There was a time that using a clay bar for detailing your car was the job of a professional, but as the results of the product became widely-known, there has been a surge in popularity, so how do you choose the best clay bar for auto detailing?
Is it simply about the price of the clay bar? Or do some kits outperform their rivals?
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The Job of a Clay Bar
Over time, your car’s paint surface will become contaminated with minor imperfections - they won’t necessarily be noticeable to the naked eye, but when you run your hand across the paint, you’ll definitely be able to feel them. Tiny little bumps, sharp contaminants, tree sap – rather than feeling like a glass surface, it will be rough to the touch, and it’s these contaminants that a clay bar will remove.
Of course, it can only deal with contaminants on the surface, anything below the surface needs an entirely different approach.
And it isn’t just the paintwork – a clay bar can be used on the paint, glass, chrome or plastic – basically anything that should have a smooth surface.
Best Clay Bars For Detailing
Most people will have their own preference or favored brand, but after some testing, below is a list of the 4 best clay bar kits for your car.
1. Chemical Guys Clay Bar & Luber Synthetic Lubricant Kit
The Chemical Guys know car detailing, and their products just work, exactly like it says on the tin. The beauty of the CG clay bar is that you can buy it in different grades – black for heavy-duty clearing, gray for medium duty, blue for light cleaning or the ‘OG’ (Original Gangster) in yellow. And the yellow clay bar seems to be a general all-rounder, I’d always pick for my preference.
The kit comes with a 100 gram bar, 16oz of the ‘Luber’ lubricant and it seems occasionally, a microfiber towel (although that isn’t actually officially listed), pretty much everything you need to have at it with your vehicle. I don’t actually know whether it would be worth starting with the black and then moving on to the blue, but I suspect not – they all give a glass-like finish to your paintwork when used correctly.
2. Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System
The Mothers California Gold clay bar kit is the cheapest kit in this list, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the job is lessened – this kit will do just as well on your typically soiled car as the others, and there’s a bonus in the fact that you get two 100 gram bars.
The detailing spray / lubricant can be used for a quick touch-up polish (without the clay), but that kind of misses the point – if you’re just wanting a simple and quick clean (without the full wax and/or clay), why bother with spraying the detailer on? You may just as well use a wax.
Equipped with a decent sized microfiber towel (around 15 inches square), so you’ll have everything you need to get started. Although I always use a second microfiber towel for a finish wipe – you may find that the one towel gets too damp to properly finish the job.
Yes, there are more expensive clay kits, and the results are the same so why spend more than you have to?
3. Meguiar's Smooth Surface Clay Kit
Similar to the Chemical Guys, Meguiar’s have been in the car care business for a while, and I’ve used their products extensively to ensure that ultimate shine on paintwork, this Smooth Surface kit is no different.
It is only available in one grade (unlike the CG kit) – working through different grades of clay bars dependent on how heavily soiled your car is, in my opinion, unnecessary.
However, what I do like about this kit is that it comes with two 80 gram bars, which is plenty for a number of cars, and you’re not just relying on one bar – do your first three (or however many cars) on one bar, and you’ve still got a fresh bar in stock. The only drawback to that is that you still only get 16oz of the ‘Quik Detailer’ lubricant, and for those of you that have already used a clay kit, you’ll know that plenty of lubricant is needed for the perfect job.
While you can buy extra lube, my point is that if they’re supplying double the clay, they should include more lube, aside from that, it’s a great clay bar kit which gives the results you’d expect.
4. Griot's Garage Paint Cleaning Clay
For me, the Griot’s clay bar is closer to what you’d find in a professional detailers kit, for a couple of reasons – it’s big! With 226 grams of clay, all in a resealable tub which should mean it will last for months without drying out, and it feels slightly softer (more easy to work) than some of the other clays.
With such a good size bar, you can easily break it down in to three and save two for other vehicles or as spares (in case you drop one). If you factor in lubricant, this is the most expensive kit here, but I do feel that it’s worth that extra bit of money, and besides, while the other kits come with lube, after one or two cars you’ll need to buy more anyway.
If you’re looking to detail your car often, then the Griot’s Garage clay bar is the #1 choice in the best clay bar list.
How They Work
A clay bar has been specifically engineered, and while it may feel like the sort of thing you played with as a child, the truth is that it’s about as far removed from that as it’s possible to be. It’s usually a synthetic compound, and contrary to popular belief, there is no abrasive quality to it whatsoever – it works by sticking the micro-abrasives to the compound, which is why it’s important to keep turning the clay and folding it in on itself – so as to have a clean surface.
While most kits will come with lubricant, you should never be tempted to use a soapy water if you run out of the official lube. The soap will break the compound down quicker, leading to a less efficient clay bar.
Using a clay is simplicity itself; spray the panel liberally with the lubricant, and stroke the clay across the paintwork (or surface to be clayed). Applying just enough pressure to control the clay, and keep turning it frequently – you’ll see the results within the clay.
A word of warning though – clays tend to be quite slippery once lubricated, it’s relatively easy to lose control of them, perhaps dropping it on the floor. If this happens, discard the dropped clay because it will be severely contaminated.
Before using a clay bar, you should thoroughly wash your car. This helps in two ways: shows you the condition of the paintwork before you start, and removes the ‘loose’ road debris that washes off, leaving just the surface contaminants.
Put aside a good few hours if you’re claying your car for the first time. It’s quite a laborious process, and experts say that you should only really need to do it twice a year, although there is nothing stopping you from doing it more regularly.
If you do intend on doing it more often, you should look for a fine or soft clay.
Generally speaking, the best clay bars come as a kit, which includes the lubricant, microfiber towel and of course, the bar itself. Some kits come with two bars, some with just one, perhaps not even a lubricant. Three of the four listed here come as complete kits, the fourth does have the option to include a lubricant and towel.
Bars also come in different sizes, the bigger sizes should be able to do a car six or seven times before it needs replacing, the smaller ones (50 grams) should be capable of about three full cars. When you notice severe discoloration, discard the old clay bar for a new one, just to be safe.
The Best Clay Bar Is …
Despite the competition being close – all of these clay bars give great value and work exceptionally well. Our number one pick for every day use is the Mothers California Gold.
After just five minutes of using a clay on your car, you’ll see that the surface is dirty – this dirt is all of the contaminants being quite literally pulled out of the paintwork.
Once you’ve completed the whole car, you should use a quality wax to really polish, which will also help to remove the residue of the lubricant, and protect against further contaminants for longer – you’ve put in a lot of effort, might as well look after it!