It's a dirty world we live in and your car gets a good deal of abuse. Environmental conditions, industrial fallout, road tar, dirty rain...you name it, your car gets exposed to it on a daily basis. This write-up will get to the bottom of what clay bar is, what it does and doesn't do and how to use it properly.
What is clay bar?
Clay bar was developed by a Japanese inventor in the late 1980s as a way for automobile manufacturers to quickly and easily remove overspray from freshly painted cars without having to resort to wetsanding or repainting. It also makes a fantastic cleaning tool. The secret was picked up by professional detailers in the mid-1990s who tried to keep it all to themselves. However the good secrets don't stay that way for long and by the early 2000s, clay bar was available to the general public.
What does clay bar do?
The clay acts almost like dirt magnet, removing embedded contaminants that create a bumpy surface and prevent proper wax or sealant adhesion. When used properly with a spray lubricant (usually a quick-detailer), the clay picks up and locks in whatever might have latched onto the paint over the years. Because the dirt is suspended in the clay, it keeps it from micro-scratching the paint.
There are also a great number of myths about clay that have been perpetrated by detailers who didn't want their secret weapon in the hands of the public. Unfortunately, many of these myths remain. I will go through some of the most common misconceptions about claying here.
- I've been told that claying is inherently dangerous and can strip my paint off if not used by a professional.
- This is absolute baloney. Follow the instructions correctly and your grandmother could clay her car. It's very simple.
- I've heard that clay will eventually remove all of your clearcoat and because of that, can only be used every now and again
- Again...not true. The only thing that will remove small amounts of your clearcoat is polishing and even then, we're talking tenths of a micron (1 micron = 0.0000393"). Clay only removes contamination on the surface of your paint, leaving it perfectly clean for polishing and sealing.
- Clay can scratch your paint.
- Because clay is technically considered an abrasive cleaner, it can put micro-scratches into the clearcoat, more so on softer paint finishes. However most over-the-counter clay kits won't cause this and even if they do, these scratches are EXTREMELY shallow and can easily be polished out. If you are picturing some of those huge, deep scratches...you're wrong. Clay won't do that.
- Clay will remove oxidation and swirl marks.
- No...clay is only a cleaner. Oxidation and swirls can only be removed by machine polishing which will be covered at a later date.
- New cars don't need to be clayed / it is unsafe to clay a freshly painted car.
- This couldn't be further from the truth. Many new cars are shipped from their places of manufacture by rail and the rail cars have brake pads much like your car does. Every time the train brakes are used, little flecks of hot metal are sheared off the brake pad and fly into the air. Many of them wind up landing on the cars inside the autoracks and if left for years, they can undermine the clearcoat and cause rust. Also, cars are frequently stored outdoors in industrial areas for up to months at a time before being shipped to dealers and the environmental fallout definitely takes its toll on the finish. I clayed my new Santa Fe the day I brought it home and was astonished at what I picked up.
Start with a clean car by viewing the proper washing techniques thread. I strongly suggest working in the shade or in your garage if you have one. You will need a clay bar, a lubricant in the form of a car wash soap and water mixture or quick detailer and several clean microfiber towels. Because this is a very wet process, you will probably saturate three or four towels with quick-detailer.
Make sure your hands are clean and free of wedding rings, etc.!!! Start with a clean piece of clay flattened out to about 3 to 4" (7 to 10 cm) across. If the clay is new or cold, it is liable to be very stiff. You can make it more mailable by working it with your hands or by putting in a plastic bag and then submerging the bag in a bowl of warm water. It's up to you.
Spray a liberal amount of your quick-detailer on the panel in question.
Start from the top of the panel and work your way down, going left to right. When you get to the bottom, work your way left to right again but in an up-and-down motion. The entire job should be done in a cross-hatch pattern. Panels that are large or very contaminated can be passed over several times. If your clay gets hung up, keep the surface well-lubricated.
If you feel a gritty or rough sensation through the clay, don't panic! The clay is simply doing its job and removing nasty unwanted crap from your paint.
This is what clay looks like when all the contaminants are trapped inside it. When you get one side dirty, simply fold it over several times until you get a clean section. Clay should be thrown out when it gets worn (begins to tear, etc.) or if it gets dropped on the ground. DO NOT use clay that has fallen on the ground. Immediately throw it out and get a new piece!
Once you are done claying a panel, wipe off the excess lubricant and do not let it dry on the paint. Hopefully this is helpful to everybody.