What is a Clay Bar?
Clay bar is a synthetic resin that, when used with a clay lubricant, can gently glide across the surface of the automobile and remove above surface embedded contaminants such as rail dust, industrial fall out, tree sap and bird bombs. Since the clay is sticky, it collects the contaminants from the surface and then pulls them out. Prior to using clay, a lubricant must be sprayed onto the surface to ensure that all the loose contaminants from claying do not scratch the paint. Clay bars are non-abrasive(meaning, they don't remove paint) and with proper technique and lubrication, the chances of marring the paint can be reduced. Clay bars do not remove or fill scratches or swirls. It can be used on nearly all surfaces including glass, paint, wheels and chrome pieces. It should never be used on trim or rubber.
As you drive your vehicle and it gets exposed to the environment, despite having a coating, wax or sealant on it, the car eventually starts accumulating industrial fall out, brake dust and rail dust. All of these airborn contaminants can start etching into the paint, eating through waxes and sealants, compromising the coating All these factors can end up damaging the various surfaces of the car.
Pro Tip: With the advent of technology, we now have clay towels, clay blocks and clay discs to do what clay bars have been doing for years. The choice of the claying equipment is up for debate but newer options are available. We recommend checking them out and sticking to what you like. They all work with similar concepts but the blocks, towels and discs usually have a longer life than traditional clay bars while some performing the task faster than the other.
This is a tough one to answer because the real answer is: it depends. As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended to clay the vehicle twice a year at least. If you are taking a long trip across the state or country, It is recommended to clay the car after the trip. If you have the car come from a high-construction zone or through a thunder storm, you may want to clay your car. The easiest and surefire way to tell if your car needs claying is to use the 'plastic bag test.'
Pro Tip: There are other tools that help speed up or make it even safter to clay the vehicle. These are generally iron removers which dissolve iron from the surface of the vehicle. Some of the common ones you can use are CarPro Iron-X and Optimum Ferrex.
The Plastic Bag Test
The plastic bag test is most commonly used in the detailing industry to gauge out whether the car needs to be clayed or not. However, prior to performing this test, you must wash your car and dry it. You can perform this test by using a soft(eg. grocery shopping bags) plastic bag and placing your hand inside the bag. Then, carefully, glide the hand with the bag on across the surface making light contact with the surface. If you feel lots of bumps then this is an indicator that the specific panel needs to be clayed.
Pro Tip: You will notice that horizontal surfaces acquire the most amount of contaminants. This includes the front hood, top of the car and the entire trunk area.
What Do I Need?
1. Washed Car:
For properly claying the car, it is required to have the car washed prior to using the clay bar on any of the surfaces. A two bucket wash method or a rinseless wash would suffice. You can use this method to wash your car if there is very light dust or dirt on it.
2. Waffle Weave Drying Towel:
Any highly absorbent towel works here but we recommend using a waffle weave drying towel since it can hold a lot of fluid while at the same time being paint safe. Double the fact that it can also be used for drying the car if needed.
Buy from Optimum Car Care: Extra Large Waffle Weave Drying Towel
The choice of clay depends on what suits your needs and what works for you best. We personally use a clay block or a towel due to their versatility and being more user friendly but clay bars are definitely very good too. Buy it From Amazon: Meguiar's Professional Detailing Clay (Clay Bar)
Buy it From Amazon: Nanoskin Fine Grade Sponge (Clay Block)
Buy it From Amazon: Nanoskin Fine Grade Towel (Clay Towel)
A dedicated clay lubricant can be bought but with the advent of technology, using specific rinseless washes at varying dilution can also serve as clay lubricants. Water as a lubricant is a bad idea!
Buy it from Amazon: Optimum No Rinse (Can be diluted to use as a wash or clay lubricant)
Claying is performed by the following steps:
Note: Always park the car in a cool and shaded area while claying the car. Failure to do so may lead to marring and clay bar staining the surface. If your clay bar falls to the ground, discard it! For clay towels, blocks and discs, you can usually clean them using your wash detergent if they fall down.
1. Wash and Dry your car
It is critical to wash the car properly prior to claying the vehicle or else you may end up inducing scratches and swirls.
2. Perform The Plastic Bag Test
This test will ensure that your car needs a clay treatment. Horizontal surfaces usually acquire more contaminants.
3. Iron Remover (Optional)
This process removes nearly all the Iron from the surface of the vehicle. You can use products like CarPro Iron-X or Optimum Ferrex for this. This may cut down your claying time especially if it's a neglected vehicle while even further reducing the chance of marring the paint. These products are simple spray and rinse that are very effective in dissolving iron deposits.
Generously spray clay lubricant across the surface, usually a 2'x2' area. Ensure even coverage.
5. Rub the Clay Bar
The clay bar is then carefully rubbed across the area with the lubricant. The clay would extract all embedded particles from the paint.
6. Kneading the Bar
As you continue to clay the vehicle, you may notice that it absorbs a lot of gunk and dirt. Once you notice that, you may want to knead the clay bar to obrain a fresher side. If too many contaminants are visible on the clay, the clay should be discarded and a new piece should be used. If you are using a block, disc or towel, you can simply rinse off the surface as you switch panels.
Continue step 4-6 all over the surfaces that require clay treatment. This could include wheels, glass and chrome. You may notice enhanced gloss of the vehicle.
8. Seal the Car
Clay usually ends up removing the wax or sealant. You will have to wax or seal the car to mitigate future damage. If your car has been coated(eg. Opti-Coat Pro), you may not need to do anything.
It is recommended to keep the remaining clay block/bar/towel in an airtight bag or container with clay lubricant in it. Keep the clay in a cool, shaded place and keep it out of the heat or extreme cool.
Pro Tip: If you are using a clay towel or clay block, you can generally store it in a bucket of Optimum No Rinse and Water as well.