Auto Laundry News - February 2011

Microfiber Towels — What You Should Know About Them

By Sharie Sipowicz

Microfiber towels have become increasingly popular among detailers and car wash operators. Few, however, understand the subtle differences that make some towels better than others.

Microfiber towels make a detailer/car washer’s job easier, faster, and more productive. Microfiber towels have many advantages over terry towels. They absorb seven times their weight in liquid, can be used repeatedly (up to 600 washings reported) without deterioration, and eliminate the need for cleaning chemicals in some instances.

Many use these imported towels, but few know anything about how the towel is made, or how to judge the quality. While there is no official grading system for microfiber towels, industry experts do grade microfiber towels based on composition, number of splits, and weight. If you understand how microfiber is made and works, it will help you understand that not all microfiber towels are the same.

SPLIT MICROFIBER

Microfiber is a continuous filament fiber, which is a combination of two fibers: polyester and polyamide (a nylon byproduct). The interlocking composition of the two fibers makes microfiber unique and excellent at picking up dirt. The polyester and polyamide fibers are woven together to form a pie-shaped pattern.

When the towel is used, the two fibers separate due to the differences in surface tension creating small sharp edges, gullies, and grooves that are ideal for cleaning, moisture capillary action, and retention of particles.

The hooks or scoops scrape up the dirt and store it in tiny channels, which is the reason you often do not need to use chemicals with microfiber towels.

Introduced in the late ‘80s, the one criterion used to judge microfiber towels was the ratio of polyester to polyamide. Recently, industry experts are not certain this ratio really has any impact on the microfiber towel.

80/20 vs. 70/30

Microfiber towels are typically a blend of 80 percent polyester and 20 percent polyamide or 70 percent polyester and 30 percent polyamide. Tests comparing the performance of 80/20 vs. 70/30 have resulted in neither standing out as a clear winner.

Initially it was believed that the 70/30 blend was superior and more absorbent than the 80/20 because it contained a higher amount of nylon. However, as the technology has advanced, the two blends have become nearly identical in their abilities. Today, most do not consider the 70/30 blend superior. They are so close to one another in cleaning and absorbing capabilities that it is very difficult to tell any difference between them, and there is no significant price difference.

The reason for the difference has to do with where the towels are produced. The 70/30 type is common to European manufacturers, while the 80/20 comes from Asian countries.

THE SPLIT

So if the ratio of polyester to poly-amide does not affect quality, what does? It is the amount of splits, or pie segments, per fiber.

There are two different types of microfiber: split and non-split. Non-split is used for furniture-upholstery material or shirts, but it does not have cleaning properties like split microfiber. The more splits it has, the more effective as a cleaning towel.

It is determined that the most effective microfiber towel on the market contains 16 segments per fiber. Microfiber containing fewer splits is also available to the detail and car wash industries at a lesser cost.

WEIGHT

The final criterion to use when judging microfiber towels is the weight of the cloth. All fibers are weighed in deniers, the weight in grams of a 9,000-meter-long strand of any fiber. An individual microfiber filament weighs less than one denier. As comparisons: microfiber filaments are half the diameter of a silk fiber, a third the diameter of a cotton fiber, and a quarter the diameter of wool.

Microfiber filaments are thinner than 1 percent of the thickness of a human hair, and can be densely woven together. Each cloth consists of approximately 200,000 microfiber filaments per square inch.

Weight is the best way to judge the quality of a microfiber towel. The fibers themselves are weighed in denier, but the towel as a whole is weigh-ed in grams per square meter. Good quality is about 200 grams per square meter; 250 to 280 is better quality; the best products are 400 grams per square meter or more.

Weight dictates how long it will take for the towel to show wear and tear. The heavier the weight, the more fiber it has. The more fiber it has, the longer it will last. All microfiber is basically the same. It becomes a question of economy and durability, or how many washings it is going to last. A heavier towel will last longer and survive more washings.

Although heavier microfiber is superior to lightweight, microfiber is still lighter than other woven cloths. Microfiber towels do not require the same pressure or force as a cotton towel, so there is a great reduction in the wear and tear on the towel.

Identifying the right microfiber for the job depends on more than just price. The number of splits, weight, and durability all play an important role in determining microfiber quality.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at sharie@detailplus.com.

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