Skip to Content

Best Clay Bars and Clay Bar Alternatives w/ Buyer’s Guide

There are some detailing steps that many do-it-yourselfers blindly accept as reserved for professional detailers or serious automotive devotees.  One procedure that falls into this category is the use of a clay bar.  But in reality, claying is easy to do and waxing or polishing a surface that remains contaminated after washing makes no sense to the hard-core car enthusiast.

Claying can remove the debris and grime that water and soap cannot touch.

As is the case with so many things today, the clay bar has evolved and there are alternatives like specially treated towels and mitts to use instead of the traditional clay bar.  So, for the committed auto detailers out there, what follows is an overview of three different options to “clay” your paint before waxing and polishing.

Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System

Mothers 07240 California Gold Clay Bar...
  • Removes Embedded Grains Of Metal, Tree Sap, Airborne...
  • More Pliable And Not As Stiff As Other Clays; Safe To Use On...
  • Regular Use Provides A Long Lasting Benefit To Your Vehicle
  • Adds Depth And Clarity And Leaves Paint Feeling Silky Smooth

What I like:

  • Widely available and easy to find.
  • The kit is economically priced. (Includes two clay bars, a bottle of lubricant that smells like cinnamon, and an adequate microfiber towel – all for a price similar to a few clay bars from the competitors.)
  • The Instant Detailer spray bottle is a quality bottle great for recycling with more lubricant such as Optimum No Rinse (diluted for use as more clay bar lubricant).
  • The clay is durable, yet malleable, so it performs well and is easy to use.

What I don’t like:

  • The towel quality is marginal, but that’s nitpicking given the kit’s price.
  • The kit does not include storage for your clay bars. You need to stash them in a zip lock baggie or an air tight plastic container.

Kits can simplify life if they are put together with the right components, and fortunately that is the case with Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System.  Not only do you get two clay bars, you also receive a microfiber towel and a spray bottle of Instant Detailer.

For that hard to remove particulate or debris that remained after washing with soap and water, this kit has you covered and can get rid of embedded metal grains/flakes, sap and pollen, paint overspray, or any other stubborn contaminants resulting in a smooth, clean surface ready for waxing and polishing.

Mothers is a well-known auto detailing product manufacturer, and for some, a recognized name with an established history in the market is important to ensure the products work as intended.

One example of how experience might be important, you want a clay bar that does not scratch or mar your paint.  Mothers states “our clay bar isn’t hazardous to your paint—it’s just firm enough to pick up the bad stuff, without being too aggressive.”  That sounds like a lesson learned from experience.

The kit includes a 16” x 16” microfiber towel that is handy for wiping up excess Instant Detailer.  And the included 16 oz. bottle of Instant Detailer is needed to lubricate the surface before using the two included 100 g clay bars.  Mothers also recommends their clay bar system for use on plastic, trim, glass, matte-finish plastics, chrome, paint and just about any other hard or shiny surface.

Mother vs Meguiars Clay Bar Kit

I’ve used both kits and they are both excellent options for the money. I prefer the mothers kit because it’s usually a hair cheaper and they clay itself feels nicer in my hands. The Meguiar’s kit’s clay is a little more stiff but it does come with it’s own little storage case. Either would be a solid pick. I just prefer Mothers.

Nanoskin AutoScrub 12″ x 12″ Fine Grade Towel

AUTOSCRUB 12" x 12" Fine Grade Towel...
  • Lasts up to 10 times longer than clay bars
  • For a flawless “show room perfect” shine
  • Glides on & off easily for a slick finish
  • If inadvertently dropped on shop floor, simply rinse clean
  • fit type: Universal Fit

What I like:

  • If you drop it, simply wash it off (with a clay bar, once you drop it, it’s trash).
  • It’s easier to hold and more intuitive to use than traditional clay.
  • Requires no kneading like clay.
  • Conforms better than clay around trim and door handles.

What I don’t like:

  • Not as widely available as clay bars.
  • Larger initial expensive compared to clay (assuming you don’t drop your clay).
  • Needs to be broken in on glass before using on your paint.

Clay bars eradicate paint stubborn contaminates, but they are not problem free.  One of the biggest issues happens when you drop them, they get embedded with dirt, grass, or whatever else is on the ground and instantly become junk.  The Nanoskin Autoscrub Towel is a claying option that addresses this issue.

The Autoscrub Towel is a clay bar alternative that consists of a special rubber impregnated towel.  You simply apply some lubricant and wipe the surface with the Autoscrub Towel.

If you drop the Autoscrub Towel on the ground, no big deal just rinse it off.  Much easier and more economical than throwing away a dropped clay bar.  Plus, there is no constant kneading required as there is with clay.

The cloth is used similar to any other cloth, is easy to hold, and glides and conforms to our cars surfaces as you wipe away all those pesky contaminates.  There is a light side (a microfiber cloth) that could be used to wipe down and buffing a surface that has just been clayed or as a wash cloth.  The black side (rubber impregnated) is used to clay the surfaces.

The towel is stated to last four times longer than a clay bar on the label.  In addition, the purported number of uses for the Autoscrub towel range from fifty to eighty cars.

Some tips from users, when drying leave the black side out.  If it touches anything while drying, it ruins the effectiveness.  Also, break in a new Autoscrub Towel on your windshield or other exterior glass.  The rubber impregnation is stiff flakes a little on first use, so it needs to be relaxed a bit and conditioned before using it on your paint.

Nanoskin AutoScrub Fine Grade Wash Mitt

Nanoskin AUTOSCRUB Fine Grade Wash Mitt...
  • Lasts up to 10 times longer than clay bars
  • For a flawless “show room perfect” shine
  • Glides on & off easily for a slick finish
  • Item model number: ‎AS-016

What I like:

  • All the “like” comments for the Autoscrub Towel above apply to the mitt as well.
  • Is useful as a wash mitt.
  • Conforms easier around trim and handles.
  • Allows for quick, seamless transition from washing a panel to claying, which simplifies and speeds things up.

What I don’t like:

  • All the “don’t like” comments for the Autoscrub Towel above apply to the mitt as well.
  • Slightly more expensive than the towel.
  • It doesn’t stay on your hand well, making it cumbersome at times.

So, how can you make a cleanable towel that replaces clay bars better?  Why of course, you make it into a glove, or in this case the Nanoskin Autoscrub Mitt.

At this point, some of you may be asking about the advantage of a glove versus a towel.  Well, it has to do with the two different sides of the towel and glove.

The light side is intended for wiping off excess lubricant or washing.  For washing, the towel is a bit awkward.  The towels dark side is fine for claying since you are not dunking the towel every few minutes into soapy water then having to find the right side.  We did not even mention the light side much when reviewing the towel for this reason.

But with the mitt, you turn it light side out and put it on your hand, then you can then easily dip it into the soapy water and wash your car, no fumbling for the right side.  When washing is complete, flip the mitt inside out to the dark side and you are ready to apply some lubricant and clay.  An easy, quick way to get the washing and claying done with minimal products and tools.

As for the claying procedure and performance, it is identical to the towel so all the comments for the towel’s claying abilities apply to the mitt as well.

Clay Bar and Alternatives Buying Guide & Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference: Clay Bars vs. Clay Towels/Mitts?

Clay bars allow more precision and you can better focus on a particular spot.  But clay must be constantly kneaded and can be hard to hang onto.  If you drop a clay bar it becomes riddled with coarse contaminants from the ground that you can’t remove, which will definitely scratch your paint.  This means the clay bar is trash and you have to throw it away.

In contrast, clay alternatives like towels and mitts can be rinsed off if dropped.  With the higher number of cars that can be treated per mitt or towel, the initially more expensive towels and mitts may be cheaper in the long run.  Also, the mitt serves two functions, a wash mitt and clay bar, simplifying the washing and claying process.

What Would You Recommend as a Claying Lubricant?

I recommend using a rinseless wash concentrate diluted for clay use, such as Optimum No Rinse. It’s hands down the safest and cheapest (per oz) lubricant you can use. Never use straight water, unless you can live with scratching and marring of your auto’s paint job.

Is a Clay Bar or Clay Bar Alternative Even Necessary?

Yes, at least initially. Even brand-new cars benefit from claying since they travel on ships, trains, and trucks and are exposed to weather in huge storage lots, often near water, resulting in the pick up of bird droppings, rail dust and other industrial fallout while being transported from the factory to the dealer. At a minimum, you should clay a new car to remove these contaminants before polishing and waxing, sealing, or coating the paint.

After that, whenever you have brake dust, sap, tar, paint overspray, bugs, or anything that regular washing will not remove, claying is needed.  Some rub their hand over the paint, and if it feels rough or you detect small “bumps,” you need to clay.  Others say to put a plastic bag on your hand and rub it over the paint, if it feels like sandpaper, you need to clay.

How Often Should I Clay My Car?

Most exterior surfaces only need to be clayed between once or twice a year, depending on the last step product (“LSP,” a.k.a. wax, sealant, or ceramic coating) used to finish the surface.  It also is influenced by things like how often and where you drive the car, as well as if you store the car outdoors.  Tree sap, tar, bugs, bird droppings, etc. are all out there and your car is exposed to them every time it is outdoors or on the road.

Use the bag test to determine if your car needs to be clayed.  Wash the car thoroughly and then run your finger over the paint inside of a thin plastic bag.  If it feels like sand paper, then it needs to be clayed. Claying your car more often is unnecessary and just increases the risk of scratching or marring your paint. Plus, it wastes your valuable time.

Also, your owner’s manual may have instructions on caring for your paint, and other exterior surfaces.  Everyone hates reading instructions, but following the manufacturer’s guidelines is always a good idea when it comes to the expensive paint job on your pride and joy.

What Grade Clay Bar or Towel/Mitt Should I Use?

If you are uncertain, then use the fine grade. This is sufficient to remove most contaminates from just about any car.

Medium and heavy should only be used for those rare stubborn contaminants that fine may struggle to remove.  Plus, medium and heavy should be used exclusively by most experienced auto enthusiasts or professional detailers.  The coarser grades can scratch and mar paint easily if you are unsure of what you are doing.

If you appreciate what we do on The Art of Cleanliness, you should consider:

  1. Sharing this post with your friends, followers, and readers.
  2. Staying connected on: Pinterest | Facebook
  3. Subscribing to our email updates: Sign Up Now
  4. Supporting us: Learn How We Earn
We are thankful for your never ending support!