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How To Remove Bugs From a Car Without Damaging Paint (13 Tips)

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BMW front end full with bug splatter debris from driving on the road

When’s the last time you looked at the front bumper and grill of your car? If you haven’t cleaned it in a while, you might notice a layer of dead bugs and guts. Not only is it gross, but it can also eat away at your car. Your car’s paint is at risk, especially if these bugs have been here a while.

You should remove the bugs within 24 hours of them getting stuck on your car’s surface. To do so, give your car a good wash and use a bug sponge with all-purpose bug cleaner afterward. The combination of these products should give you the best results. Lastly, wax your car to prevent bug splats and protect your topcoat for longer. 

In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to remove bugs from a car without damaging the paint. It’s easier than you think, but it’s a time-sensitive operation. Try out my 13 tips in order to get a bug-free car.

Where Are the Bugs Coming from?

Even though you can’t see bugs while you’re driving, there are plenty of them flying around the road. Whenever there’s green around the road, there’s the potential for bugs to be around.

Driving on the interstate highway with bugs splattering on the front windshield of the car

This is true for highways and backroads alike. The bottom line is that they’re all around you. You can prove this to yourself by cleaning your car, going for a drive around town, then check the front of your car.

The Problem with Bug Splats

The colloquial term for the guts and bugs left on your car is a “bug splat”, and these can be a big problem for your vehicle. Besides being an eyesore, they can also eat away at your paint. Yes, really.

Bug splats are acidic, and it gets worse over time. This is the first time of many that I’ll say this: you want to clean the bug splats off as soon as possible.

A lot of auto experts say that there’s a 24-hour shot clock. You have one full day to clean the bugs from your car before the pH shifts and the bug splat starts eating away at your paint.

Why You Need to Be Careful with Your Car’s Paint

As I just mentioned, bug splats aren’t one of those “leave it until you get to it” types of problems. The acidity in the splat will actually eat away at your topcoat and dissolve it.

The topcoat is a clear, protective layer. It keeps your colored paint and metal car safe. Without the topcoat, any amount of moisture can lead to rust which will eat holes in your car.

The topcoat is simply a layer of acrylic polyurethane. It’s mostly there to prevent small scratches and moisture from doing damage. It’s really sensitive and vulnerable to different chemicals.

A close up of a red Lexus SC300 covered in bug splatter on the front end of the car

More specifically, it’s sensitive to the acidity of bug splats.

If you go too long without washing away the bugs on your car, the acids will eat away at the topcoat. By doing this, the base layer of your car is exposed and vulnerable to the elements.

Repairing your topcoat is very difficult and expensive, so it’s better to just avoid damage to it altogether.

Hot Spots on Your Car for Bug Splats

As you’re cleaning the bug splats from your car, you’ll notice that there are some hot spots. In other words, there are areas that will have most, if not all, of the bug splats.

These areas can all be found at the front of your car. The grill and bumper will have a lot of bug debris. There might be some on your windshield too, but that’s typically the extent of it.

Close up of the front bumper on a white car full of bugs bug splatter

This is all thanks to physics. Your car is driving forward, and there’s only one way for a bug to get splatted by your car — by flying head-first into you. If it hits the side or top of your vehicle, it will get pushed away by the incoming air.

Of course, the grill and bumper of your car are large, flat areas at the front of your car.

When you’re cleaning your car in later sections, you’ll want to focus on these areas.

The Science Behind Bug Removers

A product that I’ll talk about later is a “bug remover”. The name pretty much sums it up, but what’s the science behind it?

These bug removers are typically made of a basic or alkaline solution. When it comes in contact with the acidic bug splat, it will neutralize the environment.

A man washing the front end of the Volvo to remove bug splatter stains and keep the car clean

The product will also have a degreaser and lubricant built-in. This will lift the bug splat from your car and make it easier to remove everything.

Since these products are designed specifically to go on cars, they’re going to be gentle on your topcoat. This is an important point to remember — since the topcoat and paint are so sensitive, you’ll want to avoid a DIY solution that involves raiding your cleaning closet and using harsh bathroom chemicals. There are a few DIY choices that actually work that I’ll discuss later, but that’s the extent of your options.

Is it Possible to Avoid Bug Splats on Car?

The bad news is that it’s not really possible to avoid bug splats. Unless you live in an area that doesn’t have any bugs, you’ll experience bug splats. Seasonally, it gets a lot worse when the weather gets warmer.

People who live near marshy areas know how bad the bug splats can get.

That makes this guide even more important. Since bugs are almost always an issue, you’ll need to know a few quick ways to get rid of them safely.

13 Ways to Safely Remove Bugs from a Car

Without wasting any time, let’s talk about the best ways to remove bugs from your car. I’ve personally used most of these methods, so I can vouch for how well they work. I boiled it down to 13 ways that you can safely remove bug splat from your car.

1. Try a Pressure Washer

If you noticed the bug splat early on, you might be able to fix the problem with just a little pressure. If you don’t have a pressure washer, try using a garden hose and using your thumb to pressurize the stream.

Man washing car with water gun

The idea is to just blast the splats away from your car without much effort.

If it’s been more than 24 hours since the bugs hit your car, this method might not work. If that’s the case, keep going through this list.

2. Try a Waterless Wash

A waterless wash is something that I talk about a lot. It’s a line of products that don’t require you to use a hose or soap to wash your car. With a light level of dirt, pollen, or bug splat, you can opt for a waterless wash instead.

It works like this: you spray a generous amount of waterless washer on your car. Use a microfiber towel to clean your car one section at a time. After that, use another towel to dry off the area.

Meguiar’s Ultimate Waterless Wash & Wax, 26 Fluid Ounces

Meguiar's G3626 Ultimate Waterless Wash & Wax, 26 Fluid Ounces
Meguiar’s G3626 Ultimate Waterless Wash & Wax, 26 Fluid Ounces

This method is a lot faster, more convenient, and can be done virtually anywhere. That means if you notice a bug splat on your car while you’re running errands, you can clean it off within a few minutes.

This option is safe on your paint and does a pretty good job of removing the bug splat. It works best if you recently washed your car and don’t have a lot of dirt on it, to begin with.

3. Wash Your Car

For more serious messes, you’ll have to break out the soap and rags. This method involves doing a full wash of your car.

A close up of a man hand washing his Tesla Model 3 car with a sponge and car wash cleaner front end bumper radiator grille

Make sure you’re using the right car care products for this wash. You can do serious damage to your car if you use the wrong soap or towel, for example.

This process entails spraying your car, applying soap, scrubbing the bug splat area, rinsing it, then wiping it dry.

4. Use an All-Purpose Bug Cleaner

If you try washing your car and still can’t get rid of the old bug splats, then you can try an all-purpose bug cleaner. There are a number of versions on the market, but be careful: some of them are concentrated and need to be diluted in water prior to application.

3D Bug Remover – All Purpose Exterior Cleaner & Degreaser

3D Bug Remover - All Purpose Exterior Cleaner & Degreaser to Wipe Away Bugs on Plastic, Rubber, Metal, Chrome, Aluminum, Windows & Mirrors, Safe on Car Paint, Wax & Clear Coat 16oz.
3D Bug Remover – All Purpose Exterior Cleaner & Degreaser to Wipe Away Bugs, Safe on Car Paint, Wax & Clear Coat 16oz.

The best bet is to read the label before doing anything else. I personally use and recommend the 3D Bug Remover, and it works really well.

As I mentioned in an earlier section, this bug cleaner uses the power of science to get rid of dried bugs, leftover stains, and splats.

5. Give it a Good Wax

After doing a full wash and applying bug cleaner, it’s a good idea to give your car a wax job. There are a number of benefits to waxing your car. First and foremost, it protects your topcoat and paint. This also means that bug splats will be less dangerous to your car, and the bugs will be more likely to slide off without leaving a splat.

Close up of a car hood with wax detail cleaning products sponge and micro-fiber towel on display

With a high-quality waxing agent and wax kit, this process is pretty straightforward. There are instructions on the bottle, but it’s as simple as putting the agent on your car and using the kit to apply the wax evenly.

You can splurge for a buffing machine, pads, and waxes, but you don’t have to. What I explained just now is a quick and easy way to achieve a great wax.

6. Polish After Washing

If you don’t want to wax your car, you could add a polish instead. This works similarly to wax, but it’s a thinner layer. The goal is to still add a layer of protection to your topcoat.

A man detailing a red car polishing and coating the car with wax on the clearcoat for protection

Plus, a polish will give you a good defense against incoming bugs. They’ll be more likely to slide off since the polish will add a layer of lubrication to your car.

7. Use a Bug Sponge

If you find yourself scrubbing the bug splats to no avail, pick up a bug sponge. This is a special sponge with added mesh. The mesh gives you extra friction and abrasion to get off the bugs without damaging your car.

VIKING Mesh Bug Cleaning Wash Sponge

VIKING Mesh Bug Cleaning Wash Sponge - 4 in. x 6 in.
VIKING Mesh Bug Cleaning Wash Sponge – 4 in. x 6 in.

You might still wash your car with a standard microfiber towel, then swap to the bug sponge while you apply the all-purpose bug cleaner. In the past, this process has worked really well for me.

Make sure the bug sponge you pick up is made for cars. Remember, the topcoat of your vehicle is sensitive and delicate, and the wrong product can easily scratch your car and cause lasting damage. The product I linked above is a good choice.

8. Soak Stubborn Areas

Sometimes the bugs are dried to the point where they’re almost fossilized on your car. If this is the case, you’ll need to soak the stubborn areas for a little before cleaning them off.

How do you do that? I start by grabbing a little bucket and mixing together a combination of bug remover and water. I take my microfiber towel, dunk it in the bucket, then drape it over the area with all the bug splats on it.

A man squeezing a car wash sponge over a bucket mixed with bug splatter cleaning product and water to clean debris from the car

If this area is on the very front of your car, try tucking the towel into your grill or hood to hold it in position. If you can’t get that to work, then just hold it against the bug splats for a few minutes.

After soaking, you should be able to use a bug sponge to wipe away all the splats and stains. The process of soaking the splats gives the chemicals enough time to do their job and loosen everything up.

9. Consider a Bug Deflector

Have you ever seen a vehicle with a black piece of plastic above its grill? This is a bug deflector. The job of a bug deflector is to scoop bugs up and over your car without them running into your windshield.

Unfortunately, there’s no deflector that will keep bugs away from your grill or front bumper. But if you’ve tried scraping splats from your windshield, you already know how tough they can be to remove.

Subaru XV with a bug deflector on the front hood

This is where the deflector comes in handy. When it works as advertised, you won’t have to worry about bugs slamming into your windshield and drying up.

When you purchase a bug deflector, make sure you select an option that fits your specific year, make, and model. There are a few OEM options, but a vast majority of them are aftermarket additions, so double-check the fit before you complete the purchase.

10. DIY: Erase Bug Splats with a Magic Eraser

The first of a few safe DIY options is a Magic Eraser. I really think this eraser has magic in it. It’s my go-to for kitchen cleaning, so I tried it on my car recently and it worked incredibly well.

My advice is to watch how much pressure you use. Let the eraser do the work, so don’t push with much force.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Cleaning Pads with Durafoam, 10 Count

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, Extra Durable Pro Version, Shoe, Bathroom, and Shower Cleaner, Cleaning Pads with Durafoam, 10 Count
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, Cleaning Pads with Durafoam, 10 Count

Also, never use a dry Magic Eraser. Without added water, the eraser can start ripping apart your topcoat.

When I use it, I soak the eraser and rub the bug splats in little circles. This can be done before or after washing your car, but it’ll be easier after a wash.

If you do it before a wash, you’ll want to spray the dirty area of your car first before grabbing your Magic Eraser.

11. DIY: Use a Dryer Sheet

Dryer sheets actually have chemicals built into the fabric. These chemicals will help separate/ soften items, contain a slight electrical charge, and control the surface tension of water. Put these functions together, and you have a DIY way to remove bug splats.

Grab a spray bottle, put a dryer sheet in it, and fill it with water. Give it some time to dissolve a little while swirling the bottle around.

Gain Dryer Sheets Laundry Fabric Softener, Original Scent, 240 Count

Gain Dryer Sheets Laundry Fabric Softener, Original Scent, 240 Count
Gain Dryer Sheets

Spray the mixture on the affected area and use a different dryer sheet to wipe the bug splats away.

Quickly after doing this, hose the area down with regular water and wipe it dry. You don’t want these chemicals to linger on your car for too long.

12. DIY: Windex Can Help Your Windows

Before saying anything else, I want to point something out: Windex is very harmful to your car’s paint and topcoat. It will actually melt your topcoat and seep into your paint. Avoid using Windex on your car’s paint. Don’t even let it drip onto the paint.

A bottle of Windex glass cleaning solution with a roll of paper towel against a blue background

With that said, Windex is incredible at cleaning glass. If you spray it on a paper towel or directly on your windshield (again, making sure it doesn’t drip to your paint), it will quickly remove bug splats.

In a pinch, I’ve used Windex to get rid of all types of messes on my windshield, and it’s never let me down yet.

13. DIY: Vinegar for Windshields

For a less harsh version of Windex on your windshield, try vinegar. Use equal parts of vinegar and water in a spray bottle. It’s best if you use warm water in the mixture to help activate the vinegar and cut through the bug splats.

Baking soda and cleaning brush sponge and vinegar to remove stains

Spray the bottle onto your windshield and use a microfiber towel to wipe it in using little circles. Continue doing this in the affected areas until all the bug splats are gone.

Grab a clean and dry microfiber towel to dry off the area.

Conclusion

Getting bug splats off your car and preventing them in the future will preserve your topcoat and protect your car. Just remember, you have to do it safely or else your paint will suffer. I covered 13 safe ways to remove bugs from your car in this guide. For more car guides, look at the rest of my site. I also have a list of helpful products that you should consider.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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