When embarking on an automotive detailing or restoration project, a good quality cleaning towel is a must. But with so many different ones available, which one is best for the job? Well, it depends on a few different factors. First, what exactly are you doing? Painting the exterior? Cleaning the interior? Washing and drying the car? Second, do you want a disposable rag or one that you can rewash over and over again for added value? Thirdly, do you have a budget you are trying to meet? Following I will break down some different types of materials and where they fit in relation to the three questions above.
Paper/Non-woven Wipers– These disposable cloths are made generally from some combination of wood pulp, cellulose, polyester and rayon fibers. These fibers are entangled together through different methods such as shooting jets of water or spinning with air or bonding through compression. Wypall and Brawny are different brand names for nonwoven wipers you may be familiar with but there are many unbranded ones that perform just as well. For the most part, paper/nonwoven wipers are going to be used on the interior for detailing.
Spunlace- This a very, very strong nonwoven. It’s main benefits are that it is very lint free and will not break apart when using a harsh chemical. It is absorbent but in most forms it is not very soft. It also is on the upper end of the price scale ( about.08 or.09 cents for a 12″ x 13″ sheet ).
DRC- Drc is the most common nonwoven as it provides a little of everything. It is soft and absorbent. It is not as strong or lint free as the spunlace but has more general purpose uses for wiping and cleaning and will hold up fine with most everyday cleaning chemicals. It also is on the lower end of the price scale ( about.04-.05 cents for a 12″ x 13″ sheet.
Scrim- This nonwoven wiper takes 4 plys of tissue paper and holds them together with a network of nylon threads or scrim. It is fairly lint free but not strong at all. It absorbs fine but is so thin that it cannot hold a great amount of liquid. It’s main use is for streak free wiping on surfaces such as glass. It is also on the lower end of the price scale (.05-.06 cents for a 9″ x 17″ ).
Cotton Rags– These cleaning rags can be either disposable or can be rewashed time and again. They either come from reclaimed clothing and linens where all adornments such as buttons, zippers, etc… are cut off and then the item is cut up into rag size pieces ( usually from 12″ x 12″- 24″ x 24″ ). The advantages of cotton rags are their absorptive capabilities and their strength.
Colored Knit– These cotton rags come from cut up reclaimed t-shirts. They are mainly good for oil and grease clean-up and other messy non-finesse jobs. Since they have been cut up, they cannot be rewashed as the edges will fray and unravel. Also since they are reclaimed you can’t guarantee the cotton content but it is generally high. Colored Knit is not very lint free and is on the lower end of the price scale ( approximately.03-.04 cents each wiper, sizes will vary)
Terry Bar Towels- These are new and are all 100% cotton. They come in either A or B grades. A grade is where every piece is exactly the same size and weight with no imperfections. They can come all white or with a colored stripe down the center for color coding. If there is a flaw with the towel, such as a needle broke when knitting and there is a missing thread or there is a stain on the towel such as oil from the knitting machine, then these towels are placed into B grade. B grade is still new and 100% cotton, but you can’t pick exactly what you get ( such as every piece with a green stripe or all towels weighing 28 oz. per dozen). You get what you get but pay a cheaper price. Terry Bar Towels are absorbent, durable and are hemmed on all 4 sides so you can rewash them many times for added value. These terry towels are good for both interior and exterior of the automobile but do leave behind some lint. ( Pricing is approximately.25 cents for a 16″ x 19″ B grade Terry Bar Towel and depending on the weight per dozen of the A grade it will be from.35-.60 cents per towel).
Huck Towels- Huck Towels, sometimes called surgical towels, are an extremely good option. They can come either new or reclaimed, but the reclaimed is in very good shape as hospitals can only use them a few times by law before they have to get rid of them. They are 16″ x 24″, 100% cotton and hemmed on all 4 sides. They are extremely absorbent and durable and can literally be washed for years. Because of their extremely tight, flat weave, they are fairly lint free for a cotton rag and leave a streak free finish. Many window cleaning companies use huck towels. Great for almost all interior and exterior tasks. Car washes use huck towels for cleaning and drying the car. Huck towels also come in various colors for color coding. ( Pricing is.25-.30 cents each for reclaimed and.65-.80 cents each for new).
Microfiber Towels- Microfiber is the latest trend in wiper technology. A single strand is 1/100th the size of a human hair. Microfibers are made from 80% polyester and 20% polyamide. The polyester causes the wiper to be not only strong, but also lint free while the polyamide gives the wiper it’s absorbency. Microfibers can be washed many times over for added value. Microfiber towels also come in a number of styles. Terry microfiber towels are good for all general purpose cleaning, especially on interiors. They are very soft and absorbent. Waffle weave microfibers have a special texture that lends itself extremely well to drying the automobile. Glass microfibers are specifically designed for streak free cleaning of glass, windows, etc… Microfibers act as a “magnet” and attract dust between the fibers as opposed to pushing around the dust and dirt. Microfibers will not scratch and come in various colors for color coding. ( Depending on style and size, microfibers can range from.75 cents for a 16″ x 16″ terry microfiber to $3.00 and up for a larger waffle weave.)
Tack Cloths– Tack cloths are a specialized wiper that has a sticky resin on top of either a polyester or cotton cheesecloth substrate. The cheesecloth tack cloth absorbs the resin not only between the cotton fibers but also into the fiber itself. The disadvantage of cheesecloth tack cloths are that they can catch on a sharp object or burr and leave behind a fiber. The polyester tack cloth only holds resin between the fibers but is extremely strong and is knitted in a way that the material won’t snag or run. Either way, tack cloths are designed for pre-paint or prep on the exterior of the vehicle. The resin on the tack cloth picks up any dust or dirt particles on the body without transferring to the object being prepped. This leaves a clean surface for proper paint adhesion. ( Tack cloths can range from.30 cents for a 9″ x 18″ polyester tack cloth to about.60 cents for an individually packed cheesecloth).
As you can see there are many factors to take into account and many options available when deciding on the proper wiping cloth for automotive detailing and restoration. There are also numerous other rags that may be a viable option for you as well as the ones listed above.
Chris Gebben is an Accounts Manager at U.S. Wiping Materials. U.S. Wiping has been in business for almost 100 years and specializes in the manufacturing and sales of cleaning rags and towels for all uses such as salons, gyms, restaurants, manufacturers, schools and automotive just to name a few. You can find us online at http://uswiping.com