Picture this: you just got finished washing your car. You glide your hand over the paint expecting to feel a glossy, smooth finish, but you're instead greeted with a rough, gritty texture to your paint... What gives?
The culprit to your smooth paint woes is more than likely what we refer to as embedded or bonded paint contaminants. In other words, they're small, microscopic particles that work their way into the painted surface of your vehicle and bond themselves to a point where a typical hose & bucket wash will struggle to remove them.
In auto or car detailing, there is a procedure referred to as “claying." Traditionally, the claying process utilizes a clay bar that's comprised of a soft resin compound most commonly made from synthetic materials. It has a similar pliability to modeling clay, and its natural gummy/sticky texture makes it perfect for grabbing on to and removing stuck-on, or embedded paint contaminants.
More recent developments in detailing technology have paved the way for more durable synthetic materials that mimic the natural “grabbing” action of the previous clay bars, but have a longer shelf life and aren’t as susceptible to being over-concentrated with dirt particles during use. Product developers have now applied this new material to things like microfiber mitts, towels and even foam pads to create a very convenient way to remove embedded paint contaminants. The most popular of these being the clay mitt variation.
"Which do you prefer to use, a clay mitt or a clay bar?"
Believe it or not, it's a pretty common question that we get asked frequently. Both versions of clay have distinct advantages and serve unique purposes. In this write-up, we’ll cover their advantages and walk you through some basic tips on how we use clay to maintain Jay's collection.
First off, why do I need to clay my car?
Claying is a hot topic as of late, and most people want to know “why”. Why do I need to clay my car? As we've already discussed, air-born particles from brake dust, environmental pollution, industrial fall-out and even over-spray make their way on to your car or truck's paint and embed themselves. They're usually too small to see with the naked eye, and they adhere themselves to your paint and become difficult to remove with just soap & water. Below is an illustration depicting an example of these contaminants.
This is where claying comes in handy. Due to the sticky nature of the clay material, it’s able to grab these embedded particles and lift them away from the surface. This leaves behind an incredibly clean, and very smooth surface that is ready for wax/sealant application or even polishing (if there are surface scratches/defects that need to be corrected).
The plastic bag test
Uncertain on how to determine if you car's paint needs to be clayed? You can use a plastic sandwich bag over your hand to help amplify the texture of the painted surface and make it easier to figure if you need to clay your paint or not. If it feels "bumpy" then you've got embedded contaminants, and claying will help you remove them.
Synthetic vs. Natural?
There are multiple grades of “natural” clay available, and the same goes with synthetic clay materials. They both have distinct advantages, below we’ll try and help you choose what is right for you.
“Natural” clay advantages:
Synthetic clay advantages
How to use a clay mitt:
The process is basically the same whether you’re using natural or synthetic clay.
It's important to note that depending on how contaminated the surface was, polishing may be required after claying to help correct any micro-marring that may have occurred. If no micro-marring is present, then we suggest to add protection (wax and/or sealant) immediately after claying.
If you're curious about where claying fits in to an overall detail, below is how we typically approach a car or truck that needs to be clayed:
We hope that helps answer some of the questions and concerns around how and when to use clay and/or synthetic clay alternatives. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.
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