Properly caring for your towels can increase their longevity, and save you money in the long run. Towel care cannot only be the way you launder your towels, but also the manner in which they are used. The following are some tips on how to get the most out of your towels.
TIP #1: SEPARATE YOUR TOWELS
Ideally, different towels should be used for different parts of the car. You can keep your towels separate by using two or three colors (one for each job), or you can use different types of towels. For example, use a microfiber on the window and a terry on the body. 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 your waxing towels separate, and prevent ruining all of your other towels.
A separate low-cost towel or rag should be used for wiping greasy wheel wells and doorjambs. Grease is hard to wash out of a towel, and can cause streaking on the glass. Another cost-effective option is to keep an inexpensive box of rags around for maintenance work. Additionally, a box of spill control pads and/or socks for spills, leaks, and drips will help reduce the chances that an employee will use towels for the wrong purpose. Having three distinct containers (window, body, and grease towels) for pre-washing towel storage will also help to keep the chemicals from each type of towel from mixing. These towels should also be washed separately, using fresh water after each load, otherwise the purpose of separating becomes pointless.
TIP #2: PREVENT LOSS
Many car washes reorder towels when the supply starts to dwindle. You should be able to hold onto your towels until they get old and start falling apart. Towels usually “disappear” for two reasons: Employees leave them in cars or customers “borrow” them and never return them. If employees are leaving the towels in cars, they need to be reminded that towels are important tools and, as with any other tool at the car wash, they should be held responsible for them. Some car wash managers monitor the towel inventory by counting them daily or weekly. Each employee should be made aware of this count. It is also up to the supervisor to check the interior during final inspection for towels that may have been left on the seats, floor, or dash.
Customers sometimes ask to borrow a towel to wipe a spot or, if the towels are in a place they can easily access, they might just take one. If a customer asks to use a towel, offer to wipe off the spot for them. It will show that your wash has great customer service while, at the same time, ensuring the towel will be returned. Many washes also offer courtesy towels, usually a disposable paper wiper or a lower-cost bar towel that is meant to be returned after use. Bar towels, which are 16” x 19”, are inexpensive enough that if a customer takes it, it is not a big loss, but durable enough that you can continue rewashing the ones that you keep.
TIP #3: FOLLOW THE WASHING INSTRUCTIONS
Washing your towels correctly also helps to ensure their longevity. Most towel vendors have a set of washing instructions/tips for the care of your towels. While there could be other factors to consider when washing your towels, these sets of instructions are a great start.
Towels will break in more quickly if they are washed in hot water. If hot water is not available, bring the towels to a Laundromat or commercial laundry where they can be washed for a minimum of eight minutes with a water temperature greater than 168 degrees. Terry towels can be washed with regular detergent, but you should never use bleach or fabric softener. Bleach will break down the cotton fibers and create lint. Fabric softener will give the towel a better feel, but will also reduce its absorbency.
All new terry towels will exhibit some lint. When a towel is new, lint occurs as a natural shedding process, much like a newly installed carpet. When you wash your towels the first few times, make sure you also fully dry them. Loose lint will be caught in the lint trap, so you should always empty the lint trap after every dry cycle. To help reduce lint from your terry towels, you should use fresh water after each load; recycled water will retain lint. Also, old towels and new towels should always be kept separate.
The lint from the old deteriorating towels will transfer onto the new ones.
Once the towels are broken in, some car wash owners and managers prefer to use damp towels to wipe off the cars. Dampness keeps lint from shedding. To cure the smell of musty terry towels, try soaking your towels overnight in several gallons of water, along with a cup of ammonia. The next day, wash the towels with a cup of vinegar and a cup of detergent. Every few washes, it is beneficial to add a cup of distilled white vinegar to the wash in order to rid the towels of soap buildup.
The manner in which you wash and dry your microfiber towels can deeply impact the effectiveness of the towel. Microfiber is machine washable and can be cleaned with regular detergent. Never use bleach or fabric softener on the towel. Fabric softener will actually clog the small wedge shaped filaments of the microfiber and render it useless. Bleach will take the color out of the cloth.
Microfiber towels need to be washed in cold or warm water. This water temperature should never exceed about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, microfiber needs to be washed with detergent. Even if the cloth was used with window cleaner, a separate washing detergent needs to be added to the wash. The soap is what holds the dirt and removes it from the towel. Without soap, the dirt will go back onto the cloth.
More importantly, microfibers need to be dried on the coolest setting, either permanent press or air fluff. You need to allow time for the dryer to cool off if the last load was hot (which it normally is). Because microfiber is made of polyester and nylon, high heat will cause melting, which will close the wedge shaped fibers.
Microfiber towels should never be washed with any other laundry, especially cotton terry towels. The lint from the other towels will stick to the microfiber and you will have a very hard time getting it off. To keep the wedges intact, it is best to wash microfibers in a full load to ensure less wear and tear.
OTHER WASHING FACTORS
Time, temperature, agitation, and chemical formulation all play a role in the care of your towels, it is important to know that once you adjust one of these, then you will need to compensate somewhere else.
Time refers to the length of your wash, soak, rinse, and spin cycles. The amount of time will depend on the type and age of the laundry machine, the kind of towels you are washing, the quantity of towels placed in the wash, the detergents used, the temperature, the alkalinity of the water (hard or soft), the types of waxes used (paste or spray), etc.
Temperature also plays a major role in the washing of your towels. To properly break in towels, it is best to wash them in hot water (but not for microfiber). These higher temperatures help to break the towel in quicker by opening up the fibers. All towels should be washed in hot water during the breaking in process. Not all car washes have access to hot water, so once again, it might require you to change either the time, agitation, chemicals, etc. The lower the temperature of the water, usually the more detergent you will need to get a clean wash. If you do not have access to hot/warm water, then work with your chemical supplier to find the right detergent combination. A heated dryer is usually good for terry towels, but the kiss of death for microfiber. The high heat will burn the fibers. Microfiber is best washed in cool temperatures.
Agitation is dependent on the type of laundry equipment that is used. The model and the age of your equipment play a role in your whole washing process. Also, the amount of towels you load into the washer can affect the outcome. I’ve heard from many people that microfiber towels wash well when you put a lot of them in together. On the other hand, too many terry towels at once can sometimes be an issue. If you overload, you prevent the towels from getting fully clean, and they might have that musty smell. How many towels do you need to wash together at a time? Are you getting the results you need? If not, you may have to look closer at water fill levels, wash times, updated machinery etc.
The chemicals you use at the wash, the types of waxes, and the detergents all affect the laundry procedure. When figuring out the best way to wash your towels, you will need to consider how you are using them. If you are solely using your towels to dry the car, then washing is fairly simple. However, once you introduce towels with wax or other products, then you may need to change what you’re doing. Even the type of wax, like spray or paste, will affect the manner in which you need to wash your towels. The substances that are on the towels may require a different set of washing instructions than the ones printed on the label of the towel. Once again it is best to check with your chemical expert. The towels might require a different temperature setting, or may need to be washed longer/shorter.
The temperature of the water, the alkalinity of the water, the amount of time you use to wash your towels, the type of washing machinery you have to wash your towels, the many different chemicals you use, and the types of detergents you have all play a role in finding the right way to wash your towels. You will need to start with the basic washing instructions for your towels, then tweak them as you see fit to work with your location. For more specific washing instructions, contact your chemical wash supplier or the person who supplies the detergents.
Valerie Sweeney is vice president of ERC Wiping Products Inc. located in Lynn, MA. You can visit the company on the web at www.ercwipe.com.