11 Detailing Tips I Learned From a Clinic by Elite Finish Detailing

SDAC Detail Day

I recently attended a detailing clinic put together through the San Diego Audi Club that was hosted by Elite Finish Detailing, a premier paint correction and detailing shop here in San Diego. The clinic was put on by the co-owner and master detailer of Elite Finish named Wes, and he gave us a 3+ hour walk through of how they detail a car, including lots of tips and advice for those of us DIY detailing at home. I learned a lot – some was reinforcing what I had already heard or read, other information was totally new to me and very good to find out. Without further adieu, here are some of the takeaways that I intend to apply to my weekly washing & detailing routine:

1. Clean your microfiber towels after every use

I had been reusing microfibers for several weeks until they looked dirty – bad idea, says Wes. He goes through at least a dozen microfiber towels on each car he details, and recommends using several towels just for the initial clean, and tossing each one into the hamper when done. I have quite a collection of microfiber cloths, so from now I on plan to use each one for no more than one wash or detail before putting in the dirty hamper and grabbing a fresh one. Once I have enough dirty microfibers to warrant a wash, I’ll wash them all at once then.

2. Don’t use pressure when drying

Any time you’re putting elbow grease into it when drying a car or wiping off quick detailer solution, you’re probably going to hurt the clear coat and cause swirl marks. In Wes’ demonstration he would spray no rinse detailer and literally just drag the towel across the surface of the car to wipe it up, and then on second & third passes he would apply just enough pressure to hold the towel evenly against the surface/paint. Never press hard, if you have to work something out of the paint like bird poop or bee pollen spray a lot of quick detailer on the spot and let the chemicals work on it, and then use your finger to push the debris off the paint from there…

3. Dry your car in the direction air flows

Moving your towel in the direction that air flows over the car will ensure less streaks left behind from your cleaning product. Another tip to avoid streaks is to have a dry towel – if your towel is damp at all, you’re going to have streaks and a sign it’s time to grab a fresh towel instead. Fold your towel into fourths and then keep one side completely dry for the last pass/wipe to prevent any streaking or residue being left behind…

4. The best way to dry your car is using air

Rather than drying your car using a chamois or a waffle towel, most elite detailers will use something closer to a leaf blower to remove the air, thus minimizing the chances of harming the paint by rubbing it with a cloth. Better yet is a no rinse wash…

5. Never let chemicals dry on your car

This I already knew, but it was a good reminder. Wes shared a story of a client who left bug & tar remover on his hood and forgot about it, and they were never able to repair the damage even after many hours of cutting, polishing, and so forth. This is also especially important when using harsher chemicals like wheel cleaner…if you have to, spray a little water over the chemicals to keep everything damp and prevent drying if the chemicals need more time to work their magic. Better yet, wash your car at night or at least out of sunlight so things dry slower, and never detail a hot (or even warm) car if you can help it.

6. Clay your car regularly

Industrial fallout is basically small particles of metal and iron that accumulate on your car from normal driving, a lot of which comes from brake dust (from your car, as well deposits from other cars on the road). These small particles will accumulate and eventually start to rust and eat away at your clear coat, and if left long enough will eat through the clear coat and into the paint. If you’ve ever seen a car with clear coat peeled away and faded, this is probably why. Be careful when claying as you can cause some light scuffing, and usually if you’re claying you’ll want to follow with a polish and then a wax/sealant to complete the package, but claying at least once per year is a good idea to make sure that you’re removing fallout before it can cause permanent damage.

7. Skip the courtesy wash

Machine driven car washes, or even economy hand washes, can do more harm than good as they reuse towels and sponges that are full of contaminants that may leave swirl marks and cause damage to your clear coat. While it’s tempting to get a free wash each time you take your car in for service, you’re best off doing your washes by hand where you can control the wash process and know that minimal if any damage to your paint will occur – polishing out swirl marks is very difficult and not worth the price of a free wash.

8. Clean your tires before dressing them

If your car flings tire dressing, it’s probably because you’re putting the tire shine/dressing on top of dirt, so the dressing can’t bond to the rubber. Use a tire cleaner or even just interior cleaner to remove dirt from the tires first, then when applying your tire dressing make sure to really work it into the tire so that it gets absorbed and wont’ fling off.

9. Avoid wool based washing mitts

This material is harsh and can leave swirl marks just by washing your car with one. Go for a softer microfiber wash mitt, and make sure to use the two bucket method to avoid introducing any dirt/debris that may etch your paint. Note that many courtesy washes or cheap hand washes use wool mitts as they’re effective at removing dirt and debris quickly, but not good for your paint over the long term…

10. No-rinse washes offer the most control

Since you only wash a small section of the car at a time, and the section isn’t covered in suds, you can see exactly what you’re doing and work each section of the car carefully & thoroughly. Even better a no-rinse wash uses no water, and most tap water you’d use to wash your car (such as from a hose) is very hard water that can actually harm your paint…unless you’re installing a water filtration system, a no-rinse wash is the safest for your car (assuming you do it right). The only downside is that it’s fairly tedious and may take longer.

11. Invest in a good sealant

Wes recommends C.Quartz finest, but regardless after you’ve gone through the trouble of a full detail, which should include a wash, clay bar, polish, and then wax/sealant, ensuring you have a quality sealant will be the difference between the benefits of this detail lasting a few weeks or several months. Also popular are GTechniq nano sealants…

Final Thoughts

One of the most surprising things I learned was that many times when you wash your car at home you may be doing more harm than good if you’re not careful. The majority of swirl marks in paint are from improper washing, despite the owners’ best intentions of trying to keep their car cleaned and take care of it. I definitely plan to be more careful when washing my car, and I’m guilty of taking advantage of courtesy washes at the dealer that I’ll now be bypassing for sure.

Last but not least, this reinforced my belief that part of your annual maintenance should include taking your car to a professional detailer and letting them work their magic. Even if you’re doing a good job of detailing throughout the year, a true detailer can remove any swirl marks, industrial fallout, and other damage to the clearcoat that may have accumulated and give more life & resilency to your car – just make sure you’re taking your car to a detailer that understands the art of detailing, not a gas station that offers an expensive car wash they call a “detail” but isn’t really such. 

Nick Roshon

Nick has been an Audi owner and fanatic for the last 10 years, and started Nick's Car Blog in 2009 to share DIYs and pictures of his A4. Currently he drives a 2012 Audi TT-RS, and has previously owned a B7 S4, B7 A4, and an 82 Audi Coupe (GT) LeMons race car. In his day job, Nick is a digital marketer and lives in San Diego, CA, USA.


  1. Great post, Nick.

    Glad to see the comment about the wool mitts. I recently changed the washing process on my S4 to include more microfiber and zero wool. In fact, I changed my whole process. Instead of the two-bucket method that forces you to use, rinse, reuse and so on, I place 5-7 microfiber mitts in the soapy water and never reuse them, discarding the dirty ones into a bucket of clean water. I promptly wash all of my microfiber towels/rags after each car wash.

    I would also recommend foaming if the car is really dirty. This will help pull some of the dirt off before you ever touch it.

  2. Great tips! What are your thoughts on using one of those silicon squeegee things to quickly dry the car after a wash?
    Also, I was always told that using a clay bar actually takes off a very thin layer of paint each time. I’ve always been a polish & wax type of guy but it doesn’t seem to be cutting it on my M3 (black).

  3. I’ll admit that I use one of those silicon squeegee things, although I’m sure it probably isn’t good for the paint. It’s a no brainer on windows, and in theory shouldn’t do much damage to the paint as long as you’re not applying pressure and just dragging it, but I’m sure a pro detailer would cringe at the thought.

    In terms of the clay bar that’s probably true, but typically you only clay 1-2X per year before doing a cut & polish so there really isn’t much long term risk here, you’re talking about nano millimeters at most off the clearcoat.

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