Do You Need to Polish After Using a Clay Bar?

The whole detailing process can be confusing as there are lots of steps involved, but are they all necessary? Do you really need to polish after claying, or can you skip this step?

Polishing After Claying 101

It is usually necessary to polish a car after using a clay bar because the clay will cause some marring which needs to be corrected by polishing the paint. However, If the marring does not bother you, then you can skip this step. Alternatively, you can use a glaze to mask the defects.

Claying Will Usually Cause Some Paint Defects

Clay bars, mitts, gloves, towels and other clay media are abrasive. This means that the process of claying is very likely to induce some marring or swirl marks into the paintwork. These defects are usually very minor, but it is hard to avoid them.

Before Claying
After Claying

To minimise the level of marring/ swirling induced by the clay bar you can:

  • Use an iron fallout remover and tar remover to remove as many embedded contaminants as possible prior to claying
  • Use a soft/ mild clay bar or mitt instead of a coarser, more aggressive grade of clay
  • Use a high-quality clay lubricant such as Stjarnagloss Glir or Optimum No Rinse to provide as much lubrication as possible
  • Work in straight-line motions with light-pressure and don’t go over the same spot repeatedly if it is not necessary
  • Keep checking the clay bar for contaminants and fold it frequently
  • If you drop the clay bar on the floor, throw it away! Don’t be tempted to keep using it even if it still looks clean

Make sure you check out my complete guide to claying your car.

On some cars with very hard paint (e.g. most Audi and BMW cars), there is a possibility that the marring will be so minimal if you follow the steps above, that polishing isn’t necessary.

However, on my own car which has soft Japanese paint, even if I am super careful there will always be some marring which needs correcting.

Polishing Will Refine the Paintwork

To remove the marring or swirling that is caused during the claying process you can polish the paintwork.

To be clear here, polishes are not the same as waxes. Waxes add a layer of protection, whereas polishes are abrasive and remove a layer of paint. Check out this article comparing waxes and polishes to learn the differences between the two types of product.

The purpose of a polish is to essentially flatten the clear coat by removing a layer of clear coat paint which has defects in it. This process reveals a fresh, flat layer of clear coat paint which reflects the light evenly and looks as shiny as possible.

Before Polishing
After Polishing

The process of polishing can be done either by hand or by machine.

Machine polishing is more efficient, less exhausting and provides a more consistent finish. However, hand polish requires less equipment so it’s cheaper to get started, and there’s far less risk of removing too much paint.

Check out this article to learn more about the differences between hand and machine polishing.

What Kind of Polish is Best After Claying?

Whether you’re hand or machine polishing, it’s best to go with a finishing/ light polish if you’re just trying to remove minor defects caused by the clay bar. My favourite finishing polish for use on a machine is Scholl Concepts S40.

It’s a good idea to use a mild polish as the defects will not be very deep so a heavier cut polish isn’t necessary, and it means you’ll remove as little paint as possible.

If you are trying to remove deeper defects that were present prior to claying, you may need a heavier polish or compound to achieve the desired finish.

How Often Should You Clay and Polish?

The process of claying and polishing should only be done when absolutely necessary. You’ll know if your car needs claying if the paintwork feels rough to the touch after it has been washed and dried.

As I have described above, claying induces some marring which creates the need for polishing to correct these defects. Polishing removes a layer of paintwork to correct the defects, so can only be done so many times before you will run out of paint.

The amount of times you can clay and polish a car really varies as some manufacturers will use more clear coat than others.

If you’re worried that the car doesn’t have enough paintwork left, then you can invest in a paint depth gauge to give you some more information. If the paint depth gauge reads less than 70 microns, then you’ll need to proceed with caution.

To reduce the amount of contamination build up on your car you can:

  • Use chemical decontamination products 2-3 times per year (iron fallout remover and tar remover)
  • Wash your car more frequently (ideally every 1-2 weeks) to prevent contamination build-up
  • Apply a high quality coating, wax or sealant to prevent contamination bonding directly to the paintwork

So what do you do if you don’t want to remove any paint (via polishing), but you aren’t happy with all the marring left in the clear coat after claying? This brings us nicely onto glazes…

Glazing Can be Used as an Alternative to Polishing

Glazes do not contain any abrasives and instead contain fillers which hide minor clear coat imperfections, such as those caused by claying. It is a temporary fix, but it can be used to achieve the same visual improvement without removing any paint.

Check out this article comparing glazes and polishes to learn more.

Glazes on their own do not last very long at all (usually only a couple of weeks), but you can apply a wax or sealant over the top of them to improve their longevity, and to protect the paintwork since glazes do not have any protective qualities.

One of my favourite glazes is Poorboy’s Black Hole. This easily masks clay marring and will last 2-3 months when a protective product is applied over the top.

Other Alternatives to Traditional Polishes

  • Stjarnagloss Glasyr: I’ve not tried this product personally but I have seen it get very good feedback. This is a cross between a glaze and sealant, so you can use it to mask swirls and protect the paint all in one step. It is designed to last between 3 and 5 months.
  • All-In-One Polishes (e.g. Autoglym Super Resin Polish): this contains mild abrasives so it will help to remove defects but isn’t as aggressive as a traditional polish. It also contains fillers so has some glazing ability as well and contains a sealant to protect the paintwork.

Looking for some great products to make your car look as clean and shiny as possible? Check out my recommended detailing products page for all my top picks.



Heather is a professional car detailer & valeter based in Cheshire and the owner of Auto Care HQ. A familiar face in the car detailing community, she has written over 200 car detailing guides on and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

Articles: 221

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *