Useful Car Tips

Clay Bar: How it Works

October 23, 2018
Clay bars are an automotive detailer’s best friend. Harsh road contaminants that mar a vehicle’s painted surfaces are no match for the power of a clay bar. Using a clay bar isn’t hard if you know what you’re doing, so we’ve compiled a short guide on how to clay bar your own car to get you started. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to up the value of your car, clay barring is the way to go.

How a clay bar works

Simply put, clay bars pull microscopic contaminants from the clear coat. Clay bars are made of a sticky, rubber-like material that makes it easy for both picking up dirt and debris and gliding across the surface of your paint. As the clay bar moves, tiny particles get trapped in the bar itself, leaving your paint smooth as the day it came out of the paint booth.

How much do clay bars cost?

You can easily pick up an automotive clay bar for around $10-$25. Most chain automotive supply stores will carry at least one brand of clay bar, but there’s a wide selection available online as well. Some clay bars will come in packs of multiples, so if it’s a better deal to get 2 or 3, save yourself the headache and go with that product. In the off-chance that you drop your first clay bar, you’ll already have a replacement there and ready to go.

When to use a clay bar

Even brand-new cars can benefit from a clay bar treatment. However, clay bars are most effective when the paint feels rough and you can feel small ridges and bumps just by running your fingers over the paint. Clay bars are not a good solution for oxidized paint, because the clay bar needs to glide across the clear coating. Before using a clay bar, check to see if the contaminants on your paint will come off with either lacquer thinner or an adhesive remover. The more you can remove from the paint before clay barring, the less you’ll load up the bar itself. Clay bars will not remove scratches, and in fact can create new scratches if you’re not careful. Follow the simple steps below, though, and the time you spent clay barring your car will be rewarding and educational.

How to clay bar your own car

The first step to any paint correction is a clean, cool car. Make sure your working space is out of the sun and your car is dry. Remove as much debris by hand as you can, making sure to wipe surfaces clean after you’re done. Clay bars should not be used on plastics, rubber moldings, clear bras, or headlights. While clay bars can technically be used on headlights and clear bra, they require care and a professional touch. Windows and paint can be clay barred, so start there. As you’re clay barring, you’ll want to barely apply any pressure. The magic of a clay bar is in the material itself, not the amount of force you apply to it. Clay bars require tons of lubrication, so be ready with a spray bottle of either straight-up water or your favorite spray wax. Spray both the painted surface and the clay bar before you begin, and as you work around the car. Any time the clay bar becomes harder to push across the paint, add more water/wax. Take extra care around the edges of the body lines, where the paint is thinnest. As you work, periodically check the clay bar for any contaminants. These will stick out and potentially scratch your paint. Removing them may take some of the clay bar away as well, but that’s okay! You can reform the bar as needed. When you’re finished clay barring your car, store the clay bar in an air-tight container with plenty of water/wax. Clay bars are basically good for as long as you can maintain their contaminant-free existence. So the next time you’ve got a day off and want to give your ride some TLC, grab your clay bar!
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