The common thought most people have is when you wash your car, that means you have effectively removed all the dirt, grime, and debris that was accumulated during driving.
At a higher surface level, this is true. Your car does look a lot better since you removed the heavy-caked on layer of dust and dirt. However, that doesn’t mean your paint is completely clean.
A common complaint I hear from people is even after they’ve washed their vehicle, they feel a rough texture when they run their hand over the paint. Don’t be alarmed! This is perfectly normal (although it’s something you’d want to fix by claying the paint).
In short, that rough texture that you feel is basically a mix of micro-level dirt that has stuck to your clear coat that won’t come off with a simple wash. It can be things like industrial fallout, paint overspray, metal shavings, dust, etc…
In this article, I’m going to go more in-depth on how your paint got to the point of the rough texture and how you can remove it (the paint should feel as smooth as glass).
Above Surface Contamination And How It Works
Don’t worry, above surface contamination is not a technical term, that’s just how detailers describe what you have going on. A rough texture to your car’s paint.
So, has my car always had this rough texture? How did it get there? Do all cars have this?
If you drive your car at all, you’re prone to getting some above surface contaminants onto your paint.
Whether it’s nice and sunny outside or it’s pouring down rain, some debris will land on your car. 80% of the debris can be removed with a thorough wash, but the other 20% sticks to your clear coat (paint) like glue and a thorough wash will not remove it.
Another big worry people have is; is this going to damage my car? Do I need to remove it NOW?
Again, those are great questions!
To be honest, there’s no hard case studies where someone ran multiple tests to see if this is going to damage your paint.
However, with that being said, what’s the best way to maintain anything for a long period of time? Keeping it healthy!
So if there’s two cars and over the course of 4 years, Car A has always been well taken care of and Car B has been building up a bunch of nasty gunk on the paint, then it’s highly probable that Car A will look much better for a longer period of time compared to Car B that wasn’t maintained.
In short, if you want to take my direct advice, I highly suggest you clay your paint. You only need to do it once or twice per year. So it’s not that much of a hassle (unless you’re the unlucky kind and get paint overspray on your car on a regular basis).
How To Check For Above Surface Contaminants
There are a few ways to check if your car has above surface contamination. But before that, you first need to thoroughly wash your vehicle. The dirt and debris that is removed from your car is technically above surface contaminants, it’s just not stuck on above surface contaminants.
We commonly refer that to lose contaminants. A simple wash and it removes it. What we’re focused on is the stuck on above surface contaminants.
Method #1: Look at your paint
This isn’t the favorable method because it’s highly dependent on the vehicle and the type of above surface contaminants that you have.
For example; if someone is painting something nearby with either a spray can or an actual paint gun and they’re not in an enclosed areas, then those paint particles will go airborne and travel as far as the wind takes it, and then land on your car.
In this situation, if your car is black and the color paint they were using is white, then you can look closely to your car and see very very tiny white paint particles.
And if you simply run your hand over the paint, you’ll easily feel the rough texture to it. Which leads me to the next method…
Method #2: Run your hand over the paint
This is the preferred method. Regardless of the type of above surface contaminants or the color of your car, you can simply physically feel your paint and determine whether or not its contaminated.
Usually I use the back of my hand (not my palms). It glides over the paint much easier. You don’t need to put any down pressure whatsoever. You can scratch your car if you put to much pressure.
Another tip is by putting a plastic bag over your hand and gently touching the paint. This will give you a more heightened sensitivity touch to the paint so you can feel more particles that are stuck on your paint.
Generally speaking, the flat surface areas like the hood and roof are always going to be more contaminated than the horizontal surfaces like the side doors (unless you get paint overspray. That sticks to anything).
How To Clay Your Paint To Remove The Rough Texture
A few years ago, the only options you had to remove the rough texture was by using a clay bar and clay lubricant. These are commonly sold at your local auto parts store like Autozone or WalMart.
These options are still available today, but now, there are MANY more clay media options for you to choose from (if you so wish to do so).
Here are a few options (DISCLAIMER: we get a small commission if you purchase through our links):
- Clay bar
- Clay towel
- Clay block
- Clay mitt (what I personally use)
- Clay disc attachment for your polisher
As far as clay lubricant, here are some options:
- This is a kit you can find locally
- Optimum No Rinse (you can dilute it as a clay lubricant. What we use)
Essentially, the way each one works is going to be identical. You’ll need to spray the clay lubricant (after you have washed your car) directly onto your paint, and you will need to gently rub the clay bar in up and down a motions until the paint becomes smooth.
You’ll know if it’s working because your first few passes you’ll literally hear and feel the roughness in the paint. As you continue to work the clay and add lubricant to the area you’re working, the sound and feel to the paint will decrease greatly to the point where it’s as smooth as glass.
Some tips to keep in mind…
Keep the surface area that you’re claying well lubricated: The key to claying is lubrication. If there’s no lubrication (or not enough lubrication) then your clay bar is going to “catch” the paint and you will be removing very very little contaminants and most likely mar your paint.
As an example, have you ever seen someone belly-slide down a water slide? When there’s enough water on the slide, then can slide all the way down with no problem. What happens when there’s a dry spot on that slide? They almost come to an abrupt stop and burn their skin from the dry skin-to-rubber friction that was created.
It’s the same concept with claying your vehicle.
Work in sections, don’t do an entire panel: Although claying your paint not a difficult task to do, it is time-consuming. So don’t work an entire door panel or hood at once. Break up that hood into 3 to 6 manageable areas.
You’ll be able to concentrate your effort a lot more and get much better results. If you try and work an entire section at once, you’ll most miss a lot of areas.
So do the work right the first time and work in section.
Work in a cool area: If possible, work in a garage or shaded area if it’s really hot outside. Aside from the fact that you won’t be too hot from working outside, it also won’t dry up your clay lubricant as fast.
If you’re in direct sunlight and your paint is getting really really hot, then as soon as you spray your clay lubricant, the panel is going to dry it up due to the heat. If you stay in a cool area, you’ll make your life easier.
Once you drop the clay bar, throw it away: Yes, you read that correctly. You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow because if you do, that’s money you’re throwing down the drain.
The clay bar is super sticky. That’s why you’re using it to remove the above surface contaminants from your paint. It’s pulling off the debris.
But guess what? If that clay bar falls onto the ground, it’s going to pick up a bunch of tiny particles as well. If you continue to use it on your paint, you take on a big risk of rubbing dirt or concrete particles onto your paint.
And that’s something you don’t want!
On a side note, that’s why I prefer to use a clay mitt or pad over a clay bar. They last a lot longer.
You don’t need to use the entire clay bar: If you’re using a clay bar, then start off by using ¼ of the clay bar and set aside the rest for later. Incase you do drop it, you get some more to work with 🙂
So, now what…
Yes, it sounds like a lot of work, but in reality, it’s not all that much. And considering you only have to do it maybe a few times per year, I think it’s well worth it.
There’s other products you can use to remove more specific type of above surface contamination like IronX that remove iron deposits from your vehicle, but that’ll be for another article (WARNING: Iron X smells really really really harsh).
Keeping things simple, this is a great place for you to start. Let me know in the comments down below if you have any questions! We’ll be happy to answer.