Clay Bars: 30 Things You Should Know (For Beginners)


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A clay bar is an awesome detailing tool.  It’s by far the best way to remove bonded contamination from automotive paint.  This FAQ covers most of the beginner questions I see in online.

I love the way my paint feels after I have used a clay bar.  I have tried and tested many different types and my research will help you avoid mistakes I made.

Clay bars can cause paint marring which can be difficult to avoid.  Also known as scuffing or micro scratching.  But you can keep this to a minimum by following the tips.

  1. Your car should be freshly washed.
  2. You should use plenty of lubrication.
  3. You should use side-to-side motions.
  4. You should not use too much pressure.
  5. Don’t panic if you cause micro scratches.  They will buff out.

The most important thing to remember when buying a clay bar is to get one from a well known manufacturer and not some cheap product from a company you’ve never heard of.

Also, for relatively new cars I would recommend a fine clay bar and always use plenty of lubrication.

Only older cars need heavy duty clay bars.  You’ll almost always notice scratches after using a heavy duty bar so polishing afterwards could be needed.

Clay bars have a lot of myths and untruths associated with them.  But the truth is actually very simple.  I hope this FAQ will help you out.

A clay bar will remove bonded contaminants that won’t come off in the wash.  It will then be easier to polish and wax and the shine will be way better.  Your paint will feel rough and uneven before claying and super smooth afterwords.

How do you know when to use a clay bar?

If your car feels rough to the touch after you wash it, then it will benefit from claying.   Your car will especially benefit if you are planning on polishing or waxing your car.

How do you use a clay bar?

  1. You should wash your car first.  Trying to clay a dirty car can cause scratches.
  2. Use plenty of lubrication.  I use a Chemical Guys Clay Luber.
  3. Break off a small piece of clay and knead it into a flat shape.
  4. Clay in the shade as it will stick to hot paint.
  5. Use side-to-side motions and not circular.
  6. Don’t use too much pressure.
  7. Keep checking the area to see if it’s smooth.
  8. If the clay starts to stick to the paint, use more luber.
  9. Use a super soft microfibre towel to dry the area after.
  10. Use a fine clay bar for a new or relatively new car.
  11. Use aggressive clay bars on older beat-up cars.
  12. Once the clay bar gets dirty, fold it over to a clean side.
  13. Don’t do parts of the car that already feel smooth.
  14. Don’t do glossy plastic trim.

How does a clay bar work?

Tar and bugs and other junk get stuck to the clay and are pulled or sheared off the paint as you slide the clay from side to side.  It causes less scratching than trying to scrub or scrape it off.

How often should a car be clayed?

If my paint feels rough to the touch I will clay it.  Especially if I’m planning on polishing or applying wax or sealant.  Some people might think you should clay bar every weekend or every time you wash, but that would be a mistake.  A clay bar can scratch or dull your paint so don’t use one unless you really need to.

Can you clay bar a new car?

Yes, you can clay a new car.  Contamination is probably relatively minor on a car that’s less than a year old so only use a fine or medium bar.

Do you have to wash your car before claying?

Yes, you should definitely wash your car before claying.  Dirt can cause scratches and will cause the clay bar to get very dirty and become less effective.  Click here to read about the fastest way to wash your car.

What are the different types of clay bar?

Fine, Normal, and Aggressive are the three main types of clay bar.  Fine or normal clay is best for new cars.  Aggressive clay is for older cars that have never been detailed and have no shine to preserve.

Should I use a fallout remover before claying?

Yes, if you want to preserve your shine as much as possible a fallout remover will help.  A fallout or iron remover will dissolve particles that could otherwise cause scratches when claying. 

What can I use as lube for a clay bar?

To cause as few scratches as possible use a dedicated clay lube.  You will be very happy with Chemical Guys Clay Luber.  You can also use a detailer spray.  Some professional  detailers use ONR (Optimum No Rinse) diluted with water.  Dodo Juice Born Slippy Clay Lube is one I recently tried and can confirm my car had absolutely no scratches afterwards, awesome product.

Is a clay bar worth it?

Yes, a clay bar is worth the money because your car paint will look better and wax will last longer.  They are also not that expensive and you don’t need to clay most cars very often.  If you like your car shine to really pop, a clay bar is a must have product.

Can I use soapy water with a clay bar?

Soapy water is sometimes used as a lubricant with clay bars.  But it’s not as good as a dedicated clay lubricant or a detailer spray at preventing scratches.

Can a clay bar remove water spots?

A clay bar will partially remove water spots but not completely.  A dedicated water spot remover will be much better.  You can also use a polishing compound.

Can a clay bar remove scratches?

No, a clay bar won’t remove scratches.  Use a dual action polishing machine and an all in one polish to remove scratches.

Can a clay bar be cleaned?

No, you can’t really clean a clay bar.  Fold a clay bar over to reveal a clean side as soon as it gets dirty.  If you drop it on the ground and it collects some grit you are better off throwing it away because you could really scratch your car.

Should I polish my car after claying it?

No, you don’t have to.  If you used plenty of lubrication and a fine clay bar you shouldn’t have added any new scratches.  But if you have scratched or marred paint, polishing will help restore the shine.

If you are planning on polishing your car anyway then your should clay bar first and polish second.

Can a clay bar be used on glass?

Yes.  A clay bar can be used on glass if the glass feels rough to the touch or has some overspray on it.  Glass is much tougher than your paint clear coat.

Can a clay bar scratch paint?

Yes, a clay bar can scratch paint.  It might be hard to see the scratches while the car is wet.  Use a fine clay bar and plenty of lubrication to reduce or eliminate the risk of causing scratches.  Scratches can be removed by polishing.

Can a clay bar damage paint?

Yes, a clay bar can damage paint.  Clay bars are abrasive.  Especially hard or aggressive clay bars.  Use plenty of lubrication and wash your car first.  Use a fine clay on newer cars.

Can a clay bar remove overspray?

Yes, a clay bar can remove overspray.  The source of the overspray makes a difference.  I have successfully removed house paint splatter from my black car.  Remember you can scratch your paint if you’re too aggressive with the clay bar.  

Can you use a clay bar on headlights?

A clay bar can scratch headlights, especially plastic headlights.  So use use a fine grade clay bar or clay mitt.  You may need to polish you lights to restore the shine.

Can a clay bar remove oxidation on headlights?

No, a clay bar won’t remove oxidization from your headlights.  Use polish or compound instead or even toothpaste to remove oxidation.  Fine grit sandpaper might be needed in some cases.

Can a clay bar be reused?

Yes, you can reuse a clay bar up to a certain point. If it gets too dirty or dried out you should throw it in the trash.

Can a clay bar remove oxidation?

No, a clay bar won’t remove oxidization.  A polishing compound or an all-in-one product will work much better.  You can use a clay bare before polishing to get a better finish.

Will a clay bar get rid of swirls?

No, a clay bar wont get rid of swirls.  It will remove bonded dirt like tar.  You can use a DA polisher and some compound or polish to get rid of swirls.

Does a clay bar go bad?

A clay bar can dry out over time.  Make sure you keep it in an airtight tub and out of direct sunlight.   A clay should be thrown out once it gets dirty.

How do you fix scratches caused by a clay bar?

The best way to repair scratches caused by a clay bar is to use a DA polishing machine and a medium polishing pad.  Use a good quality compound or all in one product.

Can you use a clay bar after waxing?

It’s best to use a clay bar before waxing so the wax will bond to the paint better.  Using it after waxing might remove some of the wax.  But you wont do any damage to the paint if you use a clay bar on a waxed car provided you use plenty of lube.

Will a clay bar remove adhesive?

A clay bar can remove dried adhesive.  But don’t use too much pressure because you could scratch your paint. A product like CarPro Tar-X is fantastic for removing adhesive.

Can you clay bar wheels?

Yes, you can clay bar alloy wheels as part of detailing your car.  A wheel cleaner like Adams Wheel Cleaner should be used first if the wheels are badly stained. 

Can you use a clay bar after polishing?

It’s better to use a clay bar before polishing.  A clay bar is abrasive and can cause paint to slightly lose it’s shine.  Polishing is easier and more effective if claying happens first.

Can you clay bar on a ceramic coating?

A clay bar should be used before applying a ceramic coating.  Remember a clay bar is slightly abrasive so it could damage your ceramic coating slightly.  Use plenty of lubrication and a fine clay bar to protect your ceramic coating as much as possible.

Can you use a clay bar on a fiberglass boat?

Yes, you can use a clay bar on your fibreglass boat.  Is perfect to use before waxing.  Use a lubricant to protect your existing shine.

Does a clay bar remove clear coat?

An aggressive clay might cause some fine scuffing and dull the finish on your clear coat.  But it wont remove the clear coat.  Use compound or polish and a DA polisher to restore your clear coat shine.

Can you clay bar chrome?

Yes you can use a clay bar on chrome to remove tar and bugs and other bonded contamination. 

Does a clay bar cause swirls?

A clay bar can cause swirls.  Especially if not used properly.  Use a fine clay bar from a well known brand name and plenty of lubrication and you shouldnt cause any swirls.  And don’t use too much pressure.

Conclusion.

A clay bar is a car detailing tool designed to remove contamination, overspray, rail dust, and brake dust from your paint and glass.  It makes your car feel as smooth as glass.  The roughness that you feel on your paint prevents wax and sealant from bonding and makes your car look old and dirty.

Buy from a brand you trust like Meguiars, Chemical Guys or Adams.  Use a dedicated clay luber like Chemical Guys Clay Luber and follow the tips above for fantastic results every time.

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