surface preparation \ pre-wax cleaning
From the moment your car leaves the paint booth, the car surface gets affected by the pollution.
When the car leaves the paint booth, the paint is at its impenetrable best. It is like a smooth sheet without any pores. As the time goes by, the pollution in air, the regular contamination the car come across in daily life, daily wash with hard water etc open up micro pores on the paint and these contamination gets deposited and some times, a mild oxidation layer gets formed. Most of the times, a regular was is not enough to remove these contamination.
Before we start steps to enhance the shine of car paint, we need to clean the surface first. The cleaner the surface, the better the results are.
Usually paint cleaners are mildly abrasive in nature. The locally available rubbing compounds are a kind of paint cleaners, but personally, I prefer to call them paint killers.
It is very important to clean the paint from all the bonded surface contamination, oxidation layer, surface imperfections,stains,soot etc and a paint cleaner is one way of doing it, if the contamination level is high. How ever, please do keep in mind that the paint cleaner is abrasive in nature and should be used very carefully and sparingly.
If surface contamination is not much, but you feel that car already have wax coating, use good Pre-wax cleaners to strip off all the wax.
If the surface imperfection is not much, use clay bar to clean the surface. Clay bar is neither a substitute for any process nor a one-in-all solution for polishing\waxing. Clay bar is a tool which helps you to remove surface contamination easily and quickly.
It is not at all abrasive and is one of the most preferred method to condition the paint surface.
Let us Clay
Clay bar is a rectangular shaped bar, and is used after lubing it.
Clay is useful to remove metal contamination, paint contamination, soot, embedded micro contamination in the pores and is a very good glass cleaner.
How does the clay cleans the paint?
Now, that is an interesting question. Clay is an abrasive cleaner - but used properly, it is not abrasive to the car paint, but to the contamination. That is why we need to lube the clay before we apply it.
How do you know when it is time to clay your car?
Claying is preferred once or twice a year, unless the car gathers heavy contamination. Once you wash the car, gently slide your hand over the surface - if it is smooth, you are done - no need to do any thing further. If you feel teh surface is rough,grainy or bumpy, clay it.
Apply the lube and gently rub the paint using clay. Do not use much force - clay cleans the contamination by aberration, so you do not want it to do the same on your paint surface. Once the claying is done, you can see a thin film of dirt of it - you will not see dirt particles. that is because clay do not magically lift off the contamination, but cleans it by grinding it mildly.
Remember - Paint cleaners and clay are not your every month cleaning products. They are designed to clean aberrations and are mildly abrasive in nature. Compared to paint cleaner, we can safely say clay is not abrasive, but improper use of clay will mar the surface finish.
Before we go to next step, let me add a bit more info on pre-wax cleaners.
Many people thinks clay bar is a replacement for pre-wax cleaners, but it is far from truth.
Clay removes surface contamination, while pre-wax cleaners strip old layers of wax, embedded stains and even gives surface a mild correction. They are a mixture of light polishing agents and cleaning solvents, but the cleaning ability is given by cleaning solvents - not by polishing agents. That is why you can use pre-wax cleaners almost monthly, with out affecting the paint thickness in a measurable level.
Claying should ideally followed by pre-wax cleaning so that the surface is ready for the next level of treatment.
I am not going deep into different kind of pre-wax cleaners.
Some points to remember:
Always work under a shade. A hot car surface is not a good place to do any detailing work.
Work on a small area, and buff off residues as you go. Pre wax cleaners usually do not need to dry before you can buff them off.
You can use micro fiber or soft cotton cloth folded like a pad to apply these pre-wax cleaners, but the best applicator is a foam applicator. Use a foam based applicator and use microfiber cloth to buff off. Do not use lot of pre-wax cleaner - a small amount is all you need.
Once you finish Paint cleaning \ claying \ Pre-wax cleaning, your paint surface should be smooth and should be clear of all contamination. Now, the car is ready for the next step.