- 5 Min Read
- By: Dave Greco
Why And How To Clay Bar Your Car
It’s important to have a clean slate when performing a paint correction or applying new wax. If you were to try and perform a paint correction without claying your car, you can just make matters even worse and inflict serious damage to your paint. We’ll outline the steps you need to take to make sure you clay your car effectively and safely.
Products needed to clay bar your car
- Dish soap to strip any existing wax or oils on the paint
- 5-gallon bucket
- Grit guard
- Wash mitt
- Spray detailer
- Synthetic clay or traditional clay bar
- Drying towel
Optional - If using synthetic clay while washing your car.
Why you should clay bar your car
Using a clay bar on your car’s paint is an essential step of the process to bringing the shine back to its finish. The main reasons you would need to are:
Prepping your car for new wax/sealant
When you apply new wax and/or sealant to your car, you want to make sure that the surface is as clean and smooth as possible. This helps to reflect light more smoothly, giving it that glossy, almost wet-looking appearance.
Prepping your car for paint correction
Just like prepping your car for new wax/sealant, the step before doing a paint correction is to clay bar the entirety of your car. When you clay bar your car, you are essentially ‘plucking’ minuscule particles of dirt and metal out of the paint. When you perform a paint correction, you want the surface as clean as possible to keep from loading up your cutting pads with debris and having that dragged across the paint.
You can feel the difference when running your clay over the car initially compared to when you are complete. At first, the clay bar might drag and doesn’t feel smooth. When you’re done, however, the clay bar should glide effortlessly across the surface of your car. That’s how you will tell that you’re ready to start on your paint correction.
Removing hard water spots
Water spots can be caused for a few different reasons, but the most common suspect is hard water. Whether you have a well, or if your city just supplies hard water, it’s a constant battle to keep your car looking clean. If it’s not dried by hand almost immediately after washing, you will have to battle hard water spots on your paint. When severe enough, these won’t even come out with a simple hand wash, you’re going to have to break out the clay bar.
Removing dried paint overspray
If you just had your car to the body shop for a small touch up, or if you did yourself at home, there’s a good chance that there are traces of paint overspray on your car’s paint. At first glance, it could seem catastrophic, but it’s really not too big of an issue. Using a clay bar according to the normal instructions will easily remove the overspray from your paint without hurting the clearcoat at all.
How often should you clay bar your car?
This question is subjective. Some people never wash or clay bar their cars, whereas others obsessively wash and clay them. If you keep your car clean and take care of your paint by reapplying sealants when necessary, you don’t need to clay your car nearly as often. On the contrary, if you don’t wash/wax your car that often and put a lot of miles on it, you’re going to have to remove the embedded dirt and road grime much more often.
We advise that any time you intend to complete a paint correction, claying your car is a must-complete step in the process. But not claying your car’s paint, leaving dirt and contaminants behind, you stand a better chance of the paint correction doing more harm than good. The cutting pads on your polisher will become embedded with that same grit effectively turning it into sandpaper.
What is synthetic clay?
Synthetic clay is a material that was engineered to act similarly to a traditional clay bar while being able to be applied to a medium such as a mitt, towel, or sponge. Just like traditional clay, synthetic clay grabs small particles of dirt and contaminants out of your paint.
Should you use synthetic clay or a traditional clay bar?
This is entirely up to user preference. Traditional clay bars have been around for ages and are still the standard of high-end detailing shops. For the home DIY’er, synthetic clay might be the better option. With a clay bar, between each panel you should be folding the clay on itself to encapsulate the contaminants that were pulled off your paint. And if you drop your clay on the ground, forget it. You have to toss it out and buy a whole new bar.
With synthetic clay, you can cover a larger area faster as the synthetic material has a larger surface area. Instead of having to fold the clay over on itself between each panel, you simply rinse it off with garden hose pressure. The same goes for if you were to drop it on the ground—just rinse it off and inspect for debris and continue on.
Some argue that synthetic clays aren’t as effective as the traditional clay bars. While this might have been the case early on, new synthetic clays like the ones offered by Griot’s Garage are just as effective and actually expedite the process. An added benefit is that they can be washed and reused over and over, driving the overall cost down.
Should you use clay bar lube?
An essential part of claying your car is ensuring that the surface of the paint and the clay bar itself remains thoroughly lubricated at all times. There are clay bar lubricants on the market, but instant detailer works just as well. Rather than buying an additional product, we like to have more detailer on hand and use that instead.
Instant detailer is effective as lubrication for both traditional clay bars and synthetic clay bar alternatives.
How to clay bar your car
The car featured in this article is a 2008 Audi S5.
Start the process using a small amount of dish soap to strip the wax, oil, and contaminants from your paint. If you prefer something stronger, you can use a product like Purple Power vehicle wash. Add the soap to your five-gallon bucket and work from top to bottom, following my car washing guide featured previously. Just like in that guide, it’s important to work in small sections to help avoid missing areas as well as preventing the soap from drying on the paint surface.
In this guide, I’m going to cover how to use synthetic clay from Griot’s Garage. It saves an incredible amount of time over the traditional method and can be used multiple times over.
Using the same bucket as we used above, rinse it out and add in Brilliant Finish Car Wash by Griot's Garage, a new wash mitt, and Griot’s Garage synthetic clay. When using the car wash solution, it adds adequate lubrication to prevent any scratches in the paint. The added benefit is that it saves even more time.
Start with the roof using a side to side motion with the wash mitt and copious amounts of soap. Then, use your clay bar/foam to use the same side to side motion, overlapping each stroke slightly. Repeat this until you feel the surface go from gritty to smooth. The clay should glide effortlessly across the surface of your paint. When you feel that, it means that you’ve lifted all of the contaminants out of the paint.
If you don’t want to clay while washing your car, the alternative is to use the synthetic clay or traditional clay with a good instant detailer. It offers the same amount of protection but uses less water.
You want to focus on one panel at a time using plenty of car wash soap or instant detailer. The benefit of the clay sponge is that it holds water that you can squeeze out to maintain surface slickness. If you’re working on a large panel, break it up into 2’x2’ sections to avoid missing spots. Between each panel or section, you want to fold your clay bar on itself or rinse out your synthetic clay to keep from dragging contaminants across your paint.
Once you’re finished with the entire car, spray the entire vehicle off one last time to make sure you’ve removed any traces of soap. After that, you can move on to drying your car completely. You are now ready to apply a wax/sealant or move on to a full paint correction.
If you want to read more automotive detailing articles, check back here as we're constantly adding to our collection. If you have any questions or comments, be sure to leave them in the comments below.
Interested in cars at a young age, I purchased my first project car at the age of 16 and fixed it with the help of my father. At a young age I would work on cars with friends and research how things work because I wanted to learn as much as possible.