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How to Clay Bar a Car

A gloved hand cleaning a car.

Interested in learning how to clay bar a car? A clay bar is often used by professional detailers, and it’s renowned for its ability to give cars a flawless finish. Using one yourself can help you keep your vehicle looking its best the next time you wash it, and here we’ll describe how to do so.

Clay Bar Basics

Over time, contaminants such as brake dust, bug residue, road tar and more can embed themselves in the finish of your car. Eventually, these can cause hazy paint and patches of rust.By learning how to clay bar a car, you can keep your vehicle spotlessly clean. Washing the car doesn’t always do a perfect job of removing this grime, but that’s where the clay bar comes in. This tool is second to none in keeping your car’s paint spotlessly clean.

The clay works to trap and remove buildup, and it can also work to prevent damage from contaminants, as the clay provides a smooth, clean surface that helps your car’s sealant or wax stick more effectively.

Selecting Your Tools

To start, you’ll need both clay and a clay lubricant. The lubricant is an essential part of the process — without it, the clay will be unable to travel across the car’s surface properly, which could lead to unwanted residue.

You can choose between fine-grade and medium-grade clay. If your car is already relatively clean, use fine-grade clay, as it’s less likely to leave residue on the car. If your vehicle has gone a long time without a thorough cleaning, use medium-grade clay, which has the cleaning power you need for tough jobs.

Cleaning With a Clay Bar

Follow these steps to clay bar your car:

1. Get your car ready for claying by washing and drying it as you normally would.

2. Cut your clay bar into about four equally sized pieces. Handle the clay carefully — if you drop it on the ground, it will become contaminated by anything it comes into contact with, and you’ll be unable to use it.

3. Flatten the piece of clay you’re working with into a small pancake.

4. Working in sections of about two feet in diameter, spray the lubricant on your car’s paint.

5. Swipe the clay across the lubricated surface, and be sure swipe it in the same direction with each pass. You’ll be able to hear the clay as it collects debris. Use a light touch. If you’re too heavy-handed, you could scratch the paint. After a few passes, you should notice that the clay glides more smoothly and more quietly than it did at the beginning. This indicates that the section is clean.

6. Move on to the next patch and repeat the process. Fold the clay or flip it over to make sure you’re working with a clean side of clay for each patch. Check the clay to make sure it doesn’t contain any large chunks of debris that could damage your car’s paint. Continue until you’ve used the clay bar to clean the entire surface of the car.

7. Do a quick wash afterward to make sure all debris has been cleared. If you’re working with a wax or sealant, apply it after the wash.

A clay bar packs potent cleaning power that can make your car look like it was professionally detailed. Now that you know how to use one, your car can look good as new.

Check out all the car wash and cleaner products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to clay bar a car, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.


Warren Clarke View All

I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.

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