What is a Clay Bar? And How Do I Use It For Detailing?
As we saw in our last post, exposure to contaminants can wreak havoc on the body of your car.
That’s where a clay bar comes in. What is a clay bar you ask? Well, I’ve outlined all the information you need to know below.
What Is A Clay Bar Treatment?
A clay bar (also known as detailing clay) is an auto detailing tool used in the repair and maintenance of car surfaces. Whether you’re a professional detailer or an amateur, a clay bar will help your car’s finish look as good as new.
Clay bar treatment works to remove the contaminants that normal washing misses, and they are effective on your car’s paint, metal, glass, and fiberglass surfaces. The consistency of a clay bar is elastic, which allows you to flatten it, stretch it, roll it, and generally mold it to your liking.
When you perform your clay bar detailing correctly, it is entirely safe and nonabrasive. Believe it or not, it’s actually less abrasive than your typical polishing or buffing processes.
How frequently should you do a clay bar treatment?
Here at AutoDeets, we typically recommend that most people use detailing clay twice a year. Claying your car more frequently won’t damage the surface of your car, provided you are using your detailing clay properly.
If you’re trying to decide if your vehicle needs a clay bar treatment right now, it’s super easy. Simply run your hand over your car. How does it feel? If you feel any sort of roughness, it’s time to get your clay bar out and draw those particles & contaminants out of the paint.
Our Favorite Clay Bars
What Does A Clay Bar Do & Why Should I Use It?
As a car owner, you are probably peppered with numerous products that you ‘must’ use to maintain the integrity your car. Don’t worry; this is not the case here.
Like we mentioned above, auto detailing clay bars are made of a resin mixture engineered to remove contaminants from your car’s surfaces. As you’re gliding the clay bar across the surface of your vehicle, the detailing clay is going to pick up anything protruding from the surface. The dust, dirt, & other contaminants get stuck in the clay as you work, and after that you’ve successfully removed those particles.
A very important note before you get started is that you always use spray lubricant or detailer spray before claying. This lubricating process actually stops any loose debris from scratching the finish on your car.
One of the reasons clay bar treatment is gaining so much popularity in the car detailing world is because it is nonabrasive. Many people think they want their car polished, but often times that isn’t the best option. Polishing your vehicle actually removes a thin layer of paint from your car, while claying does not.
How Does a Clay Bar Work?
How does a clay bar manage to get rid of the contaminants that car shampoo and polish cannot eliminate?
Well, when you run your clay bar across the surface of your car, the particles of contaminants attach to the clay. The only thing you need to do is add lubrication beforehand (more on that below) in order to prevent scratching.
The non abrasive clay bar manages to remove the tiniest particles without causing further damage to your surfaces. Isn’t that amazing?
What to Consider Before Choosing a Clay Bar
If you head over to Amazon or your local auto parts store, you’ll find plenty of clay bar brands to choose from. So how do you make your final decision and arrive at the best clay bar?
Firstly, clay bars will differ in color, price, purpose, and elasticity, but the most important factor for you to consider is aggressiveness. Some clay bars are consumer grade (medium grade) while others are professional grade (fine grade).
Consumer grade bars are mild and will require extra effort when cleaning highly contaminated surfaces, while professional grade bars are aggressive and will quickly clear up contaminants.
Due to the aggressive nature of professional grade bars, they pose a threat to your car paint and should therefore be left to those with experience. Consumer grade bars are the best option if you are new to claying.
How to Store Your Clay Bar
When storing your clay bar, put it in it’s original case or keep it in a sealed plastic bag. A good idea is to spray the detailing clay with lubricant in order to keep it wet & prevent it from drying out. Never let the clay freeze, and don’t store it in temperatures over 200° F.
What Is In A Clay Bar Kit?
Now that you know everything there is to know about clay bars, it’s time for a quick tutorial. We’ll start by diving into what you’re going to need in order to give your car a clay bar treatment. It’s worth noting that, while you can certainly purchase each of these products individually, most clay bar kits are going to include most of the items below. You’ll likely need to purchase your car wax separately, but everything else should be included in your clay bar kit.
Clay Bars are usually going to come in 2 to 8 oz. bars. A two ounce clay bar is typically going to be enough to do three or four vehicles. As a quick reference, it is estimated that one 2 oz clay bar should last around 18 months to 2 years if used on the same vehicle.
A Microfiber Towel
As one of the most essential tools used by car detailing professionals, microfiber towels (occasionally called microfiber cloths) are a critical part of your clay bar kit. In essence, a microfiber is an incredibly tiny synthetic fiber – roughly 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. Made from polyester & polyamide, the two materials are blended at different ratios in order to make different types of microfibers. As a result, you’ll notice a broad range of microfiber towels for different applications.
Detailer Spray or Lubricant
If you’re going to give your car a clay bar treatment, you’re definitely not going to want to forget the detailer spray or lubricant. These form a thin film over the surface of your vehicle so that the clay bar won’t stick to the surface or damage it with debris that it has picked up. To add to that, it is considerably harder to clay bar a car without the lubricant since you’ll notice that the clay won’t actually glide over the paint surface easily.
You have a few options for detailer spray or lubricant before starting the claying process, although we highly recommend one over the other. You can use quick detailers, or you can also use a combination of car wash shampoo & water. Here at AutoDeets, we highly recommend sticking to the detailer spray.
The reason for this is that the solution can actually damage the clay bar. So while you’re trying to save a bit of money on a clay bar, you’re actually going to end up simply having to fork out more money for more clay. Detailer sprays are specifically engineered to work in tandem with clay bars, meaning they won’t damage the clay at all.
Car Wax (Not Included But Absolutely Necessary)
While not technically part of the clay bar detailing process, finishing things off with some good car wax is always a good idea. This is going to further protect the surface of your car after claying, and will make all that hard work you spent clay bar detailing your car last as long as it should! You can check out a list of our most recommended car waxes here.
How To Use A Clay Bar
If this is your first time using a clay bar, follow these simple steps to figure out how to use detailing clay:
1: Wash Your Vehicle
Before you use a clay bar your should always start with a recently washed vehicle. Also make sure you properly dry your car. This ensures that most of the surface contaminants are eliminated, leaving only the particles that truly need the detailing clay.
2: Use Your Detailer Spray
Only start with a small area (we recommend less than 2 feet diameter) for your lubricant or detailer spray.
3. Slide the Clay Bar
The next step in the process is to gently glide the clay bar across the area that you just lubricated. Simply work the detailing clay back and forth, pulling all those contaminants out of your car’s surface. Once you start feeling the clay gliding across the paint without any resistance, that is your indicator that the area is clean.
4. Check Your Clay Bar
As you’re using a clay bar, continually monitor the surface of the clay to ensure that you’re using a fresh side. Once all exposed sides have been used, simply fold the clay over a few times & press it flat. This should have exposed fresh areas of the detailing clay, giving you a nice, contaminant-free surface to work with.
You should keep monitoring the clay to verify that you’re using a fresh side. After you’ve used both sides, you can fold the clay a couple of times, press it, and then straighten it. You can now continue, but you should keep checking to see if any pieces of dirt could damage the surface of your car.
Note: If your detailing clay appears to be discolored or rough throw it away and resume with a fresh piece of clay.
5. Check your work
After you’ve finished cleaning up an area, wipe the area down with your microfiber towel that was included in your clay bar kit. The lubricant or detailer spray can also help remove any clay residue. Run your hand over the cleaned area to check it it’s cleaned well enough. Your hands should slide smoothly over the pain. If they don’t, you’ll have to re-clay the area again. Be sure to reapply your lubricant or detailer spray again before using your detailing clay.
Go ahead and repeat all those steps until you’ve finished with the entire vehicle. You can also use detailing clay on both chrome & glass!
6. Wrapping Things Up
After you’ve spent all that time using a clay bar you should make sure that you’re helping to preserve your hard work. Finish up the job by applying a coat of wax for cars to the entire vehicle. This will help to fill any of the voids left by the now-gone contaminants and keep your vehicle looking great while protecting against corrosion!
Clay Bar Alternatives
One of the more popular alternatives to clay bars is mitts or clay mitts. They do the job pretty well, and are noticeably more efficient than your typical clay bar. Normal clay mitts have a rugged microfiber mitt construction, with one of the sides of it being made of an engineered polymer coating that is designed to pick up surface contaminants like tar or bugs.
One downside to clay mitts, however, is that they are pretty well known to cause more damage to paint than your typical automotive clay bar. If you’re going to use a mitt instead of detailing clay for cars, make sure you’re incredibly generous with your detailing spray to avoid any spray. If you’d like to opt for a mitt instead of a clay bar for cars, we’d recommend the Nanoskin Autoscrub Wash Mitt. You can find it here.
As you can see, using a clay bar on your car is essential to maintain a quality finish. Using the tutorial above you can now restore the aesthetics of your car.
We’d love to know, have you tried the claying process before? Share your experience in the comments below.
1. A clay bar removes all contaminants from your car surfaces
2. Always use a wax or sealant once you are done claying