It’s hard to find any detailer worth his or her salt who’s not using microfiber towels nowadays. It’s the detailing industry standard and so far the best tool around for cleaning/drying a car. We’ll discuss the reasons microfiber towels are so important and the best practices for using them in the detailing industry.
It isn’t new information that we at Dr. Beasley’s and Behind the Detail own and operate a high quality detail shop in Chicago, IL. The reason I say high quality isn’t because of the clientele that we get on a regular basis, but is because of the practices we implement to ensure the best service for each and every car that comes through.
Our system for managing microfiber towels includes color separation based on their uses and a wash cycle that requires them to be properly cleaned after EACH and EVERY use.
- Blue Waffle Weave Microfiber Towels: drying the exterior of the car
- Red Waffle Weave Microfiber Towels: drying wheels, door jams, engine compartment (greasy surfaces)
- Orange Terry Microfiber Towels: drying matte cars
- Yellow Terry Microfiber Towels: wiping off wax
- Green Terry Microfiber Towels: cleaning interior surfaces
- Green Huck Towels: drying/cleaning windows and mirrors
- Yellow Suede Microfiber Towels: metal detailing
Before worrying about which Rupes to purchase or what you’re going to charge for your highest service, begin with the fundamentals and arguably the most important part of detailing…your towels.
Why is it Important at All?
Managing your towels in a systematic order is absolutely necessary for proper and effective detailing. Above we mentioned that we use colors to distinguish our towels, however, that’s just an example. This is a reference for you to be able to improve your detailing and save money in the long run by protecting and preserving your towels.
For each section of the vehicle you’re going to need separate and specific towels. By separating the use of each towel, you’re going to be able to limit the amount of cross contamination you get when using the towels. For example, if you use the same towels to dry the wheels as you do to dry the windows, you’ll likely get streaks or residue transfer from wheels on your windows.
Each of those towels need to be cared for individually. We’ll show you exactly what we mean in regards to each type of towel.
Microfiber towels in general have become the industry standard in tools when it comes to car detailing. There are, however, many different types of microfiber towels and they all have specific purposes. Some microfiber towels can absorb up to seven times their weight in water and are soft enough that they don’t damage the finish of a car. Other microfiber towels are so durable that they’re nearly impossible to rip or damage. Because of this, understanding which factors to consider when it comes to choosing the right microfiber towel is important.
Picking a Microfiber Towel
Grammage: This is arguably the most important factor when it comes to choosing a microfiber towel. This is the weight (in grams) of the towel per square meter. Towels come in all sorts of different sizes and weights. So if we calculate the grammage (g/m²), we can take all the towels and put them on a level playing field. Generally the towel with higher grammage will be better because it comes with more material per square meter. This is what gives the towel that nice “plush” feel.
Material Composition: Like just about anything you buy, the higher the quality of raw materials, the better the product. So although one towel might have a higher grammage, if you can tell that that towel is made of lesser material, then you may not be getting the best towel. Microfiber towels are generally 80% polyester and 20% polyamide and contain fibers which have been split 16 times to ensure they are extremely soft. If you get a towel with a more even ratio, like say 70% polyester and 30% polyamide, then that’s a higher quality towel that can absorb more water.
Weave Type: This is where microfiber towels have become so multifaceted. The type of weave can determine where a towel is best used. Some examples include Terry, Suede, Waffle Weave, Ribbed texture, and Pearl. Each of these towels has a specific purpose and may be uniquely suited to cleaning a particular material or surface of the car. This is where your decision becomes based on your needs. Mind you that the grammage may be different based on the weave type. A grammage above 330 g/m² may be great for Terry but way too low for waffle weave which should be upward of 450 g/m².
Using Terry Microfiber Towels
Microfiber towels don’t require much of any breaking in. They are generally ready to go as soon as you get them. However, it is common practice to wash them at least once to remove any industrial lint from where they were made and packaged. Some detailers prefer to wash them a couple of times in order to avoid any potential color bleeding.
Terry microfiber towels can be used all over the car so it’s important to separate them based on their use (using colors to separate is easiest for high volumes of towels). If you think that taking wax off one car and then using that towel to dry a matte finished vehicle isn’t transferring anything, then you’re sadly mistaken – even if you washed it. Eliminating cross contamination will not only help you become a better detailer, it will also preserve your towels. If all of your green terry microfiber towels are used only to remove wax, then when you go to wash all your green terry microfiber towels together you won’t get any residue from other parts of the car on the other towels. This way, the next time you go to remove wax from a car, you’re not going to be leaving behind dirt or grime from the door jams from another car and another towel.
Furthermore, if you’re using the same towels to perform the same task, they won’t be damaged elsewhere and your interior towels, for example, will last longer.
Washing Terry Microfiber Towels
Washing terry microfiber towels isn’t going to be much different from any other microfiber towel. There may be slight differences in the drying process though.
Again, I want to hammer home the idea that you should separate your terry microfiber towels from all other towels and colors. One color at a time and one type of towel at a time is best practice. They can be washed in any general washing machine using normal detergent. Warm water is best but make sure it’s not hot water so that you don’t damage the fibers. Ensure that you’re using fresh water for every cycle so that you’re not adding lint from other towels into these and regularly check and discard any lint trays.
When drying them, DO NOT use high heat. High heat will melt the fibers and severely damage the towels. A simple no/low heat or “fluff” cycle is best for drying them. Do not add any dryer sheets or any drying/softener agents and remember to regularly discard any lint from the tray.
Using Waffle Weave Microfiber Towels
Waffle weave microfiber towels have a cross stitch pattern that make them great for absorbing water. Also, because they are microfiber, they are soft and won’t damage automotive paint. These towels are perfect for drying the exterior finish of the car including paint, plastic, and rubber trim.
Because of this stitch pattern and weave, they do a great job of trapping dirt and contaminants, ensuring that they do not to scrape the finish. Because of this capability, many think that it is safe to use them on more than one car without washing them in between. However, that’s bad practice, and getting in the habit of washing them after each use will improve your performance. Washing them consistently will diminish the risk of the towel trapping too many contaminants and becoming less effective.
In order to get the most out of these towels leave them a little damp after washing them. This will actually increase their absorbency rate.
Washing Waffle Weave Microfiber Towels
Washing waffle weave microfiber towels is no different than terry microfiber towels. The only difference I would make is to take them out of the dryer a little sooner to keep them damp and ready to use after. This added dampness will allow the towels to absorb more water. What we do is use smaller washing machines in order to get higher G Forces. So we dry these towels for 5 minutes at 300 G Forces on spin cycle.
For someone who’s not detailing nearly that much, you can wash the towels and put them in a five gallon bucket and cover it up, that’ll keep them damp for your next service the following day or two. For those who wait weeks or months between washes, it’d be a great idea to soak them and put them in the spin cycle of the wash when you start detailing so they’re ready by the time you need them.
Using Suede Microfiber Towels
Suede microfiber towels feel like a completely different breed. There is no pile height, meaning it is a flat and dense towel, and they look and feel like some sort of suede leather. This makes the towel extremely durable and nearly impossible to tear. That’s why it’s perfect for polishing up metal surfaces.
Because of how dirty your wheels can get, we suggest cleaning and drying them with another towel (different colored waffle weave). Once that’s done, use the suede microfiber towel for polishing and detailing the metal. If you’re going to apply a metal polish or sealant, this suede microfiber towel will leave even, streak free finishes. It’s perfect for chrome, aluminum, stainless steel and other metals found on places like wheels, grills, trims, and bumpers.
It’s really easy to see blemishes and imperfections in metal so it’s important to have dedicated (non contaminated) suede towels that do the trick properly. Don’t contaminate them elsewhere and risk their performance on metal.
Washing Suede Microfiber Towels
Again, washing suede microfiber towels isn’t any different from terry microfiber towels. Ensure that you’re separating them and wash them together. Because you’re going to use less of these towels than other towels, your wash load will be a smaller load and won’t take as long to dry.
Huck towels are a powerful tool in the detailing world. They are primarily used as surgical towels and are made of cotton and are 100% lint free (much needed in operating rooms as you can imagine). This makes them perfect for cleaning glass. Although there are microfiber towels that are made precisely for windows, so feel free to use whichever product you prefer.
Using Huck Towels
Huck towels are light and thin making them ideal for glass cleaning because they don’t leave fibers and can reach into tight corners.
It’s relatively easy to break in huck towels since they are so thin and simple. Wash them a couple of times in hot water so that they can soften up and increase their ability to absorb water. Some places opt for recycled huck towels which don’t require any breaking in.
Washing Huck Towels
Huck towels can be thrown in the washer all together, saving time and energy. Washing them is similar to the cotton terry towels. Hot water with regular detergent. Don’t use bleach or any fabric softeners though. Many detail shops don’t even use detergent with huck towels. They prefer to leave the cleaning chemicals on the towel so they’re ready to go. In this case, a simple rinse cycle is all that’s needed.
Dry them together on regular heat until they’re dry. Don’t use any dryer sheets or chemicals when drying.
When separating the towels though, it’s a great idea to separate the old and new towels from each other. That way the deteriorating towels aren’t affecting the new towels as they eventually begin to fall apart.
Cotton Terry Towels
Terry towels have been around for a while and can be a vital tool for certain parts of the car. Although they’re slightly outdated, many people prefer to stick to these towels because they are familiar. We personally used to use them but found that the amount of lint from the towel deteriorating was too much – so we got rid of all of our cotton towels. The decision came immediately after a customer noticed some white lint on his black car. Unacceptable. We entertained the notion of dying the towels black so that the white lint wouldn’t show as much on black cars, but decided to invest in the better towels.
However, if you still use them, make sure you’re getting the most out of them.
Breaking in Cotton Terry Towels
Terry towels can have what’s called “sizing” on them. This is a combination of a starch and silicone mixture to make them 1) more presentable on store shelves, and 2) stain resistant. This mixture causes the towels to be less absorbent than they are capable of.
In order to break down the “sizing” mixture, you’ll need to wash your towels in hot water several times with regular (or slightly basic) detergent. Wash the towels in water that is in excess of 170 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 8 minutes each time. This is going to help open up the fibers, breaking down the mixture and increasing the absorbance ability.
There are some factors that affect a towel’s ability to be broken in. Darker colored towels take more washes to break in because of the color of their dyes. Thicker towels also require more washes because of the amount of fibers.
After the towels have been washed an appropriate amount of times, dry them completely to facilitate the natural shredding of lint. Do not use any dryer sheets or chemicals when drying the towels.
If you’re buying recycled towels, then they have already been broken in and are ready to use. Generally I wouldn’t recommend buying recycled towels because you’re not certain where they were used before. Often times the previous owner uses harsh chemicals and beats them up pretty bad. That makes them hard to soften up enough to use on cars.
By being precise with the use of the terry towels, you’ll be able to limit damage and contamination. These terry fibers can easily trap grime and grease, making even clean towels, dirty towels.
After each and every use, throw them in a bin to be washed again. Never use one towel on multiple cars without washing them in between. This may cause dirt and other surface contaminants from the first car to get transferred to the second car. In the case of excessively greasy surfaces like engine bays, I’d recommend using older towels and simply throwing them away after you’re done.
Washing Cotton Terry Towels
After every use, separate your towels into their respective colors and uses and wash them separately. For terry towels it’s also good practice to separate your old towels from your new towels for the sake of lint transfer.
Wash your towels with hot water (cold is fine if you don’t have hot) with regular detergent. If you’re using hard water, you should consider getting a water softener. High levels of acid and other minerals in hard water can damage the towels and diminish their life span more quickly.
Do not use any fabric softeners or bleach as they will ruin the fibers of any towel. Remember to use fresh water with every cycle because recycled water can transfer lint from other washes onto these towels. Remember to clean lint traps regularly as well.
Dry your towels in a regular or gentle cycle. Do not use any dryer sheets or chemicals of any sort while drying. Allowing terry towels to remain slightly damp will improve their performance and may limit the amount of lint from shredding. Again, regularly check and discard the lint tramp.
Let’s Sum Things Up…
As simple or as complex as your detailing future may look, whether you’re a detailing enthusiast or running a business, an operating system for managing your towels will vastly improve your detailing. Don’t get too caught up in machinery like polishers – master the basics first.
Separating your towels will improve your detailing and preserve your towels. Separating them by their uses and cleaning them in sections will avoid cross contamination like getting wax from a previous car reacting negatively to the window cleaning solution on the next car.
By color coordinating the towels, you’ll be able to easily identify which towel is designed for which use and will speed up the detailing process by being able to sort through them more quickly. This can be especially beneficial when you work in a busy detailing shop or are working on multiple cars.
If you have any thoughts, experiences, or comments, please feel free to comment below and let us know!