One of the most important steps when detailing a car is the clay bar. Yet, we are shocked at how many people are oblivious to it. Knowing why and how to use a clay bar for car detailing is key to good results.
Using a clay car is the most effective way to remove contaminants from your car’s paint. Some people opt for heavy polishing with an orbital buffer or a spinning polisher, but taking this route without using a clay bar first can actually be worse for your car’s paint job. The reason is, you have to polish A LOT to remove most of the contaminants that are stuck in the paint. This in turn reduces the thickness of your clear coat. Do this often enough and you risk burning through the clearcoat. In which case, your paint could be in serious danger of failure.
Claying a car will easily remove almost all contaminants from your paint, safely, and without having to polish too much into the clear coat. If you still need to polish the clear coat, doing so AFTER you’ve treated the vehicle with a good car clay allows for very minimal polishing, thus extending the life of the clear coat. Not only that, but the final job will look better and will be easier to do since the clay barring part is actually really simple.
Use a clay bar on a brand new car.
There are car enthusiasts who are aware of the benefits of using a clay bar for cars but have no idea of how beneficial it can be to go through the process on a brand new car. Yes, a brand new car! The fact of the matter is, brand new cars arrive with all kinds of contaminants in the paint – Everything from rail dust, to factory contaminants, salt from shipping and other things that you don’t want in the paint. If you go and seal/wax the paint without going through the process of using a clay bar to clean the paint, you are basically keeping all those contaminants in there. If you ask us, this sounds even worse when in reference to a new car. You want your new car to be perfect and clean, right?
We recently went through the process of clay bar detailing a brand new Mazda MX5 Miata. We were shocked at how dirty the paint actually was. Even though a close look didn’t allow us to see it. The paint seemed very smooth too. But after putting the clay bar to work we pulled out so much gunk from the paint, we were glad we did it. That’s why you should always clay bar a brand new car first before applying paint sealer and/or carnauba wax.
Of course, the process is even more necessary on older cars. Cars that spend a lot of time in the sun, or sleep outside at night are more susceptible to paint contaminants than those that are not exposed to the elements as much. You’ll also find that the top section of your car (hood, roof and trunk lid) get the highest amount of contaminants. Stuff basically lies on top and contaminates the paint more than on the side panels. The hood takes the grunt of the attack. The heat of the engine opens the pores of the paint more so than the roof or trunk lid, making it the most contaminated part of your car.
You can easily test for paint contamination.
With the car clean and dry, slowly and softly run your hand over the paint surface.
With the car clean and dry, slowly and softly run your hand over the paint surface. 9 times out of 10 you can notice what feels like tiny little grains stuck to the paint surface. Almost like widespread bits of sand on sandpaper. Another way of doing it is to use a thin plastic film, like a plastic bag, and put that over your hand before running it over the paint. If you have never clay barred your car, we can guarantee almost 100% that you will be able feel these contaminants. In fact, if you wash and wax your car, even after using a paint cleaner, you can feel the rough surface over the paint. And that’s even AFTER waxing. It’s something that puzzles many inexperienced car detailing enthusiasts. They can’t understand why the paint is so rough and why those little bits of impurities didn’t disappear with the wax job. Well, there you have it. You have to use a clay bar to clean those off.
Buy a quality clay bar kit and follow the instructions. Be generous with the clay bar lubricant. Be gentle while applying the clay and don’t drop it. If you drop it you can consider it ruined unless you carefully use a razor blade to remove a layer of the clay bar on the side that touched the ground. Again, be very careful. If you are not, any contaminants on the clay bar itself with scratch your paint.
When you are done you’ll have a perfectly clean surface ready to be treated with wax. The final job will be much better, last longer and will look better than if you had skipped the clay bar process. Plus, you’ll be much more proud of your work.
If you would like even more information on the entire process of detailing a car professionally, but sure to visit our article: The Complete Professional Car Detailing Step by Step Process
Where to buy
There are many clay bars on the market, everything from exclusive hard-to-find brands to more common types. Good ones that are more common and readily available are Meguiars Clay Bar Kit (Meguiar’s G1016 Smooth Surface Clay Kit – which we actually like quite a bit and it’s the one we used on our MX-5) and Mothers Clay Bar Kit (Mothers 07240 California Gold Clay Bar System).
For convenience, you can order the Meguiar’s Clay Bar Kit we used here from Amazon using the link below.
Note that if you order using a the link through our website you help RallyWays to continue doing what we do, as we receive a small commission. Rest assured we’re recommending great product. This Meguiar’s clay bar kit is the one we use the most around here. It’s also less aggressive than others, so it makes it easier to use and safer.
There are more high-end specialized kits available which also cost more money. But for most people, especially those new to clay bar kits, the standard off-the-shelf kits are just fine. Feel free to experiment with other kits in the future.