LAST UPDATED: May 8, 2019
Best Clay Bars: Clean Your Paint the Right Way
Achieve cleaner paint on your vehicle with our top picks for the best clay bars
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON May 8, 2019
You’ve tried everything from harsh chemicals to citrus sprays, but it’s not enough. There are still dirty spots marring your paint that you can’t seem to remove. Times like these call for a clay bar. Made of flexible, Play-Doh-like material, clay bars slide across your paint to remove stubborn contaminants. In this buying guide, we discuss the best clay bars you should consider purchasing.
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Benefits of a Clay Bar
- Improve and protect your vehicle’s paint. Besides waxing, clay barring your vehicle is one of the best ways to keep the paint looking new. Think of clay bars as paint cleaners, while waxes seal the paint’s pores like a top coat of nail polish. Clay barring alone will maintain your vehicle’s paint much longer than waxing.
- Maintain the paint. Removing scratches, waxing, and polishing your car’s paint could take more than a day, but clay barring your vehicle should only take a few hours. Even the largest vehicles can be clay barred within a few hours’ time. Plus, you won’t have to spend money on various equipment and/or compounds to have better-looking paint.
- Avoid paying a dealership or detail shop. You change your own oil and air filter, so why not clay bar your own vehicle? Some companies may charge high fees for a job you can easily complete in an afternoon in the comfort of your own garage or driveway.
- Teach your kids. Whether you’re in the automotive industry or just want to pass on your knowledge, showing your children how to maintain their vehicle helps them appreciate it more. You don’t have to be an expert to use a clay bar, but it will teach you how to spot imperfections—a useful skill when picking out that first car.
Types of Clay Bars
There are three main types of clay bars: fine, medium, and heavy-duty. Fine clay bars are best used on older paints because they remove contaminants with a softer touch. Medium clay bars are a good all-purpose bar to have, while heavy-duty clay bars should be used with caution. A good way to differentiate between the compound types is to think of sandpaper. Fine clay bars are like 3,000-grit sandpaper, while heavy-duty clay bars are more like 600-800 grit.
While most, if not all, clay bars can be used on car windows, there are a few products out there specifically made for automotive glass. Clay barring your car’s exterior windows helps remove hard water spots, light etching, and any contaminants that might cling even after razor-blading. Glass-cleaning clay bars require a lubricant as well and help the glass to shed water, similar to the results you get with a typical clay bar.
Holding onto a clay bar—especially when it’s wet—can be hard after you’ve been scrubbing your car for a few hours. Clay mitts are a convenient alternative as they simply slip onto your hand like a wash mitt. Made of microfibers and clay bar materials, the exterior of the mitt is designed to improve the efficiency of your scrubbing action. Generally speaking, you’ll be able to cover a wider area in less time with a clay mitt.
These types of clay bar products are actually designed more like a sponge, with two distinct layers. The top half of many of these products is meant for gripping, so it’s made of a foam-like material that attaches to the bottom half, which is where the clay barring action happens. Similar to the type of material used on clay mitts, rubber polymer/synthetic clay bars use a different compound to achieve the same clay bar-like results.
Founded in 1990, Griot’s Garage is headquartered in Washington. Well-versed in the car detailing business, the folks at Griot’s Garage offer a variety of products for the do-it-yourself detailer. Check out its Brilliant Finish Synthetic Clay if you’re curious to try a synthetic clay bar method.
With decades of experience under its belt, the Chemical Guys’ team has been racking up the auto detailing hours beneath its hometown Californian sun. If you’re looking for a clay bar kit, check out its Clay Bar & Luber Synthetic Lubricant Kit. It comes with all you need to get started with clay barring.
Another alternative to “traditional” clay bars, the Mother’s Speed Clay 2.0 bar is ergonomically shaped to fit in your hand. Mother’s has been a big name in the automotive industry for quite some time and calls California home.
For over 110 years, Meguiar’s has been taking care of vehicles across the nation and abroad. Its Smooth Surface XL Clay Kit comes with everything you need to spend an afternoon clay barring your car. Meguiar’s, like many other automotive detailing companies, hails from California.
Clay Bar Pricing
- $5-$10: Most of the clay bars at this entry-level price point are of a fine to medium grade, meaning they’ll work on most vehicles and are safe for older paint surfaces. You can often find multiple clay bars sold at this price, though they may not provide the results you’re looking for (or in an efficient time span either).
- $12-$20: Jars typically house the clay bars priced around $15-$20, which comes in handy for storage after use. There are some kits available at this price point, which may or may not include clay lubricant and/or microfiber towels along with the clay bar. Some companies also offer multiple clay bars at this level, with or without the additional accessories.
- $22-$30: Both synthetic clays and clay mitts will be priced a bit higher. This is largely due to the fact that while traditional clay bars must be disposed of if they are dropped on the ground, synthetic clay bars and mitts can simply be washed off and reused. Brand-name clay kits will also be available around the $30 mark.
It’s important to purchase the right strength of clay bar because it will greatly impact your time spent clay barring. Paint surfaces older than 15 years will respond best to fine and medium duty, while heavily-contaminated and newer paint jobs should be able to withstand heavy-duty clay bars.
Knowing how many clay bars you need depends on the size of your vehicle and the level of contamination on the paint. Clay bars typically come in a 100-gram size, or if they are packaged in a resealable jar, around 8 ounces. Either of these amounts should be enough to clay bar a family sedan or compact SUV with mild paint contamination. If you have a larger vehicle, consider purchasing multiple clay bars to have on-hand.
Clay bars should not be used without a spray lubricant. Some companies include a lubricant, depending on which products and kits you purchase. If your clay bar didn’t come with anything, consider your favorite spray wax as an alternative. The most important aspect of the lubricant is that it provides a slick surface for the clay bar to work while still protecting the paint from damage.
- Material Quality: Considering the fact that you’ll be dragging the clay bar across the entire painted surface of your vehicle, you’ll likely want to pay a bit more for a quality bar that won’t scratch or damage your paint. While the strength of the clay bar plays a role in this aspect as well, investing in a quality clay bar is something you’ll be thankful for once the job is complete.
- Experience/Comfort Level: Though clay barring your vehicle might seem like a straightforward task, it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. Clay bars are inexpensive enough that you can easily attempt the process, no matter your experience level. At the same time, consider your comfort level. If you’re worried about damaging your personal vehicle, pick up a painted scrap at your local junkyard or ask to borrow a friend’s car.
- Alternatives: Before reaching for a clay bar, take a look at the other chemicals available for removing road debris from your vehicle. Lacquer thinner removes most contaminants, while citrus-based formulas work best for tree sap. If you’ve got bugs splattered across your grill, there are many products for removing them as well. Clay barring should be one of your last resorts when it comes to removing paint contaminants.
Best Clay Bar Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Complete with nearly everything you need—besides the car, of course—to get clay barring, Mothers California Gold Clay Kit Express is our top pick for the best clay bar. This kit includes one clay bar along with Mothers California Gold Instant Detailer, so you can start working as soon as you open the box.
Mother’s provides a handy physical representation of the clay bar kit’s results on the box. Mothers takes the guesswork out of knowing which type of clay bar strength you need. The provided 100-gram clay bar is tough on contaminants but sails smoothly across the painting. Use the Instant Detailer as you clay bar and any remaining product as a quick-shine go-to later on. You won’t have to spend a lot of money to get a clean car, especially when Mother’s sells a larger variety pack with an additional clay bar and microfiber cloth.
Unfortunately, Mothers does not provide a clay bar storage container, which would truly make this clay bar kit the complete package. Depending on how much Instant Detailer you apply, you might also need to purchase an extra bottle for larger and more heavily-contaminated vehicles. Anyone willing to spend a few hours on their vehicle can use this product, however.
If you’re looking to just buy a clay bar, Chemical Guys sells just that. It has an entire line up of clay bars that are differentiated by strength. We chose the Medium Clay Bar as our value pick because it’s a solid choice no matter how dirty your vehicle may be. The medium strength will be tough enough to loosen stubborn contaminants while still removing smaller debris without scratching your paint.
Chemical Guys caters to those looking for a simple clay bar to use on almost any vehicle. Color coding allows you to correlate the strength of the bar and makes it easier to know which one to reorder. If you’ve already got a lubricant and microfiber towel handy, all you need is the clay bar to achieve like-new paint.
One of the bigger drawbacks with the Medium Clay Bar from Chemical Guys is that you have to provide your own lubricant. Choosing this can be difficult sometimes, and if you do end up picking the Chemical Guys’ Clay Luber, you’ll have to pay extra. While you might be tempted to use the original packaging for a clay bar storage container as well, reshaping it into a flat block could prove challenging. All the same, this clay bar can be used by almost anyone on nearly any vehicle.
There are some great products that come from Griot’s Garage, and its Paint Cleaning Clay is one of them. Safe to use on painted surfaces and glass, this cleaning clay comes in its own storage container and improves the overall appearance of your vehicle’s paint even as it scrubs debris from the surface.
Most clay bars available today are around 100 grams. Griot’s Garage, however, offers its clay bar in 8-ounce segments, which is about 226 grams. That means you’re getting over twice as much clay bar for at or near the same price you would pay for similar products. The clay works on glass and will clean up to seven vehicles with various levels of dirt. You can improve the results of your buffing and waxing jobs by first using Griot’s Garage Paint Cleaning Clay.
The downside to this paint cleaning clay, however, is that you may need a harder compound to remove tougher contaminants, depending on how dirty your vehicle’s paint is. Holding 8 ounces of clay at one time may be hard, but that can easily be resolved by breaking the bar in half. Griot’s Garage Paint Cleaning Clay can be used by anyone wanting smoother paint.
This detailing clay is from one of the most well-known names in car care, and you can use it to gently remove bug debris, road tar, overspray, dust, and freshwater spots from your car’s paint. When done, you’ll achieve a mirror-like clear coat finish reminiscent of glass.
The product is a reusable and sealable container that has 200 grams of clay in it. This clay bar is safe to use on a wide variety of surfaces, which makes it perfect for use in your car. It’s designed to clean the paint, metal, glass, and plastic. This clay formulation is completely nonabrasive.
However, to use this clay to the best of its ability,you also need to buy Meguiar’s M34 Mirror Glaze Final Inspection to lubricate the clay. This clay is very stiff and difficult to work with, which makes using it on your car tedious. The tub also makes it deceiving because inside is a plastic wrapped bar and not a tub full of clay.
Mothers claim that its Clay 2.0 can detail up to 20 cars. The patented rubber polymer efficiently removes all contaminants from your car paint’s surface. This includes oxidation, rust, water spots, rail dust, paint overspray, and bird droppings. Use this “bar” while you wash or wax to clean your car’s surface more efficiently than a traditional clay bar.
This bar is safe for use on your car’s paint, glass, smooth plastic, and chrome. This makes it a versatile detailing tool. The ergonomic shape makes it comfortable to use. The red shell is made of a firm foam that is soft enough to conform to your hand, yet also firm enough to provide support. This is vital, considering it has an incredibly long and useful life.
Unfortunately, this pad can stick to your car or create scratches if you don’t use enough lubricant. It also isn’t as effective as a traditional clay bar. In addition, the grip and the pad may not last for 20 cars as it can fall apart mid-use.
This six-inch round pad is another clay alternative. The clay pad is effective at removing water spots, paint overspray, rail dust, tree sap, bird droppings, brake dust, and light oxidation. When you use it on your car’s paint, it will leave it feeling slick-to-the-touch and produce a glossy shine.
What’s nice about this pad is that it lasts longer than a traditional bar. It lasts through multiple uses and isn’t water soluble. This lets you use the pad, then rinse it clean and use it again. The hook-and-loop backing enables you to use it with a power polisher.
However, the clay pad tends to come apart from the back piece that you’re meant to hold on to. This renders the polishing pad unusable. Also, the quality of its construction means it’s not particularly durable, and you won’t be able to get the full use out of it.
The Clay Wonder Bar removes the contaminants from your car’s surface that are too stubborn for just soap and water. The heavy cut formula of this clay bar will remove the most severe, stuck-on contaminants. It hydroplanes over the surface of your paint to prevent them from getting embedded and causing further damage.
You'll love how easy this clay bar is to use. Just leave your car wet after washing it, and work the bar over the paint in a back-and-forth snaking motion. When your piece of clay gets dirty, just refold, flatten, and start again.
One downside is that this clay bar isn’t long-lasting, so you may find yourself going through it faster than you’d like. It’s also noticeably more expensive than other clay bars for the amount and quality that you’re getting.
This resealable bag contains two clay bars. This is a great deal because you’re paying about the same for two bars instead of just one. Each bar comes sealed in its own plastic to preserve its quality and freshness. These clay bars remove bug residue, tar, rail dust, and pollutants from your car’s paint.
These two bars should last to work on about 20 cars, which is a very long time. That’s not even taking into account that each of the bars in this two pack is 10-15 percent larger than a standard clay bar. The clay is soft and pliable, which makes it very easy to work with.
Unfortunately, the resealable bag isn’t very secure, so air can leak in and dry out the clay bar. If this happens, it won’t last very long. They’re also not as effective at removing as wide of a variety of contaminants compared to other clay bars on this list.
This is another clay bar that comes in a resealable plastic bag, and it features 200 grams of fine grade clay. It effectively removes bug residue, tar, road grime, tree sap, paint overspray, and industrial fallout.
You can use this clay bar on your paint, glass, chrome, and fiberglass. The original patented formula removes light to moderate contaminants from the surface of your car. This clay is incredibly effective and will deep clean and revive your car’s painted surface to have a mirror-like finish and high shine.
Unfortunately, you may find this clay bar to be very stiff and hard to work with. This makes it hard to roll out and shape before use. You may also find it to be quite expensive relative to its size. In addition, it won’t last as long as other bars on this list.
This clay bar may be meant for airplanes, but it will perform just as well on your car’s paint. It effectively removes surface contaminants and deep cleans the paint. It’s perfect for tackling tree sap, paint overspray, bug residue, road tar, dirt, and rail dust.
This clay bar product stands out because of its exclusive co-polymer protectant that coats your car’s paint. When applied correctly, it can protect your paint’s finish for months. It’s safe for all of the surfaces in your car, including your clear coat.
However, you only get eight ounces of clay in this package, which isn’t a lot for the cost. You also need to buy Aero’s lubricating agent to get the most use out of the clay as it doesn’t come with the clay bar.
- Stumped as to which strength of clay bar you should buy? Go with a medium-strength bar, or two, if possible. That way you are able to remove stubborn contaminants that would take more effort with a fine-grade clay bar without the higher risk of damaging the paint that comes with a heavy-duty clay bar.
- If you’re someone who waxes their vehicle often, or even just every six months, consider clay barring before you wax. It’s a great way to prep the paint before you seal it and could improve your final results as well.
- Break your clay bar in two pieces if you’re worried about dropping it. Smaller pieces may even be easier for you to hold as you work, and having an extra piece on hand may help to ease the stress of clay barring. You can also buy two clay bars instead of one if you prefer.
- It’s nearly impossible to re-package your clay bar in the original packing after its first use. Properly store your clay bar for next time by putting it in a plastic bag or sealed jar. Spray some lubricant in the container/bag as well for added moisture.
- For vehicles ranging in size from large three-row SUVs to lifted trucks, you may want to invest in multiple clay bars to cover all that paint. It’s good to have an extra on-hand, but you certainly don’t want to be in the middle of clay barring and realize you need another one to finish the job.
- To prep, your vehicle for clay barring, first washes it as you normally would. Rinse the vehicle down well and then wash it thoroughly. Prepare your clay bar and lubricant and clay bar the car. Then, rinse your vehicle and wash it again. That should remove any leftover clay bits and any suspended contaminants still on the paint.
- Clay bars only require light pressure to work properly. You should only press the clay bar against the paint with enough pressure to keep it secure against the surface. If the clay bar begins to stick, apply more lubricant to both the clay bar and the painted surface.
- Clay bar only painted surfaces. Avoid rubber trim pieces, plastics, and chrome accents. While you can clay bar windows, headlights, and taillights, use lighter pressure than normal. You should also avoid clay barring any clear bra applied to your vehicle.
- If you own a white vehicle, buy stock in clay bars. You’ll need to clay bar your white car at least once a year if not two or three times. Harsh road chemicals are much more noticeable on white paint, especially on the rear half of the vehicle. To keep your whites white, clay bar often.
Q: How can I practice using a clay bar if I’ve never used one before?
A: The easiest way to try out clay barring is to pick a trim piece lower to the ground or to use a painted piece you don’t care about. A visit to the local junkyard may provide you with such a piece. Spray both the painted piece and clay bar liberally with lubricant. Begin with light pressure and measured movements.
Q: How can I tell if the clay bar is actually working?
A: Pick a spot on the paint that you want to remove, first making sure it is a contaminant and not a scratch or paint chip. After spraying the clay bar and small area around this spot, move the clay bar across the clean surface of the spot, making a few passes. Lift the clay bar and inspect the paint. If the spot is still there, use a bit more pressure on the next few passes.
Q: Can I use a clay bar on my oxidized paint?
A: No, it’s not a good idea to clay bar oxidized paint. The clay bar is meant to remove surface contaminants sitting on top of the clear coat, a layer which oxidized paints do not have (hence the oxidation). We’re afraid clay barring is not the right solution for you in this case.
Q: How hard should I press down on the clay bar?
A: If you clay bar more than a handful of times, you’ll begin to get a feel for the right pressure. However, the amount of pressure is similar to what you’d exert when swiping across a phone screen or laptop mousepad, or the pressure necessary to move an actual computer mouse around. The key is directing that pressure through the tips of your pointer, middle, and ring fingers.
Q: Will clay bars scratch my paint?
A: Fresh clay bars, straight from the package, should not scratch your paint. However, if you end up picking up a sharp object—even on a minuscule scale—it can scratch your paint. Watch the path of your clay bar as you move across the paint. Pause every so often to inspect the clay bar itself. Dig out any contaminants you can see and discard.
Q: Can I clay bar over touch-up paint?
A: We don’t advise it. Depending on the application and age of the touch-up paint, the clay bar could end up removing it, leaving you with the original paint chip. If you happen to move across the touch-up paint as you go, you likely won’t cause any damage, but note these spots as you go in order to avoid them.
Q: How do I prep my clay bar after storing it for its next use?
A: You’ve used your clay bar for the first time and then placed it in a jar or bag with lubricant inside. Now you want to use it again for the second time. Remove it from the storage container and lubricate it once more. Massage the clay bar until it becomes elastic. Lubricate your painted surface and you’re all set to clay bar.
Mother’s California Gold Clay Kit Express won our pick for best clay bar overall based on the package deal it offers DIY-detailers of any experience level.
The Chemical Guys Medium Clay Bar took home the best value prize for a no-brainer when it comes to picking out the strength of your new clay bar.