driving.
The best way to remove bugs from your paint safely is to do it while you’re washing your car. Pressurized water and lots of lubrication are needed to avoid creating scratches. Protecting your paint ahead of time with wax or a coating will make it easier – and less scrubbing means less scratches.
In this article, I’m going to share the best ways to remove bugs without leaving behind any scratches. I’ll also talk about how I remove them from my own vehicles and some common household “hacks”.
First of all, removing bugs should always be done when you’re washing it. Don’t just spray them with a quick detailer and wipe them off with a dry rag. That’s a great way to scratch your paint. You’ll want to hit them with water and any scrubbing or wiping motions need to be done with lots of soap suds to avoid scratching.
If you want to make bug removal quick and simple, it starts well before it ever hits the front end of your vehicle. Situations such as bug splatter are one of the reasons we protect our cars with waxes, sealants, and ceramic coatings. The slicker the surface is, the less likely the bug is to get really stuck on it.
Decreasing surface tension with a protective product can make a huge difference in how much effort is required to remove bugs. If you can’t afford a ceramic coating, that’s ok! A decent quality wax will help as well, just not as much.
When it comes to ceramic coated vehicles, simply hitting them with a pressure washer will wash off the majority of bug guts. This is a big reason why these coatings are helpful – they make vehicles quicker and easier to clean. Bug removal is a big part of why I chose to ceramic coat my 4runner and Harley.
Removing bugs off your car without damaging the paint
So what products and tools should you be using to remove the stubborn bugs that don’t come off after simply rinsing? There are a few different schools of thought on this but as a guy who is in charge of removing the scratches people put in their paint, I always err on the side of caution.
Start with a good rinse with a pressure washer and see what you have to deal with after. If your car is protected well and the bugs were fresh, you might not need to do much more than a regular wash. If they’re more stubborn, we’ll have to come up with a more in-depth strategy. Either way, this initial rinse should at least remove the shells and wings of the bugs, leaving just the guts behind.
Glass is much harder to scratch than painted metal or plastic. That means we can be more aggressive with bug removal on the windshield. Feel free to scrub harder with your wash mitt or microfiber towel. If the bugs have had a chance to really harden and scrubbing isn’t working, you might as well save time and cut to the chase – it’s time to break out the razor blade.
Don’t worry, this won’t scratch your glass if you do it correctly. Keep the windshield wet with water, soap, or glass cleaner and lightly scrape the blade across the bug. The angle you hold it should be nice and close to the glass (nowhere near 90 degrees) and you should use very little pressure.
You could play around with stronger chemicals, sponges, and even a clay bar but if the bugs are really hardened onto your windshield, it’ll probably be a waste of time. Hit them with the razor and move on.
Cleaning bugs from painted surfaces is a much more delicate process. The clear coat on your paint will vary in hardness from vehicle to vehicle but even the harder ones can be scratched if this isn’t handled properly.
First off, don’t touch dry paint with anything. Lubrication is a strict requirement before any type of wiping or scrubbing. It’s a good idea to use a separate microfiber towel instead of the same wash mitt you use on the rest of the car. Otherwise, you’ll be picking up hard pieces of bugs into your mitt and potentially dragging them along the rest of your car, creating scratches.
Combining the use of a microfiber towel with your soapy water might be enough to remove the bugs. All of the tiny fibers in the towel are designed to pull contaminates off the surface so in mild cases, that’s all that’s needed.
Chances are, these bugs aren’t going to go without a fight, though. This is when you need to decide what’s important to you and adjust your strategy. A stronger chemical such as an all-purpose cleaner like this one will break down the bug guts and make it easier to wipe off. The downside is that it won’t just destroy the bug – it’ll destroy your wax or sealant as well.
If you’ve spent hundreds or even thousands on having your car ceramic coated, you won’t want to risk damaging that coating. If you’re using a wax or sealant to protect your paint though, you might consider a cleaner like this. Yes, it’ll strip the wax – but that’s the reason we use waxes and sealants in the first place.
We understand that they’re a sacrificial barrier of protection. So if it means I’ll be able to wipe the bug off easier (which means less risk of scratches), I’ll happily reapply the wax to that area of the bumper when I’m done.
If you’re stuck on retaining your wax or sealant, you’ll have to continue with a gentle approach. A foaming bug removal spray might help to break them down without hurting your wax but you won’t know for sure until you try it.
Another option is to soak a large towel in warm water and drape it over the front end of your car. This will help to soften the bugs so that removing them will require less scrubbing.
Will a clay bar remove bugs?
A clay bar can pull off the remaining bug guts if you aren’t concerned with scratching your paint. Minor scratching or marring is possible though, especially when using a clay bar for this purpose. This should be reserved for when other more gentle options haven’t worked.
Removing bugs from chrome bumpers, mirrors, and grilles
Bug removal for chrome parts can be treated the same as painted surfaces. While chrome is more difficult to scratch than paint, it’s still important to be gentle. The thing with chrome is that once scratches appear, it’s difficult or even impossible to remove them. Scratches can be polished out of paint – with chrome, not so much.
Bug removal products to avoid using
Do bug removal sponges scratch cars?
Throw the bug sponges away. Yes, they’ll probably do a great job of removing the bugs from your paint. But that isn’t the whole story – because they’re so abrasive, they’ll also create marring and potentially thousands of tiny scratches.
It’ll most likely look like a dull spot where you scrubbed. This might not be noticeable until you see the sunlight hit that spot directly and at that point, it’s too late. You’ll have to polish your paint to fix it.
Do spray-on bug removers work?
Yes and no. They will help to break the bugs down and make them easier to wipe off. The problem is that bugs are commonly found on the verticle surfaces of a car. It can be difficult to get enough dwell time for them to work because they just want to drip to the ground. A foaming version will cling to the surface and be more effective.
Spray-on bug removers are helpful but they tend to be pricey. The cost of a bug-specific remover isn’t always worth it when an all-purpose cleaner will also do the job. If they allow you to retain your wax of sealant, that’s a benefit worth paying for. Otherwise, you’re better off using a cleaner that you likely already own.
There are cases where you’ve removed the entire bug from the front end of your car but an outline remains. This can mean one of two things:
- The bug stained the paint
- The bug etched into the clear coat
Both of these are caused by leaving the bug on the surface for too long. Bugs are acidic, just like bird poop. They need to be removed as soon as possible. They’re easier to remove when they’re fresh and not baked on, plus there’s less chance of them causing lasting damage.
Removing bug stains:
If the bug has only had enough time to stain the paint, it can be fixed by polishing it either by hand or machine. This means the acid started to cause damage to the paint but you caught it in time. These can usually be removed fairly easily by polishing.
What to do if a bug etched into the clear coat:
This is a worse situation. The acid from the bug has eaten into the clear coat and it’s possible that the damage can’t be fixed if it’s gone too deep. If you’re lucky, this can be fixed with compounding and polishing. Sometimes wet sanding will save the day if the damage is bad, but there are cases where it’s beyond repair and will require a repaint.
This proves how important bug removal is – this isn’t just a matter of wanting to keep your car spot-free. Leaving bugs on your paint for too long can cause real damage.
There are a number of common household hacks for bug removal. Whether or not they work isn’t the only thing to consider. The real question is: will they damage your paint?
Removing bugs with WD-40
WD-40 shouldn’t be used on your car’s paint. Yes, it’ll probably remove most bugs. The problem is the list of downsides it also brings to the table.
The “WD” in the name stands for Water Displacement. That means it isn’t going to be rinsed or even washed off easily. It’s going to fight against the water and remain on the surface. Why don’t you want it to stick around on the surface after? Mainly because it’s oily – and that’s going to attract tons of dirt and dust. In short, WD-40 is going to create more issues than it fixes.
Removing bugs with dryer sheets
Dryer sheets are proven to be effective at removing bugs but just like WD-40, they shouldn’t be used on your car’s paint. Dryer sheets contain things like fatty acid, fabric softener, and polyester. They’re abrasive and can certainly scratch your paint. Using these isn’t worth the risk.
Removing bugs with a Magic Eraser
By now, you’re probably starting to notice a trend – and guess what? Removing bugs with a Magic Eraser is also a bad idea. Once again, it might do a good job of removing them but it’s the damage they leave behind that you need to worry about.
The Magic Eraser gets its cleaning power via abrasion – it’s actually very similar to sandpaper except in sponge form. That makes it very effective at removing contaminants and even light scratches or paint transfer but it’ll also mar the surface badly. If you ever choose to use one of these on your paint, you’ll need to follow up with machine polishing to repair the damage left behind.
Removing bugs with vinegar
Vinegar is actually safe to use on your paint as long as you’re careful. Many people will use it as a homemade window cleaner or a solution to remove non-etched water spots from their paint.
It might be able to break down stubborn bug guts but it won’t be as powerful as an all-purpose cleaner. Both will likely strip your wax or sealant, so vinegar just doesn’t seem like the best option.
If you’re going to try it, make sure to dilute it with water (preferably distilled) to no more than 50:50 strength. Even that is a little strong for your paint since vinegar is acidic.
Removing bugs with rubbing alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol is also safe to use on your paint – as a matter of fact, I use it all the time when polishing cars. Similar to vinegar, it’s a good idea to dilute the strength to 50:50 or less just to be on the safe side. You don’t want to let this sit on the paint for very long either.
This will also remove grease, oil, polish, wax, and sealant which is why I use it after polishing. You’ll want to be careful with this as well.
Alcohol can be effective at removing the remaining dried on blood and guts from a bug. It can also dry your paint out if you use it too aggressively.
The most important part of bug removal is your timing. The sooner you can get to them, the better. A bug that was freshly splattered on your car will be much easier to remove as soon as you get home than one that has been baking in the sun for days.
As with anything in detailing, always start with the least aggressive strategy and go from there. If there’s a chance that you can remove the bugs with a simple rinse from a pressure washer and a regular hand wash, why beat up your wax, sealant, or coating with harsh cleaners if you don’t have to?
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: