What is the difference between Clay and Chemical paint decontamination?

Detailer claying the bonnet of a car to remove paint decontamination

Here's What You Need to Know...

What is Paint Decontamination?

It is a process of breaking down and removing dirt build up and contaminants embedded in your cars paintwork. These include brake dust, acid rain deposits, industrial pollution and other damaging particles that attach themselves to your vehicles when driving or parking outside. By removing these from the paint of the car, you will avoid other issues down the track such as corrosion.

Illustration of all the contaminates that attach themselves to the cars paintwork
Paint Contamination types attached to your vehicle

When Should You Do It?

1
Whilst washing  your car, run your hand over the paintwork. If you notice your paint feels ‘rough’, this is an indication of paint contamination build up. 
2
You notice rust coloured spots, usually around the lower levels or rear of the car. This is very easy to spot with white or lighter coloured cars as they are obvious little red dots. Those little ‘dots’ are metal oxide particles which have embedded themselves into the paint.
3
You want your cars paintwork to feel like glass! Who doesn’t love it when you feel a cars paintwork and the back of your hand just glides on the paints surface like it’s glass.

What is Chemical Decontamination?

Simply put, chemical decontamination is when a chemical spray is used to break down and remove any dirt or particles from the paint of the car.

When Should You Do it?

It is best to consider doing chemical decontamination if you notice rust coloured spots appearing on the surface of the car.
Also, if you are wanting to decontaminate the car yourself, or you are not able to get the car polished afterwards, stick to chemical decontamination.
 
This is important!  
 
Why?
Chemical decontamination does not require a polishing step afterwards. Though not as aggressive as clay, chemical decontamination is still great for breaking down these contaminants especially in tight spots where it can be difficult to clean or even clay, without scratching the paintwork, wheels or any other area it is used on.
 
This means that it is not necessary to have the car polished in order to correct the paint after the decontamination process. Just be warned though… These chemicals stink! so wearing gloves and a mask is strongly recommended.

What is Mechanical Decontamination?

It is a process of removing contaminants from the paint mechanically by going against the surface, with tools such as a clay bar, disk or towel to draw away these particles.

When Should You Do it?

The use of a clay bar or another type of mechanical decontamination tool will result in more decontaminates being removed from your vehicles paintwork. 
 
This process will definitely give your vehicles paintwork that glass feel. But! It is aggressive and does scratch your cars paintwork. These scratches are less noticeable on light coloured vehicles, but stick out like a sore thumb on dark colours. This is why you should be prepared to polish your car after you use a clay bar or similar. 
 
Any service that includes mechanical paint decontamination MUST include a polish afterwards, not a wax.

So What's the Difference?

Chemical and mechanical decontamination both aim to remove contaminants from the surface of your car so that problems like rusting can be prevented.

The equipment used and finish of these methods differ, however.

If you are only looking to rid your car of any rust or not deeply embedded contaminants, then chemical decontamination is perfect and won’t leave you worried about scratching your car.

If you are wanting to get rid of all the contaminants and get that awesome glass, beautifully smooth paint finish, then mechanical decontamination is the way to go. However, it is important to consider whether or not you are able to machine polish your car afterwards to fix up any damage to the paint work.

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