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

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what is clay bar, when to use clay bar, car detailing

Clay bar treatment is one of the most important tools within the auto detailing process that has gained popularity within the detailing community. We often come across auto clay bar treatments, and in this article, I am going to explain what is a clay bar and what it is used for.

Clay bar treatment which is often referred to as claying or clay baring, is a form of complex detailing treatment that should not be used or attempted to use without necessary precautions.

In cases where it is properly used, it can greatly benefit your vehicle’s paint.

If you want to achieve the desired contamination-free finish or just simply know more about this treatment, follow me through this guide. 

What Is 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.

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

How Can Paint Contamination Take Place?

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. 

Does Your Car Need Clay Bar Treatment?

To identify whether your vehicle’s surface is contaminated or not, you first have to wash your vehicle thoroughly (here’s how to do it).

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. 

Here your 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. 

Working Process of Clay Bar

To eliminate any foreign bodies or contamination from the surface of your vehicle’s paint, automotive clay is moved across in gentle motions on the surface to remove the contamination.

The contamination particles get suspended in the clay bar itself and will not deposit on the surface again if the clay bar is rubbed or moved onto the surface. 

The most important precautionary measure to be taken here is to ensure that the vehicle’s surface is properly lubricated so that the clay bar can slide around easily while lifting the contamination and doesn’t cause any damage to the surface itself.

Various manufacturers of clay bars say that water itself is enough to form a lubricating layer. However, I do not support the idea of using water as a lubricant.

It is important to use specially designed clay bar lubricants beforehand or a product that is formulated to provide slip, such as a detailer spray or a protectant shampoo.  

It is a popular misbelief that the clay bar is abrasive and can remove the paintwork on your vehicle’s surface.

Clay bar is a completely safe treatment for contamination removal from your vehicle’s surface, and when used properly, will not cause any damage or harm to the clearcoat

However, a clay bar can lift away any protection applied before the decontamination treatment. If any glass coatings are done before the decontamination treatment, they will be compromised in this process and will require a reapplication afterward. 

Benefits of Using a Clay Bar On Your Car

There are 4 primary reasons to use clay bar treatment for your car:

1. Bonded contaminants above the surface can be safely removed by claying

Contamination that arises from the air or dirt gets bonded to the surface of your vehicle’s paint if your vehicle is parked outside most of the time.

These contaminants must be removed properly and timely. If they are not removed, they tend to get bonded with the paint and will not come off from normal washing.

This is where claying has proven to be beneficial. 

The clay bar is formulated in such a way that it will scrap off contaminants from the surface of your vehicle’s paint without damaging your car. 

In the past, people used coarse rubbing compounds to get rid of these contaminants but they would:

  • Form scratches on the vehicle’s paint,
  • Remove and create patches on the painted surface.

2. Clay bar treatment will allow your choice of wax or paint sealant to work effectively

If you are planning to get your vehicle’s surface coated with wax or a paint sealant, then claying your painted surface is essential because it will not only make your investment worth it but will also maximize the effect of wax or sealant.

The formulation of a clay bar is such that it prepares the surface of your vehicle for the wax or sealant to last longer and yield effective results, which are essentially what most people want. 

3. Restore smooth, even, and clean surface by claying

I think that all car owners would agree that there’s nothing better than a glossy great-looking painted vehicle, which in fact, is a result of light reflecting from the smooth surface. 

Contaminants from the air create a build-up on your car, forming an uneven, irregular surface that feels rough and coarse.

The irregular surface formed from contaminants does not give your car a presentable look or feel and hence hinders the light reflection. 

Claying treatment allows the light reflection by conveniently scrapping out the dirt and contaminants to give a glossy finish. 

4. Polishing/detailing is made easier, more effective, and safer after the claying treatment

When I say polishing, it means disturbing the paint to remove the defects on the surface or refining the finish. 

  • When the contaminants on the surface are removed, the polish and pad are enabled to work effectively on the paint with no hindrance. 
  • The polishing action is made easier and smoother because the contaminants are removed prior with the help of the clay bar treatment.

The chance of buffing the paint with the contaminants is reduced by claying. Buffing can cause the contaminants to become trapped in the painted surface. 

Prepare Your Vehicle For Clay Bar Treatment

Prior to the claying treatment, it is essential to properly prepare the vehicle for this process.

This process requires to use of a clay bar lubricant to provide a slick surface. The clay bar and the vehicle must be lubricated with the clay bar lubricant all the time in order to avoid paint damage and ensure that the clay bar is working properly.

If the surface is not properly covered with the clay bar lubricant, then the clay bar cannot slide on it properly which will leave a residue that is difficult to remove. 

It is advisable to use wax lubricants rather than high-alkaline lubricants because they can potentially ruin the clay bar and its usage.

After lubricating the vehicle properly, use the clay bar to eliminate contamination and oxidation from the vehicle’s surface. This will ensure you have a clean and smooth canvas for wax or polish. 

Bottom Line

A clay bar is a great tool to help remove any contaminants from the car paint. I think that you should clay bar your car at least 1-2 times a year, depending on your driving style and the mileage you pass every year. 

Keeping your clearcoat as smooth as possible will extend its life and will also improve the paint’s appearance. I hope that I gave you a nice introduction to clay bars and that now you know when you should use it or when you should take your car to some car detailer for the clay bar treatment.

Lastly, make sure to always apply some kind of paint protection to your vehicle. That way, you’ll reduce the need to do a clay bar treatment so often.

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