What is Clay Bar? When Should You Use It On Your Car?

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If you’re still unfamiliar with a clay bar, in this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about clay bar: what it is, when to use it, etc.

Key Takeaways:

  • Clay bar is a balm product used to remove paint decontamination from cars.
  • The method is often referred to as clay bar treatment.
  • The goal of clay bar treatment is to remove any contaminants from the car paint and make the paint as smooth as possible.
  • At some point, every car needs clay bar treatment. I recommend doing a clay bar treatment once a year.

What Is Clay Bar?

clay bar

Before we proceed into the details of the functioning or usage, it is first necessary to understand what this treatment is.

A clay bar is a form of natural or synthetic engineered balm compound specifically made to lift or get rid of the contamination from the surface of your vehicle to prepare it for protection.

The contamination refereed here can be:

  • industrial fallout,
  • honeydew,
  • rail dust,
  • tree sap,
  • and bitumen tar.

It is quite similar to the clay we once used to play with as kids to mold out shapes. However, this clay is designed in such a way as to make it more elastic for added durability and usability as a part of an effective treatment.

In addition to this, an automotive clay bar can be irrepressible and strong to counteract any contamination, all the while keeping the suspension particles within themselves.

Related: Does Clay Bar Damage Car Paint

This allows the clay bar to contain the contamination without letting it damage or transfer to the vehicle’s surface. 

3 Different Types of Clay Bar

clay mitt
Clay Mitt

Let’s explore the three clay bar types: the standard clay bar, the clay towel, and the clay mitt.

  • 1. Standard Clay Bar. The standard clay bar is the original go-to for auto enthusiasts and professionals alike. It’s a pliable, resin-based compound that feels a bit like putty. This type of clay bar comes in various grades, from fine to heavy, designed to tackle different levels of contamination. It requires kneading and reshaping during use to expose a clean surface and prevent scratching. Ideal for those who prefer a hands-on approach, the standard clay bar offers a time-tested method for achieving a pristine finish.
  • 2. Clay Towel. The clay towel is a more recent innovation that combines the effectiveness of a clay bar with the convenience of a microfiber towel. It features a microfiber towel base with a polymer rubber layer that grabs contaminants from the paint. The clay towel is durable, easy to handle, and can cover larger areas more quickly than a standard clay bar. It’s also easier to clean and can be used multiple times, making it a cost-effective choice for regular detailers.
  • 3. Clay Mitt. For those who want the best of both worlds, the clay mitt is the answer. It merges the malleability of a clay bar with the ease of a mitt design. You slip it on your hand like a glove, which gives you more control and reduces hand fatigue during extended use. The clay mitt is excellent for those who are looking for a user-friendly, efficient way to decontaminate their vehicle while enjoying the tactile feedback of traditional claying.

Benefits of Clay Bar For Cars

Here are the most important benefits of clay bars for your car.

  • Immaculate Removal of Stubborn Contaminants.
    Benefit from the clay bar’s ability to meticulously lift away the stubborn contaminants that have bonded with your car’s paint. These unwelcome guests from the air and road refuse to leave with standard washing, but a clay bar treatment can evict them without harming your car’s delicate finish.
  • Optimal Preparation for Wax and Sealants.
    A clay bar doesn’t just clean; it prepares your car for greatness. Stripping away the smallest impurities ensures that your chosen wax or sealant adheres better and lasts longer. This is not just a clean surface; it’s a primed canvas that makes every subsequent treatment more effective and your investment more worthwhile.
  • Restoration of a Smooth, Glossy Finish.
    The true benefit of claying is revealed in the irresistible smoothness and mirror-like shine of your car’s paint. By removing the microscopic blemishes, a clay bar treatment restores your vehicle’s surface to a state of perfection, allowing light to reflect evenly and making your car look as good as new.
  • Simplified and Safer Polishing and Detailing.
    Post-clay, your car’s surface is the ideal starting point for any detailing or polishing endeavor. With contaminants out of the way, your polishing tools can work directly on the paint, enhancing their effectiveness and reducing the risk of trapping particles during the buffing process, which could otherwise damage the paint.

Identifying When Your Car Needs a Clay Bar Treatment

To identify whether your vehicle’s surface is contaminated or not, you first have to wash your car. After washing your car, you’re ready to test the paint.

  • Using a plastic sandwich bag, softly run your fingertips over the paint surface.

While doing so, keep in mind that the surface has been washed and dried completely.

  • If your surface is as smooth as a glass surface, then your vehicle’s paint is not contaminated.
  • However, on the contrary, if the surface is not smooth and feels gritty, coarse, or bumpy, then it is a clear indication that your paint has been contaminated, and that’s a reason to use clay bar

Here, the clay bar treatment comes into play. Before proceeding with wax or any other treatment, the contamination needs to be removed from the surface using a clay bar. 

How Does Clay Bar Work

clay mitt in action

Imagine a gentle eraser that glides over your car’s paint, picking up all the invisible nasties that a sponge can’t. That’s what a clay bar does – it’s like a magnet for the tiny particles that stick to your car’s surface.

How It Cleans Contaminants

When you glide the clay bar over your car, it doesn’t just push the dirt around. Instead, it traps particles inside the clay. Think of it as a sticky trap for all the grime that’s invisible to the naked eye. And don’t worry – it’s a one-way trip for the dirt. Once the clay grabs it, it won’t let go, which means those contaminants won’t find their way back onto your car.

The Right Way to Slide

Now, the clay bar isn’t a fan of dry surfaces. It needs something slippery so it can skate across your paint without leaving a mark. That’s where a good lubricant comes in. While some folks might tell you water is enough, it’s not the best partner for your clay bar. Instead, use a special clay bar lubricant or a quick detailer spray. These are like ice on a rink for your clay bar, letting it dance over your car’s surface, picking up dirt without any scratches.

Safe for Your Car

There’s a rumor that clay bars are like sandpaper for your paint, but that’s not true. When used correctly, with plenty of lubricant, a clay bar is as gentle as a feather on your car’s clearcoat. It’s all about the technique – gentle and steady wins the race.

A Note on Protection

One thing to remember: if you’ve got any wax or sealant on your car, the clay bar is going to strip it away along with the dirt. It’s not picky; it cleans off everything. So, if you’ve applied a protective coating, you’ll need to put on a fresh layer after you’re done claying.

Related: What To Do After Using Clay Bar

Understanding Paint Contamination

As mentioned above, paint contamination can occur from a variety of sources. Your vehicle’s paint can be contaminated due to the rail dust from the fiction produced by the train wheels and the railroad trucks.

So, a vehicle becomes subject to rail dust every time it is parked in the vicinity of the railroad.

Paint contamination can also result from friction between the brake pads and the rotor. This contamination is called brake dust. When the brake is applied, friction between metals is created, and that causes tiny particles of bare metal to disperse off into the environment and get stuck on the vehicle’s surface.

In this case, the vehicles that regularly drive on the highway are more prone to this kind of contamination. 

Another source of contamination is caused by industrial fallout. As a byproduct of industrial waste, tiny, strong, and harsh particles are released that can contaminate your vehicle’s painted surface. 

Bottom Line

Now that you understand what clay bar is and when one should use it on their car, I suggest that you learn how to decontaminate the car’s paint, in which process you’ll use your fresh knowledge to remove all contaminants from your car and return its shine to original.

How To Decontaminate The Paint on Your Car

And if you ask me if clay bar is worth it, I’d say YES! It’s so far the best tool for removing contaminants from the car paint without damaging the clear coat.

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