blank 03/28/12 09:56AM detailing, Dr Deatil, Use of Clay Bars

Dr Detail Part 2

Dr Detail Part 2

Details … Details … Details!


Rx: Clay Bars; Cleaning

without soap & water


OK.  Remember playing with modeling clay when you were young(er)?  Remember laying that putty-colored ball of clay down on a newspaper, especially the “Funnies” … IN COLOR … and picking it back up with the comic now appearing on the clay?  Well, I do.  The point I’m making that someone figured out that clay will remove contaminants the same way it picks up news ink.


Enter a freshly washed car … stage left … that looks clean but still “feels” contaminated.  You’ve just washed your baby but when you run you hand over the surface it still feels rough.  What’s up with that?  That lousy shampoo you used didn’t clean very well, did it?  Well, don’t blame the shampoo.  It can only remove contaminants that are water-soluble.  There are still things like road tar, tree sap, industrial fallout, etc. that water, no matter how wet it is, just can’t dislodge.  That’s where the clay detailing bar or “Overspray Clay” bar comes in.  These are kissing cousins to modeling clay but don’t try the latter on your paint.  Unlike modeling clay the new “clay Bars” are specially formulated to avoid the grit found in natural clay.


Automotive grade clay materials are designed to overpower the bond of whatever has fallen onto and stuck to your baby’s surface.  Paint overspray was one of the first targets for researchers to tackle, hence the name “Overspray Clay”.  These bars work great but let’s get real for a moment.  If the overspray on your paint was wet when it hit, the surface was actually “painted” not just “oversprayed”.  A true overspray that a clay bar can remove effectively must have been mostly dry when it hit.  The fine droplets must have been only “tacky” on contact with your paint before the tackiness of the bar can overpower it and remove the droplet.  Likewise for tree sap, industrial fallout, etc..  Give the bar a chance.


Be Selective

Not all bars are the same.  You’ll hear that line in almost all of Dr. Detail’s articles.  The major difference is whether or not the bars are just tacky or if they also contain abrasives.  RTL (Read the Label).  If the label says the bar will remove “Oxidation” as well as other “bonded” contaminants, WALK AWAY!  Many unsuspecting detailers have regretted using clay bars that are also abrasive.


On the other hand, bars that are only tacky are almost fool proof.  They will safely remove bonded contaminants and leave no marks behind.  Again there are differences in even these bars.  The primary difference is the level of tackiness.  Meguiars, for instance, makes a consumer grade bar and two (2) different professional bars.  In their Mirror Glaze professional line the C2000 bar is their “Mild” version whereas the C2100 is their “Aggressive” bar.  Don’t let “Aggressive” scare you.  We are still just talking tackiness.  What you should consider while making a proper selection here is typical in all cleaning steps.  Use the least aggressive material that will get the job done in a reasonable amount of time.  Generally the “Mild” bar will be the best choice in most cases, however if you have a lot of overspray or other “difficult” contamination you may want to consider the Aggressive one, although it will tend to leave more clay debris behind and pull wax a bit more.


Using your bar

OK.  You have your brand new clay bar.  You’re reading the label and you see you need a lubricant.  OK, that makes sense.  The bar is tacky, right?  Spraying a lubricant on the paint first will allow the bar to glide over the surface instead of dragging over it.  Which would you prefer?  Meguiars recommends their Final Inspection #34 or Quick Detailer in the red bottles.  Frankly speaking you can do as well with just about any Mist & Wipe.  Don’t try soapy water.  Although it will lubricate just fine it will also attack and degrade the clay bar.


Now you’re set.  Take out the bar and tear a ¼ of it off the end (that’s about 50 grams or nearly 2 ounces) and pancake it out to produce a fairly flat surface.  Spray your lubricant liberally over the area you want to clean, maybe 2 feet square, and start rubbing the surface with the bar using the same motions you used to wash the car.  This will not take any effort.  Fingertip pressure is all you need, no elbow grease is required.  Now wipe off the soiled residual lubricant with a microfiber cloth and feel the previously rough surface.  Nice, Huh?  Check out the clay pad.  That’s what was on the surface that you couldn’t see but could definitely feel.  Do additional sections until the bar starts looking fairly soiled.  The more debris on the bar the less effective it will be and the more you’ll actually be rubbing the debris back on the surface.  At that point, fold over and ball up the clay then  pancake it out again to expose a cleaner surface.  Throw it away when it’s too soiled.  That point might be a couple cars later.  BIG CAUTION HERE:  I’d hate myself if I didn’t mention this … if you drop the clay bar … THROW IT AWAY !!! 

OK, I’ll shut up now and let you finish the car.



Before the clay bar you had to resort to mild abrasive cleaners to have a really smooth and clean surface for glazing and waxing.  Today no abrasives are required.  If you run over wet road striping paint you’ll be lucky to get it off but few other contaminants will withstand a good bar.



If there is any drawback to the clay bar it would be with the more aggressive version.  You should consider further detailing steps after an aggressive bar.  These bars will tend to pull more wax and may leave a clay haze or smear.  Don’t worry about the paint.  It’s safe enough but you’ll need to further detail before you’re finished.



Typical prices fall in the $20 to $25 range for a 200 gram bar but lets talk a little about value.  A typical application with a typical bar, using ¼ at a time, will give you 8 to 12 cleanings before the bar is too soiled to keep using without endangering the paint.  That’s about $2 to $3 per application.  All good things come to an end and your clay bar is no exception.  I met a detailer who boasted that he could do a couple dozen cars with one bar but I urge you not to push it too far.  After all, the debris that was once on your car is now IN the bar.  Throw it away when it is so contaminated that you can’t find a relatively clean surface to work with.


Let the shine begin!

Please submit your questions for this column at and we’ll cover them in a future column.  You can also submit your own testimonials and comments about the subjects covered here and we’ll try to publish them as well.


Thanx until next time

Dr. Detail

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