Clay Bar
by Paul Gasparola and Angela Brown
Professional Detailers Association

Clay was first used as part of the surface repair process by the Japanese auto body industry. Then clay entered the US market in 1993. Clay isn't a wax or a polish. It isn't a glaze or a compound. Clay is a surface preparation bar that smoothes the paint before it's buffed or waxed. Clay will take off whatever is on the finish, but it won't take out what's in the finish.

Clay could be the most significant reconditioning product to be introduced to the professional detailer since tire dressing. Clay has changed the way many detailers clean vehicle finishes. Detailers say this soft, pliable material can be used to effectively remove difficult overspray, rail-dust fallout, and pollution and surface problems from paint and clear-coat surfaces.

No matter how well a car is hand washed, many of the contaminants that have worked their way into the finish will likely remain. Have you ever looked at a wax applicator or a buffing pad after applying a coat of wax to just one quarter panel? What do you see besides wax? Dirt. You're waxing over dirt. What do you feel, surface roughness? Surface contaminants? You're wasting wax, by waxing over and locking in contaminants.

Experts say clay can be an effective tool only when a quality product is purchased and used sensibly. After giving the vehicle through cleaning, detailers should follow three simple steps:

  1. Wet a section of the vehicle with clay lubricant
  2. Rub the clay bar over the lubricant section. The natural tack of the clay will remove contaminants from the surface finish
  3. Repeat this process in small sections until the vehicle is complete

Naturally, the clay will accumulate contaminants the longer it is used. When the clay becomes soiled, simply stretch and fold it to expose a clean surface of the clay. Detailers should always discard a clay bar that has been dropped on the ground, as the bar may pick up dirt particles that could scratch the surface finish.

I have always had success using clay for surface preparation on premium and high-end details. The smooth surface the clay creates allows for a better wax application. It has become the surface preparation method of choice over the more aggressive methods of removing the contaminants, such as wet sanding and buffing. If you can see the contaminants, it is a good habit to clay the surface to enhance the best detail.

What Clay CAN remove
Industrial Fallout Dust
Bird Droppings (fresh) Tree Sap
Overspray Road Film
What Clay CANNOT remove
Scratches Stains
Oxidation Orange Peel
Acid Rain  

As clay has increased in popularity, so has the quality of some clay products. The product should form and reshape easily in your hand, like putty. Substandard clay has the tendency to be brittle, with a consistency like window caulk. It often breaks when refolded or the clay becomes stringy when used. Clay that sticks to paint finishes or causes skid marks also should be avoided. There are different grades of clay, stay away from the aggressive ones.

  1. Clay eliminates the use of dangerous chemicals
  2. Does not contain harsh abrasives which can scratch
  3. Is environmentally friendly
  4. Is paint and body shop safe
  5. Can be used over and over
  6. Can be used between wax detail jobs, as it will not remove wax

Vehicle manufactures recommend the clay process in their Service Bulletins (GM, Chrysler and others). Quality clay, used correctly, can eliminate hours from difficult and every detail surface cleaning job and enhance the overall look of a waxed vehicle.

2002 Angela Brown and Paul Gasparola