Clay Bars, Blocks, Mitts and Discs
Clay Bars, Blocks, Mitts and Discs: What are they, how do they work, and which is right for me?
If you have followed me on Facebook for any length of time you most certainly heard me talk about the clay bar process and “decontamination” of the paint. This process of decontamination is extremely important because it removes brake dust, tar and other junk from the pores of your vehicles paint. The longer brake dust is allowed to sit in the pores of the paint, the more it will rust (brake dust is basically tiny bits of metal after all) and the harder it will be to remove, the less shiny your car will be and the more likely it will cause permanent damage to your paint. Most “detailers” do not include this process in their “basic” details because it is a very time consuming process, depending on the size of the vehicle it can add two-three hours onto the overall time of the job. For me, a full detail (inside and out) will take at least three hours on a small car in good condition, when we start talking trucks and SUV’s its easy for me to spend 8+ hours on a detail. Obviously this seems pretty discouraging for you as a do it yourself type person because this is clearly a big time investment, that’s most of your Saturday gone but lucky for you, the clay bar process doesn’t need to be done on a weekly basis. I have found that with regular car washes (bare minimum once a month) and a good layer of sealant (think wax, but sealants last much longer) you really only need to clay twice a year. For us here in Ohio, I recommend doing it in the fall and spring.
So you’re ready to take your cars appearance to the next level, you’ve done some research and you’ve learned that there are multiple ways to decontaminate your vehicle…. Which one is right for you? Let’s dive in!
Clay Bars: Clay bars are really great, they are user friendly, moldable so you can get into tight places like emblems and stuff like that and in the last few years they have nearly halved their retail price. Now, I’ve linked a kit here that I know for a fact works well, but you don’t need a special “clay lube” you can use any spray wax or quick detailer that you have on hand. Some people even use straight water but I wouldn’t recommend that until you are comfortable with the process. Also, don’t get too wrapped up in what color or brand the clay is, I’ve tried “heavy” “medium” “fine” and “super fine” from multiple different brands and I don’t feel like any one did better than the other, the biggest factor was the vehicle itself and how its maintained and since I’m guessing you are reading this because you want to take better care of your car(s) I really don’t want you to spend a bunch of money on multiple bars that are not going to save you more than a minute or two, pick one and be done. How do you use the clay bar? I’ll attach a video but basically:
1. Wash your car first so there is no lose dirt or debris on the surface
2. Flatten your clay into a patty so you have two flat sides
3. Spray your lubricant onto the paint surface
4. Gently glide the clay across a small area back and forth (6 inchx6 inch sections work well)
5. You should feel it grab and pull, don’t worry, as long as you use plenty of lubricant, and work in small areas you won’t be doing any damage noticeable to the naked eye.
6. Once that area is smooth, look at all the junk that is on that side of the clay, GROSS.
7. Switch to your clean side and move to another area, lubricate and go!
8. Now that both sides are contaminated you need to roll and knead the clay onto itself (like play-doh) until you get a clean surface, flatten and dry the area you just worked.
9. Repeat steps 3-7.
10. The heavier the contamination of the paint, the smaller sections and more often you will need to kneed the clay, this is what adds so much time to the process.
Clay Blocks: Clay blocks let you decontaminate much faster than a clay bar because there is no kneading or rolling but that means that all the junk you pull out of the paint is stuck in the synthetic surface until it is washed in hot water. The manufactures suggest wiping it off with a damp microfiber towel occasionally but I really don’t see how that will remove all of the contaminates. What that means is you are much more likely to scratch and mar your paint in a way that IS noticeable to naked eye. I use these on vehicles that are very well used (big scratches/dents/etc.) so that I can still offer a good finished product but since I’m saving time, keep the client at a reasonable price point. (Think corporate vehicles) Another con to this product is that it is not moldable so you can’t get in the gaps of emblems so depending on the size and type of emblem, you may have this nice shiny paint surface all over the place then see all the junk still stuck in the emblems. In some cases this is no big deal, but to me, for 99% of the clients I work for, that is a problem as it brings down the overall look of the vehicle. The process is very similar to a Clay bar:
1. Clean vehicle.
2. Lubricate small area to work on.
3. Gently glide the block across the lubricated surface, back and forth. (never in circles)
4. Wipe the block on a clean microfiber towel.
5. Dry the paint surface and move to another section.
6. Repeat steps 2-5.
Clay Mitts: Clay mitts are much like clay blocks but allow you to work more surface area at a time and rather than holding onto a two inch by four inch block, you stick your hand in a clay mitt and go to work. Really, the size is about the only pro to this product, you can go really fast with one of these but its even more difficult to ensure you are getting into tight places. Here are the steps to use one of these as efficiently as possible.
1. Wash vehicle.
7. Get more soapy water on the paint by dipping your clay mitt into your soap bucket (If you’re using a traditional wash method, if not, use the instructions listed for clay block kit)
8. Work mitt back and forth over the lubricated surface.
9. Rinse soapy water off.
10. Move to another area and repeat 2-4.
Basically the fastest way to use these is to wash the car with your soapy water, before you rinse and dry it, apply more soapy water and go over all of the paint with the clay mitt, then rinse and dry the car. I really don’t like this method as the soapy water tends to dry much faster than you can work on a hot summer day and that causes other problems such as soap streaks and water marks.
Clay Disc’s: Clay discs are used with a dual action polisher (you will also need a foam interface disc that is typically not included with these kits. DO NOT use a clay disc applied directly to the backing plate!) They say one swipe with one of these is equivalent to 16 passes by hand, sounds awesome right? Well they do a great job at abrading your paint job so these should really only be used if you plan on compounding and polishing your car after decontamination. Since I’ve built my business on quality rather than high volume, I have one of these and I have used it exactly one time. To me, its not worth it, putting more scratches and swirls into the paint just means I have to work that much harder to get a great finished product when I go to polish. This may be the solution to your problem but I would rather spend the extra time with a clay bar rather than spend more time and product polishing out defects that weren’t there before I started.
1. Step one…. Just don’t do it. It’s not worth it. Turn on your bluetooth speaker, get your favorite beverage and use one of the other methods I’ve listed.
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