Microfiber Towels Types for Auto Detailing & Car Care Explained

Selecting microfiber for auto detailing can depend on many factors.

by Christopher Brown of  OCDCarCare Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com

What would you think if a new technology promised to revolutionize processes you’ve completed thousands of times? Or even an entire industry?

At first, you might have a healthy skepticism or immediately write it off as a marketing ploy. Given the current age of cure-all pills and endless infomercials advertising all-in-one miracle products, that could be a natural response.

However, there is one product that, since its introduction over a decade ago, has completely reshaped the landscape of almost every process for all detailers or any sort of cleaning. No corner of the auto detailing or car care industry has escaped its influence. Everything from paint correction, to interior cleaning, to how enthusiasts baby their vehicles has been transformed by the magical cloth that is Microfiber for Auto Detailing.

The Origin and Construction of Microfiber For Auto Detailing

This article will cover the history of microfiber and explore the basics of microfiber as a technology.  Additionally recommendations, based on the construction of different weave types, will be give in regards to their most popular uses in the automotive car care industry.

History of Microfiber Material Technology

The history of Microfiber as technology has a few varying stories of origin from the late 1980’s or early 90’s (with the development of man-made micro fiber strands even dating back up to 100 years prior).  What is for certain, is that Microfiber [in the auto industry] is a synthetic fiber composed of a blend of Polyester and Polyamide.

These fibers are 1/100th the diameter of a human hair and 1/20th the diameter of a single strand of silk. This allows for extreme softness while simultaneously adding much more surface area to trap dirt or debris during cleaning. In addition, the loose construction of the weave allows millions of spaces exist within the fibers, allowing for trapping of particles during use.

These two revolutionary aspects of Microfiber grant it ‘Magical Properties.’

The Construction of Microfiber

Polyester is, by far, the most abundant and inexpensive of the two materials for microfiber construction. This fiber lends to the towel’s overall strength under use, ‘scrubbing’ characteristics, and durability over time. Polyamide grants microfiber its absorbency characteristics and is the more costly fiber to manufacture. Most basic towels found on the market are a 80/20 blend of Polyester to Polyamide. While these are good at all around cleaning, they do not maximize a Microfiber towel’s true absorbency potential. A towel constructed of 70/30 is one that is capable of absorbing 7 or more times its weight in liquid. Also, towels that are of a 70/30 construction, generally tend to be of a higher craftsmanship.

GSM: [grams per square meter] is a measure of the density of how many fibers are in a given weave composition. GSM is a highly touted statistic in the car care industry because many believe GSM is the “end all-be all” factor for determining Microfiber quality. This is not the case at all, however that doesn’t slow the myth from circulation in both consumer and detailing media.

For car care purposes the minimum GSM for maintaining paint without scratching** is 300-350 GSM. Although many individuals will claim blasphemy for using anything under 500 GSM on paint, that is simply not the case. To gauge overall towel quality, GSM along with other characteristics need condieration to form a complete opinion. GSM is not the best tool to single-handedly judge a cloths quality. This would be analogous to judging a car’s driving capabilities, based solely on straight line speed.

** Note: ANY contact with a painted surface results in microscopic scratching also called ‘marring.’ For all intents and purposes of this article, the word ‘scratch’ refers to easily visible scratches.

Detailing Microfiber Towel Types Explained By Pile Construction & Length

In order to define microfiber towel types we must first distinguish between their construction. This is done through understanding their pile types.

Pile: the term for each visible strand of a microfiber cloth. Each pile consists of thousands upon thousands of individual microfiber strands.

There are Four GENERAL Microfiber Pile Types:

  1. Ultra-low (non-visible) Pile
  2. Low Pile
  3. Medium Pile
  4. High Pile

Variations of these basic types exist, however for ease of understanding these are the main types widely available on the market.

Generally, the longer the pile the softer the towel will feel. This is not always the case, but it is partially true because the more piles that come in contact with and conform to your hand (or any surface), the softer the towel will feel.

Next, we will explore the four general pile types and their characteristics.

Ultra Low (non-visible) Pile

These are the cloths you receive when you buy new glasses or sunglasses. No pile: best suited for trapping and removing human oils and tiny particles without smearing. However, once they become mildly dirty they can begin to cause smearing issues. These are almost utterly useless for any other sorts of tasks.

Targeted uses: FINAL Glass cleaning, navigation/electronics console cleaning.

MIcrofiber Towel - no pile - detailing uses: final glass cleaning of interior to remove human oils. - www.ocdcarcare.com

Low Pile

Low Pile: best suited to remove of compounds, polishes, and waxes. It is also less prone to linting when new. Since the pile is short, there is no give (movement away) from contact surfaces. Therefore, the pile traps whatever it encounters. These characteristics may cause certain towel types to feel ‘grabby.’ That is why low pile is effective at ‘scrubbing’.

Targeted uses: Removal of compounds, polishes, waxes. Stubborn spot removal on hard surfaces

Microfiber low pile: best used during paint polishing and waxing for the removal of compounds, polishes, and waxes. - www.ocdcarcare.com

Medium Pile (combination low/med pile shown – medium pile near arrow)

Often this towel is the versatile tool in the microfiber toolbox. Medium pile is great for general cleaning. It may also be considered as the base level of absorbency for drying purposes. These aren’t optimal by any means, but can be used. Theoretically, a towel with a lower pile could soak up liquid, however it would fail to meet expectations miserably. Often medium pile MF cloths have both a low pile side and a medium pile side, allowing for versatility of usage. These are especially versatile for interior cleaning with the two different pile types they can tackle most any task inside a vehicle.

Targeted uses: general cleaning, interior cleaning, light drying

The Magic Of Microfiber - Medium Pile - Combo Cloth - microfiber types and uses - www.ocdcarcare.com

High Pile [ pictured below: (dark blue – typical high dense pile) (light blue – extra high shaggy pile)

Best for car wash drying waterless wash methods due to ultra-absorbency and ability to trap most debris. Both characteristics come about because a longer pile allows for more surface area of the cloth.

Also, due to their general soft nature, High Pile microfiber towels are best for the application of ceramic spray sealants or quick detail sprays

Targeted uses: drying, waterless washing, quick detailer.

MIcrofiber high plusg pile:BEST for waterless wash, quick detailing, drying. - www.ocdcarcare.com

super high fluffy pile


Waffle Weave

This isn’t a type of pile, however it is a commonly used towel type. The name alludes to the weave’s shape, which is similar to Belgian waffles. This low profile “pile” is utilized mostly for its cleaning (particularly glass) and its absorbency.

Industry Targeted uses: drying & glass cleaning.

MIcrofiber towel waffle weave pile: waffle pattern makes it ideal for trapping dirt during glass cleaning in auto care. - www.ocdcarcare.com

Purchasing: Important Microfiber Characteristics for Auto Detailing

The main attributes for choosing a microfiber towel  will depend on the intended usage purposes.

Selecting towels for auto detailing tasks involves balancing the following features:

  • Towel Size:  common sizes are “16”x”16” and “16”x”24”
  • Composition Ratio of Polyester to Polyamide
  • GSM,
  • Pile Height

Size is relevant because it works hand in hand with intended usage. For instance a larger towel is preferable for drying a vehicle since its simpler to use. A smaller towel is preferable for interior and window cleaning in tight areas.

Another note on purchasing microfiber for auto detailing is the lint factor.

Different pile types and towel of quality have different levels of linting: the amount of lint they leave behind when used on a surface. Non linting towels are preferred for polish removal or a final vehicle wipe downs. However, lint may not be as much of an issue for for other tasks, such as miscellaneous cleaning of door jambs, wheels, interior scrubbing, etc.

* * * Remember to always wash microfiber cloths before first use. Washing removes any lint left over from manufacturing or dirt particles collected during shipping and handling. Before washing remove any tags, since tags have the potential to damage paint.

For proper microfiber washing, read the OCDCarCare Article: How to Best Wash Microfiber for Auto Detailing.

There are other important attributes which are important to Microfiber makeup. A few are fiber edge construction, towel border edging, and origin of production. This article is a general overview of microfiber for auto detailing purposes for the every-man, not as the definitive article.

“ALWAYS Keep Learning to Strengthen Your Passion & Your Business.”

© Christopher Brown – OCDCarCare Los Angeles

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Christopher Brown