There are many different options available these days for detailers who want to remove embedded contaminants from the surface of a car. These products come in the form of Clay Bars, Clay Mitts, Clay Towels or even special pre-wash sprays which can break down and remove 99% of particles that may be present on the paintwork.
It is great to be spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting a product for a specific job, but that presents a different problem, which one do you use?
One question I get asked a lot by my subscribers is “What is a Clay Towel, and is it better than a traditional clay bar?”
My typical answer to this question usually comes down to personal preference at the end of the day, and what works best for your individual routine. However, let’s take a quick look at the differences between using a clay bar and a clay towel and the pros and cons of each.
But first, let’s take a quick second to recap on why you need to use these types of products in the first place.
Why Are Clay Products Needed for Detailing?
Your car gets contaminated from road dirt/grime and brake dust as you drive on the roads. These contamination particles embed themselves into your cars clear coat which makes it very difficult to remove. Bonded surface contaminants cannot be removed by washing alone.
You should Clay your car if you are looking to achieve the best possible results on your paintwork. This type of decontamination is a must before you undertake any paint enhancement treatment such as polishing etc.
What is a Clay Towel?
As the name suggests, a clay towel is a cloth covered in a coating that resembles the material used in clay bar products(a thin layer of polymer clay compound bonded to a microfibre)
Clay Towels were designed to combine the practicality of a cloth whilst providing the cleaning and contaminant removing properties of a traditional clay bar.
Almost all clay cloths are re-usable by rinsing them off during and after use. Unlike normal clay bars, you can usually use a clay towel a high number of times (Sometimes up to around 50 vehicles!) Typically with a normal size clay bar, you might be able to stretch to two or three cars max.
Another interesting fact is that clay cloths do not require ‘warming up’ like Clay Bars to make it soft and pliable and if you drop it, then it can be cleaned by simply rinsing it thoroughly in water, unlike a Clay Bar resulting in it being completely written off ( unless you want to inflict severe swirl marks and scratches into your paint)
Should You Use Lubricant with a Clay Towel?
With all clay products, a generous amount of lubrication is required to prevent marring. These can be dedicated clay lubricants, some water based detailing sprays or simply fresh water with some car shampoo in it.
I find that when claying a car (either towel or normal clay bar) you will always get some form of marring afterwards and I recommend that you always follow up with a polishing step afterwards.
How to Use a Clay Towel
Using a clay towel is a pretty straightforward process, below are the steps you should follow.
1.The first step is to thoroughly wash the vehicle removing all loose surface contamination.
2. Pre-soak the Clay Cloth in warm water and car shampoo before its use.
3.Wet the vehicle using a hose or a pressure washer
4. Without applying pressure, pass the Clay Cloth over the wet surface until the surface feels smooth. The Clay Cloth should be rinsed regularly to reduce the risk of any contamination marring the paintwork.
5. Thoroughly rinse the surface and use a fresh microfibre towel to dry the area.
6. A Clay Cloth can be cleaned and reused by simply rinsing with clean water and leaving to air dry. (Do not machine wash or wring out the towel as this can damage the materials on the cloth)
Clay Towel Vs Clay Bar – Which is Better?
As I mentioned earlier in the post there is no right or wrong answer to this question. In my opinion, there are positive and negatives to both sides of the argument. Below are some of the Pro’s and Con’s of using a Clay Towel instead of a Clay Bar
Clay Towel Pro’s
Speed – Due to their large surface area, clay towels can be MUCH quicker to work with compared to a standard size clay bar. Usually, when using a clay towel you will find that you will be able to cover the whole car in a relatively short space of time.
Reusable – Unlike Clay bar, Clay towels are reusable. If you drop the towel on the floor you can just rinse it off with water before returning to the paintwork.
Cost – If you are claying your car regularly or you need to do several different cars a clay towel can work out cheaper in the long run.
No Kneading Required – With a normal clay bar you need to knead the clay as you work your way around the car to expose fresh areas of the clay, this is not the case with Clay towels. Just dip it in a wash bucket and the contaminants wash off.
Clay Towel Cons
Effectiveness – The consensus in the detailing community is that clay towels are not yet as effective at removing stubborn contaminants when compared to traditional clay bar ( about 90% )
Harder to use in intricate areas – traditional style clay bars allow detailers to get into super intricate/tight places on a vehicle and be rather through with the clay process, and this is not always easy to do with a clay towel
Easier to inflict marring on large areas – If you are not careful and don’t provide enough lubricant when using a clay towel, you can do a lot more damage in a shorter space of time to the paintwork of a car
Clay Towels – In Summary
Do Clay Towels work? Yes, they do! In my opinion, it comes down to personal preference and specific applications when deciding between clay towels and clay bars.
Even though it takes significantly longer to complete a car, my personal choice is still with the traditional style clay bar as I find that it will remove the more stubborn contaminants more effectively and I have more control in terms of being careful with potential marring.
Until Next time,
About the Author – Darren O Hara
Darren is the founder of the DriveDetailed blog and is a keen detailing enthusiast living in the rainy south of Ireland. When he is not cleaning his car he is always researching ways he can improve his techniques and enjoys testing out new products.
Darren currently drives an Audi TTRS and is a big fan of performance cars.
You can follow Darren on Instagram @darrenoharacork