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What Is Paint Decontamination? An In-Depth Look

22nd Jan 2020

Sky's the Limit

Everything You Need To Know About Paint Decontamination

Paint decontamination (sometimes referred to as "decon") is the process of removing those "things" that your regular wash does not. These contaminants may come in the form of iron deposits, tar, paint overspray, concrete splatter, or sap. Today we focus mostly on iron deposits which are caused by brake dust and rail dust.

Brake dust is experienced as a rough to the touch feel and appears as “brown specks” that are sometimes visible on the paint (usually more so on light colored cars). These specs are tiny iron particles (originating from brake pads or rail) which lodge in the paint where they rust.

Brake dust is defined as tiny iron particles coming off of your brake pads and the brake pads of any other vehicle on the road. In metropolitan areas or roads with heavy traffic, brake dust can accumulate faster than in rural areas but should always be considered. The areas we find most saturated with brake dust are the front bumper, hood, around the wheels, and the rear bumper, however all exterior surfaces are susceptible..

When a brand new vehicle is transported to a dealership via train it can pick up what is referred to as "rail dust" which causes the same affect. So if you notice these specks on your vehicle, it might be a good idea to get a top-quality iron decontamination spray to help smooth things out.


Why decontamination is important

Contaminants and fallout that are left on the vehicles paint allow additional debris to gather and have an exponential damaging affect which degrades the clear coat over time. Additionally, the appearance of the surface will be far glossier without microscopic contaminants blocking the reflection back to your eyes. Finally, regardless of the protection you choose for your vehicle, it will bond MUCH better to a 100% clean surface. Whether you choose a sealant, coating, or waxcar paint decontamination is the proper way to prepare the vehicle and allow these forms of protection to fully bond.

If you don’t know how to decontaminate car paint correctly during your prep process, the wax, sealant, or coating on your vehicle may not last as it was designed. Additionally, proper maintenance of a vehicle includes semiannual or annual decon, or in the harshest conditions quarterly. On a vehicle that is rarely driven, you do not need to have it decontaminated nearly as often. Some types of decontamination products can be extremely aggressive and remove your wax, sealant, or in some cases a ceramic coating so this too should be kept in mind.


Types of Paint Decontamination


Chemical decon utilizes a liquid or paste that is applied to the surface. The chemical is designed to dissolve, or break down a known substance and allow it to be easily rinsed or wiped from the surface. In the instance of iron contamination, you can easily and safely dissolve these particles utilizing Iron X without damaging some forms of protection beneath. For instance, if you have a CQuartz Ceramic coating or a CarPro nano sealant like Essence PLUS applied to your vehicle then Iron X will not damage them. If, on the other hand you had a carnauba wax applied, the Iron X would shorten the life of your wax. Fortunately, wax is not overly complicated to re-apply.


Mechanical decontamination utilizes a clay or a synthetic alternative like the Polyshave towel, block, or disc. Generally speaking, clay or these synthetic alternates can easily damage any sort of protection and may even put swirls in your paint depending on the grade used. Therefore we do not recommend them except for during a "car prep" and before the car is to receive paint correction by a qualified professional. Clay will remove some contaminants better than Polyshave tools while other types of material are more easily removed by synthetics. Additionally polyshave tools can be used on more vehicles than clay can before its necessary to replace it. Clay should be reshaped regularly during use, thrown away once discolored throughout, and if dropped on the ground it can pick up sand particles that can cause DEEP scratches if it is not discarded.

When using clay or the polyshave tools, a lubricant is utilized to help avoid swirls. Above, you see clay being utilized with CarPro Ech2o as the lubricant. Below you can see a polyshave tool or "clay alternative".

Polyshave tools are polymer based and are intended to replicate the clays action of shaving contaminants from the paint. These synthetics are commonly crafted in shapes that are more convenient for the user to hold and cover a larger area of the panel at a time. Note that a larger polyshave or polymer type tool may not be as thorough as a regular clay bar or Polyshave block. In any case, these tools can be an essential component of your detailing toolkit—especially when trying to understand and benefit from paint decontamination.


Chemical Iron Decon Products


Easy spray application

Shop Iron-X

Iron-X Paste

Thick for isolating contaminants

Shop Iron-X Paste

Mechanical Decon Products

Traditional Clay

From ultra fine to aggressive

Shop Clays


Available in pad, block, and towel

Shop Synthetics


Shop Lubricants

If you're interested in decontaminating your vehicle and aren’t sure how to do it, click the product links above for directions or reach out to us and we will be happy to assist!

Questions? Or want to know more about the decon process?

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Questions? Contact us at 386-259-0759