How The Auto Detailing Clay Bar Cleans and Shines Without Scratching

The car detailing clay bar is now the most recommended way to clean and smooth rough, contaminated paint. It’s a car cleaning product that quickly replaced traditional pre-wax paint polishes, and for good reason. It’s fast and easy to use, but it’s also more effective on modern clear coat paint finishes.

One of the most misunderstood facts about the detailing clay bar is how it does its job. It’s not uncommon to see product descriptions that include a comment like: “…pulls contamination off of your paint…” This is misleading, yes, but it’s also a bit ridiculous. After all, the cleaning process requires clay lubrication, such as soapy water. Have you ever tried to pull on something that’s lubricated?

The “pulls contamination off of your car” myth was invented to keep from explaining the facts about the paint cleaner. The reality is that a claybar is an abrasive. It accomplishes its job by wearing away the bonded contamination with paint-safe abrasives. Don’t be alarmed. When used as directed it’s beneficial, not harmful, to your car. That’s because the soapy lubrication allows it to slip and slide over painted, glass and smooth metal surfaces without damage.

The patents on this amazing pre-wax paint cleaner clearly describes that it’s a blend of polybutene (that’s the clay-like substance) and fine abrasives. U.S. Patent No. 5,727,993 talks about several elements that are used together to make the cleaning process work. Here’s the quote:

“A method of polishing a protrusion or stain from a surface comprising; applying a plastic flexible tool to the surface, the plastic flexible tool comprising a plastic flexible material having mixed therewith an abrasive comprising grains from about 3 to 50 m in diameter and; applying a force to the plastic flexible tool such that a polishing force per area is applied by the plastic flexible tool to a protrusion or stain on the surface, and such that the amount of force per area applied to the surface is less than the amount of force per area applied to the protrusion or stain.”

One way to understand how the cleaning action works is Universal Car Cleaning Clay Bar to imaging the bar as nothing more than a selective paint polish. The tool’s job is to remove bonded contamination without polishing the hard surface. It simply abrades away the dirt and grime then floats over the hard surface on the lubrication. That’s what make it better than a traditional polish. A traditional polish removes fine layers of paint as it cleans.

The final result of the cleaning action is visible on the working surface of the claybar. Most of the bonded contamination transfers to the clay as a black or brown grunge. To prevent scratching, you simply fold the bar, dirty side in, and then re-flatten to reveal a clean surface. Once the clay becomes completely dirty you will need to replace it with a new one. The bar cannot be cleaned.

While investigating what makes one formulation different from another, I learned that the manufacturers have control over the firmness, the size and type of abrasives used, the concentration of abrasives, and the color. Unfortunately, color was never used to identify different grades or types, so don’t be fooled into thinking that one color is the same as another.

Most of the consumer brands available, including Meguiar’s, Mothers Polishes and Turtle Wax, are very mild and will not harm your car. You can use these brands of detailing clay a couple times a year with no issues.


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