Our 3 Favorite Clay Bar Alternatives

Man holding a clay bar on a white car

Washing and cleaning your car is a chore that is often overlooked. Most of the time, a quick spray with the hose and a once-over with the vacuum cleaner is enough to meet their needs. While cutting corners on cleaning your car seems like it’s saving time, it’s actually just wasting it. 

There are over 700 different types of bacteria commonly found inside your car. If you are simply going through the motions of cleaning, then you probably aren’t doing much to eliminate them. 

Instead of simply using a vacuum, break out the Shine Armor Interior Cleaner and give your car a thorough cleaning. Next, you will need to focus on the exterior. One of the best ways to give your exterior a deep cleaning is to use a clay bar.

 

Why Is Clay So Effective? 

Clay is extremely absorbent and is a very effective way to remove potential contaminants that might have bonded with your clear coat or paint. Washing and scrubbing your car will take care of a lot of dirt and grime. But, clay reaches another level that most cleaners can’t without causing damage. 

Road tar, tree sap, bird droppings, bug splatter, overspray, and acid rain are a few examples of road hazards that can deeply damage your paint. Using a clay bar will help to absorb these harsh chemicals, whereas a simple wash probably won’t be very effective. 

 

How Do You Use a Clay Bar?

The process of using a clay bar isn’t particularly difficult, but it is a little bit of a hassle. You’ll need to pay close attention and use some elbow grease to get it done right. 

Ideally, you should be using clay to remove any contaminants before you apply a coat of wax. Leaving all the dirt and grime on your paint is a bit like putting on a nice suit before you’ve taken a shower. Sure the outside might look shiny and nice, but underneath it’s still dirty. 

Using a clay bar will look a little like this:

  1. Thoroughly wash your car using a concentrated soap made specifically for automotive cleaning.
  2. Make sure you dry off the paint with a microfiber towel and remove any excess dirt that might have been left behind.
  3. Knead and fold the clay bar so that it becomes more malleable and a little softer.
  4. It’s very important that you apply your detailing or quick coat spray liberally on the surface of your car. The clay bar needs to be well lubricated, and if you run it across your paint dry, then it could damage your clear coat.  
  5. Focus on one panel of your car at a time and make sure you’re touching every square inch.
  6. You will need to fold the clay in on itself a few times as it will be collecting a lot of gunk and grime. If it gets too nasty, then you might have to toss it out and grab another bar.
  7. After you’ve completed all panels on your car, you’ll need to quickly wash it again before applying your wax or polish.

What Are The Dangers of Using a Clay Bar? 

Clay doesn’t pick up most things; it picks up everything. Using clay means that you’ll be picking up all kinds of contaminants from underneath the surface of your car. Remember, this is the same stuff used to deeply exfoliate the skin of people at spas and treat skin infections too

When used properly, clay can provide the same exfoliating effects for your car’s exterior. However, using it improperly can cause some pretty severe damage. The absolutely most important thing to remember when using a clay bar is that you have to keep the surface heavily lubricated. 

The clay should be gliding smoothly along the surface of your car, and you shouldn’t be feeling very much resistance at all. Clay might feel pretty smooth, but it’s actually pretty rough and abrasive. Unless you keep it wet, then it might scratch, rip, or peel off your clear coat. 

Another common issue with using a clay bar is that it can lead to a swirl effect appearing in your paint. This “marring” of your paint might happen if you fail to keep the clay properly lubricated or use clay that’s picked up a lot of debris. 

It doesn’t take long for clay to get pretty filthy. Even if you drop clay on the ground for a quick second, you should still toss it out and grab a new bar. Otherwise, you risk the swirling effect mentioned earlier.

 

What Are Alternatives To Using a Clay Bar? 

It’s very difficult to find a product that can provide the same level of cleanliness as clay. It’s just that good of a product. That being said, these are a few alternatives that come with a few more features than just a literal block of clay. 

 

Clay Mitts 

Clay mitts provide the same services as a clay bar, but they are much easier to use. A clay mitt is exactly what it sounds like and is much more convenient to use than a clay bar. The mitt slides over your hand and will cover a much larger area surface than a clay bar and with a lot less motion. You’ll still need to use plenty of lubrication with a clay mitt, but you’ll be able to get the job done faster. 

Most clay mitts will come with microfiber material on the inside. Turning the clay mitt inside out will instantly give you a microfiber towel that you can use to wash, dry, or polish your car as you clean it with your mitt. 

Since clay bars have a tendency to dry out too fast, you’ll need to cover it with plastic or place it inside a sealed container for storage. Mitts don’t have this problem and will be fine to use even if you leave them sitting out. 

 

Using Clay Mitts

Clay bars should be replaced whenever you drop them on the ground as they can quickly absorb too many contaminants. Clay mitts don’t have this problem. You can simply wash off the contaminants, and it’s safe to use on your car. 

Using a clay mitt does come with several advantages, but there are a few downsides as well. A clay mitt will be more expensive and harder to find than clay bars. It might take a few uses before you are able to get your money's worth. 

The mitt itself is designed as a “one size fits all” so it might be a bit of a burden to use depending on the size of your hands. Although a clay mitt is perfectly fine for maintaining the cleanliness, it’s not up for the dirty and grimy jobs. If you have a really dirty or neglected exterior that you need to clean, then you will probably get better results using a clay bar. 

 

Clay Towels 

Clay towels are very similar to clay mitts except they don’t wrap around your hand. Most clay towels will come with two sides: a specialized rubber impregnated side and a microfiber cloth side. It works the same way that the clay bar does, and you will simply spray on your lubricant and wipe it with the rubberized side. 

Dropping your towel on the ground won’t be a big deal either, as you can simply clean it off the same way that you can with a clay mitt. Using a clay towel can be much easier for people to use than a mitt because it’ll be a little more flexible. Other than that, there isn’t much of a difference between the two.

There are a few unique disadvantages for clay towels, though. The rubberized side will start off pretty stiff when you first use it. You won’t have to knead it the same way that you do a clay bar, but it will take some work to break in. It’s best to use it as a glass cleaner for a little bit so that it gets nice and comfortable to use. 

Clay towels are also a little difficult to find and will be more expensive than clay bars. You may need to use them pretty often to justify spending the extra money. Just like clay mitts, clay towels can’t provide as deep of a clean as clay bars. They are great for an occasional wipe down, but they shouldn’t be your first choice if the job is really filthy. 

 

Clay Pads 

A clay pad is an easy way to speed up the process of using a clay bar. Clay pads have a rubber polymer base that is pretty similar to a clay towel. 

These little pads can be attached directly to an orbital buffing tool that will help you clay your car much faster and with less work. They will easily glide around and still provide sturdy handling. You will need to heavily lubricate the area and take great care that you aren’t hitting any areas that haven’t been lubed. 

You can quickly do some damage if you run a power tool across your paint. You should only work in small areas at a time and be as gentle as you can. Start with a slow setting and work your way up from there. Remember that you’re only trying to clean your car’s paint and not sand it down to the metal. You can detach the pad and use it with your hands when you need to clay hard-to-reach spots. 

Clay pads come with all the downsides of using a mitt or towel along with a few extra. If you’re using your clay pad as an attachment to a power tool, then it can do a lot of damage pretty quickly. It’s extremely important that you use more than enough lubricant to prevent any damage. Water is not an effective lubricant, and you’ll need to use an extra-strong detailer with a clay pad.

 

An Unbeatable Clean 

The best way to deeply clean your car is to use clay. There’s just no getting around it. A clay bar is more effective than a mitt, towel, or pad but less convenient to use. If you really need to get a deep clean, then you’ll probably have to use a clay bar. Any of the other items will be perfectly fine for routine maintenance or occasional cleaning. 

Regardless of which clay product that you use, you should take the opportunity to apply some wax and protect your freshly cleaned exterior. Our Shine Armor Wax Quick Coat can provide a brilliant shine in no time and leave your car protected against the elements.   

 

Sources:

Most Common Causes of Car Paint Damage| Man Edged

The truth about the origins of scratches and swirls | Carwash.com 

Evaluation of the medicinal use of clay minerals as antibacterial agents | NCBI

Your Car is Dirtier Than You Think, Here's Why | Family Handyman


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