Claying a car is a crucial step in the decontamination process to ensure the paintwork is smooth and free from contamination, but there are a few things you need to know about the process and how it relates to the protection on the panels.
The Short Answer
A wax or sealant should always be applied to the car after using a clay bar. The clay bar will remove any old protection so a wax or sealant needs to be applied to ensure the paintwork is protected to help keep it clean and free from contaminants and UV rays.
Effects of the Clay Bar
Clay bars, mitts, gloves and blocks are all designed to remove embedded contaminants on a car’s exterior surfaces. If you feel the paintwork of most cars when they are clean and dry, it will feel slightly rough, indicating that there is contamination present.
This contaminants cannot be removed by routine washing and instead need to be removed via the decontamination process. This first involves chemical decontamination using tar remover and iron fallout remover. Then, the car is clayed which involves using a lubricant to help the clay glide over the panels to pull these contaminants out of the paint or shave them away using straight line motions.
As well as removing contamination, the clay bar has two other side effects:
- It removes or degrades any waxes and sealants on the paint.
- It causes micro-swirls and marring in the clear coat.
Let’s first address side effect #1.
Since the clay removes or at the very least degrades waxes and sealants, the car must be protected afterwards. Applying a wax or sealant will help to do the following:
- Protect the paintwork from further contamination and reduce the level of build-up.
- Repel dirt and water to keep the car cleaner.
- Make the car easier to clean.
- Protect from UV rays.
- Enhance the gloss and shine of the paintwork.
If a car is not waxed/ sealed after claying, then the paintwork will quickly become embedded with more contaminants and the effect of claying the car will be quickly lost. Hence, protecting the paintwork will mean you don’t need to clay the car nearly as frequently.
Okay, so what about side-effect #2.
Well, clay is an abrasive substance which is capable of causing scratches and swirl marks in the clear coat. No matter how gently you use the clay bar, or how much lubrication you use, some level of marring/ swirling is pretty much guaranteed.
This is simply a side effect of removing bonded contamination and it’s why claying should only be done when necessary and not as part of a routine.
Should You Polish After Claying?
The way you can address the swirls and marring left by the clay bar is by polishing the paintwork. Polishing will remove the damaged layer of clear coat to reveal a flat, fresh layer which looks much glossier.
Polishing is recommended after claying as it improves the finish of the paint, but it is not essential if the swirls and marring inflicted by the claying process do not bother you. Personally, I always polish after claying because the appearance of swirls and marring irritates me otherwise, but it’s your car and your decision as to whether you feel it’s necessary.
Polishing can be done by hand or by machine. If you are a beginner, then I recommend polishing the car by hand. This process will take a bit longer, but it’s much safer and still an effective way to remove light defects caused by the claying process.
Using something like Meguiar’s Ultimate Polish on Amazon is a good option and one of the first products I tried for this purpose. It also contains “fillers” to help mask deeper scratches to improve the finish.
If you are a bit nervous about polishing your car and don’t like the idea of removing a layer of the clear coat, then you can use a glaze instead. Glazes contain fillers do not contain any abrasives, which means they help to hide the damage by essentially concealing it.
My favourite glaze is called Poorboy’s Black Hole (link to Amazon) and it works really well to hide very minor clear coat defects and improve the gloss levels of the paintwork.
Check out my comparison between polishes and glazes if you want to learn more about the differences.
Clay Marring and Swirls
Whether you decide to glaze or polish your car, you’ll still need to wax it afterwards for the same reasons as described above. Polishes and glazes help to enhance the finish of the paintwork, but they don’t add any protection so using either a wax or sealant is still essential.
The only exception is when you use an All-In-One Polish like Autoglym Super Resin Polish (link to Amazon). Products like this have three effects:
- Polishing: they contain mild abrasives which remove a thin layer of clear coat.
- Filling: they also contain “fillers” and “gloss-enhancing agents” to mask deeper scratches.
- Protective: they have either a wax or sealant in the formulation to protect the paintwork.
All-in-one products help to speed up the process as you won’t need to perform two extra steps (polishing/ filling and waxing) besides claying.
Applying the Wax or Sealant
Once you have finished claying the car, I recommend giving it a wash again to make sure any loosened contaminants have been effectively removed.
Then you can rinse the car and dry it using a microfiber towel. Once the car has been dried, you can either polish or glaze the car to enhance the finish, or skip straight ahead to the wax/ sealant application.
If you’re looking for some product recommendations, check out my favourite waxes and sealants.
Make sure you check out my complete guide to claying to learn some essential tips to make the process safer and more effective.
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