When you look at your car, does it look dirty or dull? When you run your hand over it, does it feel gritty or uneven? Has your car been exposed to contaminants, pollutants, or bird droppings?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, it may be time for a clay bar treatment. Clay bar treatments are a part of the detailing process that make sure a car’s surface is squeaky clean, helping protect the paint and clear coat finish in the process.
Your car would likely benefit from this service if you’ve never had one. And even if you’ve gotten a clay bar treatment before, it may be time for another. Curious about what clay bar treatments are, how they work, and how to know when it’s time to get one? Read on for all the details.
What is a Clay Bar Treatment?
A clay bar treatment is a detailing process that uses an automotive clay bar — an engineered resin mixture that’s used to remove pollutants and contaminants from paint, glass, fiberglass, metal, and any other surface material on the outside of your car. While automotive clay bar can be made from natural clay or synthetic, synthetics are most commonly used.
A clay bar treatment uses automotive clay bar to remove contaminants, some of which are microscopic and impossible to see with the naked eye, from your car. This is important because contaminants like rail dust, brake dust, and industrial fallout can penetrate through paint, glass, and even metal, slowly destroying your car over time. Regular washing and polishing may not remove all of these contaminants.
How Does a Clay Bar Treatment Work?
The engineered resin surface of the clay is sticky, and designed to hold onto metal particles, pollution, and other contaminants that can get on top of your car’s surfaces. When the clay bar is glided or stretched across the car’s surface, it picks up dust, dirt, and all those other surface contaminants.
Before a clay bar treatment, remember to always spray your car down with lubricant or detailing spray, so particles picked up by the clay don’t scratch the paint or surface coat.
When done correctly, claying is safe and non-abrasive. It can even be better for your car than polishing, since it’s possible for polishing to remove a thin layer of paint.
When Should You Give Your Car a Clay Bar Treatment?
The standard rule is that you should get a clay bar treatment about twice a year. If you live (and drive) somewhere with a lot of pollution and other contaminants, you might consider getting treatments more often. On the other hand, if you drive infrequently or keep your car inside a garage when it isn’t being used, you might be able to go longer in between treatments.
A good way to see if your car could use a clay bar treatment is to simply rub your hand along its exterior surfaces. If they feel rough or gritty, it’s probably time for a clay bar treatment.
Is Clay Bar Treatment Worth It?
Most people who seek out clay bar treatments for their vehicles do so for the simple fact that it makes them look better! It improves the paint finish, which leads to a smoother, shinier overall look.
But there are other benefits, too. Claying will generally lead to better results after polishing and waxing, since doing those things with contaminants in the clear coat or paint can trap them there, or move them around, scratching the vehicle’s surface.
As previously stated, claying also helps protect your vehicle against future damage. The longer contaminants stay on your car, the more they can penetrate through protective layers, eventually reaching paint, glass, or even metal.
What Are the Best Clay Bars and Kits?
Some popular and highly rated clay bars include:
If you’re new to claying your car, you can buy a kit that conveniently offers everything you need.
What is in a Clay Bar Kit?
Kits typically come with:
- Clay bars. A typical kit should contain anywhere from 2-8 ounces of clay.
- Microfiber towels. Microfiber cloths and towels are essential tools for car detailers because they don’t leave behind any lint.
- Detailing spray or lubricant. This is essential to the claying process, because claying a dry car surface can scratch the car by pulling dust, dirt, and other particles across it. By using detailing spray or lubricant before a clay bar treatment, you ensure that the clay can glide smoothly across the surface of the vehicle.
How to Choose the Right Clay Bar for Your Car
There are many factors you may take into consideration when buying a clay bar or kit: Color and price point, just to name a few. But the most important thing to consider when buying a clay bar is how aggressive it is. Clay bars range from consumer-grade (medium aggressiveness) to professional or fine grade (high aggressiveness).
Consumer-grade bars require more work to clean surfaces, especially those that are highly contaminated — but they’re gentler. If you’re new to claying, a less aggressive bar will decrease the likelihood that you damage your vehicle.
How to Use a Clay Bar
Claying your vehicle isn’t too technically difficult, but it becomes easier the more you practice. Here are the steps to take when doing your first clay bar treatment.
Step 1: Wash and Dry Your Vehicle
Wash your vehicle using soap and water, rinse it thoroughly, and then dry it with microfiber cloths or towels. This will remove any surface-level dust and dirt, leaving only the more stubborn or embedded contaminants that will require clay to remove.
Step 2: Use a Lubricant or Detailing Spray
If you run a clay bar across your vehicle’s surface when it’s dry, it will be far more likely to drag contaminants across the surface and damage it. To properly clay your vehicle, you need to lubricate it, using a clay bar treatment lubricant or a detailing spray.
Put about a quarter-sized amount of lubricant on the clay itself, then spray it on the vehicle’s surface. Pray from a distance of about 12 inches away, and make sure the vehicle surface is completely and evenly coated with lubricant. Work in sections about 2×2 feet in size at a time.
Step 3: Glide the Clay Bar Across the Vehicle’s Surface
Using a back-and-forth motion, begin gliding the clay across the vehicle’s surface. It will likely catch and stick in places — those are the spots where it’s picking up contaminants. Gently roll and stretch it across those spots until it glides freely. Once the clay glides freely across an entire section without sticking or catching, you’ll know it’s time to move on to the next section.
Step 4: Check the Clay Regularly
As the clay bar picks up contaminants, they will be embedded in its surface and can scratch your vehicle if you drag the clay across it with those contaminants exposed. Every few minutes, check your clay. If it looks dirty or gritty, flip it over and use a clean side. When you run out of clean sides, you can fold and mold the clay until it looks clean again.
Step 5: Check Your Work
After finishing a section of your vehicle, wipe it clean with a microfiber cloth and check your work. If it still appears gritty or uneven, you may need to go back over it with your clay bar again.
Step 6: Finish with Wax
Once all the contaminants are removed from your vehicle, there may be gaps in the paint or protective coating where they wore through it. You can fill and seal these gaps with car wax once you’re finished claying the entire vehicle.
Step 7: Store Your Clay Properly
Store your clay in its original container or another airtight container, like a zip-top bag or plastic container. One piece of clay can be used many times, unless you drop it on the ground. If you do drop your clay, you’ll have to throw it away and get a new piece — it will pick up dirt and dust from the ground that could easily damage your vehicle’s surface if you use the clay again after dropping it.
Clay Bar Alternatives
While a clay bar treatment is the best way to remove pollutants and contaminants from your vehicle’s exterior, it can be an intimidating process, particularly if you’ve never done it before.
One alternative to a clay bar is a clay mitt. These are microfiber and rubber gloves that you can use to clean your vehicle and improve its overall look. While they will remove some pollutants and contaminants, they aren’t as effective as clay — thought they’re easier for beginners to use and run less risk of damaging your vehicle.
If you’re intimidated by the idea of doing a clay bar treatment at home, but still want to clean and protect your vehicle, consider having a professional detailer do the claying for you.
Clay bar treatments are an important way to protect your vehicle — and keep it looking its best. Good luck with your first one!