What is a Clay Bar and How to use it On Your Car Paintwork?

Clay bar detailing is the process of removing dirt from your car’s paintwork that ordinary cleaning cannot. Although not a standard part of many car wash packages, many professionals offer this as a more advanced detailing treatment to remove contaminants and pollutants from the surface of your car’s paint, glass, fiberglass and metal, leaving the bodywork feeling silky smooth.

As it is unnecessary to clay bar your car on a regular basis, some professionals recommend the treatment twice a year – depending on the usage of your vehicle (regular commuting vs shop-runs and other ad hoc trips only) and the areas you travel in (city or countryside).

You can determine whether your vehicle is in need of a clay bar treatment by simply feeling for it. Run your hand over the bodywork and any signs of roughness may be an indication that it’s time.

What is a Clay Bar?

A clay bar is an engineered resin compound that can be synthetic or natural – although most manufacturers use synthetic versions. A somewhat elastic product, the elasticity gives the detailing clay great durability as it is repeatably rolled, flattened, and stretched over your car’s bodywork.  Imagine it as a putty you used to play with as a child, the clay can be moulded in whichever way makes it easier to use.

But unlike the childhood favourite playdough, detailing clay is designed to cut through and remove, heavier-duty contaminants like paint overspray, brake dust, rust, tar spots and more.

As these contaminants connect with the bodywork of your car, they pierce the paintwork to become lodged in, and stick to your vehicle. Regardless of the weather, the car washes and even polishing, the only way to remove these is to use a product like detailing clay, which either pulls the contaminant out of the paintwork or cuts them down to smoothen the surface of your paintwork.

Most clay bar kits also come with a detailer spray or lubricant, which acts as a thin protector on the surface of your paintwork, preventing the clay from getting stuck, and potentially damaging the bodywork.  It also makes it a lot easier to move the clay over the surface of the car – since, without the lubricant, the clay will simply stick.

How to Use a Clay Bar?

Used properly, detailing clay is completely safe and nonabrasive.

1. Wash and Dry the Car

Before you start any detailing, you’ll need to ensure that your car has been washed thoroughly – removing any lose dirt from the paintwork. We’d also suggest that you dry the car too – it will simply give you a better feel as to whether your technique is working or not.

2. Manipulate the Clay Bar

Next, simply break off a piece of clay and work it in your hands, as you would do with brand new playdough or putty until it is completely malleable and pliable. Then flatten it into a small disk shape, around 5cm in diameter.

3. Remove Impurities 

Clay bar detailing needs to be done in small sections, one at a time. When you’re ready to start, spray a small area of your car with the lubricant or detailing spray. Keep the spray around 2 feet way from the car as you go.  Once you’re ready to use the clay, remember you are removing impurities – which means that they will be transferring from your car, onto your clay. So, you will need to ensure that you use 1 side of the clay at a time, and when the impurities build-up, you fold the dirty side of the clay into itself, so that you keep using a clean section all the time.

4. Gently Apply the Clay Bar

You will want to glide the clay over the paintwork, back and forth, gently. At first, you may want to try pulling the clay across the surface (because it will be sticking to the impurities), but as you continue, you will start to find that the surface becomes smoother, and the gliding, easier. When moving the clay across the surface feels effortless, you know that the section is complete, and you can move on to the next.

5. Check and Rotate Clay Bar

Always check the clay bar, to make sure that you’re using a clean side. Once you’ve used both sides, fold the clay a couple of times, press it, then straight it, and continue. But always keep an eye to check that the impurities on your clay, are not causing any damage to your paintwork. If in doubt, grab a fresh piece.

6. Wipe with Microfibre Cloth

Once you’re done, you may want to give the paintwork a rub-down with a microfiber cloth, removing any residue of clay that has been left behind (use the lubricant spray if necessary).

7. Apply a Car Wax

Finish it all up with car wax, and you’re good to go. The wax will fill any gaps left by the clay bar detailing process and will shield your paintwork from any future corrosion.

ChipsAway has over 200 car body repair specialist who deliver the highest quality of car body repairs – from car paint scratch repairs and bumper scuff repairs to car dent and alloy repairs. Our teams eliminate the inconvenience and potential expense of using a bodyshop, when things go wrong. Want to know more? Get an estimate today.

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