The Magic of Microfiber Towels for Auto Detailing: Examining Types & Use.
by Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com – Oct 2013
How would you respond if a new technology promised to revolutionize processes you’ve completed thousands of times? More than likely, you might have a healthy skepticism or 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. Seemingly no methodology in the 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 Inception and Construction of Microfiber For Auto Detailing
This first installment regarding microfiber will cover the basics of the technology and composition of the material in regards to its most popular uses in the automotive car care industry.
History of Microfiber
The history of Microfiber technology has a few varying stories of origin from the late 1980’s or early 90’s (with development of man-made micro fiber strands even dating back up to 100 years prior), however 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 are the two revolutionary aspects of Microfiber that grant it its ‘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.
Types of Detailing Microfiber Towels According to Pile Length
Pile: the term used to describe each visible strand of a microfiber cloth. Each pile consists of thousands upon thousands of individual microfiber strands.There are Four GENERAL pile types: ultra-low[no pile] pile, low pile, medium pile and high pile. Variations exist on these, however for clarity’s sake these are the main types widely sold in 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. Below are the four general pile types and their characteristics.
Ultra low [no 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.
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
Medium pile [combination low/med pile shown – medium pile pictured 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
High pile [ pictured below: (dark blue – typical high dense pile) (light blue – extra high shaggy pile)
Best for ultra-absorbency and trapping of most debris. These characteristics come about because a longer pile allows for more surface area of the cloth.
Targeted uses: drying, waterless washing, quick detailer.
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 absorbency properties.
Industry Targeted uses: drying & glass cleaning.
Towel Purchasing: Microfiber for Auto Detailing Purposes
The main attributes for choosing a microfiber towel depend on the intended usage purpose. Selection of towels for tasks involves balancing: towel size, [The most common sizes are 16”x16” and 16”x24”], construction ratio of Polyester to Polyamide, GSM, and pile height. Size is relevant because it conforms to intended usage. A larger towel is perferable for drying a vehicle since its simpler to use. Similarly, a smaller towel is preferable for interior and window cleaning.
Another note on purchasing microfiber for auto detailing is the lint factor. Different pile and towel quality types 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, its not 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. Also, any tags on the towel will need removal before use, since they can damage paint.
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 mircofiber for auto detailing purposes for the every-man, not as the definitive article.
© Christopher Brown of OCDCarCare Los Angeles – OCDCarCare.com – 2013
For more interesting and informative articles regarding: auto detailing, paint correction, detailing training, microfiber towels, polishing, show car events, and many other things car care related subjects, please browse OCDCarCare’s – Detailing Article Archive.
His passion & dedication to car care lead him to writing in-depth articles about detailing in order to share with the car enthusiast & detailing communities. This lead to detailing training courses designed to develop skills, confidence, and results, enabling detailers to increase quality, efficiency, and profitability.
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