The Best Clay Lubricant Options (And the Ones to Avoid)


Using lubrication whilst claying your car is essential in order to avoid scratches and swirl marks. But what can you actually use to lubricate a clay bar properly and keep the paint looking good?

In this article, I’ll go through three safe and effective clay bar lubricants, and also a list of the ones to avoid as well. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

Car shampoo mixed with water, clay lubricant detailer sprays, and waterless wash products are the best options to use as a clay bar lubricant. Do not use dish soap, household products, IPA, or traffic film removers as they can damage the paint and the clay.

Car Shampoo and Water

Personally, I use car shampoo and water as a clay bar lubricant because it’s effective, cheap and fast. There are a few rules to remember though.

  • Don’t use a shampoo that contains wax.
  • Ensure you use a clean bucket of car shampoo and water (not the same one you used to wash the car)
  • Keep the paintwork wet and lubricated by going over the panel with a wash mitt at all times to avoid marring.
  • Rinse the area immediately after claying to avoid soap stains.

I think that this is the best method for lubricating the paint when using a clay bar, mitt or cloth because it doesn’t involve you having to buy anything extra, and it works really well to prevent marring. Just follow the rules above and you’ll have no trouble.

Clay Lubricant Detail Sprays

Some detailing sprays also double up as clay bar lubricants, but not all of them. So be careful when using a detailer when claying.

They can be effective, but I avoid them for the following reasons.

  • They can be very expensive and can sometimes cost as much as the clay itself to go over the entire car.
  • It’s more time consuming to spray the each area rather than just covering it with car shampoo and water.
  • They dry very quickly in warmer temperatures.
  • Some detailers leave a sticky residue which needs to be washed away.

I’m not a huge fan of quick detailer sprays when claying, but a lot of people wouldn’t use any other product. If you want to go with this method, then just make sure you use plenty of spray and keep the area well lubricated with water as well, and make sure you purchase a detailer that’s designed to be used with clay, or you’ll end up with plenty of marring.

Waterless Wash Product

Some waterless wash systems can also be used to lubricate the paintwork when using a clay bar. Optimum No Rinse also known as ONR in the detailing world, is a popular option and can be diluted to around 2% in water to work as a clay lubricant.

You can either spray it on to a wet panel, or use it in a wash bucket and apply it using a clean microfiber wash mitt. It’s a more cost effective solution to detailer sprays and provides a good level of lubrication.

Some other waterless wash products can also work as clay lubes. However I always recommend using them with water to provide enough lubrication. Using them on dry paint is very likely to cause swirl marks and marring.

Things to Avoid

So now we’ve been through three great options to use as clay lubricants, now let’s talk about some of the products that you definitely want to avoid. Here’s why.

  • They don’t provide enough lubrication which can cause marring.
  • They may damage the clear coat.
  • They can degrade the clay more quickly.

Some of the products on this list have all three issues, but some only have one or two. Either way, you’re much better off sticking with either car shampoo and water, a clay lubricant detailer spray or a waterless wash system.

Dish Soap

Dish washing soap strips wax, which is why a lot of car owners like using it, because it means they don’t have to remove it in an additional step when applying a fresh layer of paint protection.

However, dish soap will dry out the paintwork, which increases the risk of cracking and peeling over-time. Instead, just stick to car shampoo and water and strip the wax separately using one of the methods in my article on the 5 most effective ways to remove waxes and sealants.

Any Other Household Products

Whilst we are here, it’s worth mentioning that no household products has any place in the car care process. You should always use products designed to work on your car, nothing else.

Sure they’re cheap and you probably already have them in, but your car is expensive, and it’s not worth the potential damage a lot of household products can cause.

IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol)

IPA should not be used as a clay bar lubricant because it will cause water to evaporate more quickly and works the opposite way to a lubricant. IPA will dry out the paintwork causing the clay to grab and stick, which inflicts scratches and swirl marks.

Water On Its Own

Most clay bars need a good lubricant to prevent scratches and marring, and water is usually not sufficient on its own. Using water on its own increases the risk of swirls dramatically and can cause significant damage to the clear coat. Always use car shampoo as well.

Car Shampoos Containing Wax

Car shampoos that contain wax often leave residue on the paint which can be a nightmare when it comes to applying a new wax or sealant, and will reduce the durability significantly. Wax in the car shampoo will also cause the clay bar to degrade more quickly. So never use a “gloss-enhancing” or “wash and wax” style shampoo.

Traffic Film Remover

Traffic film removers usually do not provide enough lubrication when claying the car, leading to marring. They also can dry out the paintwork when used excessively, and will cause the clay bar to break down faster.

All Purpose Cleaners

All purpose cleaners (APCs) do not provide enough lubrication when claying which can cause swirl marks. They are also quick harsh and can dry out the paint and degrade the clay much faster than car shampoo.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the website to learn everything you need to know about car detailing.

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Heather

I first became interested in car detailing around 3 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

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