What is paint contamination?

Paint contamination consists of tiny metal shavings from rail dust, brake dust and industrial fallout. This contamination affects all paint finishes and can cause serious damage when left untreated. Paint contamination can be felt as a “rough or gritty” texture on the paint’s surface and can lead to tiny rust spots. This contamination can not be removed by washing, waxing and/or polishing.

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Where does it come from?

There are three major causes of paint contamination:

1. Rail dust – produced from the friction of train wheels against railroad tracks. Over 70% of new vehicles are shipped by rail. Rail dust can contaminate a new car’s finish before it even reaches the dealership. Anytime a vehicle is parked or travels near a railroad it is subject to rail dust contamination.

2. Brake dust – particles produced from the friction of brake pads rubbing against the rotor. This metal on metal friction disperses tiny particles of bare metal into the air and on the highway where it collects on passing vehicles.

3. Industrial fallout – another word for pollution, industrial fallout is a byproduct of our modern industrial age.

Clean paint enables a wax or paint sealant to better bond to the surface

The number one question I hear people ask on the topic detailing usually goes like this,

“How long will (enter brand name here) Car Wax last?”

And the technically correct answer is,

“It depends upon how well the surface is prepared to accept the wax”

You see, car wax or paint sealant formulation are designed to bond or adhere to car paint, not a layer of dirt. When contaminants build-up over the surface they create a layer or film of gunk, a mixture of whatever is floating around in the air where you live and park your car. The protection ingredients cannot get to the paint until this layer of contaminants is first removed.

Paint Surface before washing

If above surface, air-borne contaminants are present on the paint when a wax or paint sealant is applied, the wax or paint sealant isn’t going to last very long because it won’t be able to bond very well to the top coating of the actual paint itself.

Smooth paint equals glossy paint

I think we can all agree that a great looking paint job is a glossy looking paint job and gloss comes from a smooth surface. When air-borne contaminants build-up on your car’s finish they create an irregular surface or surface texture that feels rough to the touch and reduces gloss.

Testing for paint contamination:

Paint surface after washing. Note the hard water and other contaminants.

After washing and drying your vehicle, put your hand inside a plastic sandwich bag and lightly run your fingertips over the paint’s surface. It should be as smooth as glass.  If your car’s surface has a rough, gritty or pebble-like texture, it indicates the presence of paint contamination. This should be removed with a clay bar before applying a polish or wax.

Removing Paint Contamination:

There is no wax, natural or synthetic, or any chemical treatment that can prevent or protect against this contamination. Compounding with an abrasive polish may remove paint contamination but it can only be performed a few times before removing too much of the top, clear coat finish.

Surface after claying. What a difference!

The best solution, a special clay bar, was developed in Japan nearly five years ago. This clay safely removes rail dust and industrial fallout by “pulling” it off the surface. It does not “cut” or perform any abrasive action normally associated with polishing or compounding.

How to use clay bars:

Clay bars should always be used on freshly washed, clean surfaces. Dirt on the surface could cause scratches.

Caution: Use only as directed and with an approved lubricant to reduce friction between the Clay and the vehicle’s surface.

Work on areas of about three square feet. Lightly mist the surface with the lubricant, spray a little on the bar itself. Glide the clay bar across the lubricated area until the finish is smooth and contaminants are removed.  Note:  place the bar across your fingers, but below the fingertips.  You naturally want to press hard with your fingers and you’ll push through the bar.  When used as directed in the conventional method of polishing, contaminants can be removed from the surface without causing scratches. When used as directed, there is no (0%) polishing force applied to the surface while the clay is grabbing the contaminants. Wipe the surface with a clean dry towel and continue in sections until the entire vehicle is complete.

As the bar becomes soiled, simply pull, stretch and refold to expose a new, clean side. When the bar becomes totally soiled (dark colored) discard it. A 2 oz. bar should clean at least 5 to 7 cars. Do not use a bar dropped on the ground.  It will pick up a lot of contaminants from the ground and scratch your car.

After claying, the surface should be as smooth as glass. Remove any remaining smudges with a clean dry towel.  Mist the surface with the lubricant if necessary to make the final wipe down easy.

Tech Note: Clay bars will not remove scratches, swirls, dull, oxidized paint or restore surface gloss. This is accomplished by polishing the surface after claying. Polishing alone will not remove paint contamination.

Polishing and Finishing:

After claying the surface, you have two options. If the vehicle’s paint is in like-new condition (good paint gloss and no swirls), you can finish by applying your favorite wax or paint sealant. If the finish shows any swirls or lacks luster, polish with a swirl remover or finishing polish and then apply a final coat of wax or paint sealant.

Frequency of use:

Detailing Clay will not remove paint or the clear coat finish. It can be used as often as necessary to keep the surface free of contamination and smooth.  How often you need it will depend on things like if the vehicle is your daily driver, parked in the garage, has a car cover, etc.

Always apply a protective coat of wax or paint sealant after claying the surface.  Remember, it may look nicer, but the surface has been stripped down to the clear coat!

About the author
All American Mobile Detailing has been in the business for over 35 years.  We specialize in every day cars, exotic cars, yachts, motorcycles and even homes.  Serving Southern California.

This article can also be found at: Funreviews.net