Probably the least popular, most misunderstood step in the whole car detailing process is clay barring. It’s the manual car cleaning technique that aims to remove very small, almost invisible contaminants from the car exterior that can’t be removed during the washing process. To safely and effortlessly remove these particles, a clay bar, clay mitt or clay towel and a clay bar lubricant is used. Why bother with something that can hardly be noticed, most people will argue? Well, for three main reasons: first of all most of these contaminants are corrosive, meaning they chemically attack the car surface.
Secondly, there’s no telling when, but over time these nasty gritty bits will come loose while you’re washing, polishing or coating your car, scratching the car surface in the process. So, instead of improving your car surface, you’re actually adding scratches and swirls. Thirdly, you’re applying a protective coating over contaminants that when they loosen, leave a spot (more likely thousands of spots) unprotected and vulnerable to corrosion. That makes no sense, does it?
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How do you know if your car needs to be clay barred?
The easiest way to know if your car needs to be clay barred is to check for bonded contaminants by gently rubbing a plastic bag over your freshly washed car surface. If you feel and hear a scratching sensation, the car surface needs to be clay barred. After the clay barring process, the car surface will feel smooth as silk, without the scratchy feel.
For the clay barring process a clay bar, a clay towel or a clay mitt and a special clay lubricant are used. These clay media are only mildly abrasive and with the help of the lubricant, they glide over the car’s surface without scratching it. They do however remove any foreign particles that are bonded to the car surface like tar, chemical fallout, carbon particles from exhaust fumes, tree sap, bug guts, bird droppings, hard water spots,…
Though clay barring has lifted professional car detailing to a higher level since it was invented in Japan in the 80’s, its benefits are still far less well known by the general public than the advantages of polishing and waxing. This is most likely because it’s not a final, spectacular stand-alone part of detailing. Nevertheless, it is essential to clay bar your car before the polishing process or before applying any form of paint protection. Not only does it make polishing easier and faster and protective coatings more effective, but most of all it greatly reduces the risk of marring your paint (or worse).
(Micro-) marring is a term that pros use to describe fine swirl marks created during the polishing process. This happens when the polishing pad picks up sharp impurities that were stuck to or embedded in the paint or coating.
These particles stick to the pad and cause continuous scratching while polishing, which can be a nightmare, especially on dark coatings.You’ll be constantly chasing your own tail (or swirls for that matter) trying to correct them, while creating new ones in the process.
Clay barring will remove most, if not all of those particles so they won’t mess up your paint during polishing, buffing or applying a protective coating.
Different Claying Media and How To Use Them
Car detailing clay bars are made of natural or polymer clay and they look and feel like modeling clay. Usually they are square-shaped and weigh 100gr or 200gr. They are safe to use on delicate car surfaces because they encapsulate dirt particles within their clay surface, preventing them from scratching the car surface.
Most clay bars are available in different grades from “fine” or “medium” to“heavy”, referring to the abrasiveness of the clay. If you’re not sure which grade to use, start with a fine grade which is the least abrasive and doesn’t leave any scratches if used properly. You can step up to a medium or heavy grade if the result is inadequate.
First wash your car very thoroughly and park it somewhere in the shade. Hot car paint is too soft to clay bar and would easily scratch. Always work with an abundant amount of clay lubricant to prevent scratching up your car surface. Don’t use soap of any kind as a lubricant, it’s not as effective and it will make your clay bar brittle and fall apart.
Do the plastic bag test: Before you start claying, gently rub the car surface with a plastic zip bag wrapped around your hand. You will feel roughness and hear a scratching sound. After you’ve done a few passes with the fine grade clay, repeat the zip bag test. It should now feel smooth as silk, without the scratching sound.
If it still doesn’t, you can either clay bar it again with the same fine grade clay or use medium clay instead to speed up the process. Heavy clay should only be used in extreme circumstances like to remove heavy overspray because you may have to polish your car’s paint afterwards to remove the marring that heavy clay potentially leaves.
Check the rubbing surface of the clay bar very frequently. When it turns gray- or brownish, it is saturated with contaminants and should be refreshed. You can do this by simply stretching the clay bar and folding it in half so the dirt gets trapped on the inside of the bar. Now shape it in a form that sits comfortable in your hand and you’re ready to go again. Before reusing the clay bar always check that the new clean surface is free of contaminants. If it’s not, stretch, fold and mold until it is.
After claying a number of cars with the same clay bar, it will become fully saturated and has to be replaced. A telltale sign is when the clay bar as a whole has turned ash gray or brownish and is dotted with little black specks, no matter how you fold it. Don’t wait too long to discard it, because a contaminated clay bar causes scratches. The lighter the color of the clay, the easier it is to spot encapsulated particles and dirt on your clay bar.
Clay Towels And Clay Mitts
Clay towels and clay mitts “trap” contaminants in a different way than clay bars do. Under magnification it shows that they all have a rubbery, knobby surface (see picture). The one shown here is our mitt of choice: Adam’s Clay Mitt. Because of its very special pronounced grid pattern it can optimally store contaminants in the tiny “craters”, that way those gritty bits don’t scratch the surface while you’re claying.
Before you start claying your car surface, first wash your car thoroughly. When you’ve done that, you can safely use a clay towel or clay mitt:
Gently rub the towel or mitt in straight lines, crosswise using an abundant amount of clay lubricant to prevent scratches. Don’t use soap of any kind as a lubricant, it’s not as effective with a higher risk of scratching. Move up and down, left to right instead of in a swirling motion. This minimizes the risk of making visible scratches or swirls during the process. While you rub the paint, the gunk and grit that’s rubbed off gets caught between the rubbery claying coating.
Most of the contaminants can easily be rinsed off the towel or mitt in a bucket or with a hose afterwards. Rinse as often as possible and do it thoroughly, this is key! It’s only when the clay material gets saturated with tiny gritty contaminants that scratching and marring becomes an issue.
Though clay towels and clay mitts last much longer than a clay bar, you should keep an eye on their rubbery surface: if it is damaged or begins to flake off, replace them. When the rubbery layer is damaged, it loses efficiency and might even scratch your car’s paint.
Clay bars cannot be washed and typically last 3 to 12 car treatments, depending on the amount of contamination they have to absorb or encapsulate.
Clay towels and clay mitts are washable and can be reused for up to 50 times.
If you drop a clay towel or clay mitt, you can rinse it off and continue clayin’. Not so with a clay bar: if you drop it, throw it away! The little sand particles and what not inevitably picked up from the ground will scratch your paint like there’s no tomorrow!
Which Is The Most Effective: A Clay Bar, a Clay Towel Or a Clay mitt?
Clay towels and clay mitts have a bigger contact surface compared to clay bars, so logically they should cover more area in less time. This is misleading however, because their rubbing pressure is distributed unevenly. Not the whole towel or mitt surface is doing the work, just hand pressure points like the tips of your fingers and the rear part of your palm. The rest of the towel or mitt just lasily glides along, with little effect.
Clay bars, on the other hand, have a smaller contact surface but they distribute pressure much more evenly to the paint surface because clay is more solid and rigid than rubberised cloth. Clay bars also tend to have a more flattening effect. This means that although you will cover more ground faster with clay towels or clay mitts than you do with clay bars, you will have to do much more passes to get a similar result.
Clay Barring Preparation
Although you can perfectly start claying right after you’ve thoroughly washed your car, professional detailers often first use a tar remover spray and an iron remover spray before clay barring. The tar remover spray is used to remove tar in an easier way and to not smear it around with your clay bar.
Each time you brake, friction from your brake discs and brake pads causes a cloud of sizzling hot iron brake dust to melt onto your car paint. The iron remover will partly dissolve these dust particles, which in turn will make it faster and easier to remove them with your clay bar.
Both products are 100% safe for all types of car paint. We do not advise however, to spray iron remover spray on old, worn or cracked paint because it contains acids to dissolve metal particles, which will of course also corrode uncoated metal in cracks and imperfections.
How we did our review
For this test we’ve tried a lot of different claying media for our cars, because not all car surfaces are the same. We tried them on heavily contaminated red car paint and a recently clayed delicate black metallic car. We also tried them on our older 4×4 with weathered paint. For each different type of claying tool, we only selected one winner. After all, who wants second-best?
For our review we also dove deep into the manufacturer specifications and looked at customer reviews to see what their experience was. We only recommend clay mitts, towels or bars that did an excellent job for us and the vast majority of other car enthusiasts. We’ve selected claying tools for different purposes, to make it easy for you to choose the right tool for your car, depending on what you intend to use it for.
If your car paint is like new and well cared for, this clay bar is for you! Adam’s Fine Grade Clay Bar removes impurities with the finest, most delicate touch and with hardly any scratching. Because it’s so fine, polishing as a next step is not strictly necessary. This is the kind of clay bar you could in theory use every time you wash your car and keep it looking brand new.
If it’s been a long time since clay has touched your car paint, maybe Adam’s Medium Grade Clay Bar is the better choice. It’s a little more abrasive and handles heavier contamination and even overspray much better. With this medium grade clay bar however, polishing afterwards is advised to remove possible light marring, especially on soft or dark-colored car paints.
Both clay bars come in a 100g size or 2x100g size plastic wrap with a free storage jar included.
Because our test car had already been clayed a few months earlier and wasn’t heavily contaminated, for our test we bought the fine grade combo and unwrapped one of the 100gr clay bars. For best lubrication, we decided to use the included Detail Spray because we read dozens of positive reviews about Adam’s Detail Spray being the best lubricant for this clay bar. So, now we felt it was time to try it ourselves and see if the hype is true…
First thing we noticed was how soft and malleable this clay bar is. You can easily cut it or fold it to your personal preference. After we cut it in half, we stuck it back together like nothing happened. Because we prefer a large chunk instead of small pieces to work large surfaces faster, we used the 100gr bar whole, as is.
For this test we used the hood of a black metallic V8 sports car. It was freshly washed and positioned out of direct sunlight. Although it looked great, when we did the plastic bag test, a lot of sharp surface contamination could be felt and heard. Just when we hoped we got everything off by thoroughly soaking and washing it… bummer…
We got to work with our fine grade clay bar after lubricating the first target area (about 2’x2’) generously with Detail Spray. Applying only moderate pressure, we rubbed the surface first in an up/down, followed by a left/right cross-hatch pattern in trying to avoid visible marring. After wiping the clearcoat down with a soft microfiber towel, we checked our progress by stroking the surface very lightly with the back of our hand. It felt almost perfectly smooth, yet we decided to give it another pass after folding the bar in half and kneading it to get a fresh clean clay surface. After a final inspection, we were delighted that this time the paint was free of contaminants.
Completely satisfied, we proceeded to the next area, overlapping the first by a few inches just to make sure…This time we did double passes with plenty of lubricant to get it right from the first time. Gotten the hang of it, we could feel the contaminants loosening under the clay surface as friction gradually reduced.
In our experience, doing a cleaning procedure more extensively in one go saves time compared to doing it less extensive twice. Just to be clear: we doubled the initial number of passes, we did not apply more pressure. Afterwards, it felt smooth as butter, awesome result!
Great clay bar: check! Highly performant lubricant: check!
What made us choose this clay bar over the other ones we tested is that compared to them, we feel that this extremely fine-grained clay bar poses the least risk of marring our delicate black car paint, or any car surface for that matter.
We’ll keep using the other clay bars for less delicate surfaces and on our older cars, but for our delicate nearly-new black sportscar, Adam’s Fine Grade Clay Bar Combo rules!
Important: If you accidentally drop your clay bar (yep, we know the feeling), throw it in the trash can! It will be littered with dirt and grit. Believe us: It will scratch your car for sure, it’s just not worth it. Grab a new clay bar instead.
The vast majority of customers are over the moon about this clay combo, but a few complain that it is not harsh enough to remove heavily contaminated surfaces. We completely get that: we advise to start with a medium grade clay bar if your car paint has been neglected, then switch to the fine grade.
Our clay bar is safely parked in its jar for now, but it won’t be for long…
- Great value for top notch clay
- Arguably the safest clay bar for delicate surfaces
- The white color makes it easy to spot contaminants
- You can easily feel the condition the paint is in by the amount of friction
- Also available in medium grade
- You have to throw it away if you accidentally drop it
- Not suited for heavier contamination, buy Adam’s Medium Grade Clay Bar instead
What ‘s so nice about this product, is the fact that you can almost use it like a wash mitt! It looks very similar too, apart from its black moya coating on one side. Moya is a very fine volcanic powder that has very gentle abrasive properties similar to clay, making it ideal for removing contaminants.
The great thing about a clay mitt, is that it is so easy and fast to use. No hassle, just dip it in clean soapy water and gently rub away all contaminants in straight strokes. Up/down and side to side like you would with a classic clay bar, but you cover more ground faster.
However, in your hurry don’t forget to always first spray a generous amount of lubricant as an extra layer of scratch protection between the mitt and your paint.
We used Adam’s Detail Spray that comes with the combo for lubrication. We love this product, it smells great too. We rinsed the mitt as often as we could, then again dipped it in soapy water, and moved on to the next panel. And so on…
The difference was night and day! Gone was the rough gritty surface. It felt smooth as silk. In fact, as you are rubbing the mitt, you can feel surface resistance diminishing with each pass. In no time, our red test car’s clear coat looked and felt rejuvenated! Rinse, soap, lube, caress… This ain’t work, it’s therapy!
We like this product better than its competitors because of its overall quality and the way the moya layer is applied. Contrary to other clay mitts, the moya is bonded to the polyester mitt in a mesh pattern, allowing dirt and sharp grit to collect in the deep dimples, away from the rubbing action. This prevents those contaminants from scratching up the surface. It’s also nice that it’s reusable numerous times and that it can be rinsed if you drop it. No need to throw it away like you would a clay bar.
Although a clay mitt is faster, you should be aware that there’s a higher risk of micro-marring your paint than when you use a fine clay bar. Especially on dark car paint you might have to polish afterwards to remove micro marring, minute scratches that are only visible in full sunlight. It’s also harder to feel the surface when working with a mitt because of the rubbery moya layer.
Customers give Adam’s Clay Mitt Combo a high rating because of its overall effectiveness, price and reusability. Car enthusiasts who have been using clay bars for years confirm that it is very easy to use and like the fact that it heavily reduces the time they need to clay their car. Some reviewers state that you’ll still need an actual clay bar for the small, intricate areas of your vehicle, but that this clay mitt will handle 95% of the work and does it quickly. Several users warn to use enough lubricant because the moya leaves dark streaks on dry coating.
Our verdict is that Adam’s Clay Mitt is a great time-saver for light-colored cars or any car coating that isn’t susceptible to micro-marring. For black cars we would however recommend using a classic fine clay bar to keep the risk of scratching at the absolute minimum.
- Fits like a glove… no really, it does!
- Longevity: 20-40 uses
- Clumsy compared to a clay bar
- Less feeling with paint and contamination
- Not ideal for dark cars who are vulnerable to micro-marring
The Autoscrub Fine Grade Towel is easy to rinse off when it’s dirty or when you’ve dropped it (again). That’s a big advantage in our book! It’s such a waste and extremely frustrating that you have to dispose of a classic clay bar when you drop it. This clay towel also outlasts a clay bar up to 10 times.
Depending on your needs, the Nanoskin Autoscrub Towel is available in fine or medium grade. We tested the fine grade on a non-metallic black 4×4 with weathered paint. For superior gliding properties and scratch protection we used Nanoskin Glide, for clay lubricant which was developed especially for the Autoscrub product line.
As per instructions, we broke the towel in on our test car’s car glass with plenty of lubricant and rinsed it thoroughly before we started working on the car coating. It worked great but it took a while to get used to. Unlike a clay mitt, you don’t have anything to grab a hold of. When the towel grabs the surface, that can sometimes be challenging. We folded it in half and again in half like we always do with any 12”x12” microfiber towel. This gave 4 clean towel surfaces (one towel side only) to work with, which saved a lot of (rinsing) time.
Maybe it’s because our test car’s paint was really rough, but it took several passes to get the car coating right. Guess we should’ve bought the medium grade towel for this car… The final result was very good however. The car’s paint wasn’t perfect to start with but there didn’t seem to be any more marring than before using this towel and the surface was smooth as silk. What we liked most about this towel is that it can reach places a bar or mitt can’t. Compared to the other clay towels we tried, we liked this one best because of its handy 12”x12” size and high-quality grippy clay surface.
Customer reviews confirm that this clay towel does an amazing job at removing embedded dirt without scratching the surface and wished they had known it before. Some remark that it works very well, but not as thorough as a clay bar. Users also bring to attention that it is very important to follow instructions in order to get good results: before using it on car coating, you should break in the towel’s clay coating by spraying lubricant on the towel and using it on the car glass first. Then thoroughly rinse it. Once you’ve done that, it is ready to use on the rest of your car.
Would we recommend a clay towel as a stand-alone clay tool? Do we think it can replace a clay bar? Not really, but it’s a great sidekick to clay difficult-to-reach or narrow spots like grills, door pillars, in or between door handles, mirrors… This towel definitely deserves a place in every avid detailer’s tool kit.
- Can easily get to hard-to-reach spots
- Top quality clay coating
- Dirt can easily be rinsed off, even when dropped
- Available in two grades
- Takes several passes to decontaminate weathered car surfaces
- Great sidekick, not a clay bar replacer
Mothers Speed Clay 2.0 is a game changer when it comes to ease of use and ergonomics. It does what a clay mitt or clay towel does but it distributes pressure more evenly like a clay bar does.
It’s no coincidence either that it looks and feels like a computer mouse. That’s because this shape is the most ergonomic and least fatiguing for the human hand. When you drop it, just rinse it and you’re good to go.
First thing we liked when we took it out of its blister is that it’s designed to reduce hand muscle fatigue. The shape will feel very familiar to most people because it addresses the best-trained muscles of the “homo modernus”, modern man (well, person…). To use this tool, you’ll need the same muscles most of us train daily when operating a computer using a computer mouse. It’s genius in its simplicity…
It’s important to keep this tool well lubricated to minimize the risk of scratching the surface. We used Mothers California Gold Instant Detailer spray which works best.
For people who are new to clay barring, this is a most convenient shape to hold on to for sure. For us however, with years of claying miles under our belt, it felt kinda awkward to be honest. It seemed like riding a balloon-tire beach bike when you’re used to a race bike with high-pressure skinny road tires. You can hardly feel what’s underneath… It worked very well, let’s get that straight, and with a couple of passes the clear coat was silky smooth. Yet, we had to check the surface with our hands, unlike with a classic clay bar. A clay bar “resonates” (if that makes any sense) the scratching sounds of a contaminated surface and lets you know when the surface is decontaminated, while Mothers Speed Clay 2.0 doesn’t.
Most reviews are very positive about this product but warn about low-quality counterfeit copies who don’t perform like the real deal. Just like us, some people feel that you have less “feel” with this clay tool than with a clay bar. Some complain that in their opinion, it doesn’t have enough “bite” and takes more passes than using a clay bar. We can confirm that, for heavily contaminated surfaces, a medium grade clay bar works more efficiently. The general consensus is however that it does a good job. Thousands of happy customers have been using this tool with great results.
If your hands easily cramp and you regularly clay bar your car, we think you’ll love this innovative tool!
- Best ergonomics, less hand muscle fatigue
- Less “feel” with the paint compared to a clay bar
- Less performant than a clay bar
This is the best deal out there in our opinion: You get two 100gr clay bars and 16oz of Mothers California Gold Instant Detailer Spray to use as a clay lubricant. A 16” x 16” microfiber towel is also included. Don’t expect miracles from the free towel they threw in, it’s OK but just standard quality microfiber. The core products however, meaning the clay bars and the lubricant/detailer spray are a good combo for an awesome price! It’s arguably the most bang for your buck out there when it comes to clay bar combos.
The red car we tested this on had been parked under a maple tree for years with only scarce car wash visits and had never been clayed before. After having thoroughly blasted it with a pressure washer and washed it, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
We worked in about 2’x2’ areas gently rubbing our “gold bar” in a crosswise pattern: up/down and side to side, constantly keeping the surface saturated with lubricant. After clay-barring a section, we gently wiped it dry for inspection. We had to use extra towels, one didn’t cut it. The clay bar was folded and kneaded when needed to make sure its working surface remained sufficiently clean.
Some areas like the roof, hood and boot lid had to be done twice because they were badly contaminated with sticky tree sap and general pollution. Because our test car was heavily contaminated, the whole claying process took over an hour to complete, but the result was one to be proud of! The red car coating was visibly more vibrant and shiny than it was before and felt smooth as butter.
Many reviewers had never before heard of clay barring yet they were pleasantly surprised by the great result. They would definitely recommend this to anyone, even with no experience at all. One customer was WOWED by the fact that it removed bird droppings and dried berries which were not removed after a normal car wash. He even tried tar remover but it didn’t remove any of the stains. Finally, he decided to order this clay bar kit to see if it would live up to the hype and it did! All of the stains are gone from his car and the finish looks like new again. Another customer advised to store the used clay bar in a ziplock bag so it stays fresh. Great tip!
Satisfied customers stress that it is very important to read and follow the application instructions carefully to get the best results.
Great value from a trusted household name since 1973. Highly recommended and it won’t break the bank!
- Great combo deal
- Does what it says
- Everything you need to do the job
- No jar or container to store the clay bars in after use
- You won’t get far with just one microfiber towel
Comparison Table Of The Best Clay Bars, Clay Towels, Clay Mitts and Clay Bar Lubricants
Car surface decontamination by means of claying or clay-barring is often skipped or overlooked. That’s because most people don’t know or misunderstand this vital step in the car exterior detailing process.
During the detailing process, car exterior claying is situated between washing and polishing and/or adding a protective coating. The clay bar, mitt or towel is gently rubbed over the well-lubricated car surface to gently remove bonded contaminants from the car surface that can’t be removed during the washing process. If you skip this step, these minute sharp specks can totally ruin your polishing process and/or protective coating.
Which tool you use best depends on what your priorities and preferences are, let’s line ‘em all up real quick:
If you own a daily driver that’s seen some miles but you want to keep it in optimal shape with the least amount of work, Adam’s Clay Mitt & Detail Spray might be the right choice. It’s the fastest claying option out there with respect for your car paint. If you use it with Adam’s Detail Spray, it’ll outperform all other clay mitts on the market.
For more agility in difficult-to-reach spots like around mirrors, door handles, grilles,… Autoscrub Fine Grade Towel wins the test. Same idea as the aforementioned mitt, but in the form of a towel. This makes it more pliable to get in all nooks and crannies.
You will be interested in Mothers Speed Clay 2.0 if you’re used to working with a computer mouse. Handling Speed Clay requires the use of the same muscles, resulting in less cramped hands.
If your budget is your priority, totally get that, you should check Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System. It’s great value, despite the fact that it’s priced so low for so much.
Let’s end with a bang: Adam’s Fine Grade Clay Bar Combo is the best clay bar in our test. It’s a traditional clay bar, meaning you have to put more love in it than let’s say, a mitt. However, you do get the most effective professional claying tool for delicate surfaces like that black car paint. Combined with the included Detail Spray, you’re set up for success!
Is it good to clay bar your car?
Yes, it is very good to clay bar your car because clay barring removes bonded contaminants that will attack your car surface over time. When they breach the car paint, they can even cause rust. Also, if you don’t remove those tiny, sharp contaminants with a clay bar before you polish your car, they will come loose and scratch your car paint.
Can a clay bar damage your car?
If you clay-bar your car in a cross-hatch pattern with a fine grade clay bar after you’ve washed it thoroughly first, you can’t really harm your car’s surface. However, it is very important to keep the clay bar, cloth or mitt well lubricated to prevent scratching.
Do you have to wax after claying?
No, you don’t have to apply any protective coating after claying your car. Keep in mind however, that claying removes most protective car coatings such as wax, sealant and ceramic or graphene infused sprays. So if you choose to apply a protective coating, you should do it after claying.
Will a clay bar remove scratches?
No, a clay bar does not remove scratches. A clay bar, mitt or towel is designed to only remove the tiny car surface contaminants that cause the roughness you feel when you gently stroke your car paint. To remove scratches, use car polish. Car polish can be used manually or with a car polisher.
Should you Clay by Hand or Machine?
Why should you do something by hand if you can do it faster and better with a machine? That’s certainly true in most cases, but it does not apply to clay barring. While claying with a polisher and a special hook-and-loop adapter pad seems the easy, fast way to go, we do not recommend it.
Why not? Because it makes no sense to clay with a car polisher that will inevitably be much more aggressive and will pick up contaminants just like a normal polishing pad would. Machine claying will cause swirl marks, just like polishing without claying first would, whatever you do. The whole idea of clay barring your car before you polish it is to remove embedded or hard to remove sharp contaminants from the surface of your car paint so they won’t stick to your polishing pad and cause swirls. This can only be done gently by hand with lots of lubricant and in straight lines while keeping a close eye and feel on the paint surface to cause the least possible scratching.
If you don’t want to clay by hand, it’s better to just skip this step and use a polisher with compound right away, followed by a fine polish to remove the swirls and scratches caused by the compound stage of course.
There’s no two ways about it: manual clay barring is the least destructive way of removing contaminants.
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