One Big Clay Bar Guide

How to Use a Clay Bar

How To Use a Clay Bar Effectively, Safely, and Correctly

Clay bars might seem insignificant if you’ve never heard of it before, but to the car care enthusiast, clay is more than a 100 gram bar of art supply. It’s been in the detailing field for a number of years and has become a necessity to any polishing procedure. The results don’t lie; claying is a key step in achieving the perfect finish and is an easy way to get your car looking (and feeling) newer. Here’s everything you need to know about claying your car…

What is claying and why is it important?

When you clay a car, you’re rubbing a bar of clay on your car’s paint to remove impurities from the surface that are nearly invisible to the human eye. These contaminants are embedded in the paint, microscopically trapped and causing potential harm to your finish. Other contaminants, such as tree sap, over-spray, and tar can also be safely removed from paint by using a proper clay bar procedure. It may be offered that you can simply “buff out” the impurities, but that’s not the case. Machine and hand polishing can cause further harm by dragging the material across the surface; posing potential paint damage and creating swirl marks. The bottom line is that claying, and only claying, helps to keep the surface smooth, clear, and pure by removing these impurities from the paint.

When do I need to clay?

Although this debris goes unseen, one can often feel their effect by gently running his or her fingers across the car’s painted surface. Chances are, you’ll feel tiny bumps on the paint; when you feel these, it’s a good signifier that your car should be clayed. Because these contaminants are embedded in the surface, always clay before any polishing procedure. Throughout a year, your car comes into contact with a lot more atmospheric debris than you’d think. Typically, it is recommended that you clay your car at least once a year (with a polishing treatment), but if you take pride in your car’s finish, twice a year couldn’t hurt at all. Just remember that whenever you polish, you should always be claying… no matter what. TIP: To make noticing impurities even more obvious, grab a zip-lock bag and place your hand inside of it. Gently glide the bag and your hand over the surface; you should really feel them now.

What products do I need?

Clay Bar

  • Clay is the front-man in a clay bar treatment because it’s the component that is actually picking up the embedded contaminants. Auto clay is not the same as modeling clay because it is not water soluble; it stays firm for better use. Clay bar is abrasive when it picks up surface contaminants, so avoid use unless you have a clay lubricant on hand. It should also be noted that clay comes in different grades; firmness changes depending on how rough your car’s surface is. For tougher jobs (sap, over-spray, etc.), a medium to heavy clay bar is needed, otherwise a fine bar will do fine.

Clay Lubricant (& Microfiber Towel to remove it)

  • Lubricant is extremely important when claying a car. Often referred to as “clay spray,” this helps the clay glide gently across the surface, and helps clean to make picking up debris as easy as possible. TIP: Something even professionals forget is to always use a lubricant that is specifically designed for clay. Don’t use a detail spray, as this lowers the clay’s effectiveness by layering a sealant when a sealant is not desired.

Rolls Royce Side ReflectionHow do I clay a car?

One panel at a time…

  1. Take a 100g clay bar and divide it into two pieces. You’ll only need about 50g to do the whole car.
  2. Knead the 1/2 clay bar in your hands until it softens.
  3. Spray your clay lubricant over the panel and begin to glide the clay bar in a back and forth motion across the surface.
  4. If you feel the clay “grab” or stick to the surface at all, you need to add more lubricant immediately. Be liberal in its application; more is okay.
  5. Flip and knead the clay bar intermittently to be sure a clean side of the clay is always in contact with the paint. You will notice the dirty sides by seeing the impurities.
  6. After you’ve clayed the whole section, wipe off excess lubricant with a microfiber cloth.
    1. Grab zip-lock bag and check for spots you may have missed or need to redo. (Repeat steps 3-5 if necessary)

What can’t clay do?

Some common misconceptions regarding clay are that it can remove scratches, remove over-spray from soft trim, remove acid rain effects, protect the car, and even replace polishing. These are all falsities and will not be applicable when performing a clay bar treatment.


Benefits of claying

  • Smooth finish
  • Greater depth and clarity of paintwork
  • Easier, safer, and more effective polishing
  • Prevent against swirl marks
  • Increased car value
  • Longer lasting wax
  • Promotes a healthy car

When to clay

  • Once or twice a year, as well as before any polishing procedure.

What is needed

  • A Clay Bar and Clay Lubricant.

Quick How-To

  • Knead, Spray, Slide, (Spray), (Slide), Wipe. Repeat.