Using a clay bar to detail your car (step-by-step guide)

Mention a clay bar to most non-car folk, and they will probably stare back at you blankly. A staple for detailing shops and enthusiasts alike, it is quite literally a piece of malleable clay that removes contaminants picked from everyday driving like bits of brake dust and road tar. It’s a great idea to do this before waxing because it will ensure the paint is smooth and clean before applying a protective coating. Below is an easy step-by-step guide on how to properly clay bar your ride.

  1. Give your vehicle a thorough wash and dry before starting to remove loose dirt and grime.
  2. Your clay bar kit (like this one, from Mothers) should come with a big rectangular chunk of clay. Rip off a piece big enough to fit in your hand and reseal the rest in a Ziploc bag.
  3. Warm up the clay by kneading it in your hands, and then generously spray the supplied lubricant onto the panel of the car you’d like to start with.
  4. Take the clay and gently glide it back and forth on the lubricated panel. It should slide effortlessly, there’s no need to apply too much pressure. If the clay starts to stick, spray on more lubricant. Wipe the area dry with a soft, clean towel afterwards and run the back of your hand along the paint, which should feel like glass. If not, start over again.
  5. Examine your piece of clay — it’s likely looking a little dirty. When it looks a lot dirty, fold it in half and massage it until you have a clean side to work with.
  6. Repeat this step for each section of the car. I like to start with the roof and work my way down, from front to back because the bottom part of the car tends to be the filthiest.

  7. Hatchbacks and wagons also tend to accumulate a lot of grit on the lift gate so you’ll want to spend some more time there.

After you’ve gone over the entire vehicle, it’s time to seal in the shine. Grab a bottle or can of your favourite wax and finish the job. See How to wax your car in three easy steps.

Posted by Benjamin Yong

Benjamin Yong is a freelance journalist and communications professional living in Richmond, B.C. He is often found writing about cars and the auto industry, amongst other things, or driving around in his work-in-progress 1990 Mazda MX-5. Twitter: @b_yong Instagram: @popuplights