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  • Writer's pictureTommy Trenton Jr

What is Clay Bar and Why Would I Need it?

Updated: Jun 24

Are you just discovering clay bar treatment for your vehicle but want to know more about it? Unless you are a professional detailer or have hired a professional detailer, chances are you haven't heard of it! Clay baring is part of the paint decontamination process before waxing, sealing or applying a professional ceramic coating.

A piece of white clay bar that is dirty from clay barring a vehicle.

What is Clay Bar?

This is different from natural organic clay. It's a synthetic clay that works as a razor works to shave off hairs from your skin. Except it won't cut you. It can sheer off paint contamination from a vehicle such as paint overspray, industrial pollution, metal particles (tiny orange specs), road grit, dirt, artillery fungus, etc that is present on the surface of a vehicle's paint.


  1. Fine Clay Bar. A fine clay bar won't typically scratch the service but won't clean like a medium or aggressive clay bar would if the vehicle is in bad shape. A fine clay bar is great for anyone who wants to routinely clay their vehicle with less risk of scratching the paint. It just won't clean moderately or super-contaminated paint.

  2. Medium Clay Bar. Medium clay bar won't typically scratch the service either but if you press too hard and don't frequently fold the clay it will scratch the paint. Medium clay is for moderately dirty cars. Not so much for paint overspray or tons of fallout (rusty metal particles). We can use a medium clay bar for most jobs without scratching the surface of the paint. Not recommended for beginners.

  3. Aggressive Clay Bar. Aggressive clay is harder than medium and fine clay bar and is more difficult to work with and will scratch the paint. This clay bar will remove paint overspray, and layers of contaminants, all contaminants that have been accumulating for a long period of time. If this clay is used, paint correction will need to be done. Which means it costs more. More work, more time, more skill, more costly! Do not use this clay bar if you do not know how to perform paint correction.

When Does a Vehicle Need to be Clay Barred?

The short answer is: When the surface of the paint feels rough/coarse to the touch or when you start to notice tiny dark orange specs on the surface of the paint that do not come off with a thorough wash.

Long answer: Obviously lots of contaminants can stick to a vehicle's paint. The most common are,

  • Orange specks, (rusty metal particles). This is also known as industrial fallout, fallout, rail dust, or brake dust. Read More about this below!

  • Road grit

  • Dirt stains

  • Artillery fungus (is dark brown in color and comes from landscaping mulch). Read More about this below!

Back to the short answer. If you find that your paint still feels rough and looks dirty after thoroughly washing it or having it washed, it needs to be clay barred.

NOTE: When clay barring is done correctly, it will truly clean the surface of a vehicle's paint leaving it much smoother than before. However, if done incorrectly the result could leave visible micro-scratches all over the surface of the paint. This can also happen when claying off paint overspray or any kind of concrete/paver sealer etc. If scratching does happen, and sometimes its unavoidable, the next thing that needs to be done is paint correction to remove the micro scratches. Which isn't cheap, so make sure to do it correctly or just hire a professional detailer to avoid a costly mistake. In some cases, a pro-level/aggressive clay bar (heavy/hard clay bar) is needed to remove the contaminants, and micro-scratches will be unavoidable. At least a one-stage paint correction will need to be performed in order to remove the scratches. There's no way around this. Don't use an aggressive clay bar if you do not know how to perform paint correction.

How Much Does it Cost to Have a Vehicle Professionally Clay Barred?

Depending on the vehicle size, you can expect to pay between $100 to $150 for a professional to clay bar your vehicle using a light or medium clay bar. If you have paint overspray or an excessive amount of fallout or artillery fungus on your vehicle, depending on the vehicle size, you can expect to pay a professional between $700 to 800 for paint decontamination, an aggressive clay bar treatment, a 1 stage paint correction. and some type of sealer whether it be a wax, a polymer or a ceramic spray. If there is an excessive amount of paint overspray and also depending on the type of paint the overspray is, you may be looking at as much as $1800.

Hire a professional detailer near me. 1962 Ford Galaxy. Female Detailer. Brown pavers. Red wash bucket.

How Often Should a Vehicle Get Clay Barred?

A good rule of thumb is to not let your vehicle's paint get so bad that it feels like sandpaper lol yes we have seen that before. It's really hard to say, "how often" as a solid statement because it depends on washing routines, driving conditions, and where the vehicle has been parking. However, If I had to suggest a time frame, I would say on average a vehicle needs to be clay bared about every 6 to 12 months. That is based on research with our routine customers over the course of several years in the industry.

What are Those Orange Specks on my Vehicle's Paint?

White BMW with fallout stuck onto the painted surface.

You might have read or been told that these orange specs are paint overspray, sun damage, oxidation, rust forming between the clear coat and color coat, blah blah blah. Don't listen to that mess because it is simply misinformation. Those Orange Specks are tiny metal particles that are embedded in the clear coat that have began to rust. This is much more noticeable on a white vehicle than on a darker-colored vehicle but all color vehicles have this same issue. Those tiny metal particles come from vehicle brake pads & rotors as well as railroad car wheels & brakes. The best and safest way to remove these little rusty particles is to use an iron remover before using a clay bar.

Adams Iron Remover Example. Does it iron remover actually work? How to remover those little orange specks from a vehicles paint work.

If you wish to learn even more about these rusty orange specks on your vehicle's paint and where they come from, visit this super informative case study written by Spot Hater.

What are Those Reddish Dark Brown Specks on my Vehicles Paint? What is Artillery Fungus?

artillery fungus stuck on the surface of a white vehicle. Detailing tips.

Artillery Fungus (Sphaerobolus Stellatus.) is a wood-decaying fungus responsible for causing those round reddish-brown spots you find on your vehicle. The fungus is found mainly in wood chip mulch but it also grows in decaying fallen trees and other rotting wood as well as in animal poop. It requires moisture & sunlight to grow. Artillery fungus will appear in cool spring and fall weather in temperatures ranging from 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

multi colored mulch in piles on the ground

How does it get on your vehicle? In the right weather conditions, artillery fungus will shoot/burst its spores outwards of up to 20 feet and land on whatever object is in its path. So if you park your vehicle near mulch or other decaying types of wood, chances are you will have artillery fungus on your vehicle.

How can I safely remove artillery fungus? Some people/detailers claim it is best to use a razor to remove Artillery Fungus. I say that is completely unnecessary and even somewhat ridiculous. We are not living in the stone age anymore, never take a razor to a vehicle's paint for any reason. If you must and you can't help it, use a plastic razer not a metal razer. A fingernail will do the trick just fine. I have personally removed those pesky spots while washing using just car soap and water with a wash mitt or even a clay bar mitt. If there are lots of spots, we would use an iron remover like Adams Polishes Iron Remover, then we would do a light to medium clay bar treatment and a possible 1 stage paint correction to remove any scratches caused from clay baring.

The longer Artillery Fungus sits on your paint, the more difficult it becomes to remove. You do not want to allow this fungus to remain on your vehicle's paint for more than 3 weeks or it can become a pain in your butt. What would be worse, having just 10 Artillery Fungus spots that come right off, or 300 spots over the course of a year that could take forever to remove.

How to avoid getting Artillery Fungus on your vehicle.

Park 20 feet or more away from any mulch! If you find that you can not park away from mulch, and it's your mulch, get rid of the mulch and use something else like rubber mulch. Avoid parking by decaying wood!


Having a regular washing routine will prevent some costly detailing invoices down the road. The better care you take of your vehicle the more money you can save. These are some tips for good vehicle care practices.

  1. Wash every 1 to 4 weeks depending on drive time, driving conditions, and parking environment.

  2. Apply wax, sealant, or ceramic spray as directed by the product and apply it as often as it says.

  3. Use an Iron Remover then Clay Bar your vehicle once every 6 to 12 months depending on drive time, driving conditions, and parking environment followed by a fresh coat of wax, sealant, or ceramic spray. Be careful using a clay bar or you may scratch the paint.

  4. If you're not a car care type of person and DIY just isn't for you, hire a local professional to take care of this tedious stuff for you on a regular basis. Keyword being, "professional".

  5. VERY IMPORTANT: Be leery of those cheap prices. I have seen where a car wash guy aka a, "detailer" is only charging $20 for a clay bar treatment. That person is indeed NOT a professional. Cheap prices reveal the lack of knowledge and experience. $20 won't even pay for the clay bar.

    • The industry standard price for professional routine clay bar treatment is between $100 to $150.

    • For paint overspray, excessive contaminants, or excessive artillery fungus removal, the industry standard price for professional paint decontamination, clay bar treatment and 1 stage paint correction is between $700 to $1000.

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