Rubbing clay back and forth on your car’s finish may sound crazy. However, detailing clay is one of the most effective ways to remove surface contaminants from your car’s finish – we’ll show you how to clay bar your car step-by-step. These bars extract debris that’s embedded in the paint, beyond what compounds and polishes can achieve. The results are a silky smooth finish that’s ready to be followed by a polish and/or wax.
We recommend the Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System as our top pick. Mothers has been in the detailing clay game forever and their clay bar kit just plain works. It comes with everything you need to tackle several cars, including a microfiber towel and lubricant.
The Mothers kit is great, but we also recommend several others. We’ll cover each kit, along with an in-depth guide on how to clay bar your car.
The Best Clay Bar Kits
1 – Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System
3 used from $15.93
The Mothers clay bar kit gets the job done right the first time. The formula seems just right. It’s strong enough to handle almost all rough finishes, but not too abrasive to harm your paint. It leaves hardly any streaks when used correctly. Plus, it’s malleable and easy to knead. It comes with two 100 gram bars, their quick detail spray, and one microfiber towel. You could easily use your own favorite lubricant instead, but the Mothers detail spray was just fine.
The added microfiber towel is something the other kits don’t offer, making this one of the best kits for the money.
2 – Chemical Guys Light Duty Clay Bar
2 used from $12.28
The team at Chemical Guys has their own clay bar kit. This one comes with one 100 gram clay bar, plus a bottle of their wetting agent. It’s safe on older paint and works great to remove those pesky metal particles. It’s also great on new finishes as well and gentle on your clear coat. The performance of the Chemical Guys clay bar is well above average, leaving your finish as smooth as glass.
Their ‘super lube’ is good, but if you run out, don’t worry. You easily use your favorite quick detailer if needed.
3 – Griot’s Garage Paint Cleaning Clay Kit
The Griot’s Garage Cleaning Clay Kit will lift away surface debris quickly and easily. Its performance is on par with Chemical Guys, however Griot’s claims that their clay won’t strip away wax. This may be important for some, but we’d still recommend following up with a polish, if needed, then wax afterwards.
Griots comes with massive 226 gram bar, large enough to divide into halves. The kit also comes with their famous Speed Shine, one of our favorite detail sprays on the market. Count on Griot’s kit to create an ultra-smooth and clean surface.
4 – Meguiar’s Smooth Surface XL Clay Kit
Meguiar’s clay bar kit exceeded our high expectations. First, similar to the Mothers kit, the Meguiar’s clay kit comes with everything you’ll need. Included are two 80 gram clay bars, a bottle of their quick detailer, and great microfiber towel.
The clay’s performance gets high marks. There seemed to be a little less effort needed with this bar, helping to speed up the process. Be sure to check this one out, it won’t disappoint.
5 – Adam’s Fine Grade Clay Bar Kit
The clay kit from the Adam’s crew is safe for all paint finishes. It’s the least abrasive in their line up, but still gets the job done. Two 100 gram bars are included, plus their well-known detail spray as lubricant. This one seems a little softer than others, yet performs great. Paint is left silky soft and ready for waxing.
What is a Clay Bar?
Using automotive detailing clay to remove paint contaminants began in the ’90s. At the time, it was used mostly to remove paint overspray. However, many began to realize it could also effectively removed other contaminants.
Rubbing clay over paint with a lubricant is similar to running a razor over skin to remove hairs. It sheers and picks up foreign particles from the surface as it glides back and forth. It’s sticky, which helps pick up these particles. The stickiness is why lubricant or quick detailer is used throughout the process.
Clay bars are made from natural, synthetic, or a blend of both ingredients. Most on the market today are resin-based and derived from synthetics.
The bars themselves come in various sizes and measured in grams, i.e. 100, 200 grams. Clay also varies in grade. Some are more aggressive, others more gentle. Most consumer-grade bars are mild and can remove most contaminants and particles. All clay bars are pliable and can easily be reshaped. Most come in block or brick form. Pro detailers mold it into smaller, flatter disks that are easy to manage.
When to Clay Bar your Car
If your car is more than a few years old, try the plastic bag test. Wash your car, then head to the kitchen to grab a small resealable plastic sandwich bag. Cover your hand with the plastic bag and run your fingers along your car’s hood. You’ll probably be surprised how rough the surface is. Even after a fresh wash, the paint may look smooth, but feels entirely different to the touch. You’re feeling surface contaminants that have bonded with the paint.
So, what’s causing the rough and gritty surface? Let’s explain.
When your car is traveling down the highway, it’s bound to pick up some nasty particles which eventually become embedded within the paint. Brake dust and tree sap are two other examples of contaminants. Even leaving your car unwashed for weeks can be harmful. These particles build up after time, and no amount of washing or polishing can remove them.
The proper use of a clay bar kit will essentially remove the debris, leaving behind a fresh smooth finish. And here’s the best news – anyone can learn how to clay bar a car, it’s not just for car pros!
How to Clay Bar your Car – (Simple Steps)
The Auto Care Geek Team has developed an in-depth guide on how to clay bar your car. Follow the steps below to safely achieve a silky smooth finish for your car’s paint.
Step 1 – Wash you ride
Fully wash your car using the two bucket method. It’s important to learn how to wash your car by hand to avoid scratches.
Step 2 – Shape the detail clay
Wet the clay bar while kneading it slowly, working to flatten it gently into a disk
Step 3 – Spray quick detailer
Start with a small section and spray the lclay bar ubricant or quick detailer spray, fully wetting the paint and the bar
Step 4 – Work the clay
Begin lightly moving the bar back and forth on the paint. Don’t use circular motions. Use straight line motions only
Step 5 – Check for resistance
Continue guiding the bar over the surface, using more lubricant if you encounter resistance
Step 6 – Smooth as ice
Once the clay bar can easily glide over the surface, you’re ready to move on
Step 7 – Wipe down
Wide down the area with a microfiber towel and begin the next section
How to Clay Bar your Car (Detailed Guide)
First, make sure your car’s paint is clean. We recommend a full wash before starting the process. This will clean off dirt and grime, minimizing the chances of damaging your vehicle’s clear coat.
You’ll need at least an hour or two to tackle your entire car. It’s an important step you’ll only need to take every year or so, depending on other factors. Given that, it’s best to take your time. Also, it’s important to work in the shade. It’ll keep your paint cool and help the spray detailer last longer.
To get started, you’ll need three basic items – a clay bar, clay bar lubricant or spray detail, and several microfiber towels. The clay bar will work to pull particles from the paint. The spray will keep everything wet, which is very important. If you’re curious about detail spray, check out our review on the best detail sprays. Last up, the microfiber towels. You’ll need them to help wipe down everything as you go.
Begin working in small sections. Liberally spray the clay bar lubricant on the paint surface. The liquid will help the detailing clay from sticking to the paint surface. Be sure to also wet the clay. You’ll need to gently flatten the bar by kneading it slowly. Start gliding it over the paint in back and forth motions. Keep it steady and go straight, avoid going in circles.
As you work over the paint, try not to use too much effort. Let the clay bar do its job. If you run into resistance, spray more lubricant and repeat. You’re all finished when the bar glides effortlessly over the paint with no rough patches. Then, move on to the next area.
Keep a close eye on the color of the bar. It’s been busy picking up tiny metal particles and may turn slightly grey or brown. Gently fold and knead the clay bar. That’ll help prevent these contaminants from scratching the surface. Also, be careful to not drop it on the ground. No matter how clean your garage floor, once the clay hits the ground it’s toast. It’ll pick up everything off the floor then easily scratch your finish.
When you’ve finished, store any remaining unused pieces in a resealable plastic bag. Wipe down the paint using a little more detail spray along with the microfiber towels. Boom, you’re all set. You’ve just taken an important step to clean and restore your car’s finish.
Can you clay bar glass?
Yes, most retail clay bar kits are perfectly safe for glass and windows. They’re a great way to easily remove hard water spots and stains.
Can you clay bar plastic bumpers?
Yes, but test a small section first. Clay can be used to clean plastic surfaces.
Should you clay bar before you compound?
Yes, using a clay bar before a polishing compound is a must. If you’re taking the time to correct your paint with a polish, spend the extra 20-30 minutes claying. It’ll help remove the embedded dirt and particles, creating a smoother finish and more effective compounding.
Can you use water with a clay bar?
No, stick to clay bar lubricant or a quality spray detailer. These products help reduce friction when moving the clay across the surface. Water doesn’t have these lube properties and can result in paint marring.
Will a clay bar take off overspray?
Yes, depending on the intensity level of the clay bar kit. Most retail clay does a great job removing most, if not all, paint overspray.
Does a clay bar remove wax?
Yes, claying will effectively ‘scrub’ the wax from the paint surface. It’s a great way to strip away years of old wax layers.