Time Needed: 1-2 hours, depending on vehicle size, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: $30ish
Growing up before Y2K, there were always three common refrains when it came to caring for the exterior of a car: wash, polish, and wax. These were the steps you needed to take to remove the daily dirt, make the car shine, and protect the paint. However, only doing these three things misses the important step of removing the grit that gets stuck to your paint and cannot be washed off by a sponge or microfiber mitt. That’s what a clay bar is for.
A clay bar is an engineered Playdoh-like material that is designed to grab particles bonded to your paint and pull them out or off. These particles are then essentially sucked into the clay where it cannot damage the paint. Using a clay bar will turn a rough surface into a smooth surface, which is what every car owner and detailer wants. This might sound like a job best left for the pros, but it’s an extremely simple task that anybody could do at home. Read along to learn more about clay bars and learn how to clay your own ride.
The Safety Brief
Washing and claying a car is not an inherently dangerous job, but it still requires working with chemicals and sprays that could get on your skin or into your eyes. For complete precautionary protection, be sure to pick up a set of safety glasses and gloves, if preferred.
The Tools & Parts You Need
What Does a Clay Bar Remove?
During daily driving, a car accumulates all sorts of microscopic particles that get stuck to the paint and won’t budge. This includes things like industrial fallout, insect goo, tar, sap, brake dust, overspray, and general road grime. In other words, it removes things that are stuck to the surface of the paint, nothing below it.
Does a Clay Bar Remove Swirls and Scratches?
No, a clay bar will not be able to resolve any issues below the surface of the paint.
What are the Different Types of Clay Bars?
Certain companies offer different grades of clay bars. For example, you might see a company offer light-duty, medium-duty, and heavy-duty bars. These bars are formulated slightly differently to meet the demands and needs for your car. If a car is brand new, it would only need a light-duty bar, while an older car that is in rough shape would require a heavy-duty bar.
How Often Should You Clay Bar a Car?
This will come down to preference, but it’s a good idea to clay bar a car before you plan to apply a fresh coat of wax. There is no specific grit level that requires claying, it’s entirely up to how clean you want your car. If you feel the paint is gritty even after a fresh wash, it might be time to consider using the clay. Even some brand-new cars need to be clayed if they’ve been sitting on a lot for a long time or were hit with overspray.
The Task: How To Clay Bar a Car
1. Give your car a thorough rinse and wash.
The point of claying is to remove dirt, not rub it into the paint. Before you do anything, make sure you give the car a full wash to rinse off all the regular dirt your car accrues from daily driving. For washing tips, check out our post about How To Wash a Car by Hand.
2. Separate the clay into pieces, then knead and flatten into a disc.
Don’t waste your entire bar by using the whole thing for your first section. Most commonly, the bar is split into four to six sections. This allows you to still have enough clay to fold it over and continue using it on more sections. If you go much smaller, the clay could get too saturated with dirt.
Once it’s cut into pieces, press the clay to loosen it up a bit and shape it into a small disc.
3. Work in sections.
The most important thing with claying is to take your time. Split every part of the car you clay into sections, and work through it one part at a time. A good recommended general rule is to do 2×2-foot sections. Once you know where you’re starting, get to spraying.
4. Deliberately and liberally spray clay bar lube/detailer on a section.
This is one case when you actually do want to get crazy with spraying product on the car. Don’t spray the entire car down because it could dry, but deliberately spray your section and cover it well. Some people also spray the clay before touching it to the car. What you don’t want is the clay catching on your paint.
5. Use your fingertips to lightly glide the clay back and forth.
Position your clay disc underneath two or three fingers and lightly press the clay into the car. There’s no need to press hard. In sweeping back-and-forth motions, gradually go over the surface. Never do this in circles, only straight lines. We prefer to do all claying with the length of the vehicle. You will likely be able to feel the difference in roughness between a section you’ve clayed and a section you have yet to clay. If necessary, spray more lubricant as you go.
6. Once you’ve clayed a section, wipe it off with a microfiber towel.
With a microfiber towel folded in quarters, start at one side of your clayed section and wipe off excess lubricant. Wipe, lift up at the end of the section, and go back to the start. Don’t just wipe all willy nilly.
7. When the clay gets dirty, fold it to resurface fresh clay.
One small section of clay can be used on multiple sections, so long as you refresh it when it gets dirty. If you start to see the brown and black particles collecting on the clay, you can fold it over, press it a bit more, and mold it so that you have a fresh clay surface to tackle the next part.
8. Repeat steps 4-7 until the car has been completely clayed.
If you need to, take rests to make sure you don’t get lazy on the second half of the car. If you’re unsure if a section still needs claying, use the back of your hand to feel if the car feels gritty or smooth.
9. Next Steps
After you clay your car, move onto polishing, then protecting with a wax or coating.
FAQs About Using a Clay Bar on Your Car
Q. Will a clay bar damage a car’s clear coat?
A. Nah, clay barring is designed to help your car, not hurt it. If used incorrectly, after it’s too dirty, or with the wrong lubrication, it is technically possible, but it is unlikely, at least not to the point you would notice.
Q. Does a clay bar remove wax?
A. Yes, a clay bar will eat away at wax.
Q. Can you use water as a clay bar lubricant?
A. No, water is not slippery enough to be a lubricant for clay. Do not use water as your lubricant.
Q. Can you use soapy water as a clay bar lubricant?
A. Functionally, this would probably work, but we do not recommend using soapy water as your lubricant. At the very least, use a detailing spray, which you should already have in your car cleaning stock.
Q. Can a clay bar be cleaned?
A. No, a clay bar cannot be cleaned. If you drop a clay bar on any sort of dirty surface like the ground or a workbench, throw it away.
The Video Tutorial for Using a Clay Bar on Your Car
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