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Is Using a Clay Bar Worth It? The Facts Explained

Using a clay bar for your car sounds like a great idea to most car-owners at first, but when you realize that claying and the work can cost up to hundreds of dollars, you may start to reconsider your decision. Why do you need to use a clay bar on a clean, well-washed car? Is the effect of a clay bar worth the expense?

Clay bar on blue car

Using a clay bar is well worth it. A ton of dirt and gunk piles up on your car every time you drive and bonds so firmly to its body that even a wash won’t get them out. Instead of leaving the contamination to dull your paint job and eventually eat through it, a clay bar helps to remove it harmlessly.

This article will explain what a clay bar does, how to use one, and its benefits for your car. Keep reading to also find out how to make the most of using a clay bar on your vehicle.

Why Is Using a Clay Bar Worth It?

Using clay bar is worth it

Using a clay bar is worth it because clay barring your car benefits it in many ways. It removes contaminants that a regular wash won’t and makes your car paint much brighter. It also helps wax sealants bond to your car.

We’ll go through these advantages below:

It Takes Out the Bonded Contaminants in Your Paint

Paint contaminants are everywhere – in the air and water, on the roads, and so on. While driving, there is a continuous buildup of these contaminants on the paint. Since contaminants bond to the material of your paint, they can’t simply be washed off. Over time, they can make unsightly patterns like swirls, bumps, etches, and holograms in your paint.

If strong enough, the contaminants can go beyond your paint’s clear coat to affect the color coat underneath or the raw panel of your car. Using a clay bar helps take out these contaminants before they can affect your paint or stop them from doing any further damage.

A Clay Bar Makes Your Car Paint Brighter

With a gradual buildup, bonded contaminants that stick to your car’s clear coat can reduce the paint’s shiny luster. The tiny, visible bonded dirt like bug guts or the unyielding remnants of bird poop will make your car look dirty, dull, or even discolored.

Instead of a smooth, reflective surface, the smaller contaminants will make your car paint feel rough and gritty. A clay bar will remove these contaminants with minimal damage to your clear coat.

Decontamination will make the clear coat look clean as new, restoring its smoothness and shine.

It Helps Wax Sealants Bond to Your Car

Applying wax to your car is meant to work by creating a smooth, evenly sealed, and continuous coat over the paint. Contaminants will add bumps and pits in the paint, so the wax can’t turn out smooth or even.

Some contaminants could chip off while you’re buffing off the wax. If this happens, you might end up rubbing that chipped piece against your car’s coat and scratching it.

In the contaminated spots, the wax will go on top of the contaminants instead of the paint. When you try to wax these uneven spots, the sealant won’t bond properly because it’s being passed on the wrong kind of material. Using a clay bar will remove these contaminants and open the “pores” of your clear coat for the wax to bond to it.

What Is a Clay Bar?

Hand holding clay bar

A clay bar is a small sheet of engineered elastic resin compound that can remove the contaminants that bond to the body of your car. It’s referred to as a “clay bar” because when it is kneaded for use, it takes on a moldable consistency similar to clay or plasticine.

Examples of contaminants that can settle on your car are:

  • Industrial pollutants
  • Road grit
  • Fine, airborne contaminants
  • Tree sap
  • Sprayed chemicals like pesticides
  • Brake dust
  • Metal particles
  • Hard water
  • Acid rain

There are three common grades of clay bars. The grade of the clay bar depends on the depth of the contaminant layer on your car and the extent of its contamination.

  • Fine clay bar. This bar is softer, easier to knead, and easy enough on the paint to be used regularly. It removes light contaminants but won’t take out the heavily bonded ones.
  • Medium clay bar. This bar is firmer than the fine clay, so it’s more difficult to knead. It’s slightly more abrasive than the fine bar, so it can’t be used as frequently, but it decontaminates much stronger pollutants.
  • Heavy/aggressive clay bar. This is the strongest grade of commercially available clay bars. It’s quite abrasive on paint, so heavy clay is seldom used, and only when you need to take out a contaminant that other clay bars won’t work for.

How To Use a Clay Bar

How to use clay bar
  1. Check for contaminants.
  2. Park in a clean, shaded spot.
  3. Choose your type of clay bar and lubricant.
  4. Wash your car.
  5. Lubricate and rub the clay bar over a section of your car panel.
  6. Polish or wax your paint.

1. Check for Contaminants

You shouldn’t overuse a clay bar on your car, so it’s important to check for contaminants first. Some larger macroscopic contaminants like tar or residue from bugs and birds are easy to spot, but the smaller ones are more difficult to see.

Wear a plastic bag over your hand and slide it all over the exterior of your car. Look out for the feel and sound of the rubbing. If it feels rough and bumpy, or you can easily hear the sound of your hand moving across the exterior, your paint is not glass-smooth. While clay barring, you’ll have to look out for smaller particles that’ll stick to the bar.

If a clay bar hasn’t been used on your car in years, especially if you’ve been actively driving it or parking it outdoors, you’ll undoubtedly need to take out both large and small contaminants. You could simply assume that and skip this step altogether.

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2. Park in a Clean, Shaded Spot

The first step to getting your car clay barred is to find the best spot to park and clay bar it. It’s not recommended to clay bar your car in direct sunlight because most bars get softer and less effective when warm. The residue you wipe off could also stick to the car if the sun dries it off.

If you can’t find proper shade, an alternative is to work super quickly, but you have to make sure the pressure doesn’t prevent you from claying the car properly. You’ll need to use extra lubricant or detailing spray because the heat will make it dry out more often. You may also need to keep rinsing or wiping the residue off at intervals.

The shaded spot you choose should be as clean as possible, since you don’t want your car picking up even more contaminants from its decontamination session.

3. Choose Your Type of Clay Bar and Lubricant

A clay bar has to be slightly abrasive on your paint to pull contaminants from it. On the other hand, you don’t want the abrasion to be stronger than necessary or to end up damaging your car. Striking a balance between these two needs is where choosing the right clay bar and lubricant comes in.

The extent of contamination on your car will determine whether you should choose between a fine, medium, or heavy clay bar. Most cars need a medium-grade clay bar, but it’s difficult to tell from sight what grade your vehicle will need.

That’s why it helps to prepare for possible necessities using these tips:

  • If you clay your car regularly, stick to a light, fine clay bar.
  • Medium clay may leave microscopic scratches on your paint, so you should only use it if fine clay can’t remove the contaminants.
  • With extensively contaminated paint, try to decontaminate it safely with a medium-grade bar and keep a heavy clay bar handy.
  • You should only use heavy clay on your paint if fine and medium bars have failed to remove your contaminants. This clay is quite aggressive, so it’s best used on metal or glass.
  • If you’re using medium or heavy clay, wax or polish your car afterward to help with the tiny scratches from the abrasive effect.

4. Wash Your Car

Before claying your car, you need to get the surface dust and dirt off it. The clay bar should primarily be for removing bonded contaminants, so if it has to remove the surface contaminants that washing could deal with, it becomes much less effective.

Dragging more contaminants across the car panel while claying it will increase the amount of residue on the body. More residue means a greater risk of leaving swirl marks all over your car. To thoroughly wash your car, here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • Two water buckets
  • Car shampoo or wash product
  • A washing mitt or sponge
  • A rinsing hose
  • A microfiber drying towel
  • An air compressor

Follow these steps to wash the car before using a clay bar on it:

  1. Wash the wheels first. This isn’t necessary for clay barring, but if the wheels are dirty, you should take some time to wash them first so the surface dirt doesn’t splash on the car body during your wash. Use a different sponge or mitt from the one for washing the car body.
  2. Rinse the car to take off loose dirt first. Spray it with water from a hose to take off mud or dust first. Rinsing it can also help to soak and loosen caked or dried grime.
  3. For best results, use two buckets. Fill one with soapy water and another with clean water. With two buckets, you can rinse the sponge or mitt after every wash and avoid dipping the dirty residue back into the soapy water.
  4. Start washing the car from the top. After the wheels, you should start washing the car from the top down. You can go from the roof to the windows, doors, and downwards. This makes sure that you don’t get clean parts dirty again.
  5. Wash and rinse in sections. Rinsing the sections as you go will ensure that the soap doesn’t dry off on the car and stick to the body.
  6. Re-rinse the car all over and dry it. You can give all the sections another collective rinse when you’re done washing. Get a microfiber towel or an air compressor to dry it over thoroughly.

5. Lubricate and Rub the Clay Bar Over a Section of Your Car Panel

A clay bar is meant to glide over your paint to avoid scratching it, so the process must be well-lubricated. You should use a detailing spray or any lubricant specifically meant for clay barring.

Get your brand new clay bar and break it into two halves. It helps to reserve one half in case you drop or mess up the other half. Knead the bar (like using play-dough) to make it more pliable, then spread it into a circle to cover your fingers.

Spray the lubricant on a section of your car panel, and glide the clay bar over the lubricated area. Wipe the clay bar in a circular motion to remove the grime. When the section is complete, use a microfiber cloth to wipe off the residue and move to another.

Your clay bar will pick up contaminants as you use it, so you should avoid wiping paint with grimy clay. You can knead and turn over the bar to expose fresh clay in the bar or use a new half of the bar.

6. Polish or Wax Your Paint

After clay barring all sections of your car, you should buff it out with a clean microfiber cloth. Waxing or polishing the car isn’t always necessary after using fine clay, but it’s essential with medium or heavy clay. The waxing helps to protect your decontamination and bring out the shine in your clean paint!


Using a clay bar on your vehicle is absolutely worth it, but you have to make sure you do it the right way. Here are some tips to make the best of your clay bar:

First published on Sep 18, 2022 by

  • Use a clay bar one to three times a year to avoid contaminant buildup.
  • Break the clay bar to fit your palm.
  • Don’t reuse a dirty clay bar.
  • Lubricate your car properly to avoid scratching it with the clay.
  • For regular claying, use a light, fine-grade clay bar.
  • Wax your vehicle after aggressive claying.

You’re all set to restore the shine to your ride!

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CarCareReport dot com first published this article on Sep 18, 2022..

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