Asking about the clay bar process will get you almost as many opinions as there are people. Just like any other area of the auto detailing world of products, the answer will usually be based on an someone's agenda.
My experience has shown that typically a company will highlight the benefits and skip over any drawbacks of this detailing clay process. I remember when these products first came out there used to be disclaimers on the packaging stating how a certain amount of scratching will be done when using the clay bar. I have checked all the retail clay bar products and have yet to come across any that still offer up this product warning. Are we to believe that these bars are no longer scratching the paint on our cars?
"So Darren, if you are telling us that detailing clay scratches my car paint, why the heck would I ever use it?"
Let me spell out the clay bar process in a very simplified way:
"So Darren, what kind of pollution or contaminants is detailing clay effective for?"
Airborne pollution and contaminants come in many forms. While the air we breather is full of many microscopic pollutants that also attach to your cars paint, there are many other assaults to your car's paint that are reason for concern that can be dealt with using detailing clay as part of the surface preparation process.
The diagram above shows a cut-out side view of the different layers to a typical paint job. Notice all the contaminants that sit atop the paints surface; these are the elements that will be removed by using the clay bar. You might also notice that the rail dust and brake dust are embedded into the paint itself. This is where there are varying explanations as to the exact process of the clay bar.
There seem to be (2) popular interpretations of this process:
I think this is just one of those areas of life where there will always exist conflicting interpretations. Regardless of your actual position or opinion of how detailing clay works, matters not for the following reasons:
"Darren, you still haven't addressed the issue of whether the clay bar scratches my car paint or not!"
You are correct!
Many people ignorantly come to the conclusion that If the clay bar scratches their car paint, why should they use it. They think they would rather just have the many types of pollution on their car paint rather than having it scratched up by using the clay bar.
Not All Scratches are Created Equal: The more correct label would be to say that the clay bar will mar or abrade the surface of your car paint; not scratch it. This superficial marring or abrading is so light that simply waxing your car by hand or with a car polisher will remove any superficial "scratches" put into your car paint by using the clay bar. If you want to take it to the next level after using the clay bar on your car paint, car polishing tricks for beginners will be the place to go.
The Only Way for Silky Smooth Paint: Unless you have experienced the finished results of a car that has been clayed and waxed, it is hard to imagine just how amazing your car paint can feel. Once you have experienced, I promise you will be happy as a clam and will never go back!
"O.K. Darren I get it. I want to experience the benefits of using detailing clay on my car. What do you recommend?"
If you are e beginner which you likely are otherwise you would not be at this page in the first place, I recommend shopping one of the many clay bar kits available. I am a big fan of kits as a general rule as you generally get more for your money and you get to try different things you might normally not be willing to try if you were left to buy them individually.
So use this link to see my recommendations regarding clay bar kits and shop from among those.