One of the easiest ways to get a deep gloss finish on your car is to use a clay bar. This method has been used for decades by professional car detailers to give a quick impressive finish to body paint. 

The great thing is, you don't need to be a pro, and you don't need specialist tools or skills. You just need to know how to use a clay bar properly to get a top finish. This guide will show you everything you need to know, and we've a few tips and tricks too.

What is a clay bar?

A clay bar is a soft, malleable bar of super tacky material. It can be moulded and flattened  easily into any shape and size. There are two main types of clay available, natural (or organic) and synthetic. The synthetic kind is by far the most popular because of it's durability as it's made from a special kind of semi-elastic rubber .

What is a clay bar used for?

Regular washing and drying of a car won't remove the often hidden contaminants that can build up on the surface of a vehicle's paintwork. 

The tacky nature of the clay makes it perfect for getting rid of these hard to remove contaminants. Most detailing enthusiasts will use a clay bar as part of a two step de-contamination process, often utilising an iron remover such as Iron X.

The clay bar was originally designed to remove paint overspray in the workshop. It has evolved over time, and is now available to car enthusiasts.

Clay is available in two different grades, medium (regular) and light (fine). The medium uses a coarser material, and should really only be used a few times a year. This is because, over time, the rougher texture can start to remove some of the clear coat. So if like me you are one of those people that is out washing and shining up your car every weekend, the light clay bar is the safer option. 

However, many detailing enthusiasts will go for a medium grade, just using it 2 to 3 times a year. 

It will also remove any wax or sealant that may be applied to the paintwork, leaving a smooth gloss finish, ready for the next coat.

What does a clay bar remove?

It will remove dirt such as tar, brake dust, iron contaminants, harmful dust, dead bugs, tree sap and weather contaminants. 

Does my car need claying?

Yes. If this is all new to you and your car has never been clayed, then it will almost certainly be covered in dirt and bugs that regular washing won't remove.

In fact all cars can benefit from claying, even if they are brand new. Most new cars will have been shipped by road (or across oceans!). They may look shiny and new, but will have invariably come into contact with contaminants after leaving the factory.

This is why it is a good idea to clay the car before applying the first coat of wax. This will make it easier to maintain the paintwork in the long term.

If you have an older, neglected car or even if it has been washed religiously every weekend, it can still benefit from a once over with a clay bar.

In general, claying 2 to 3 times a year before waxing is a good idea. If you want to keep your car seriously clean, then a fine clay bar can be used monthly or even weekly. 

You can easily tell if a clay bar has been used recently on paintwork. After washing the car, rub your hand along a side panel. You should be able to feel tiny imperfections or grit. The panel also won't be as slippery or as glossy as it can be.

What type of clay bar is best?

As mentioned earlier, there are two types of material used to produce a clay bar: natural and synthetic.

Synthetic polymer clay bars are by far the most commonly available today. They are more durable and can be remoulded more times before they need to be replaced. They can even sometimes be cleaned if they are dropped on the ground. 

How to correctly use a clay bar

Using a clay bar is not difficult to get the hang of. There are a few simple rules that you need to remember, and after that it's all about the elbow grease!

Before you start, there are a few things that you will need for the job:

  1. A clean bucket, wash mitt/sponge, car shampoo and drying cloth (or whatever you normally use to wash and dry your car)
  2. Clay bar Kit - This includes the clay bar and spray lubricant. If this is your first time, then stick to a standard clay bar until you get the hang of it. I like the Chemical Guys kits, they include everything you need to get started and are safe to use, especially if you are a beginner.
  3. Soft cotton cloths - These are for buffing the paintwork after claying. If you are planning on doing the whole car in one go, you'll need a couple of cloths. It's important that they are kept dry, clean and free from grit or dirt. Cotton cloths will give you a deeper gloss, streak free shine than a microfibre cloth.
  1. Before you can start the clay process, you will need to wash and dry the car thoroughly. You don't need to use any special cleaners, just clean as normal. Make sure you remove all visible grit and mud, especially around the wheel arches and bumpers. Any loose dirt on on a clay bar will create scratches and swirls in the paint. If you have one, a power washer is great for getting a car ready for claying, just blast away all of the dirt!
  2. If it's a hot or sunny day, move the car into the shade or into a garage. You need to keep the car cool to stop the clay lubricant drying out too quickly. It's best to set aside a few hours to get the job done properly.
  3. Start by breaking off about a 1/4 of the clay bar. Put the rest back in the packaging to keep it clean. 
  4. Knead the clay between the palms of your hands until it is warm and soft, and then shape it into a small patty.
  5. Now spray a liberal amount of the clay lubricant onto a panel. You should work on one panel at a time, and split up large panels into smaller areas. You want to keep the surface of the car as wet and slippery as possible, so as not to damage it.
  6. Using the piece of clay, rub it in straight lines along the panel using a moderate amount of pressure. It will feel rough and will try to stick to the panel to begin with. But after a few passes it should free up and glide along the surface. If it doesn't, then apply more lubricant and go again with the clay.
  7. Check the clay and you should see that it has become discolored (brown or black), and there may even be small pieces of dirt stuck in it.
  8. When you are happy that the panel is clean, buff it up using one of the clean cotton cloths. If the area you just worked on has already dried out streaky, then spray on a small amount of lubricant before buffing with the cotton cloth. A good tip is to go back over the finished panel with a quick detailer spray and a clean cloth. I like to use Meguiar's or Chemical Guys quick detailer spray to remove any spotting or streaks.
  9. Before you start on the next panel, re-knead the clay piece, folding it over onto itself to expose a clean surface. You'll get away with using the same pice of clay 2 or 3 times by doing this. Just make sure the clay surface that you are rubbing on the car is free from pieces of grit. If you can't then it's time for a new piece of clay. Throw away the old piece, it's usually not reusable. 
  10. Repeat until you are finished the entire car.
  11. Don't forget you can use also use clay on chrome trim, glass windows, mirrors and gloss plastic trim too. It's the same process as for paintwork. Just be careful to avoid any matt or rubber surfaces, they don't like clay!
  12. After you have finished, it's a good idea to apply a coat of wax or sealant to the clayed surface as soon as possible. The clay will have removed any old wax, so a new coat will be needed to keep the paint protected.
Top Tips for Claying ​​​​
  • check
    Make sure the surface to be clayed is spotless. This will reduce the chance of picking up dirt in that may cause scratches or swirls.
  • check
    You don't need to apply too much pressure to the clay, just enough to keep it moving. Let the clay do the work for you. 
  • check
    Move the clay in short straight lines only, don't rub it in circles. This will reduce the chances of damaging the surface.
  • check
    Check the clay regularly for trapped dirt. Again, you don't want to scratch anything.
  • check
    Generally the most contaminated panels will be the roof, hood and bumpers. You may need to use more lubricant and switch the clay more often for these areas of the car.
  • check
    Don't forget - if you drop the clay, then throw it away!