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Decontaminating with Clay F.A.Q:
Q: What are bonded contaminants?
A: Well you saw the picture from the "Washing F.A.Q", right? If not, here is is again:
That's what most un-clayed paint looks like, even on new cars. All that stuff you see in the top layer of the paint are bonded contaminants. Bonded contaminants are generally things like rail dust and other environmental fallout. On most cars you can't see these contaminants, but you can feel them. A good way to do so is to put your hand in a plastic bag then lightly rub your paint with your fingertips. If it feels rough after a wash that's bonded contaminants. If you have a silver or white car and notice small orange specks in the paint that don't come off after a wash, that's likely rail dust accumulating in your clear coat.
Q: So is that a bad thing?
A: Well it's bad for two reasons. One, it isn't good to have metal stuck in your paint for obvious reasons, and less obvious is that over time it can actually compromise the paints integrity. Secondly, it looks and feels bad. No one wants rough paint.
Q: So how does clay work?
A: Clay is actually an abrasive like polish, however it is selective in what it abrades. What that means is by lubricating the surface of your paint and gliding clay over it, the clay will hydroplane over the surface of the paint until it hits something that isn't level with the rest of the surface, then it will remove it by disolving, or abrading it. It sounds like a horribly dangerous concept, but if done properly it's not at all.
Q: So how do I clay?
A: It's actually very easy. The first thing you need is a good clay bar. You can get clay bars locally at automotive supply shops, or at many online stores. Automotive clay comes in different grades, in most cases "fine" is what you're after since it's the least abrasive. If you have an issue like overspray you may need medium grade clay, I will get to that shortly.
Now that you have your clay the first thing to do is cut it into managable peices. Why? Well, first, you won't likely need it all. Second, if you drop it you must throw it away, so if you drop the whole bar you're out one clay bar. I cut mine into thirds.
Next make sure the car is properly washed and dryed. Now get a lubricant. There are a number of things you can use to lubricate clay; the most popular is a quick detailer (any will work), some clay bars come with a quick detailer for lubrication. Another popular option is automotive soap mixed with water in a spray bottle. A third option is a dedicated clay lubricant. I use a quick detailer cut 2:1 with water.
Now spray an area liberally with your lubricant, you want it nice and wet. Now make sure the clay is molded into a flat waffer, and put it on the paint. Slide the clay across the paint with the palm of your hand and apply very little pressure. Move the clay back and forth; you may "feel" it abrading contaminants in the paint. After a few passes the paint should feel smooth. Rememeber to keep lubricating the area, using clay dry can cause damage to your paint. Also, as you move to new panels re-mold the clay to keep clean surfaces on the outside. If the clay becomes too dirty use a new peice. If you drop it discard it right away.
Q: Sounds great. What else can I use clay for?
A: Clay is like a detailer's eraser. It will remove things like road tar, paint overspray, baked on bugs, hard water spots, or any other "surface contaminant". I use it all the time to remove water spots and overspray on customer cars. When you're done using it try the bag trick again and your paint should feel much smoother.
Q: So what's next?
A: What's next is the step that will likely create the biggest visual difference in the appearance of your car - polish your paint.