Most everyone is familiar with the process of hand washing a car. You grab a bucket, some water, some soap, a nice sponge, and a hose, and that’s all you really need. After a little bit of elbow grease, you have a shiny and clean car, free of dirt and grime. While there are professional car washes that you can drive up to, it is much more cost effective to wash your car at home. Similarly, doing finer detailing work at home is considerably more cost effective than going to a professional.
The difference between cleaning and detailing is complexity and attention to detail. If you have the budget for it, professional detailing is great and can greatly extend the life of your car. Some of the things done in the process of detailing can be done at home though, and they can extend the life of your car’s paint and prevent fading from grit and sun damage as well. The two processes that are easiest to do yourself are clay bar treatment and waxing.
Waxing is similar to polishing, and the process allows wax to fill in the pores present in a car’s paint and clearcoat, extending the life of the paint and making it appear totally smooth. Using a clay bar is a more advanced part of the cleaning and washing process. While clay doesn’t seem like something that would do a great job cleaning, a clay bar is the simplest way to remove bonded contaminants from paint. This includes materials such as tree sap, bird droppings, and tar. These contaminants usually repel soap and water, and can look like stains on an otherwise clean paint job. So how does a clay bar work, and who makes the best products for those of us looking to treat our cars at home?
Anyone who has stepped foot in an automotive supply store has seen products made by Mothers. They sponsor a number of Motorsport events as well. So their products are easily accessible and are aimed mostly at beginners, but are used extensively by folks of every level of experience. That makes this kit our overall top choice for those looking to use a clay bar at home.
This kit, containing a 100 gram bar of clay and a spray bottle of their Instant Detailer spray that works as lubricant for the bar, covers all the bases. The clay is pliable and easy to use, and the bright yellow color shows contaminants easily.
Mothers is another brand that consumers go back to repeatedly after using one product due to their great price point and variety of products. These are also easy to use, and contain everything you will need for the project at hand. If you haven’t tried one of their kits before, definitely give Mothers a try and see what results you get.
Griot’s Garage Clay Bar kit is great for beginners for two reasons: the texture and hardness of the clay makes for a great first-time application, as it is a bit harder than average and will remove surface contaminants more aggressively than softer varieties, and the price point is super reasonable for the contents of the kit. They make kits of various size, so if you don’t have anything to start with you can get gloves, towels, polishing pads, lubricant, and clay all in one stop.
This clay comes in a jar instead of a bar, which leads to a longer shelf life for the clay itself both in the store and in your garage. So if you only use this product once a year, it’ll stand the test of time. The bright yellow color of the bar makes it easy for you to see the contaminants coming off on your paint and makes it easier to tell when it is time to fold the clay and use a fresh side of it. This kit comes with a 226 gram container of clay.
Chemical Guys has spent years perfecting their products that offer consumers professional grade detailing equipment. Their products tend to be slightly pricier than competitors products but also tend to be of slightly higher quality than average. Their clay bar and lubricant kit is no exception. It includes a 100 gram clay bar and enough lubricant for multiple applications.
When the clay bar is paired with an appropriate lubricant right out of the box, it takes the guesswork out of learning how to use a clay bar that benefits beginners and those who haven’t used a clay bar in recent history but know the basic process.
This clay bar kit is able to be used on any exterior surface of the vehicle, including glass, chrome, and trim pieces that are plain metal (including wheels). The only other item you will need to use this kit effectively is a microfiber cloth to wipe the area down once the clay bar has been used in order to ensure there are no more surface contaminants.
Another great thing about Chemical Guys is that once you use one of their products, you can keep going back to sample more of them with the same confidence that the products will work and the kits will contain everything you will need for the job. This includes other varieties of clay bar along with items to wash, wax, and polish the exterior of your vehicle.
Meguiar’s is a trusted name when it comes to car cleaning and detailing products, and they should be familiar to most car enthusiasts. Their products tend to come at a slightly more premium price than Mothers, but everything they produce is made to be used by consumers and professionals alike.
Their clay bar kit contains 2 bars both 80 grams in size, along with a microfiber towel and detailing spray. When deciding between this kit and the kit offered from Mothers, the main deciding factor will likely be brand loyalty. In quality they are very similar, with Meguiar’s being slightly more geared towards professionals.
It is easy to justify the slightly higher price tag, as the results you will see with this kit are more or less guaranteed to be on par with professional detailing. The white clay bars also provide a clean surface on which all contaminants will show up nicely.
The clay bar kit offered by Trinova is most comparable to the kit from Griot’s garage in terms of quality and usability. This is a bar of medium hardness but is slightly more abrasive than others of that hardness level. This bar is perfect to use on paint when the vehicle in question hasn’t been detailed in a while or is really covered in bonded contaminants.
While you don’t have to worry about these clay bars harming the finish of your vehicle, I would recommend only using them on paint rather than paint, glass, and chrome. I would also recommend using a liberal amount of lubricant. Luckily this kit contains plenty of it, with a sixteen ounce bottle and two bars each 100 grams in weight.
This kit is great for someone looking to give their car its first clay bar treatment, and for those looking to clan wheels that are covered in tar or brake dust.
Towel Motors makes a great and super practical clay bar that is geared towards folks who spend a lot of time working out of their own garages. While you will have to supply lube and towels to treat your vehicle with this bar, the packaging is smartly designed with ease of use and durability in mind.
The container, holding two bars both 80 grams in weight, seals out the air and prevents the clay from drying out. It is also durable so if you store it in a toolbox the delicate clay won’t be harmed.
Since this clay is gentle and medium/soft in hardness, you can quickly rip off a small piece to touch up trim and small pieces of your paint in between doing the full clay bar treatment to your vehicle. This is especially useful for people doing routine maintenance on their fun weekend cars or muscle cars.
Adam’s polishes make a great selection of products for anyone in the market for premium car care products. Their clay bar is a high quality bar that is soft and geared towards vehicles that see cleaning and detailing regularly. It is not too abrasive and car be used on delicate surfaces like glass and chrome without incident. The softness of this clay bar is also convenient for when you just need a tiny piece to treat one specific area like the back of the wing mirrors.
The pack of clay bars comes with two bars, both 100 grams in weight. Since this is a premium product, expect them to cost more than most of their competitors. This investment is totally worth it if you are looking for an effective clay bar that can be used regularly without unnecessary wear and tear on your vehicle.
YGDZ makes a great, budget friendly and easy to use clay bar. It is available in multiple colors, the most popular being blue and white. These are a very no frills product, and the packaging includes only the bars, no microfiber towels, detailing spray, or hard container.
The medium-soft texture, making these bars very easy to tear, and the light colors available have quickly made the YGDZ clay bar a favorite among budget minded folks detailing thier cars at home. While a proper detailing spray will make the process a bit easier, simple water can be used as lubricant with this clay bar.
The clay bar available from IPELY is pretty similar to the one offered by YGDZ. The main difference is that IPELY makes larger packs, the smallest being 4 bar, that allows consumers to buy in larger amounts for better savings. If you are treating multiple vehicles or just want to stock up, this is a great option considering the actual performance of the clay bar itself is great.
While these aren’t available in white, the medium-soft hardness and smooth texture make these super easy to use wherever needed. Use plain water as lubricant or drop some cash on a bottle of detailing spray to make the process goes a bit more quickly.
LEOBRO is another manufacturer of budget friendly detailing products that has products available online in larger packs, perfect for those looking to stock up on supplies for the next few clay bar treatments.
While it can be tricky for beginners to get the hang of using a clay bar at first, making kits seem tempting, a quality product like the one from LEOBRO offers a cheaper way to practice using clay bars wherever. With the large pack and low price, you can play around and see what works best; detailing spray, water, soap and water mixed, on different surfaces of your car without breaking the bank if one method doesn’t work that well.
These bars only come in blue but their medium hardness make them very well rounded and easy to use.
Sometimes it is the simplest products that seem to have the most variety of options available to consumers. This rings true for clay bars and clay bar kits as well, and the variety can be very confusing to those looking to use one for the first time. No need to worry though, you can narrow down the options easily by looking at just a couple of features:
Lubricant is a very necessary part of the process of using a clay bar on your vehicle. It prevents the clay from damaging the paint and allows it to stick only to those contaminants that repel water. Hence why some brands only require plain water to act as a lubricant. Remember, distilled water won’t leave behind mineral residue, so I always recommend using that instead of tap water.
Some kits come with their own lubricant, which takes the guesswork out of it. Brands like Chemical Guys and Mothers make detailing spray that works as lubricant as well, these can be purchased at most automotive suppliers. Some sources suggest using soap and water as a lubricant, but use caution before taking this route. Some clay bars will break down when exposed to soap, reducing the effectiveness and life of the clay itself.
Clay Bar vs. Clay in Jar:
Clay doesn’t always come in a standard bar shape, and that can throw some people off when shopping through different brands. Usually clay is sold by weight, 100 grams being the standard for one bar, and can be stored in bar form or in a jar. Jars keep the clay from drying out better than a bar, which is usually just wrapped in plastic.
Some softer varieties of clay have to be stored in a container, as they are not able to keep their shape in soft packaging. See the following term for a more thorough explanation of clay hardness and how it relates to your needs.
The easiest way to differentiate between different clay bars you can use on your vehicle is by looking at the hardness of the clay. Most clays come rated soft, medium, or hard. Soft clays are for particularly delicate surfaces, and tend to be the most gentle to use. If you use a clay bar on your car multiple times a year, you should look at soft clays to avoid too much wear and tear on your paint and chrome pieces.
Medium clays are the most standard kind, and if a brand of clay doesn’t list the hardness of their clay it is safe to assume it is of medium hardness. This hardness is appropriate for just about any application, but if you are using a clay bar very often or using it on glass and chrome you should still consider using soft clay. Hard clays are for applications that will take some elbow grease. If you bought a classic car that has never been detailed, or if you parked your car under a tree or next to a construction site that covered the paint in sticky residue, then get a hard clay bar. These are specifically for removing a large amount of aggressive bonded contaminants. If you are just using a clay bar on wheels to remove brake dust, a hard clay bar is your best bet.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should I Use a Clay Bar?
Since using a clay bar and other detailing processes can remove years of built up grime from you car, you don’t need to perform that often. For an everyday driver you can get away with yearly or biyearly clay bar and wax treatments.
What if I Drop the Clay?
Throw the dropped piece away. Unfortunately a clay bar is meant to stick to and soak up contaminants, so falling onto the ground is a death sentence for clay. Any dirt, dust, or grime from the ground will stick to the clay and end up scuffing the surfaces being treated.
Can I Use a Clay Bar on Glass and Chrome?
Yes! But check the specifications of the brand of clay you are using. Some are not rated for glass and may be too harsh, leading to scratches that may make glass look foggy. This goes for headlight treatments as well. Softer clays tend to work better on delicate finishes.
Are there Organic or Natural Options for Clay Bars?
Yes, but most of the options out there are made artificially. Organic clay bars are a boutique and high end car product that the normal consumer wouldn’t be able to justify the cost of considering the results would be the same. Most commercial clay bars are not made from real clay.
Can I Use Soap and Water When I Run Out of Lubricant?
Check the specifications of the clay bar you are using. Some will work with pain water and some can work with a mixture of soap and water. Some clay bar formulations will break down when exposed to soap and this will hinder performance and lead to subpar results.
Can a clay bar remove scratches?
A clay bar itself cannot remove scratches. Clay bars are mainly used to remove bonded contaminants like tree sap or brake dust.
I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them, but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. I founded GearHeads.org and then built and ran AutoWise.com until selling it to Lola Digital Media in 2020. I look forward to watching AutoWise grow as part of the AllGear group.