Surface Contamination Removal!

In the blog entry entitled “Surface Contamination!”, we identified the common phenomenon of a rough-feeling paint surface even after fully washing a car.  This is a result of “environmental fallout”, which is all of the solid particles floating around in the air that can settle onto and stick to your car’s paint.  These particles do not come off using normal washing techniques.

There are several sources of these particles, including iron dust (ferrous oxide deposits) from industry operations.  Droplets of paint can travel hundreds of yards from spray-painting operations.  There is also bee droppings (yellow dots), tree sap, and kicked-up contaminates from the road.

So What?

Why is it so important to remove surface contamination before adding protection to the paint?  If you don’t then you are simply waxing or coating over caked on grit.  It’s like waxing the kitchen floor without first sweeping up all the loose debris!

There are several options for removing surface contamination:

  • Heavy buffing
  • Using detailer’s “clay”
  • Using clay media like Proje’s Clay Mitt, or
  • Using chemicals (which works only for certain contaminants).

Heavy buffing is the original way that surface contamination was removed, but it also can take a lot of paint with it, and heavy buffing requires a lot of time, equipment, and expertise.  When detailer’s clay came along in the 1990s, it was revolutionary and has since saved countless hours of work by providing an efficient and effective way to remove contamination.

Clay media products provide similar results as detailer’s clay, without some of the pitfalls of working with traditional clay.  And, in the case of some types of surface contamination, it is easier to remove them with a chemical process designed specifically for that type of contamination.

Next, let’s talk about the process involved in safely removing surface contamination from paint.

Surface Contamination Process

Using Clay Bar.  Using a traditional bar of detailer’s clay certainly moved the detailing industry away from the necessity to buff cars to remove surface contamination.  Clay is essentially a plastic resin that comes in a bar that is about 2” by 3” by ½” in size.  The technician will typically break off about a third of the bar and then flatten that portion into a “pancake”.  Then, spraying a small work area with a lubricant like Proje’s Throwback Clay Lube, the technician moves the clay back and forth across the area.

One can actually feel the contamination lifting off the paint surface.   As the clay collects contamination, it can be folded over so a fresh side can be used on the next area.  Anything that is smooth and shiny can be “clayed”, including vehicle paint, plastic headlamp and taillamp lenses, exterior windows, chrome, and shiny plastic trim.

The main drawback with traditional detailer’s clay is that, if it is dropped on the ground accidentally, the clay bar must be discarded.  This is because the clay will grab grit from the ground, which will act like coarse sandpaper if the clay continues to be used on the vehicle.  This is where “clay media” comes in.

Note that both a lubricant is absolutely necessary when using detailer’s clay or clay media.

Using Clay Media.  “Clay media” is a term that refers to the class of surface contamination devices that utilize a surface of polymerized rubber that is applied to a backing material like a microfiber towel, or, as is the case of Proje’s Clay Mitt, the rubber is applied to a microfiber mitt.  Using the appropriate lubricant, the Clay Mitt can cover a much larger area in less time than when using detailer’s clay.

Lubrication Options While Using the Proje’ Clay Mitt

During the Wash.  The “claying step” must be preceded by a thorough wash of the vehicle to remove all of the loose contaminants like dirt and dust.  If not working in the sun, one can perform the clay step during the wash.  First, rinse off the soap from the initial wash.  Then make up a new bucket of car wash shampoo and use that as the lubricant.  Either Proje’s Vital Car Wash Soap or Ceramic Soap will work great.

Simply dip the Proje’ Clay Mitt into the bucket and bring it out, dripping wet, onto the paint surface.  Work an area about 2” by 2” at a time, re-dipping the mitt each time.  Rub the mitt across the paint surface slow and steady with just enough pressure to ensure good contact between the mitt and the paint.  Use back-and-forth motions going in one direction, overlapping each pass.  Then, repeat the back-and-forth motions across the same area, going the opposite direction.  This cross-hatching approach to claying a car will ensure thorough removal of the surface contamination.

If, at any time, the mitt does not slide smoothly or starts to “grab” the paint, it’s time for another dip of car wash soap.

Of course, when done, rinse and dry the vehicle.  It is now ready for protection application.

After the Wash.  This method of claying during the wash is great for a vehicle that is clayed several times a year, or one that does not have a lot of surface contamination.  In the case of a vehicle with heavier concentrations of contamination, it’s better to fully wash and dry the vehicle, and then perform the clay step in a separate follow-up step.

In this case, use a product like Proje’s Throwback Clay Lube of Show Shine as the lubricant.  Coat the work area in an even layer of Throwback.  The product does not need to be dripping off the car, but there must be enough to allow the Clay Mitt to glide back and forth easily.  Use the same working pattern described above—back-and-forth in one direction with overlapping passes, then, same thing in the opposite direction.

You can wipe off the clay lube residue with a Proje’ Plush Microfiber Towel.  Then follow with the protective product of your choice from the Proje’ complete line of ceramic coating and wax products.

Special note:  always finish a freshly-clayed car with some kind of protection, otherwise you are leaving the paint “naked” to the elements.

For a quick one-step “clay and protect”, you use Proje’s SiO2 Quick Coat or Express Spray Wax as your lubricant, following with a thorough wipe using a Proje’ Plush Microfiber Towel.  What’s left is a paint surface that is super-smooth to the touch, and protected.  If this is done often enough, no additional waxing or sealing is necessary.


Surface contamination is inevitable for a vehicle that spends any time outside of a garage.  Removal of surface contamination is made easy with Proje’s Clay Mitt when using proper procedure.  We will discuss chemical removal of tougher surface contamination like tar and sap in an upcoming blog.