Clay Bar a Car:
Answers to questions you don't even know to ask

Using a clay bar to clay bar a car is a very simple process, but still a subject of auto detailling and car care that instantly delivers many questions by people just like yourself that are here for the first time.

Detailing clay (the clay bar) has been around for decades despite the many people that are just learning about this unique "tool" of the detailing process.

So tune in as I help you to fully understand the pros and cons of the clay bar process.

Clay Bar a Car:
The What and the How

maxshine clay bar a car mitt

If you are new to the world of detailing or general cosmetic car care, you may be here because you are just now hearing and learning of this strange connection being made between a clay bar and your car paint.

In my travels as a professional detailer, I continue to hear much bad information and misinformation when it comes to using a clay bar to clay bar paint.

While I could bury you with so many choices of what many consider to be the best clay bar, I feel it is more important for you to understand what I consider the essentials of using a clay bar, along with information you are not going to be hearing or reading elsewhere.

What is a Clay Bar

In the simplest explanation, the clay bar is a type of "tool" used to remove various types of unwanted forms of pollution and other matter that sticks and bonds to your paint surface.

Your cars paint should feel silky smooth and free of unwanted pollutants (in their many forms).

Clay bars are simply a means to an end. The end being contaminant free, silky smooth paint. Using a clay bar is only one method of obtaining these desired results since "clay bars", or surface preparation bars come in a variety of choices.

Why Clay Bar a Car

clay bar a car mothers claybar kitMothers Clay Bar Kit

Building off of the previous question and answer, I will add further understanding.

The air you and I breathe is filled with all kinds of air born pollutants. Endless types of particles floating around and being sucked into your lungs as you breathe. Some of it you can actually see (like basic dust), but most of it you can't actually see.

This pollution in its many forms, also settles onto your cars surface materials (paint, glass, chrome, plastic, etc.).

Traditional washing and waxing will not remove all these types of dirt/pollution from your car. Certainly washing your car will remove the bulk of the unwanted dirt and your car will appear clean, but if you feel the paint on your freshly washed car, you may come to a disturbing conclusion: Your paint can be felt and heard!"

Meaning this: as you glide your hand across the surface of your paint and glass, it will make a sound due to the texture that is now part of these surfaces. The texture is what is referred to as bonded paint contaminants. These paint contaminants are simply forms of pollution that bond to the surface of your car that will not be removed during the washing and waxing process.

And to add further insult; these contaminants can also etch into the paint down below the surface of your car paint. All these many form of pollutants create an unwanted feel and texture to your cars paint.

Most car owners find this disturbing and unacceptable. But this is where surface preparation "tools" come in. And I say tools as there are numerous ways in which to obtain our desired results: clean, silky smooth, pollutant free car paint!

Why You Need to Clay Bar a Car

clay bar a carUsing a clay bar to clay bar a car

Aside from the obvious and unwanted effect these various forms of pollutants will create to the surface of your car, there are also unwanted effects of these bonded contaminants many people don't instantly realize.

If your cars paint has embedded pollutants, every time you polish or wax your car, you are doing this directly over this type of "dirt". Not only would you be applying wax over a "dirty" paint surface, but due to the unwanted texture these bonded contaminants create, your experience and end results of polishing and waxing your car will be diminished.

This means your desired end results will not be what they could be, and not what you would likely want them to be unless you clay bar a car regardless, but specifically prior to any car waxing or car polishing.

How Often Do You Clay Bar A Car

Just know that virtually every car will need t be clayed at some point. The fact that yu are reading this page strongly suggests that you already know yu need to possibly clay your car.

The simple answer to this question is based on you and your expectations for your car. If you feel any type of grit to your cars paint that you find unacceptable, then you know it is time to clay bar a car; as in claying your car.

Even a brand new car will most likely still need to be clayed. The time your new car rolls out of the factory to the time you take delivery of it may in fact be sufficient time in which to collect pollution on your car that has now bonded to your car.

Also note that since the air is always filled with some form of pollutants, the need to clay bar a car will be part of your ongoing maintenance. There are numerous factors that will determine how often the need to clay bar a car will be required:

  • How polluted is the air in your part of the world
  • How long do you allow the your car to remain dirty (the longer you allow dirt to accumulate on your car paint, the longer these pollutants have to bond to your paint)
  • How particular are you as a person (the higher your standards of perfection, the more frequently you will find yourself wanting to clay bar your car)
  • The process to clay bar a car may be once a year, once every two years, or once a month, or once every 6 months. There is no set rule and it all depends on the factors I have laid out

Darren's Note: Depending on the accumulation of paint contaminants will determine how long the process takes. I can clay bar a car in under 5 minutes if it only has subtle amounts of pollution stuck to the paint.

Clay Bar a Car and Scratching Your Paint

If you have never wondered if using a clay bar will scratch your paint, you most likely will when claying your car for the first time.

Just know that the simple answer is that it doesn't really scratch your paint, but it will abrade your car paint.

Some of you will consider this just "spin" or word games, but there is a difference. And based on the color of your car will largely determine how much of a factor this will be for you. Light colored cars show very little in the way of paint defects.

I will also add a couple other key factors when addressing this concern:

  • I have yet to meet a car owner that has said they would never want to clay bar their car after they experience that final results of washing, claying and then waxing their car
  • Most times, simply waxing your car (a very recommended step after using a clay bar on your car) with a heavy handed approach will be sufficient to remove or diminish any surface abrading that may be incurred during the clay bar process)
  • If you really want to take your car paint to an even higher level of perfection after claying your car, see my car polishing for beginners and see how you can produce truly professional results with the use of machine polishing that you can perform after claying your car, and then polishing your car paint prior to waxing your car as the final step

Different Methods of Decontamination: Manual and Chemical

Since not all air born pollution is created equal, the industry has responded with different tools and chemical products to deal with the many forms of pollution that may have become a permanent fixture of your cars paint.

Within the air born pollution are particles actually made of iron/metal. This is called ferrous material. And since these ferrous particles not only bond to the surface, but will actually etch into the paint down below the surface.

nanoskin clay mittAn example (like the NanoSkin decon clay mitt) to replace traditional clay bars. Slide hand and use like a mitt, or simply use like a traditional cloth

Mechanical clay bars, synthetic preparation mitts, sponges, towels, cloths are used by rubbing these mechanical tools back and forth across your freshly washed paint to shear away the bonded contaminants.(as I said; there are many types of clay bars that are very different than the original clay bar itself. The ultimate goal is to remove the bonded contaminants fro your cars paint. The industry has simply responded with various methods in which to do this)

These types of "clay bars" use what is called the mechanical approach of decontamination.

But when it comes to ferrous particles that are not only bonded to the paint surface, but are now etched below the surface, a chemical is required to "neutralize" these ferrous particles that the mechanical tools will be unable to reach due to the fact that these particles are below the surface.

Choosing the Best Clay Bar

While I am not a fan of the term "best", most of us default to using that term regardless of what we are searching for. But the best in my definition may not be the best in your definition.

I will simply do my "best" to lay educate and lay out your options so you can at a minimum, make an informed decision.

I have reduced this page to clay bar a car into the two most popular types of decontamination tools:

  • Clay Mitts
  • Clay Bars

You can read through my recommendations and decide which appears to be the best way to clay bar a car based on what often comes down to a personal preference.

Many people prefer the new clay mitts or clay towels over the traditional clay bars when it comes to paint decontamination.

Clay Bar a Car:
Checklist to Claying Your Car

Before I offer my recommendations as to what many in the industry consider the best clay bars, let me simplify the process of decontaminating your cars paint:

  • Wash and dry car to remove any superficial dirt
  • Use some form of clay lubricant to spray each section of area of car you are working on (I recommend sectioning your car down to a 2' x 2' section to work with)
  • Proceed to rub your choice in a decontamination tool back and forth across the paint until your paint is smooth, there is no resistance, and all the paint contaminants have been removed (You will hear a disturbing sound as the clay bar/clay mitt is rubbed across your paint. As you rub more and more, the noise will diminish until you hear nothing. You are shearing away the bonded contaminants little by little. The more bonded contaminants stuck to your car paint, the more you will have to rub)
  • Remove the dirty, left over lubricant with a micro-fiber cloth. (if the lubricant has dried at all while working a section, simply spray some additional lubricant onto the surface and wipe up to clean freshly decontaminated area.)
  • Once your entire car has been clayed (this includes all glass as well), follow up in your choice of the best car wax or paint sealant.

Maxshine Clay Mitt

Maxshine Red Chenille Detailing Clay Mitt, Size: 28x20x3cm (Hair Length: 3cm)

  • The most well constructed clay mitt I have seen so far
  • Instead of the one side being basic micro-fiber material, this clay mitt comes as a chenille wash mitt on the one side
  • Super easy to use as it conforms to every nuance of your cars body lines
  • Use with any form of clay lube you prefer

Nanoskin Wash Mitt (auto scrub)

Nanoskin AS-016 AUTOSCRUB Fine Grade Wash Mitt

  • Many detailers now embrace the new version of clay bars which is a synthetic polymer rubberized material that works in place of the traditional clay bar.
  • Use just like you would a clay bar
  • Suitable for all hard surfaces of your cars exterior (paint, glass, chrome, hard plastics)
  • Molds and contours exceptionally easy to your hand and any body panel you are working on

Darren's Note: This decontamination wash mitt to be used to clay bar a car is probably my very first choice (often a persons final choice in a product or tool comes down to subtle nuances. It is often within the nuances that only you as a person can decide. I love these cloths as they are the easiest to use since they will naturally flex and mold to the character/body lines of your car and can be used in the tight corners of certain areas of your cars exterior. Unlike other autoscrub cloths, this one is a mitt that you slide your hand into and use like you would an actual car washing mitt.

Unlike the traditional clay bar, these cloths and the Mother's turtle back tool below, can be easily washed off during use or if accidentally dropped. (clay bars require you to "knead" the clay as you are using it to create a fresh part of the clay)

The drawback with these is that they need to be placed in an open area after use to fully allow the fabric side of the cloth to dry without mildewing. Also in hot climates, the rubberized material becomes very tacky and you cannot allow it to lay against any other tool or surface when not in use as it will "glue" itself to anything it touches.

Mother's Speed Clay

Mothers 17240 Speed Clay 2.0

  • Another type of the polymer rubberized type of decontamination tool that is mounted on a handy turtle back handle that makes for very easy use
  • Use just like any other traditional clay bar (this means you need some kind of lubricant for it to glide back and forth across your paint
  • Very friendly to use, but because of the rigid handle you will be a little limited on the tighter areas of your car as it will not mold like the cloth from above

Darren's Note: I really like this tool as it is incredibly friendly in your hand and most panels of your car and paint are wide open and relatively flat. So this "tool" to clay bar a car with will prove to be the most friendly for people. Just know that if you are a highly detailed person, there will be tight areas of your car paint where this tool would nt allow you to fully access and you would need to default to either a traditional clay bar or one of the clay mitts.

Mother's Clay Kit

Mothers 07240 California Gold Clay Bar System

  • I love kits! (you get everything you need to accomplish a task
  • This kit comes with 2 clay bars and lubricant
  • Comes with a single micro-fiber cloth to mop up your dirty lubricant as you are working

Darren's Note: As I said; I love kits. They tend to be more economical, and you get everything you need all contained in a nice kit. This kit from Mother's is one of the most popular clay bars since it comes as a kit, and you really don't have to overthink your choice in the type of decontaminating tool in general (once again; it comes down to the nuances as to which tool you will think the best fit for you)

Meguiar's Clay Kit

Meguiar's G10240 Smooth Surface XL Clay Kit, 240 grams

  • Another very popular clay bar kit from a very trusted name in car care
  • Comes with 3 smaller bars (great for when you drop your clay bar on the ground and you have been listening to the wrong people who will tell you you need to throw your clay bar away if it falls onto ground. Which is a myth; you can simply clean/wash it off and continue to use)
  • Comes with spray detailer to use as the clay lubricant
  • Comes with a single micro-fiber cloth to mop up dirty lubricant while working)

Darren's Note: Once again; I love kits. This is just another type of clay bar kit to clay bar a car with. Just know any of the clay bar kits, clay mitts, or clay cloths are going to accomplish the task of claying your car. You really don't have to overthink this part of the detailing process)

Clay Bar a Car Summary

clay bars to clay bar a car

Let me finish this clay bar a car page by adding some additional points to consider when making your choice as to the vest clay bar for you:

  • Any and all of these various types of decontamination "tools" will perform
  • They all need some kind of lubrication in order to allow your choice in a clay bar to glide back and forth across the surface of your car
  • There is endless debate as to what is the best lubricant and by finding the best clay lube it will prevent any scratching (this simply is not true. regardless of the clay lube you choose, any and all of these clay bars will do some kind of marring to your paint. It largely depends on how contaminated your paint is and how much rubbing will be necessary to remove these paint contaminants
  • You can keep it really simple by using any of these clay "tools" during the car washing process (after you have washed your car and rinsed it, leave the car wet and begin to clay the car while it is still wet AFTER you have done the final rinse. You can also spray any lube you have onto the wet car to add additional lubrication. Once you are finished with entire car, re-rinse your entire car off and proceed to dry your car. If the water begins to dry, simply re-wet your car and continue to work until completion)

I hope you have learned a little something about clay bars and you will be fully prepare when you decide it is time to clay bar a car!


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