Best clay bars: 2019 group test
We pick the best clay bars to help you prepare bodywork for a top finish
Removing grime you can’t see sounds like a waste of time, but that’s what a clay bar does and it’s vital for preparing paint for a wax or sealant. Iron particles, brake dust and tree sap are just some of the minute contaminants left behind by even the most thorough of washes, and are found most often on horizontal panels like the bonnet and roof.
These can reduce the bond between paint and any protective coating applied. If you can’t see these contaminants, how do you know you need to clay? Slip a finger in a plastic bag and run it over the washed and dried surface. If it feels like sandpaper it needs claying. Now it’s a case of finding the right clay solution for the job. We put 10 to the test to name the best in the business.
How we tested them
As in our test, we focused on the clay’s core use: preparing bodywork. We tried each bar to the maker’s instructions on a neglected roof. With limited wiping, we made two attempts, monitoring progress using the plastic bag test after each pass.
Other factors included what you get, storage, instructions and whether you can use water as a lubricant or need to buy a detailing spray. We also took into account price from makers’ sites or other online sources.
Once Bilt-Hamber wins one of our tests, it doesn’t give up its crown easily, and auto-clay secures yet another Best Buy award. Meguiar’s improvements have paid off and it takes second; this is our favourite kit. The good-value Vertar takes the final podium place.
- 1. Bilt-Hamber auto-clay regular
- 2. Meguiar’s Smooth Surface Clay Kit
- 3. Vertar V-Clay
Bilt-Hamber auto-clay regular
Price: Around £10Rating: 5.0Size: 200g
Yet another win for this no-frills clay, which has made this test its own. Often when this happens in our assessments, rivals begin to imitate, but auto-clay still feels different to other products here. It is stiffer than its competitors, which often have a sticky feel. However, Bilt-Hamber goes the opposite way and is packed in powder. Whatever the difference, auto-clay was matched only by the Meguiar’s clay on cleaning, but the keen price and the fact you can use water as lube give it the victory.
Meguiar’s Smooth Surface Clay Kit
Price: £30Rating: 4.5Size: 160g
The pack claims the clay bars have been improved, and it certainly showed in our tests, where it matched the all-conquering Bilt-Hamber. Good stuff, and you could not only feel the progress but also see the build-up of contaminants on the white clay. This is a kit focused just on claying, so it comes with 473ml of Quik Detailer lubricant and the best cloth on test. Everything you need is in the box, then, but you pay a premium for it.
Price: Around £8Rating: 4.5Size: 200g
This is the solution for those on a tight budget. You get 200g of medium clay with 25ml of lubricant concentrate which dilutes to make 500ml. That’s impressive, and it comes with a neat, snap-shut storage container. Instructions are good and include the key warning not to reuse the clay if you drop it. And the V Clay works, if not quite as well as the front runners on our roof, but it improved as the test went on. A well thought-out and keenly priced package.
Farécla G3 Deep Clean Clay Mitt
Price: £15Rating: 4.0Size: N/A
There’s no doubt this is a quick way to clay a car because the working surface is the size of your palm rather than the couple of fingers or so used when working with a clay bar. The impregnated clay pad is pretty effective, matching our winner at lifting particles off our test roof. It lacks that free-running release you get with a conventional bar when the surface is clean and you need to use a detailer or car wash as a lube. Still, it’s our favourite clay alternative.
Autoglym Clay Detailing Complete Kit
Price: Around £10Rating: 3.5Size: 100g
Autoglym’s price is similar to the Meguiar’s kit’s, but this is a quite different combination. While you get a decent microfibre cloth and 500ml of Rapid Detailer lube, there the similarity ends. There’s almost half the amount of clay, although we liked the storage tin. That 100g of clay was a touch behind the best, but it worked better on the second pass. To make up for its size, you get 100ml of Super Resin Polish to prepare the finish.
Price: Around £15Rating: 3.5Size: N/A
This ‘professional grade decontamination polisponge’ didn’t really impress in our last test. Here we tried the larger version and it was much better. The impregnated foam covers a larger area than a clay, so is faster than a conventional bar in much the same way as Farécla’s mitt. It couldn’t match the progress of the top performers or the mitt, but was pretty close. As you’d expect, it’s pricier than the smaller version, but like the mitt can be washed
Power Maxed Medium Grade Power Clay
Price: Around £10Rating: 3.0Size: 100g
Medium-grade clay is designed for novices, but it lacked the bite of the best, needing more passes to remove the particles on our test panel. It works but not as quickly as the top buys – a surprise, given how sticky it was. Instructions are clear and it’s stored in a plastic bag and a lightweight snap-shut container. Its main problem is value; you get half the clay of some rivals at the same price.
T-Cut Classic Clay Bar Kit
Price: £22Rating: 3.0Size: 100g
Another kit and another approach, but it’s not a success. You get the usual 500ml lubricant as well as the clay bar, but the cloth is smaller than rivals’. The final element is T-Cut Clay Wax, which is likely to be surplus to many users’ needs. This liquid wax won’t be many drivers’ preferred final coat. The kit is cheaper than rivals, but clay weight isn’t mentioned; we think it’s about 100g, which shows where money has been saved.
Autobrite Direct Detailing Clay
Price: £15Rating: 3.0Size: 200g
Price: Around £8Rating: 3.0Size: 100g
Now you know which is the best clay bar on the market, why not look at the best car polish? Read our product test here...