• Protip: Profile posts are public! Use Conversations to message other members privately. Everyone can see the content of a profile post.

Purifying the Paint- Claying

24 November 2001
Santa Clara, CA. U.S.A.
Purifying your paint covers the subject of detailing clay bars and removing contaminants from your vehicle’s paint and glass. Although clay has been used for years for industrial and commercial applications, it has recently emerged as the go to consumer detailing product for preparing your vehicle’s surface prior to compounding, polishing and waxing. It’s like giving your paint a full exfoliation prior to moisturizing but selection of the right clay, using the right techniques and knowing when to use clay is critical because like all good things, improper use can mar/scratch your paint and create more work; but once you’ve learned the “how to” you’ll wonder why it took so long to discover it (kinda like trying sushi).

What is detailing clay?

Detailing clay is an elastic and malleable synthetic material that is used in combination with a specifically made surface lubricant and is usually the best way to remove paint overspray, tree sap build up, bugs, brake dust, industrial contamination/fallout and other hard to remove surface contaminants. Clay has been used since the early 1900’s in body shops for overspray removal but has recently been refined and marketed to car enthusiasts for removing surface contaminants prior to polishing or applying a protective layer of wax. Clays will smooth the surface of paint by pulling contaminants out of the pores of the paint (yes your paint is porous like your car’s glass) or sheering off the minute high spots of your paint depending on the aggressiveness of the clay. That said, the contaminant removal can be done safely and easily once you’ve learned the proper techniques. The detailing clay bars come in different sizes from 3 to 8 ounces, colors, abrasive grades and elastic stiffness.

When do you use it?

To properly detail the exterior of your vehicle, prior to adding that final protective layer of wax or paint sealant on your paint, the surface should be free of any contaminants. Otherwise, you will be sealing the contaminants under the layer(s) of wax or paint sealant that you apply thus affecting the optical clarity of your paint and also decreasing the “wet look” or distinction of image (DOI). Worst case is that the contaminants continue to deteriorate your paint (as is usually the case with industrial fallout or rail dust).

How do you use it?

The first step is to properly wash and dry your car which prepares the surface for claying and also cools it. Read our article on “Washing Your Car” for the proper techniques and tips. Once you’ve washed and dried your car, then you can gently run your fingertips over the paint surface to feel the imperfections and also contaminants. If the surface feels smooth, you now should take a piece of cellophane (plastic cigarette wrapper or substitute with a plastic vegetable bag) between your fingertips and the surface to feel the same areas. The cellophane is like a magnifying glass for your sense of touch and you will now be able to feel all the imperfections and contaminants on your paint surface. If you drive your car on the road or park it outside, you will have contaminants on your car especially on the hood, trunk lid, rear bumper and undersides behind the wheels. So once you’ve identified that your paint has contaminants (which almost all cars do), the next step if to remove them.

How do you use it?
  • Unwrap your clay bar and if it came in an 8 ounce size, cut it in half and store half in the original wrapper, Saran wrap or carton.
  • Knead the piece you will use to soften it up and also to form a fit to the palm and fingers of your hand (you can also soak it in warm water to speed the softening process).
  • Visually inspect the clay surface to make sure there is nothing on it (if you drop the clay, absolutely throw it away and use a new piece since it will act like sand paper and scratch- don’t be frugal on this one since it will create more work when you have to remove scratches).
  • Start with the hood, then roof, rear deck lid, rear bumpers, etc… (just like washing your car).

Technique 1: Claying with a lubricant
  1. Spray the lubricant mist on a 12” x 12” square.
  2. With the clay cupped in your finger tips and palm, place the clay on the surface and with little pressure, glide it in a straight back and forth motion (front of car to back) finishing the 12” x 12” square.
  3. Inspect the clay surface frequently to make sure there isn’t anything stuck to it that could create a scratch. Once the clay surface is dirty and somewhat saturated with the contaminants, fold the clay to expose the virgin clay. (Theoretically you can keep folding repeatedly to expose clean, virgin clay but reality is that the clay will become saturated and will need replacing eventually.)
  4. You will feel the paint surface getting smoother and the friction reducing which indicates the contaminants are being removed (you’ll also see the lubricant color change as the contaminants are now floating in the lubricant as well as the clay getting dirtier).
  5. Once done with the 12” x 12” square, repeat for the next 12” x12” square until you are done with the entire car.
  6. When finished, again fold the clay and spray with the lubricant and store in the original wrapper, Saran wrap or carton.
  7. NOTE: if you feel high friction or pieces of clay are sticking to the paint, you are not using enough lubricant or the surface is too hot.

Technique 2: Claying during your car wash
  1. After washing and rinsing your car, glide the wash mitt soaked with soap water over a 12” x 12” square. You will now use the soap water as the lubricant.
  2. Follow steps 2 through 7 in “Technique 1: Claying with a lubricant”.
  3. After claying is complete, wash the car again and dry.

For Severe Overspray

There are instances when you have to remove severe overspray or contaminants on your paint surfaces where the prior two techniques were not effective. The solution is to increase the friction between the clay and the paint surface for a more aggressive cleaning. You now will use water in place of the prior mentioned lubricants but this technique will promote and introduce scratches to your paint while you are removing the stubborn overspray and contaminants so you will need to follow with a compound or polish. Although it will create more work to remove the scratches left behind by the clay, it is the lesser of the two evils since the only other alternative is to wet-sand which creates much more work and should only be attempted by those experienced with that technique.

Final Comments

As noted earlier, to prepare the paint surface in your detailing process and paint re-conditioning, you should wash your car and then claying should be the next step prior to the complete detail (compound, polish, wax/sealant). Depending on the grade of clay you use in your claying process, it will remove your wax and paint sealant and the contaminants that are stuck to the clay will create very minute and fine scratches that are more noticeable on darker cars. You have to look very closely to see them but they are there.

Remember, clay will remove paint overspray, tree sap build up, bugs, brake dust, industrial fallout, light oxidation and other hard to remove surface contaminants but it is not a polish and will not remove scratches. So now that you have purified and prepared your paint, you are now ready to follow with the paint re-conditioning.
Been using it for years and I will never stop. :smile: My father just bought a new car and it had rail dust and some gooey, greasy crap on it. Instead of taking it back to the dealer, he brought it over and let me spend 1/2 day on it. After I was done detailing he couldn't believe how good the car looked.
Anyone wet sand their car?

A co worker does the same thing to all his cars. He wet sands them with 1500-2000 grit sand paper attached to a semi soft sponge to prevent grooving. He showed me pictures and the car looks ruined after it is wet sanded.

Then he does a 3 step process using a PC orbital and various wool bonnets and polishing agents by 3M. He "Shows" all of his cars and the results are unreal. It takes off all the orange peel from the factory paint job and now the car looks like glass it's so smooth.

I wouldn't have the balls to do it for fear of going to deep, so I'll stick with a clay bar too, but wet sanding is the way to go if you really want a show quality paint job.

He also said it takes 60-80 hours to do 1 car though!!