How To Best Wash Microfiber Towels: Detailing & Car Care DIY

Cleaning Microfiber Towels for Detailing - towels need to be surgically clean to be most effective.

By Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare.com

Microfiber towels are one of the most important tools for any automotive detailing business or car care enthusiast. Microfiber’s material and weave specific construction grant it super powers for grabbing and holding contamination.

Much content exists, discussing microfiber and its near infinite number of uses for car care. However, understanding how to best wash microfiber towels for auto detailing is a topic without much in-depth explanation.

This article explains why microfiber towels for automotive detailing and car care require the highest levels of cleanliness. More importantly, readers will learn how to best wash microfiber towels for auto detailing purposes.

The wash methods described here work equally as well for all things made of microfiber such as towels, applicator pads, or wash mitts.

To learn more about Microfiber and its Amazing and Essential uses in Auto Detailing and Car Care read the OCDCarCare Article: Auto Detailing Microfiber Explained: Towel Types & Uses.

The Importance of Clean Microfiber in Detailing & Car Care

So, the importance of microfiber towels as a generic tool in auto detailing is established. However, microfiber as a technology has a very wide array of specific uses and applications. Uses include dirty work, workhorses for general preparation or cleaning tasks, then specialists for single tasks. Clean towels, no matter the purpose, enable tasks to be complete more effectively, efficiently and to a higher quality level.

Clean towels become increasingly more important the further a vehicle advances in any detailing project. Because work should always move processes forward; offering further refinement with each step toward finished results.

Clean towels are crucial to quality results during the final stages of a paint correction, or a ceramic coating or PPF installation. These examples highlight many of the most critical times for a clean cloth. The end goal for clean microfiber towels: ensuring that the towels works to its optimal capability and no potential harm occurs to vehicle surfaces.

Sorting Microfiber Towels Prior to Washing

Cleaning Microfiber Towels for Detailing - Sort towels to wash by type.

Before Washing Microfiber : Sort All Towels by Usage Type and Soil Levels.

Before learning how to best wash microfiber towels, understanding how sorting them is essential to best cleaning and longevity.

Sorting and grouping microfiber towels for washing will depend upon their:

  • Dedicated Task (What task(s) or substrate are they used for?)
  • Contamination Type 
  • Soil Level (How dirty are the they?)
  • Color
  • Lint Release Tendencies
  • Special Usage

This sorting methodology prevents cross contamination from wheels or debris are not transferred onto finish paint towel etc. It also prevents certain towel types from potentially inflicting damage on other towel types.

Sorting Microfiber Towels by Their Dedicated Task

The first, and most important washing principle is to only wash towels with towels that share the same task. The objective is to avoid any possible cross contamination from one towel task to another.

For example only wash; all interior towels with one another, wheel towels together, polishing/compounding towels together, drying towels together, and so on and so forth.

Generally, microfiber towels are chosen for a particular construction due to their dedicated task. Towels are also selected for tasks based on the surface type, or sensitivity, they are used upon. Finial polish towels must be soft and lint free. Drying towels must be gentle and absorbant. General purpose towels should be solid at most tasks and safe on a wide variety of surfaces.

To keep towels at their best they must be only washed with other towels that share these characteristics.

Sorting Microfiber Towels by Their Contamination Type

Secondly, understanding the type of contamination on a towel is critical when sorting towels together for washing.

For example: only wash compounding towels with compounding towels. If compounding towels mix with finish polishing towels, harmful contamination may be passed to the polishing towel. If harmful contamination embeds itself within the final polish towel, it could potentially scratch a finicky paint during polish removal.

Additionally towels for final polishing of ultra sensitive paint are generally softer, more delicate, and of higher quality construction. Never mix high quality special use towels with general use towels, containing high amounts of loose dust from door jamb cleaning.

Any towel containing grease, hard embedded particles, or other substances or objects which could potentially transfer onto another towels should be immediately separated. These towels require further evaluation to determine if they need to be downgraded or simply thrown away. This process ensures useful towels remain profitable and dangerous contaminated towels don’t harm useful towels.

Sorting Microfiber Towels by Soil Level

The third most important factor of towel sorting is evaluating the level of soiling contained within a towel.

When towels are soiled beyond the help of washing, discard or demote them. Do not wash super soiled towels with towels of normal contamination levels as they may contaminate the entire wash load.

To successfully demote towels, they must not contain contaminants that may inflict harm during their next task.

Sorting Microfiber Towels by Color

Washing microfiber towels, even of the same type is sometimes a bit tricky since some darker colored towel fibers bleed their dye colors. This released dye may stain light colored towels, changing their color.

This is important for two reasons:

  1. Often detailers organize their towels according to primary duty or surface use by color.
  2. Sometimes, even slightly altering the color of light towels, such as white, may interfere with their primary function. Imagine white soft towels are assigned to finial polishing of super finicky paint systems. If towels of the same type, but in fire engine red are washed with the white, the white towels will likely become pink. Pink towels do not show contamination on the towels as easily during wipe off of final polishing. Therefore, and advantage of the white towel is now compromised because it was turned pink.

Sorting Microfiber Towels by Lint Release Tendencies

Some tasks in auto detailing benefit from zero lint left behind on the surfaces they contact. While for other tasks lint may not pose any potential issues.

Examples of tasks best performed with zero lint towels include: glass cleaning, waterless washing exteriors, and the final wipe of a ceramic coating installation.

Therefore, make sure to sort towels types together that don’t lint.

One could argue all tasks benefit from zero linting of towels, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

Sorting Microfiber Towels by Special Usage

If any microfiber towels have a special usage, then only wash these types of towels together.

After sorting towels by all factors listed they are ready to wash.

Objectives of Washing Microfiber Towels

What is the main purpose of washing microfiber?

To get it clean!” everyone will obviously and immediately blurt out, half laughing.

Yes this is absolutely true. However, microfiber pile functions optimally when unclogged and statically charged. Because Microfiber’s most significant and prized trait is clinging onto particles or liquids and holding onto them.

The Overall objective of Washing Microfiber is to leave individual microfiber fibers (pile) Completely Unclogged.

Clean microfiber as many times as necessary until zero contaminants AND detergent remain embedded within the pile (individual strands) of the microfiber.

A “free detergent” is perfect to clean microfiber. This detergent type is without “free of” color or scenting agents which could potentially embed themselves within the pile.

Whenever washing microfiber towels or microfiber media of any type, NEVER use fabric softeners. Fabric softeners leave residue behind that clogs up the weave, robbing clean microfiber of the important electrostatic charge. This charge helps attract fine dust and soiling particles to the microfiber, locking them into the pile.

For a more in-depth look into the history, construction and usages of microfiber, see OCDCarCare’s article: Understanding Detailing Microfiber Towel Types & Uses.

Cleaning Microfiber Towels for Detailing - Free & Clear Detergent is best for microfiber.

Microfiber Cleaning: Detergents Free of all Dyes and Fragrances are Best.

How Many Times Should I Wash Detailing Microfiber Towels?

How many times to wash a certain type of microfiber towels depends on the usage.

The short answer is 1-3.

It may sound ridiculous to wash microfiber 3 times, but it’s all relative to the washing machine type and the needs of the towel type.

For towel types that don’t tend to get too dirty one wash may be perfect. These types include: drying towels, interior towels, or glass towels.

Most microfiber towels for dirty tasks, or dedicated towels for compounding and polishing, should be cleaned twice. The first acts as a general pre wash (loosening up) and the second is the deep cleaning wash cycle.

And, depending if the machine is a high efficiency or front loader, they might even require a third washing.

PRO TIP: For an extra cleaning boost, add a 1/2 cup of a d-Limonene based citrus cleaner (APC – all purpose cleaner) to the first wash cycle in order to help break up the initial soiling and cut through any tough grime or solvents.

Microfiber towels used for compounding, polishing, and particularly dirty tasks especially benefit from the addition of d-Limonene APC.

Rules for Washing Microfiber Towels – ALL MACHINE TYPES

1] Don’t Overload the Washing Machine Past 70% Capacity.

This Principle is especially important for High Efficiency (HE) washing machines because Microfiber’s construction is extremely dense, absorbent, and highly effective at retaining water.

Loading a machine past 70% capacity increases microfiber’s tendency to bunch, forming one large ball during the wash cycle. This reduces the movement of the towels within the machine, lowering the amount agitation, and thus cleaning of each towel. Overloading a washing machine only causes frustration due to wasted time, water, and detergent. The frustration is valid because towels overloaded into a machine do not have enough space to agitate for proper cleaning.

Also, overloading washing machines may lead to overworking the motor, causing premature ware and a possible motor breakdown.

2] ALWAYS Wash Microfiber Towels on a Warm/Warm Machine Temperature Settings.

Washing microfiber towels on warm settings ensures the best penetration of dirt and grime.

Too hot of water could possibly overheat the fibers, leading to a melting of fibers into small hard balls. These melted balls are a potential scratch hazard to surfaces. Once a towels pile overheats and partially melts the towel should be discarded or re-purposed for a non-painted surface specific task.

3] Select the Most Amount of Water Possible Paired with Longest and Most Aggressive Wash Cycle :

Maximum water settings will ensure the wash cycle will adequately cover each microfiber towel with cleansing soapy detergent water.

Also, the more aggressive the washing cycle the better the overall result from cleaning. This is because more agitation and longer wash cycles lead to greater penetration of cleaning agents into each individual microfiber pile.

4] Use a Presoak for Heavily Soiled Towels

Presoaking heavily soiled towels ensures optimal washing since it loosens the bond of contamination particles to microfiber fibers.

To presoak, simply place soiled towels in a solution of detergent and All Purpose Cleaner (APC) in warm water that is just on the verge of being hot. Soak towels 1-4 hours and then place directly into the washing machine.

Microfiber Washing Instructions: Top Loading Washing Machine – 1st Wash

  • Set the Cycle for Warm Water with the Longest & Most Aggressive Agitation Cycle
  • After the machine has filled and run for about 5 minutes, Pause the wash cycle, for 15-30min, to allow the load to soak in the detergent and loosen up the soiling.
  • Allow the cycle to run
  • Just before the machine finishes the washing portion, re-run the agitation cycle again. (may need to experiment to get the timing down)

Top loading machines are THE BEST option for cleaning microfiber since they are the most violent and really get more water and agitation to the microfiber.

Microfiber Washing Instructions: High Efficiency & Front Loading Washing Machines – 1st Wash

If using a front or HE machine don’t despair, you may still achieve good results, it’s just more time consuming.

  • Set the Cycle for Warm Water with the Longest & Most Aggressive Agitation Cycle
  • After the machine has filled and run for about 5 minutes, open the top up and add more warm water via the detergent area. THE KEY is finding the sweet spot to each machine. At some point the machine will say, “no more” and will begin to drain. With trial and error you will find this spot and load water JUST SHY of the overload point. Use a container to measure exactly how much to add and make a note.
  • After adding water; Pause the wash cycle, for 15-30 min, allowing the load to soak in the detergent and loosen up the soiling.
  • Allow the cycle to run
  • Just before the machine finishes the agitation ‘washing’ portion of the cycle, re-run the agitation cycle again. (may need to experiment to get the timing down)

Microfiber Washing Instructions: ALL Machine Types – 2nd or Final Wash

Repeat steps from first wash, using only detergent in the second wash. (NO APC in 2nd wash) This serves as the final wash, removing any remaining dirt and residue from the towels. Add extra water to the HE machine as directed in the first wash.

NOTE: Just before the Final rinse, add 1 cup of white vinegar to the machine. Then allow the machine to agitate a bit, mixing the vinegar into the towels. The vinegar works as a natural rinsing agent, ridding the microfiber piles of any excess detergent residue that remains.

Washing Microfiber Towels - Distilled Vinegar on the final rinse releases detergent residue.

One Cup of Vinegar to a Final Rinse Cycle Ensures Helps Remove Detergent.

FINAL MICROFIBER TOWEL WASHING TIP: Always remember to smell each load after the second wash.

If traces of anything other than light vinegar remain, then the load needs another wash.

This is particularly important for paint correction towels, such as those used for compounding and final polishing. These towels require the most attention since aluminum oxide and paint residue which can become deeply embedded within fibers.

Drying and Storing Microfiber Towels & Mitts After Washing

Washing MIcrofiber Towels for Detailing - Fold and Store towels in air tight containers for best storage.

Store Microfiber in Airtight Bins to Avoid Contamination.

ONLY Dry Microfiber Towels or Materials on SUPER LOW HEAT.

High heat could melt and sear the pile fibers into hard little balls. These melted fiber balls instantly make towels too aggressive for paint correction, granting the ability to scratch surfaces.

Remember: DO NOT use Dryer Sheets with Microfiber. It is advantageous for the cloths to have an electrostatic charge, attracting particles to stick and embedded within the individual pile.

After drying, fold and organize microfiber according to usage. Its best to store clean microfiber towels in airtight containers or drawers to prevent contamination of the towel before use.

There you have it, the most effective solutions for washing microfiber towels. These long term care methods will enable long lasting towels. Also, the above methods result in surgically clean towels, able to combat the most finicky of painted surfaces.

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

© Christopher Brown – OCDCarCare Los Angeles

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