car paint claying

What is a Clay Bar & How to use one

If your car paint is in bad shape, the main thing that you need to determine is whether you can go straight to compounds that will remove swirls and scratches or you need to use a clay bar to decontaminate your car paint first. You need a clay bar to decontaminate your car paint first if any of these are true:

  • Your car is brand new, and you just got it from the dealer’s store.
  • Your car has never been clayed before.
  • Your car was transported from one place to another.
  • Your car has "rough or gritty" texture on the paint's surface.
  • Your car has tiny rust spots, especially on the hood.

Clay Bar: Know It Before You Use It

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand what a clay bar is and why it is used on the car paint. So, let us first discuss what a clay bar is and what it does.

The surface of your car is constantly getting exposed to airborne contaminants like brake dust, industrial fallout, bug residue, tar, etc. These contaminants may actually stick to the car finish and potentially cause damage. Some of the contaminants can be corrosive, and they will start to damage the clear coat and cause rust spots. Dust or paint contaminations can affect your car paint finish and cause serious damage when left untreated.

clay bar

A clay bar is used to decontaminate the car paint by removing the contaminants from the surface of your paint, leaving your paint silky smooth. Clay bar removes all the impurities from the surface of the paint. When a clay bar is used across a wet surface of your paint, it can pick up all the surface contaminants and remove anything that protrudes from the paint. Basically, a clay bar can remove all impurities from the paint and get the shining brilliance of the paint.

A clay bar can remove:

  • Overspray
  • Brake Dust
  • Rail Dust
  • Industrial Pollution
  • Surface Impurities

A clay bar cannot remove:

  • Scratches
  • Swirls
  • Etchings

A clay bar safely removes over spray and industrial fallout by "shearing" it off the surface. After you have used a clay bar, all the contaminants on your car paint will be removed, and the car surface will feel silky smooth. Then, you are ready for polishing and waxing your car.

The frequency of claying a car depends on a lot of factors. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that claying be done twice per year. You can clay your right after winter and then again in the fall before you apply winter sealant. If you live or work in an area with a high level of industrial fallout, then you need to clay your car more often.

Once cars are built, they typically sit in lots or shipping docks that have a high exposure to industrial fallout. Many cars take a lot of time to get to their final destinations during transportation on trains and trucks. This is why it is very common to find rail dust on a brand new vehicle. It is recommended that a brand new car gets clayed at least once to remove these contaminants.

Using a Clay Bar the Correct Way

Often people believe that claying is a magical process that will remove all the dirt and scratches from the car and make it shine! Unfortunately, claying is just one part of the car care process, and there are other things that need to be done before you can give your car a spotless, shiny look. Therefore, claying is often followed by polishing and waxing of the car.

paint marring clay bar

So, if you clay your car paint safely, you can ensure that the rest of the techniques will give excellent results. When used properly, a detailing clay bar is completely safe and the non-abrasive way of removing impurities from the car paint. It’s a much better option than polishing because clay doesn’t remove any paint.

By following our step-by-step guide to decontaminating your car paint safely, you can easily remove the impurities using a clay bar and get the original brilliance of your car.

Before we explain the process of claying your car safely, let us look into products that you need for the same.

  • Clay Bar: You need a fine grade bar of clay. The finer the clay, the lesser the chance of marring the finish. The medium grade clay is used for more heavily contaminated vehicles (cars that have gone many years without claying), and it has a greater risk of marring the finish. It’s only recommended that you use medium grade clay if you are polishing afterwards.
  • Clay Lubricant: You need clay detailing spray or a clay lube to make sure that your car is completely wet when you use your clay bar on the surface of the paint. You need plenty of clay lubricant, so it is a good idea to buy a big bottle or buy in bulk.
  • Microfiber Towel: You will need a microfiber towel, a super absorbent, lint-free cloth that can pick up more dirt from the surface when you are cleaning.

Although, clay bars are abrasive, if used properly they will not mar the paint. You need to select a clay bar that is safe for your car finish. Your clay bar must be made of a soft non-abrasive material with excellent elasticity. Remember, clay bars cannot remove scratches, swirls or dull, oxidized paint.

In order to minimize damage to your car paint, you must use the right method to clay your car. Before you start, you’ll want to wash and dry the vehicle thoroughly as you normally would. This is all you need to do to prep the surface for claying.

Before you begin claying your car, you need to give it an initial rinse and remove any loose dirt or grime over the surface of the paint. Next, give your car the 2-Bucket Wash, so all the dirt can be gently lifted away without stripping your sealant. Use our safe cleaning guide to wash your car correctly and safely. A complete car wash will ensure that all the loose dirt particles are removed from the car’s surface, and your car is now ready to be clayed. Next, you need to follow the following method to use clay bar to decontaminate your car paint.

Step 1 - Select Your Work Area

Start by selecting a 3X3 work area. You need to work in small sections so that your lubricant doesn’t have a chance to dry out. You must do claying in a share but make sure that you have sufficient light reaching on the work area, so you can see the surface clearly when you work through the claying process.

Step 2 - Cut Your Clay Bar into Parts

Take your clay bar and cut it up into 3 or 4 equally sized pieces, so you need not use the whole clay for one use. Also, you may not want to use the whole piece at one time because if you drop it on the ground, you may need to throw it! Always keep a few back up clay bar pieces available to you.

Step 3 - Mould the Clay

Now take one of the pieces and flatten it out, so it’s easily held with about 3 fingers. Mould the clay by squeezing it in your hand. Once it becomes pliable, roll it into a ball and flatten into a disc shape of about ¼" thickness. If you are unable to hold the clay, use a clay disc adapter to hold your clay firmly, so you don’t drop it during the claying process.

Step 4 - Spray Clay Lubricant on the Work Area

Next, you need to saturate the clay bar and the area to be clayed with a clay detail spray or a clay lubricant. Spray a generous amount of clay lubricant on your work area. Make sure that your car surface is sufficiently wet so that the clay does not stick on it. You want to saturate the area and your clay completely before starting to clay. If you miss a spot, the clay will stick so be sure to get an even coverage.

Step 5 - Gently Rub the Clay Bar

Glide the clay, back and forth, over the wet area of the paint using little to no pressure. Do this only in one direction and back as opposed to circles or switching directions. As the clay goes over the paint, you will feel and hear the clay picking up the contaminants. As you clay the area, you are basically removing impurities from the paint.

Be sure not to use too much pressure otherwise you will risk marring or scratching the finish. If your clay bar starts sticking to the surface of the paint, you need to add more lubricant. You may need to check the clay periodically to make sure that you didn't pick up any large contaminates that might scratch the paint.

Keep going over the area until the clay glides easily and you no longer feel or hear contaminates on the paint. You always want to keep a fresh side of the clay on the paint, so inspect it often to ensure it’s not contaminated. When the clay becomes dirty, flip the clay bar and fold it upon itself. Knead it until a clean surface appears and continue claying.

Also, be careful not to drop the bar, if you do throw it out and start with a new piece. You don't want to risk scratching your paint with something it might have picked up from the ground. Once the work area is properly clayed, remove the clay lubricant with a microfiber towel and wipe the residue off. You can then move to the next section and repeat the same.

Finally

The purpose of claying is to remove all impurities from the surface of the paint. After a few passes, you should notice that the clay glides effortlessly, and you will no longer feel or hear the roughness in the finish. Once you have achieved this, it is time to move to the next section. If you have a section that still feels rough after a few passes, re-mist the area with lubricant as you’re going to make sure the clay moves freely.

Once claying is done properly, your car surface will feel like glass. You can test this - try to move the clay over the paint surface. If you find the clay bar slipping away, your claying process is complete, and you can move to the next section.

Storing the Clay Bar

At the end of the claying process, if your clay appears to be heavily contaminated, discoloured or feels really rough, you may need to throw it. In most cases, it can be used again, so for storage make sure you thoroughly spray the clay piece with your clay lubricant, and put it in a zip-lock bag. Don’t leave the clay out and exposed as it can dry out and/or collect dirt and debris.

Import Points to Remember

  • Make sure you have plenty of light on your work area. It is important that you see the swirls and dust particles while you use the clay bar on your paint.
  • Do NOT push your clay bar too hard into the paint because it will scratch up the car and leave marks instead.
  • Make sure you keep your work area wet at all times. Use plenty of clay lubricant or detailing spray, to keep your work area wet so that your clay does not stick and leave the residue that can mar the paint.
  • When working on the horizontal surfaces, be careful not to drop your clay bar. You don’t want to use the clay bar that has been dropped because it will pick up the contaminants that can potential scratch your car paint.
  • When the clay becomes dirty, fold it upon itself and knead it again so that the dirty surface disappears. You need to discard the clay bar when you can no longer knead the clay into a clean surface.
  • Make sure you check your clay bar periodically to ensure that you did not pick up any large contaminants during the claying process and if it does, you need to discard the clay and use another one.
  • Do NOT forget to rinse and wash your car before claying the car paint. It is important to remove all the big impurities from the surface before you start decontaminating your car paint with a clay bar.
  • Always use a good quality clay bar. A fine grade clay bar can give your car paint the shining brilliance.
  • Use a clay disc adaptor to get a good grip of the clay bar and to avoid your clay from dropping during the claying process.
  • It is recommended that you start out by working on a small area of a few square feet at a time.