Why You Shouldn’t Use a Clay Bar on a Ceramic Coating

Clay bars are the an essential detailing tool for removing paint contaminants such as bird mess, tar, iron fallout, tree sap and water marks. But can they be used on a car with a ceramic coating, or will it cause an issue?

In this article, I’ll explain why you shouldn’t clay a ceramic coated car, and what to do instead to keep your vehicle clean and contaminant free. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

You shouldn’t use a clay bar, mitt, or cloth on a ceramic coated car because it will break down the coating, or cause swirl marks. You can use an iron fallout and tar remover instead to safely remove contamination without using clay.

Washing the vehicle every 1-2 weeks also prevents contaminants from bonding to the coating in the first place.

Clay Will Break Down the Ceramic Coating

It’s a bad idea to use a clay bar, mitt or cloth on a ceramic coated car because it will cause the coating to break down.

Clay is an abrasive substance. It’s this abrasive nature that allows it to remove contaminants like tar and tree sap from the paintwork.

But this also means that it abrade the ceramic coating. By using a clay bar, you’re essentially grinding away at the coating, breaking it down and potentially removing it entirely.

Even if the coating isn’t removed completely by the clay, it can cause some other issues.

Since clay is an abrasive material, it has the potential to cause scratches and swirl marks. Not only can this kind of damage be inflicted in the clear coat, but it can also cause it in the ceramic coating.

Often, a ceramic coating that has been clayed will look super swirled. This is because the clay itself, and any contaminants it picks up will be rubbed along the coating inflicting damage. It can look pretty hideous, particularly in direct sunlight.

You should only ever use a clay bar on a ceramic coating if you are intending to remove it completely. Otherwise, you’ll be causing more harm than good.

Claying Isn’t Usually Necessary on a Coated Car

Another reason why you shouldn’t clay a ceramic coated car, is because it simply isn’t necessary.

The main advantage of using a ceramic coating, is that it’s super hydrophobic, so dirty water won’t stick around on the surface and dry. This means that the dirt is easily removed during the wash process, so the contaminants have a hard time bonding to it.

This is true for other sources of contamination as well, like bird mess and water spots. You typically won’t have an issue with contamination on a coated car because the ceramic coating repels them so well.

Some contaminants will bind to the coating over time though, particularly if you’ve had the coating for over a year. You can check for this really easily. Here’s how.

  1. Wash and dry the car.
  2. Put your hand in a plastic sandwich bag and glide it gently over the paint.
  3. If it feels gritty or rough, then contaminants have bonded to the coating.

So how do you get rid of this contamination without causing damage to the ceramic coating?

Removing Contamination on a Ceramic Coating

There are still a couple of other methods you can use to remove contamination on a coating. These are by using an iron fallout remover, and a tar remover.

Iron fallout and tar are two of the most common contaminants that settle on the paintwork and bond to it. You can remove them using chemical decontamination, rather than physical decontamination (claying).

Simply wash your car as usually, then use tar remover and iron fallout remover sprays to dissolve this kind of contamination. The great thing is, that they won’t degrade the ceramic coating nearly as much as a clay.

And since you aren’t actually touching the paintwork, you don’t run the risk of abrading the contamination away like a clay bar does.

If you’re looking for a good iron fallout remover, then check out Bilt Hamber Korrosol. It’s my go to choice because it’s very cheap and cost-effective. My favourite tar remover is the Garage Therapy /Zero: Tar Remover.

Of course, you don’t need to use an iron fallout or tar remover that often. Every 6 months on a daily driver that’s stored outside is usually adequate.

Bilt Hamber Korrosol

Check out the best products for washing and maintaining a ceramic coating

Keeping a Coated Car Contaminant Free

You’ve heard the old saying, prevention is better than cure. The same goes for contamination on your car. It’s possible to prevent a lot of the common contaminants from binding to the ceramic coating by regularly maintaining the vehicle.

This means you should wash it regularly to prevent contaminants bonding to the paintwork.

Generally, I would say a good rule of thumb, is to wash your car every 1-2 weeks. If you keep on top of it, then far less contaminants will actually bond to the paintwork because they will be removed during the wash process.

If you leave a long time between washing your car, then these contaminants will bind more strongly and can only be removed by using clay, or an iron fallout or tar remover.

The good news is, that washing a ceramic coated car is really easy. It doesn’t take nearly as long as an un-coated car because the dirt and grime is removed really easily and most of which can be power washed off before using the wash mitt. This reduces the risks of causing scratches and swirl marks in the coating.

Want to know how to get the best performance out of your coating? Check out my complete guide to washing and maintaining a ceramic coated car for everything you need to know.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Check out the rest of the website to learn more about detailing and tips to make your car look its best.



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 autocarehq.com and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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