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What is Polymer Clay, Fine, Medium, Coarse

Is Clay abrasive?

There is a great deal of misinformation concerning the true nature of all detailing clays. First, all detailing clays contain an abrasive component. These abrasives range in cutting power from very mild to very strong. Fine grade abrasives designed for annual and semi-annual use to remove routine contamination. Medium and heavy abrasive clays are most often for professional use only as they can leave significant marring comparable to that of a rubbing compound.

But I thought the “stickiness” of clay removed the contaminants, plucking them from the surface?

This is false. Actually, it is an abrasive process that removes the contaminants. The beauty of clay, however, is that the lubricant floats the abrasive clay above the paint surface. The clay therefore only exerts its abrasive force on the raised contaminants and not on the paint itself. Those contaminants are rubbed apart by the abrasives, and the “stickiness” of the clay picks up and contains the powdery contaminant residue created by this process. This is why a used, dirty clay wafer will appear to have a film of dirt over it and not larger individual particles of dirt embedded in it.

How do I know if my paint needs claying?

The easiest way to make this determination is by feel. After washing the vehicle, put a small plastic bag on your hand and gently run it over your paintwork.

Does it feel clean and smooth? Or do you sense tiny particles on the surface, is the bag dragging?

Secondarily, take a close look at the surface. Do you see any tiny rust-colored specks? These are bits of metallic dust bonded to the surface. They are another signal that it is time to clay. In particular, check horizontal surfaces, such as the roof or hood, where pollutants can easily settle onto the paint and check around wheel wells where the tires tend to spray the paint with road grime.

Why not just use a polish to restore the smooth feel to paint?

This is a common misconception. Polishes, which employ varying degrees of abrasive particles in a liquid slurry, are formulated to remove flaws within the paint and clearcoat itself, things like scratches, hazing, and swirl marks. The problem of using a polish to remove common bonded contaminants is twofold.

First, unlike clay which exerts abrasive force primarily on the contaminants, a polish will exert its abrasive force equally on contaminants and the paint itself. Second, if a contaminant becomes loose during polishing, the buffing action will grind it across the paint surface, creating micromarring or scratches. It is far better and safer to use a product that matches the problem: clay for bonded contaminants on the surface and polishes for imperfections in the paint film itself.

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