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Decontamination : Part 3 – Claying Without Polishing?


This is a 4 part series where Rodney Tatum covers various steps in the decontamination process. Click here to check out each article as they are released.

The clay bar treatment is the first service known within the detailing community that clearly distinguishes detailing from the offerings of a local car wash. It is a tangible offering, which can sub-communicate a higher attention to detail.  For this reason some low volume higher end detail businesses either start at Wash, Clay, Wax/Sealant OR Wash, Clay, Light Polish, and Wax/Sealant.

Many new businesses starting out are not realistically in a great position to offer detailing service options at Wash, Clay, Polish, and Sealant/Wax (or even an all in polish and sealant).  They may not have enough market influence to sell a service that commands a higher price point.

The question or answer to the question you are looking for:

Can and will the careful use of clay bar cause some marring (micro scratching) on your paint?  Yes!  Very likely over time.  Does that mean I should never use a clay bar personally and professionally?  Not necessarily!  I tell people it is ideal to polish after claying for a reason.  Ideal, why would I use that word?  I asked for the opinions of two people who have a great deal of respect for.  They are both knowledgeable about the effect a clay bar has on paint, but have two unique philosophies on its use in their service offerings.

Jeff McEachran is the national brand manager for Gyeon U.S.A.

“The potential to mar paint with any clay bar is always present.  The clay bar is a very useful tool in terms of decontaminating a paint’s finish.  For us, we never introduce a clay bar unless we are polishing paint.  No matter how careful you are, or how fine the clay, or how well lubricated, the ability to mar is there.  Especially on soft paints.  When a polishing stage is happening we always clay regardless of age of the vehicle.  You just do not know what that particular car has been through, during transport, dealer lot, even when brand new.  We absolutely always clay prior to any Paint Protection Film install.  You want all bonded contaminants gone and a perfectly flat surface.  Post coating I would not be claying paint even with a fine or mild clay.  There are specific tools (Gyeon Iron and Gyeon Tar) that will remove contaminants chemically.

Mark Barger is the owner of Visual Pro Detailing.  Mark Barger, whose service offering starts with a wash clay and sealant, offered his perspective on the subject.

“Very rarely have I seen noticeable marring from careful claying with a light duty clay bar.  When marring does appear that is visible, (it is corrected with) an extremely light polish, hardly even considered a one step.  In the case of high defect daily drivers that regularly go through automatic car washes, this is more of a concept of customer satisfaction.  If they want a clean and shiny car give them a clean and shiny car, and don’t step over your profits to placate your own OCD.”

Both of these gentleman have earned sterling reputations as detailers and business owners of integrity.  Although their service offering are not identical, their reasoning is equally logical.

There are some people in the detailing community who denigrate others for claying without polishing a car, allegedly out of ethical concern.  I find the reasoning for this critique to be somewhat disingenuous.  Actions that will likely leave equal or worse marring than a careful clay bar use:

  • Use of a compound with a microfiber, wool, or very aggressive foam pad, without using a less aggressive pad and polish to refine your work.
  • Cutting corners washing, or express washing a car often in 20 min or less.
  • Using cheap microfiber towels with a panel wipe (or rubbing alcohol) to remove polish residue

So for critics of other detailers and enthusiasts, I hope all of your actions are congruent. There is a big difference between some light marring and moderate to deeper scratches (which should not happen with careful claying).  On some level any marring still affects the looks of your paint.  A flat surface is a reflective surface.  But for modern daily driven vehicles a wash, clay, and seal service is a practical affordable, and value rich offering to the average consumer.  Sometimes I do not feel like polishing my car, but feel a need to use a clay bar.  I can recall two instances where I noticed marring without specialty lighting (naked eye).  One of those instances, a black car with soft paint, the marring was obvious.  I was even able to point out very easily what the clay bar did in terms of marring the paint to my client.  It was taken care of with just a Dual Action Polisher, using a Yellow Rupes Polishing Pad and Gyeon Polish.  That would be my typical one step paint correction.

I currently do not have a regular exterior service that does not involve my polisher.  Many new business owners are not in the same position as me.

My Suggestion For An Enthusiast Who Wants To Clay A Car Without Polishing:

1.) Chemically decontaminate the paint first!  Use a tar and iron remover which will cut down on the amount of work the clay bar has to do.

2.) Use a very fine clay bar.  I currently am a big fan of the 22PLE Ultra Soft Glass Coat Clay.

3.) Keep your working area small.  Work in small 2 by 2 foot sections.  Fold over the clay bar after each section.

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
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1 comment on Decontamination : Part 3 – Claying Without Polishing?

  1. Devin Kelly says:

    This is a fantastic article, THANK YOU for comparing both schools of thought. I live in a ~10k people town, close to STL MO. I have run my business as more high and actual detailing. I include clay treatment for any new client I get. I have had to lightly polish black paint after a clay treatment, I did not intend to polish in that case though. I have found the Magna light clay does not mar when using light pressure. I have removed so much overspray, from claying, on some vehicles that people were shocked what color the car actually was, so there is a huge value added to just a clay treatment. It makes it so easy to apply an LSP every time after that as well. I am glad you shared the view point of what is right for the client, not the detailer.

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