How To Use A Clay Bar
A popular question within the detailing hobby how to use a clay bar. It's something we hear on a regular basis and one that can be answered with a simple step by step guide, however there are a few things you need to know about a clay bar before you use one on your vehicle. Some refer to clay baring or claying as an advanced detailing treatment or one not to be attempted without due care which in certain cases is true. However, the benefits of using a clay bar on your paintwork in the correct manner can be huge and you should not be put off. Follow us along as we walk you through firstly why you should use your clay, what detailing clay is, how an automotive clay works, when you should use it, specific points of caution to be taken and most importantly how to use a clay bar to your benefit in a safe and controlled way. Be prepared to achieve that contamination free finish you so desire.
What is a clay bar
A clay bar is either a natural or synthetic engineered resin compound designed to remove or ‘lift’ contamination from your vehicles surface to provide a contamination free, smooth surface to apply protection to. Contamination such as: industrial fallout, rail dust, honey due, tree sap and bitumen tar. A clay bar is very similar to the clay I’m sure we all played with as children however we would not suggest using any old clay on your vehicles delicate surface. An automotive clay bar will have been specifically developed to be much more elastic which gives it much more durability and usability when continuously manipulated into the shapes needed to be effective when in use. Furthermore, an automotive clay bar will be far more resilient and possible to withstand the harsh contamination of which you will be asking it to remove from the surface whilst keeping that contamination within suspension and away from the vehicles surface where it could cause damage.
How do clay bars work?
Automotive clay will be gently moved across the surface of a vehicle and ‘lifts’ any foreign bodies that protrude from it due to the tacky surface of the clay. These small particles of contamination will then be suspended within the clay bar itself and not deposited back on the surface. It is increasingly important to ensure the surface is always very well lubricated to help limit or even eliminate the chance of the clay bar itself causing damage when in use. Although some clay bar manufactures seem to suggest that water can offer sufficient lubrication we would highly disagree. It would be wise to use either a dedicated clay bar lubricant or such a product that is designed to promote ‘slip’ such as a well formulated detailer spray or protectant shampoo.
When used in the correct manner a clay bar is 100% safe and will not cause any damage to the surface of which it is being used on. Contrast to popular belief a clay car is also non abrasive and will not remove any level of paintwork from the surface. A clay bar will however highly compromise or even remove most, if not all protection applied to the surface in the way of sealants or waxes simply because of the contact and natural abrasion caused from this or any other contact. All but the toughest of glass coatings will be removed or seriously compromised after you have used a clay bar and will need re applying once complete.
When should you use a clay bar
This is a topic in itself’ however it is safe to say you should not be using a clay bar every time you wash your vehicle! Generally speaking, We would suggest that claying could be carried out every 6 months depending on the amount a vehicle is used. As mentioned previously claying will remove or compromise any coating applied to the surface, so it is safe to presume that once you have carried out a claying routine you will also need to re apply any protection that was present before you started. Many would also suggest that you would require carrying out a polish with mild abrasion or a pre wax cleaner before applying your coating. Periodically you could factor in the use of your clay bar, it is a good idea to at least carry out this method with your winter protection detail so that you are giving your sealant the best chance of surviving it through the harsh winter months. Beyond this you could also factor in a clay bar to your spring detail once the winter is all but over and you are preparing to enjoy the summer months. This will remove any contamination picked up over the winter and ensure that any waxes applied in the summer months will bond as designed.
How to tell if you need to clay bar your car?
If you’re thinking about this question then the chances are you already know the answer. Your vehicles surface is barraged with debris on a daily basis, every time you drive the vehicle it faces assault from the environment each and every time. Every trip brings different problems to face be it salts, general debris, exhaust films, airborne pollution and much more. Splashing or imbedding themselves in your beautify maintained paintwork you have painstakingly cared for. And worst of all, remember your vehicle can become contaminated at any time and any place! Even when it is new at the dealership or in fact simply on its way to the showroom or in production!
A common test carried out by detailers and enthusiasts alike is the plastic bag test.
Simply wash and dry your vehicle as you normally would. Find a nice new plastic sandwich bag and place this over your hand. Now lightly rub your fingertips over the clean surface of the paint. If you can feel a gritty or rough texture then there is contamination present on your vehicle. This method works as the plastic bag emphasises the contamination more than your fingertips alone would. Helping you notice the contamination with ease, just make sure to take your sandwiches out of the bag first!
How to use detailing clay
Now we have explained the why, when and what it is time to look at the how, the fun part. But before we get deep into thought we need to prepare. Firstly, it is essential to carry out a full decontamination wash before using automotive clay. By this we mean to firstly carry out a safe wash, then move onto using a tar remover to remove all larger bitumen tar spots and then using a reactive fallout remover to remove as much bonded iron contamination as possible before contacting the painted surface with a clay bar.
Follow these steps whilst using your clay:
Step 1: Wash and dry your vehicle ensuring that you have carried out a full decontamination wash.
Step 2: Open up your clay and remove it from the protective film, break off a manageable piece of clay (1inch squared should be ample) and work it in your hands until pliable, now flatten this into a disk shape. Ensure to replace the lid of the clay bar back on firmly and do not let the clay come into contact with any dirty surfaces.
Step 3: Grab your clay bar lubricant (Lubed
) and apply a liberal amount to a small area. We suggest working in areas no bigger than 1ft x 1ft.
Step 4: Now apply the clay bar to the pre lubricated surface and move the clay from one edge of your work area to the other in straight lines, do not apply any pressure, it is important to allow the clay bar to do the work. You should also be working slowly and keeping an eye out for anything that could cause damage whilst using the clay. You should gradually feel the clay bar become easier to move and the surface become smoother. Apply more lubrication at any time desired and do not let the surface dry out.
Step 5: Once you have treated a single area and carried out 4-8 passes fold the clay in half, contaminated sides inwards to reveal two additional clean working surfaces of the clay bar. Wipe the old lubrication off with a plush microfibre cloth and re apply fresh lubricant.
Step 6: Flatten out the clay to a thin disk shape once more and move onto the next area repeating steps 4 & 5 until the entire vehicle has been treated. Remember to apply lubrication often and to fold the clay after every 4-8 passes and if the entire clay looks to become overly dirty discard it and use a new piece.
Notes: If you drop the detailing clay on the floor, under no circumstances should this be used again, discard the dirty clay and grab a new piece starting at step 2.
Avoid letting the lubricant dry out, use as much lubricant as needed to keep the surface damp at all times and wipe away the residue once every pass is finished.
Remember you should be using very little, if any pressure. The clay will do all the work.
We suggest working from the top of the vehicle down.
Congratulations you have now safely and effectively used detailing clay on your vehicle. At this time now you should be thinking of using a pre wash polish to prepare the surface of your vehicle for a sealant or wax and then applying a good coat of sealant to the entire vehicle to help protect it from the elements once more.
See our how to clay bar a car video guide HERE
If you do not have clay bar lubricant but need to clay your paintwork you can use a diluted quick detailer. We suggest using Smooth Velvet
and diluting it to 3:1 with water. Smooth Velvet will provide you with the lubricity you need to clay bar however we would always suggest using a dedicated clay bar lubricant such as Lubed