CLAY BAR | ITS USES
Unless your vehicle rests within a garage under a protective cover 365 days a year, your vehicle will invariably become exposed to the elements. What do I mean by the "elements"? Simply put, these elements include a wide variety of contaminants that aren't usually visible to the naked eye, and over time these contaminants have the potential of creating a semi-permanent bond to your vehicle's paintwork.
Some of these contaminants include dust, debris, metal particulates, rail dust, tree sap, and the list goes on an on. In order for us to remove these harmful contaminants, it's necessary to employ the use of a clay bar.
The analogy that I'll draw from is that of shaving. Much like when we use a razor to remove hair from our body, a clay bar is designed to remove or "shave" any existing contamination off of the initial surface of your vehicle's paintwork.
Along the same token, clay bar does not come manufactured with one formula or universal strength. In case you were curious, clay bar didn't come into existence until the mid 1990's with Japan taking the lead in what might be considered as the most beneficial tool within a detailer's arsenal. It should be known that "traditional" clay bar is primarily a resin-based synthetic clay, not a traditional clay that is widely identifiable to most. While a field of manufacturers produce their own version of clay bar, you should also know that clay bar comes in different grades, which are all designed for very particular purposes.
If your vehicle primarily sits in a sheltered area and rarely steps outside of the garage, it will most likely only require a light-grade clay bar. Conversely, if your vehicle is dubbed as the "daily commuter", or perhaps you live in an unforgiving climate, I would highly recommend a medium-grade clay bar or perhaps something heavier. Again, the analogy that I drew from earlier in this article is the same that I'll use when determining the grade of clay bar to use.
Essentially, a light-grade clay bar would be the equivalent of removing the "peach fuzz" mustache that just sprouted from not shaving for a few days. Whereas if you're shaving the burly mountain-man beard, it would be best to wield a stronger level of clay bar.
Of course, the next question is, how do I use clay bar? When you initially purchase clay bar, you need not worry about using the entire bar in one application. As a general rule of thumb, you should only rip off a small piece that's roughly the size of a small pancake. From there, make sure to roll that small piece into a ball. Next, take the palm of your hands and squeeze the ball of clay into a hamburger patty. Ensure that the patty is not too thin, as you might weaken the longevity of that particular piece.
One element that should never be overlooked is that of "lubrication". Never, at any point during the process should you ever graze a piece of clay along a painted surface without the proper amount of lubrication. The reason being is that if you should ever use an inadequate amount of lubrication, you run the risk of marring or instilling scratches and other unsightly blemishes along your paintwork. With a piece of clay in your dominant hand, make sure to hold a spray bottle with a shampoo solution in your other hand. If money is of no object, then choose a clay lube which can easily be found online or at any specialty car care location.
When moving your piece of clay along a painted surface, pay close attention to the amount of pressure that you displace. Yes, I'll be drawing another analogy. If you've ever played a round of golf, you know that your swing, rather than brute force will dictate the accuracy of where the ball goes. The same concept applies to using clay bar. Your clay bar is specifically formulated to remove contamination, which means that there's no need to apply any muscle or any excessive amounts of force.
Further, make sure to work in smaller sections and compartmentalize your working area. As an example, divide the hood into four quadrants and work one quadrant at a time. (2ft x 2ft sections). As you finish one area, inspect your piece of clay to see what had been removed. When you begin working on a different area of your vehicle, twist your piece of clay until a fresh area becomes exposed. Once you're finished, rinse your vehicle thoroughly to remove any residual residue that might have been left from the clay bar process. Now step back and admire the shine! Yes, I said the word shine. If you've never applied clay bar to your vehicle before, you'll be amazed at the amount of shine that reflects off of your vehicle by simply removing any surface-level contaminants.
As a disclaimer, it should be known that any clay bar process will introduce some level of marring; sadly it just comes with the territory and is considered to be a prerequisite prior to any polishing process (compound, polish, or a facsimile thereof.) I will expand on this topic in another post in the distant future.
If you're particularly ambitious, it would also be advantageous to use this process for all parts of your vehicle including your grille, headlights, tail lights, windows, and even your wheels. However, as an added security measure, I would highly recommend using a separate piece of clay bar for your wheels so that you minimize the risk of marring any areas that contain sensitive finishes such as aftermarket painted wheels, chrome wheels, aluminum wheels, anodized wheels, etc.)
Below you'll find a set of clay bar products that have worked well for me over the years, and depending on the severity of contamination, you'll find a complete spectrum at your disposal. Enjoy.
Pinnacle Ultra Poly Clay Special
Clay Magic Red Medium Grade Clay Bar
Blackfire Poly Clay Heavy Grade (Aggressive)
Optimum No Rinse