If you clean and detail your own vehicle you may have noticed a roughness on the exterior surface, despite the fact that you just washed it. Thats because what you're feeling isn't from your standard dirt and grime, its contamination build-up of industrial fall out, overspray, tar, and brake dust that's embedded itself into the clear coat. These particles won't be removed with a regular wash. So how do you remove this contamination? This is where the clay bar comes in.
What is a clay bar?
Well its pretty much exactly as it sounds, a small bar of engineered clay. Similar to pottery clay its malleable and can be folded and formed with your hands. Professional detailers use clay bar to remove these contaminates from paint, glass, metal, and fiberglass. If done correctly a clay bar will make rough paint feel as smooth as glass again. Clay bar comes in different gradings, usually light, medium, and heavy. This indicates the aggressiveness of the clays abrasive properties. For brake dust, iron particles, and tar the light and medium bars will be best. If you have paint overspray or heavy industrial fallout you would want to use the heavy clay as these particles cling more to the vehicles surface and are harder to be removed. Note, with heavy grade clay there is an increase chance of marring the paint. Although this is normal and expected you will need to follow up with a hand or machine polish to remove the blemishing.
Why do you need to clay bar your vehicle?
Right now you could be thinking to yourself "My vehicles paint is a little rough but what's the big deal? Im not too concerned with having smooth paint."
The problem isn't having rough paint. The problem lies in what that rough paint is an indicator of.
Contamination build up in the clear coat can cause:
Dullness and less clarity
Increased chances of scratching the paint when washing
Decreased longevity and effectiveness of waxes, paint sealants, and ceramic coatings
Clay baring your vehicle is the most effective way to remove exterior contamination and to help prevent any of the above points from occurring. For daily driven vehicles I recommend the use of a clay bar every 6 months ( if its a weekend cruiser once every year, if its a work truck or car around heavy machinery and debris I'd recommend every 3 months. )
Steps to clay bar your vehicle
Thoroughly wash and dry your vehicle
Rip off a piece of clay from the clay bar, usually about 1/3 of the bar is a good size to work with
Knead the clay in your hands to warm it up and make it easier to mold and form
Spray down a small 2x2ft section with a clay lubricant ( this can be a waterless wash solution or detail spray. ) You can't use clay without the lubricant or the clay will cause damage to the vehicle.
Push the clay into a pancake like patty and lightly move the clay back and forth across the panel you sprayed with the lubricant. Initially you will feel some resistance. Once the clay bar glides over the panel smoothly and effortlessly you know the contamination has been lifted from the surface.
Wipe off the lubricated area with a clean microfiber towel.
Inspect the side of the clay you used for debris. If there is build up on the clay switch over to the other side. Once both sides are used kneed and fold the clay into another patty with two new clean sides and continue until you've clayed all the paint, glass, rims, and metal. Note: You cannot clay bar matte paint, vinyl wraps, or rubber surfaces
When finished store used clay in a plastic bag until next use. Depending on the contamination level of the vehicle you can use the same piece of clay for 1-4 runs before needing to be replaced.
If you want to remove any swirls or scratches from your vehicle you can now run a machine polisher to correct the paint.
Lastly apply a wax, paint sealant, or ceramic coating. This step is very necessary since the clay bar has removed any and all previous paint protection from the surface. If you do not apply a wax or protectant your paint will be susceptible to UV damage.