What Does It Take to Decontaminate?

What Does It Take to Decontaminate?

What Does It Take to Decontaminate?
By: Will C. @ Autopia | 7-9-20

You may have noticed over time that your car just doesn’t have the same “pop” that it used to. Even after a fresh coat of wax or sealant, the shine and water beading abilities seem to be lagging a bit. More than likely, this is the first telltale sign that your paint is full of embedded contamination. You may be thinking “impossible, I wash my car every week and I don’t see a spec of dirt on it!” Well, that may be true, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Contaminants such as brake dust and industrial fallout are nearly impossible to see with just the naked eye.

So, how do you really know if you need to clay?

Well, aside from a diminished appearance and performance issues, how do you know if you need to decontaminate your paint? There are a few different ways to tell, depending on how much contamination your paint is holding on to. With a clean car, start by running your fingertips across the paint. Did you feel any bumps or grit? Is so, that is your first sign that you need to decontaminate your paint. Two other more effective approaches are the credit card test and the plastic bag test. For the credit card test, simply slide the edge of the card across the paint. Any contamination will be apparent by how the card skips as it moves across the surface.

The second approach, the plastic bag test, is another great option for judging the state of your paint. Using a plain plastic sandwich bag, place your hand inside the bag and run your fingers across the paint. The bag will intensify the sensitivity in your fingertips, allowing you to truly feel the condition of your paint.

Chemical Decontamination

Paint decontamination is best done as a two-step process starting with a chemical iron remover. Ferrous contamination, such as brake dust, is one of the most stubborn contaminants to remove, so much so that it challenged the ability of detailing clay and chemical decontamination became a second, and highly recommended step. For this, we’ll use a quality iron remover, Wolfgang Uber Iron Remover. Working on a cool surface and out of direct sunlight, liberally spray Wolfgang Uber Iron Remover on the surface and allow to dwell for 2-3 minutes. During this dwell time you will start to see the product turn purple. This is the product chemically breaking down the ferrous contamination.

The shade and amount of color change will vary on the amount of contamination on the surface. If you do not see a vibrant change of color, it’s actually a good sign. That means you didn’t have as much ferrous contamination eating away at your finish! After letting the product work for a few minutes without letting it dry, rinse the surface free or wipe away with a clean microfiber towel.

Mechanical Decontamination

When it comes to mechanical decontamination you are posed with two options. Traditional clay and synthetic polymer alternatives. There are pros and cons to each, and we’ll cover both so you know what the best choice is for your situation.

Traditional Clay
Created back in the late 1980’s by a Japanese scientist by the name of Tadao Kodate, detailing clay was developed to skim the surface of bonded contaminants. The engineered resin may seem like a bar of putty, but it’s highly elastic, giving it the ability to be continually kneaded and reformed as it pulls the contamination off your paint and into the clay bar. Traditional clay is strong and has the ability to pull out much more contamination than its synthetic counter parts, but it also has a downside. If you drop the clay on the ground, it’s game over for that bar. Once it hits the ground it will pick up whatever it comes into contact with. If any sharp objects like small rocks are picked up, it can cause serious damage to your paint.

Synthetic Clay
A more modern approach to contamination removal is synthetic clay, like the Speed Master Clay Towel. Developed and introduced to the market within the last decade, synthetic clay provides another alternative to the traditional clay bar. Synthetic clay uses an advanced polymer coating to remove embedded contaminants over the resin compound. You can find synthetic clay in the form of wash mitts, towels, and even as a pad to equip on your polisher! While these are still highly effective, this is normally recommended for well-maintained vehicles or vehicles that are not heavily contaminated.

So, why would you choose this option if clay is more powerful? Several reasons actually. First would be durability. Synthetic clay can last for over 100 uses depending on the brand. That’s about 80-90 more applications that you would get out of a standard clay bar! Next, if you drop a synthetic clay bar, you just need to rinse it off and get back to work. Since it is a polymerized rubber, it only skims contamination off the surface, as opposed to traditional clay bars that pull contamination into the material. Lastly, the storage. Synthetic clay will not dry out or crumble if it hasn’t been stored properly, making it the ideal choice for DIY detailers.

Whether you reach for a traditional clay bar or synthetic, it’s still a safe option for removing contamination. While there is always the chance of micro marring due to the nature of the procedure, these are non-abrasive products and no paint is removed from the surface!

Removing Contamination Using Traditional Clay

Clay is typically sold as a thin bar and this is not the optimal way to use the product. Once you open up your clay start kneading it into a flat patty shape. This will give you a better coverage area and utilizes the amount of material you have.

Here we are using BLACKFIRE Poly Clay, my personal favorite when it comes to traditional clay. Using a dedicated clay lubricant, liberally spray the panel and start with a straight back and forth motion. As you start to clay you will feel some resistance, this is normal. As you continue it will start to glide smoothly, and this is when you know you can move onto the next section of the paint.

Removing Contamination Using Synthetic Clay

Just as you did with the traditional clay, we need to prep our clay towel for its first use. The Speed Master Clay Towel, like many others, has a protective coating that covers the polymerized rubber. To break this in first start by claying your glass just as you would the paint.

In the same method as traditional clay, move in the back and forth motion. Once you’ve finished your windshield, move on to your paint using all the techniques we discussed with traditional clay. Most importantly, don’t use “just enough” lubricant. Using a small amount of lubrication will not only put you at a higher risk of micro marring, you may even damage your clay mitt!

Once you have repeated this process around the vehicle, you can move on to the next stage of the detail. It’s recommended to inspect your paint for signs of defects, such as marring or swirl marks, that may require some form of paint correcting before applying your choice of protectant. Regardless, you can now enjoy all the benefits of fully decontaminated paint - such as improved durability of protectants, better hydrophobic performance, and improved levels of gloss!

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