Proper towel selection is essential in helping to a produce a streak-free shine on a newly washed or detailed car. Because there are so many options on the market, deciding which one to use can sometimes become overwhelming. By gathering all the facts, you’ll be able to make the best decision for each application at your car wash/detail center. Often the right solution is a combination of a few different types of towels.
COTTON TERRY TOWELS
One of the most popular towels used in the car wash industry is the cotton terry towel. Used mainly as a body-drying towel, terry towels are very absorbent and have
a “bulky feel” that many washes prefer. One factor to consider when selecting a terry towel is how wet cars exit your wash. If cars are exiting the bay still very wet, a thicker, highly absorbent terry towel would be best. However, if the cars exit relatively dry, you might only need a lightweight terry towel for spot drying. The key to finding a good body towel is its absorption. Terry towels come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, quality, and thicknesses, so there are several aspects to consider before deciding on the right one.
Some car washes want their towels to match their overall décor and brand for consistency. Others select towels based on industry popularity. The most popular color towels sold to car washes are blue and white followed by red and green.
Because white is typically readily available in many sizes and thicknesses, they are very popular and the quickest to break-in.
However, white shows the dirt more easily and can turn a drab gray over time. Also, the lint of a white towel may be more visible on a car compared to lint of other colors, though with the new lint-free/low-lint terry towels on the market, lint has become less of a concern.
Dark colors hide dirt best, and the lint of these towels is less visible as it tends to blend in with more vehicles’ colors and blows off the car before the customer notices. However, darker color towels tend to take longer to break-in because their fibers are saturated with dye. Once the fibers open, the towel will become more absorbent.
Most washes color-code their towels to differentiate between tasks. For example, they might use red for exterior surfaces, green for interior surfaces, and blue for windows. By separating the towels for each of these tasks, you’ll avoid issues like road debris potentially scratching windows/mirrors or ruining delicate interior surfaces. Both problems would be costly to clean or fix and decrease customer satisfaction. Plus, over time, soaps and waxes can build up and clog the fibers of the towels. This can cause them to become less absorbent and more apt to streak. Using a different towel on each part of the car will allow you to keep waxing towels separate and prevent ruining your other towels.
The hand towel size is the most popular size terry body towel. This is the same size towel you would have hanging in your home bathroom to dry your hands. They measure approximately 16” x 27” though they can range from 15” x 25” up to 16” x 30” depending on the towel. The hand towel size will not get too heavy once saturated which makes it easy to handle.
For wiping down interiors, spot cleaning upholstery, and cleaning windows, smaller towels, such as 16”x19” bar towels, are a great option. These smaller towels usually have less bulk which makes them better suited to reach tight spaces. They are also cost effective making them ideal for cleaning greasier areas of the car like wheel wells and doorjambs. Because it’s difficult to wash grease out of a towel, it’s better to have these less expensive towels on hand for dirtier tasks. Plus, grease can cause streaking on glass.
For wiping larger surface areas, such as trucks, some car washes prefer larger towels, such as 24” x 24” half bath towels and small bath towels. Half bath towels fold symmetrically, which some operators like, but color choice tends to be limited in these larger sizes. Bath towels of any size also become quite heavy when wet.
Towel thickness is measured by its weight per dozen. Towels that are around 16” x 27” typically range in weight between 2.5 pounds per dozen to over 4 pounds per dozen. Most car washes prefer towels that weigh in at 3 and 4 pounds.
Lighter weight 3-pound towels have the advantage of breaking in faster and don’t become as heavy when wet. They are also a bit more versatile and could be used on the windows if needed. Another advantage of using a lighter weight towel is that they dry faster, and more can be laundered at once. On the flip side, lighter weight towels become saturated faster, and will need to be changed out more often. Slightly thicker 4-pound towels give a little more bulk to the towel, can absorb more water, but still aren’t super heavy when saturated.
Microfiber towels are extremely popular and just as well liked as cotton terry towels. Microfiber towels are super absorbent, lint-free, and non-abrasive. They can typical
hold about seven times their weight in liquid and are easy to handle because they never become super heavy when wet. Microfiber towels are durable and versatile, making them great for body drying, window cleaning, and detailing.
Several types of microfiber styles are available for the car wash industry, including terry microfiber, waffle-weave, and glass cloths. Each of these styles is available in a variety of colors, sizes, and thicknesses. Even though there are other types of microfiber
towels available, they are not as popular with car washes.
The most common type of microfiber used by the car wash
industry is terry microfiber. These microfibers have a slight loft in their pile, which is effective for both cleaning windows and drying cars. Terry microfiber is available in many different sizes, but a cloth around 14” x 14” up to 16” x 16” is the most common
for cleaning windows and interiors. Larger microfibers are more popular for cleaning and drying the body of a vehicle and typically range in size from 15” x 24” up to 16” x 27”. Blue and green tend to be the most popular, but microfibers are available in a wide array of colors.
Another great benefit of microfiber towels is they can be used straight out of the package because there is no break-in period. To avoid residual lint that may have fallen back onto the cloth during the manufacturing process, it’s best, though, to wash microfiber towels once before using them. It is important to note that microfibers must be washed on a cool setting and dried on low heat, air dried, or placed in an extractor. If microfiber is exposed to higher temperatures — approximately 105 degrees or more — it will melt and the towel will become non-absorbent. It’s best to use a mild liquid detergent and never use bleach or fabric softener because it will clog the fibers, making the towel ineffective and cause streaking.
Also, always wash microfiber towels separately from cotton terry towels and other types of fabric to avoid lint sticking to the microfiber’s surface. If washing instructions are followed, a good quality microfiber can last up to 500 washings.
Waffle-weave microfibers are another style of microfiber that have a waffle pattern on the surface. Some operators like this added texture because they feel the waffle ridges allow them to trap a lot of water and better remove raised debris such as dirt and bird droppings from vehicle surfaces. They are very versatile towels and work great on windows too.
Microfiber Glass Cloths
Microfiber glass cloths have a shiny style finish that is preferred by some car washes even though both terry and waffle weave microfiber work very well for cleaning window glass and mirrors. There is no pile to these cloths, making for a smooth surface. When used and cared for correctly, all three styles of microfiber can produce the same results. Which one you choose comes down to your own preference.
Nowadays, many car washes and detailers have switched over to microfiber for cleaning windows. However, others still feel huck/surgical towels are the best window towels. Huck towels are 100 percent cotton, lint free, durable, and super lightweight, which helps in reaching tight spaces and corners. They are extremely easy to break-in and have the added benefit of being low cost. Hucks come in a limited number of colors and sizes, and while they are naturally absorbent, they can’t physically hold as much liquid as a microfiber or terry towel. Hucks are easy to care for and work very well on windows, but microfiber towels create less streaking and tend to outperform hucks.
Ultimately, much of proper towel selection comes down to personal preference. There is no right or wrong towel, and each style of towel can often be used for many different car care tasks. With so many options to choose from, the path to success might be trying out different towels for various tasks until you land upon the one that works best for each application. Once you have your towel system worked out, communicate it to your staff and stick with it. When everyone is on the same page, you’ll produce consistent quality results that lead to increased customer satisfaction.
Denise Dattilo is marketing manager for Lynn, MA-based ERC Wiping Products. You can visit the company on the web at www.ercwipe.com.