Clay Bar Detailing FAQ

How do I know when it’s time to clay bar my car?

After first washing and drying your car, feel the surface of your car’s paint and glass with your fingertips. Does your paint feel rough and bumpy? If so, it’s time for a thorough cleaning with an Detailing Clay Bar to remove the bonded contamination.

The bumps and roughness you feel on your paint are contaminants such as factory fallout, brake dust, tree sap mist, road grime, paint over-spray and other junk that have bonded to your car’s paint finish. Most forms of dirt will wash off when you wash your car. However, some damaging particles bond to your car’s paint finish instantly. Others adhere slowly under the heat of the sun. To remove these bonded contaminants and bring back a perfectly smooth finish, you must clean your car using a clay bar.

Using a detail clay, you can remove bonded particles, restoring the smooth feel, and properly preparing your car for waxing or sealing. By claying, your car will feel incredible and your car wax will go on and wipe off easier.

How often should I clay bar my car?

There is no set schedule that works for everyone. Where you live, how your car is garaged, and how often you wash it are a few factors. The good news is that you can easily determine for yourself when you need to clay by feeling your paint after each wash. If it feels rough or bumpy, it is time to clay. As a general guideline, claying 3-4 times a year will keep your car’s paint clean and smooth.

What should I use as a clay bar lubricant?

You have two choices. Most clay brands recommend using a detailing spray. Most detailing sprays work pretty well as a detail clay lubricant. An second option is to use a clean bucket of wash soap solution.

How does detailing clay work, and is it safe?

Automotive detail clay is an abrasive system. When not used properly, a clay bar can cause light surface marring. There’s no need to be alarmed. If you you use proper lubrication and a few precautions, you will never experience a problem.

One way to think about detail clay is as a “selective polish” with a built-in polishing applicator. The clay bar’s job is to “polish away” dirt and surface contamination from paint, glass, chrome and plastic without actually touching the surface of your paint.

A pretty simple concept, isn’t it? The idea for auto detail clay has been around since the 1930’s. That’s when the idea of combining Polybutene (a soft plastic resin material) with abrasives was first put to paper.

Here’s how detailing clay works:

  1. Detailing clay works by hydroplaning (floating) over the surface you’re cleaning. The lubricant creates the barrier between the claybar and your car’s paint.
  2. When the clay encounters surface contamination, it abrasively removes it by grinding it away.
  3. Detailing clay shears off any foreign material above the level surface of the paint.

You can see dirt, oxidation and other contamination removed from your paint by inspecting the clay (which you should do frequently).

My car is new, do I need to use a clay bar right away?

Yes! Most new cars travel a long distances by ship, truck or rail to get to the dealer. They pick up a lot of nasty contamination along the way, like rail dust (metal particles from the wheels and track). Not all dealers properly prepare a car for delivery. Better safe than sorry.

What step comes first, claying or polishing?

Always clay your car before you polish it. When you do, your car will polish out faster and easier.

Will a clay bar remove swirl marks and paint scratches?

No. Clay is a cleaning tool only. It does not correct paint flaws.
If your car has swirl marks and fine scratches, use a swirl remover polish.

What is the best clay bar brand? Are there differences?

Currently, the sale of all clay bars sold in the USA is controlled under patent licensing. As a result, most of the detailing clay products come from a single manufacturer. The big difference is the grade: Fine, Normal, and Aggressive. Choose your grade wisely and when in doubt be conservative.

Don’t forget to check out our section on How to Best Wax Your Car!