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 Deep Cleaning Your Paint With Clay

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The Engine Guy
The Engine Guy

Posts : 172
Infinite Scores : 60
Join date : 2009-02-10
Age : 40
Location : Austin, AR

PostSubject: Deep Cleaning Your Paint With Clay   Fri Feb 27, 2009 9:08 pm


Before waxing your car's paint, you need to clean it and polish it. Cleaning your paint is not the same as washing. Washing only removes the loose dirt, not the bonded contamination from pollution, road grime, birds, bugs, paint overspray, and many other elements that bond to your car's paint. Detailing clay (clay bars) are designed to remove bonded contamination and deep clean the paint finish.

When contaminants get a solid grip on your car's paint, washing won't remove them, no matter how hard you scrub. The old method of removing contamination was to use a heavy paint polish, but this will damage the modern clear coat finish. Detailing clay is a safer, faster alternative that that smoothes the paint and removes contamination without damaging or thinning the clear coat.

Detailing clay is not a cure-all or a replacement for polishing. A clay bar is a tool for quickly and easily removing surface contamination.

One of the many reasons for using detailing clay is the removal of brake dust. Brake dust contamination, which attaches to painted rear bumpers and adjoining surfaces, is a metallic surface contaminant that can be removed safely and effectively by using detail clay.
These are the two most common retail detailing clay kits available (Meguiar's Smooth Surface Clay Kit and Clay Magic). Mothers also makes a fine retail clay kit. In the boutique offerings, look for the Pinnacle, Sonus and Griot's Garage brands, which are all fine grade detailing clays.

Automotive detailing clay is also very effective on paint over-spray. If the over-spray is particularly heavy, you may want to seek the assistance of a professional. Tree sap and tar specks can also be safely removed with a clay bar. Recently, I started using detailing clay on my windows (exterior) to remove heavy road film, bug deposits and water spots. It works very well, and seems to outperform even the best window cleaners.

Consumer grade detailing clay bars are designed to be used two or three times a year prior to polishing and waxing. At this frequency, detailing clay works great, and is perfectly safe. Simply use the detail clay as part of your major detailing regimen, but do not overuse it.


How do you know if you need to use a detailing clay bar? It's a simple test. After thoroughly hand washing your car, feel the surface of your car's paint. Do you feel bumps and rough spots? These bumps are contaminants attacking the finish of your car. Removing these surface contaminants (road tar, acid rain spots, bug residue, paint over-spray, brake pad dust, hard water spots, etc.) will improve both the look and health of your car's paint.

By the way, you can magnify your sense of touch by inserting your fingertips into a sandwich bag or a piece of light cellophane. No matter how well you hand-wash your car, many of the contaminants that have worked their way into your car's paint finish will remain. Have you ever looked at your foam wax applicator pad after applying a coat of wax? What do you think that black stuff is? It's dirt, and you're waxing over it, sealing it in.

Detailing clay isn't new. Paint and body shops have been using it for years to remove paint overspray. Detailing clay is fairly new to the consumer car detailing market, but is now relatively easy to find on retail shelves.

In the early days of detailing clay, there was a concern that paint damage might occur if improperly used. These concerns have been overcome through proper education and product improvements.

Still, I have heard some horror stories about people ruining a Ferrari paint job using a detailing clay bar. I can see how this might be true if an inappropriate product was used or if the clay bar is used incorrectly. The critical component to safety is proper lubrication.

Never use a detailing clay bar dry. It must be used with a lubricant. Also, it is not necessary to push hard. You are floating the bar of clay over the surface, not scrubbing with it.


Using a detailing clay bar is very easy, but you must follow the instructions. If you use detail clay incorrectly you will create a mess or scuff the surface of your paint.

Before using detailing clay, you must thoroughly clean and dry your car to remove any loose dirt. Direct sunlight should not fall on your car's surface, and it's best if the work area is relatively cool to prevent rapid evaporation of the clay lubricant.
Be sure to use plenty of clay lubricant. Retail clay kits come packaged with a proper spray lubricant. Keep the surface you're working on wet. Work on a small area at a time.

To use the clay bar, you spray a lubricant on a small area of your car and rub the clay back and forth with light to medium pressure. If the lubricant begins to dry, you'll need to spray more. Clay is fairly sticky and cannot be used dry. Try using clay dry and you'll make a big mess and scuff your paint.

After a few passes with the detailing clay, rub your hand over the area you cleaned to check for areas you might have missed. You should feel a distinct difference between the areas you have clayed and the areas you have not clayed. Keep rubbing until all contamination bumps are gone. The final step is to wipe the clay residue off with a soft microfiber towel, and buff to a nice luster.

Just like waxing, work in small areas. Check the detail clay bar frequently for hard particles. When found, pick them off. Make it a habit to occasionally knead and reform the bar so that a fresh portion of the clay bar contacts your car's paint.

If you drop your bar of clay on the ground, it's history. Toss it out. Don't take any chances, discard the clay bar if it becomes impregnated with grit.

Read the manufacturers' directions for the number of uses of their clay bar. Do not overuse a bar of detailing clay. When you're finished claying your car, you should wash it to remove the lubricant film, or take the next step and polish your paint with a pre-wax cleaner to finish cleaning the paint and remove fine swirl marks.
An alternative to a spray clay lubricant, is good old soapy water. This is ideal if your paint is heavily contaminated (very dirty). Be sure to rinse your wash mitt thoroughly and use a fresh bucket of soapy water, not what's left over from washing. After claying one or two body panels, your clay will begin to look dirty. Don't be alarmed, that's just the clay doing its job. Flip the clay over and use the other side. When both sides are dirty, remold the clay into a ball and flatten to reveal a clean surface.


Clay isn't just for paint. You can use detailing clay on any smooth, hard surface, including glass and chrome. Do not use clay on clear plastic, such as headlight lenses. When I can no longer remold clay to get a clean surface, I retire it for use on my windows. The dirty clay will not harm glass, and it's amazing how much dirt film clay can remove from your exterior glass.

I also use my old clay to clean wheels. Clay will safely remove stubborn, embedded brake dust, tar and road film from all factory wheels. Clay is not recommended on wheels that do not have a factory clearcoat or powder coat finish.
With just a little effort, stubborn brake dust that even the strongest cleaners won't remove comes off with detailing clay.

Here are some common questions and answers:

Q1. I dropped my clay on the ground. Can I still use it?
A1. The safe answer is no. Clay will pick up small particles of grit from the ground that will scratch your paint.

Q2. If I use clay do I still need to polish my paint?
A2. For best results, yes. Your car's paint should be polished at least twice a year with a pre-wax cleaner polish or a swirl remover formula polish. Clay will not remove swirl marks, scratches or etching from acid rain or hard water spots. Paint polish is still required to remove these paint defects. If your paint is new or like-new, detailing clay will significantly reduce the amount of polishing required to keep your paint in good condition.

Q3. What is the best clay?
A3. What label do you like? There are only a couple manufacturers of clay, and the technology is protected by U.S. patents. Clay is manufactured with different levels of abrasiveness and colors to suite different applications. There are some subtle differences in technology (plastic vs. elastic material) and the firmness of the material. In general, softer clays are safer and easier to use. A firm clay cleans better with a little more risk of scuffing or scratching.

Q4. Is it better to use soapy water or a spray lubricant?
A4. Both work equally well. If you want to do the job fast, use a bucket of soapy water. If you want to work inside or do a thorough job, use a spray lubricant. With a spray lubricant you can wipe down each panel as you go and feel for areas you missed.

Q5. How do I store my clay?
A5. If your clay did not come with a re-usable plastic container, store it in a plastic Ziploc bag.

Q6. Will clay remove my wax?
A6. In most cases, clay will "scrub off" wax protection. Some paint sealants are hard enough to withstand being cleaned with clay, but most are not.

Many people assume that detailing clay replaces pre-wax cleaners. While it’s true that clay does the heavy lifting, it does not replace the need to use a pre-wax cleaner. Pre-wax cleaners are designed to remove old wax, embedded dirt and light stains from your paint. They also help to restore gloss and remove light surface imperfections, such as swirl marks.

Pre-wax cleaners are a combination of light polishing material and cleaning solvents. Most of their cleaning ability is provided by the cleaning solvents, not the polish. The polish is so light that you would have to rub for hours to remove anything other than swirl marks.

I recommend using a pre-wax cleaner after detailing clay and before waxing. If your paint is in excellent condition, a good pre-wax cleaner will keep it healthy so you can avoid having to use heavier polishes.
In the strictest sense, paint cleaners remove surface defects and swirls, while a polish improves surface gloss. The lines are blurred, however, as many cleaners provide some polishing action, and many polishes have cleaners. One of my personal favorite paint cleaners is Klasse All-In-One. There are many All-In-One (AIO) type products available.

Pre-wax cleaning deep-cleans the paint. The result is a rejuvenated top paint layer, which is then ready for waxing. There are any number of paint cleaners available. I classify them in two different categories: pure cleaners and cleaners with basic paint protection.

Recommended pre-wax cleaner polishes:

* Klasse All-In-One
* P21S Paintwork Cleanser

Paint Cleaning Tips

When cleaning or polishing paint, always work in a shaded area, out of direct sunlight. Polishes and cleaners do not work well on hot surfaces. Work on one area at a time, covering 2 to 4 square feet. Buff off the polish residues as you go. Most pre-wax cleaners do not need to dry or haze before being wiped off, but be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions.

You can use a foam, terry cloth or microfiber applicator pad to apply your pre-wax cleaner. If your paint finish is in new or like-new condition, I recommend a quality foam applicator. If your paint is moderately oxidized, I recommend a microfiber applicator. Use a small amount of pre-wax cleaner. With most pre-wax cleaners, a 1-inch-sized dab is enough to clean and polish an area of 2 to 3 square feet. If the polishing residue does not buff off easily, switch to a clean wipe towel. For best results, I recommend using a microfiber polishing towel.

After cleaning, your car's paint should be squeaky clean, smooth, and free of streaks and minor swirls. It's now ready for waxing.
Pre-Wax Cleaning with Detailing Clay Summary

Don't overuse detailing clay. In my opinion, it is often over-prescribed as a cure-all. I think once or twice a year is adequate for most well-detailed cars. Be sure to use a proper lubricant. Choose a pre-wax cleaner with the least amount of cleaning and polishing capability necessary to get the job done without being harsh on your paint. The goal is to maintain your paint in excellent condition, not wear it out by over-polishing.
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