Right Towel for the Task - Try, Test, Select — Then Stick to It
By Valerie Sweeny
A towel is just like any other tool in your business, so selecting the right towel can save you time and money, while aiding in the overall satisfaction of your customers. There are various types of towels on the market today for car washes and detailers to choose. These choices include terry, microfiber, and huck. Within those options, there are even more choices with a wide variety of sizes, color, thickness, and most importantly, quality.
COTTON TERRY TOWELS
Cotton terry towels are still considered a standard in the car wash industry. Used predominantly as a body drying towel, terry towels are extremely absorbent and have the “bulky feel” that many people like. Depending on the wash, some cars exit the bay still very wet while others just need a spot dry. A wash that has very damp cars may opt for a thicker towel than a wash that only needs to touch up a few spots. The key element to a good body towel is its absorption. For this reason, terry towels are still preferred by many car washes, due to their high cotton content and their bulk.
Sometimes it can be hard to decide which terry to use. Terry towels are available in a wide variety of color, size, quality, and thickness.
White body towel.
Some car washes choose colors to match their motif, but many choose more common car wash colors. Blue and white are by far some of the most popular colors sold to car washes, with red and green close behind. White towels are popular because they are the quickest to break in, and are more often readily available in many sizes and thickness. The downside to white is that it shows the dirt more easily and can turn a dingy gray. Also, the lint of a white towel may be more visible on a car than lint from other colors.
Dark and medium colors are the most popular among car washes, particularly blue, green, and red. Dark colors hide dirt the best, and the lint of these towels tend to blend in with more vehicles’ colors, making lint less visible. (The lint will blow off the car before the customer will even notice). Lint has become less of a concern, especially with the introduction of lint-free/low-lint terry towels. Darker colors tend to take longer to break in because the fibers are saturated with dye. The fibers must be opened first before they can become more absorbent.
Most washes use the color of the towels to differentiate between tasks. For example, they might use blue as the drying towel, but green for wax removal. 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.
By far the most popular size for terry body towels is a hand-towel size (the same size towel you have in your house to dry your hands in the bathroom). These towels measure about 16” x 27” (can range from 15” x 25” up to 16” x 30” depending on the towel). This size is easy to work with, and will not get too heavy once saturated.
Smaller towels, such as 16”x19” bar towels, are used when wiping down interiors, spot cleaning upholstery, and even cleaning the windows. These smaller towels usually have less bulk than their larger counterparts making it easier to reach tight spaces. These towels are also less expensive and can be used for areas of the car that are greasier/dirtier, such as for cleaning wheel wells and doorjambs. Grease is hard to wash out of a towel, and can cause streaking on the glass.
Larger towels, such as 24” x 24” half bath towels and small bath towels are used by car washes that may wipe larger surface areas, such as those on trucks. Some operators like that half bath towels fold symmetrically. Both bath towels can become quite heavy when they are wet. Color choice is also very limited in these sizes.
The thickness of towels is measured by weight per dozen. Towels that are approximately 16” x 27” typically range in weight between 2.5 pounds per dozen and over 4 pounds per dozen. Towels weighing in at 3 and 4 pounds are the most preferred. The benefit of using a lighter weight towel (3 pound) is that is has a faster break-in period. Lighter weight towels are also a bit more versatile, and could be used on the windows if needed. Lighter towels don’t become as heavy when they are wet.
Microfiber towels should never be washed with regular towels. Another advantage of using a lighter weight towel is that they dry quicker, and more can be washed at one time. The downside is they becomes saturated quicker, and will need to be changed out more frequently. Slightly thicker towels (4 pound), will give a little more bulk to the towel, which many car wash operators prefer. These thicker towels can also absorb more water, but still aren’t super heavy when saturated.
Microfiber towels are just as popular as cotton terry towels. They possess all the attributes that make a good car wash towel including absorbency and being lint free. Microfibers typically hold about seven times their weight in liquid. They never become super heavy when wet, making them easy to handle. These towels are used in all areas of the car wash, including body drying towels, window towels, and detailing. Microfiber is also available in various sizes, color, thickness, and type.
For the car wash industry several types of microfiber styles are available. These include terry microfiber, waffle weave, and glass towels. There are other types of microfiber available, but these are the most commonly seen at the wash.
Terry microfiber is the style that is usually what comes to mind when you are thinking about 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. However, a cloth around 14” x 14” up to 16” x 16” is the most common for use on the windows and the interiors. Larger microfibers that can range from 15” x 24” up to 16” x 27” are more common for use on the body of the car. Once again, blue and green are very popular, but microfibers can be found in a wide array of colors. There is no break-in period for these cloths, and they can be used right out of the package. However, to avoid residual lint that may have fallen back onto the cloth during the manufacturing process, you should wash your microfiber once before using. Just be sure to wash them on a cool setting and dry on low heat/air dry. Microfiber will melt when exposed to higher temperatures (approximately 105 degrees or more). Also, microfiber towels should never be washed with regular towels, as the lint from a cotton terry towel will stick to the microfiber.
Waffle Weave Microfiber
Waffle weave microfibers look just like they sound. These cloths have a waffle pattern to them, which some operators like because of the added texture. They are very versatile and make for a great towel on the windows. This style can trap a lot of water because of the ridges, so it also makes a great general towel. Some operators who use waffle weave feel that the ridged texture helps to better clean raised dirty surfaces such as bird droppings.
Both terry and waffle weave work very well for cleaning glass and mirrors, but some prefer the finish of a microfiber glass cloth. There is no pile to these cloths, making for a smooth surface. It is all personal preference, and you can get the same results from any of these microfiber cloths when used properly.
The benefits of using microfibers are numerous. However, there are a few reasons that prevent some people from purchasing them. As stated above, microfibers are extremely heat sensitive and will melt when washed in hot water or placed in a hot dryer. They also become ineffective once washed with fabric softener. The cloths will actually appear normal, but they will become ineffective and cause streaking.
If washing instructions are followed, a good quality microfiber can actually last up to 500 washings. Microfibers do such a great job at trapping and absorbing water that some washes in the colder regions switch to cotton during the winter months due to freezing.
While many people use microfiber now, huck/surgical towels are still the preferred window towel for many car washes and detailers. They are 100 percent cotton, lint free, and super lightweight, making it easy to reach the corners of the windows. They are extremely easy to break in, and are still fairly low-cost.
Hucks are easy to care for, but you are limited regarding the color and the size. While they are naturally absorbent, they can’t physically hold as much liquid as either a microfiber or a terry towel. Hucks work really well on the windows, but microfiber creates less streaking and tends to be superior in performance.
The options are plentiful, and often the solution to finding the right towel is by testing out different ones. Towels are low cost, especially when compared to many of the other equipment/tools used in the car wash industry. It is easy to try out various towels until the right one is found. Once a towel system is in place, and is working well, stick with that system. For many car washes, this solution could be a combination of these towels.
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.