by Paul Gasparola and Angela Brown
Professional Detailers Association

Towels are a vital component of every detailer's work. From drying a car after washing, to final polishing, they are a tool no detailer can do without. But here is the in's and out's to better toweling.

Let me answer a few questions

Which method is best for drying?
What are the different methods of drying for cars?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of each method?


ADVANTAGE? Quick, efficient displacement of water.
DISADVANTAGE? Genuine risk of marring surface in the process, and perceived risk of not being safe.


ADVANTAGE? Reasonably absorbent of water. Soft material when wet and new.
DISADVANTAGE? Expensive, and not free-rinsing. Debris has a chance of becoming caught, risking surface mar. Also seen as socially unacceptable use of animal hides.


ADVANTAGE? Stronger and more water absorbent than real chamois. Free rinsing and inexpensive.
DISADVANTAGE? Debris has a chance of becoming caught, risking surface scratches.


ADVANTAGE? Absorbent soft terry loops provide cushioning. 100% cotton is the most absorbent and safest choice. Superior for removing debris.
DISADVANTAGE? Polyester blending compromises absorbent and softness. Towels require frequent laundering.

Towels are the true choice of professional detailers but they need care and the care of the car's surface. To dry your car, most feel they don't have to be a rocket scientist, cause you just drag the towel across the surface until dry. Right! But wait just a minute. There are a few no-no's in drying with a towel on your car's surface.

  1. Never use a towel with polyester blend in it. Polyester, no matter how soft the towel feels, is hard at the microscopic level. Polyester scratches show up as "towel marks" which is swirl marks only longer.
  2. The towel manufacturer care tag should be checked for the cotton and/or polyester content. if the tag is missing then test a edge of the towel. This is done by holding a match on the towels. if it melts and a black ball is formed thus polyester content


The most popular towel for cleaning windows is a truck surgical towel. Usually blue and 100% cotton, these towels are extremely low in lint and very absorbent. They are also made up of thin material, for reaching corners.


Huck/surgical towels work well for this application. Some detailers use a treated dust cloth for the dashboard. These cloths are treated with mineral oil to pick up dust, unlike conventional towels that may simply re-circulate the dust.


Terry towels work well due to their absorbency. They also work for spotting stains on carpet or upholstery. A lower cost towel or inexpensive terry pieces are appropriate for these applications.


Low-cost terry towel works well for cleaning wheel wells and door jambs. Darker colors help hide the dirt. Some detailers prefer to use an inexpensive paper wipers to really clean greasy parts. With paper wiper, you don't have to worry about ruining good towels, and you can simply dispose of the wiper when you are done.


Diapers work very well. They are soft and absorbent. Other popular cloths for polishing include soft T-shirt material and flannel.


Wash window towels separate from towels used to wax vehicles to avoid getting any wax on windows. Greasy rags should not be washed with other towels, especially towels used to clean interiors.

Good towel habits will help prolong towel life and ease drying. If you want a new towel to work like an old one, you have to break it in properly. So give the towels a "break-in". All new towel are treated with "sizing", which gives them the bright finish and stain resistance that most people look for. You need to break this sizing down without ruining the towel.

Always wash and dry before putting them into service. NEVER USE BLEACH OR FABRIC SOFTENER. Wash towels with one cup of white vinegar and 1 cup of detergent. This will help release lint, "break the towels in", and keep them fresh. YOU MUST MACHINE DRY ALL TOWELS before their first use! Nothing will bang more lint out of the towel than a few good spin cycles in the dryer. Remember to clean the lint trap before and after ???' drying cycle. It is also useful to soak in a cup of ammonia and several gallons of water. This will dissolve any oils or treatments in the fabric that inhibit absorbency. Another good wash formula is to fill the washer, add 1 cup of ammonia and soak them overnight. The next day wash the towels with 1 cup of detergent and distilled vinegar and dry them. It is important to use warm water and avoid bleach. Keep in mind that colored towels, because of the chemical penetration into the fiber, are less absorbent than white towels.


  1. Wash towels two or three times before putting them into service.
  2. Use warm water. if warm water is not available, bring towels to the Laundromat or send them out to a commercial laundry.
  3. Dry the towel completely, making sure you empty the dryer's lint catcher.
  4. Do not use bleach
  5. Remember that the same reason wax makes water bead up on an automobile is the way towels exhibit "non-absorbent" characteristics even after they've been "on the line". Vinegar will help to remove wax from towels, making them more absorbent.
  6. Water softeners and fabric softeners added to the washing also reduces a towel's absorbency.
  7. If you add a surfactant to the wash to make a towel more absorbent, you must add it to every wash. There are no lasting effects. It is kind of a trick used in the laundry industry.

Be lint free! While lint may not sound like a big deal, consider that if you dry the car and it is covered with lint, you have just defeated the purpose of washing the car in the first place. Lint generally occurs in new, just being broken-in and deteriorating towels. While all towels made from cotton will have some lint, there are a few ways to reduce lint.

Wash towels in one of the formulas as stated above. Once the wash is completed, dry the towel completely. Repeat dryer several times as this beats the lint out. Avoid bleach because it breaks down the cotton fiber. Avoid washing old towels with new because the ~ lint may transfer. If you have hard water, consider a water softener because high levels of acid and other minerals may deteriorate towels.


Here's the secret tip of the day? Add 1 cup of white distilled vinegar (not the cider type) to the first two washes then a cup once a week or so. The vinegar helps remove the musty smell damp towels are known to have.


One way to extend the life of your towels is to separate or "code" them by color, size or style. Additionally, different towels should be used for different parts of the car. One reason is to avoid residual chemical reactions. For example the combination of chemicals in soaps, waxes and detergents do not mix well with window cleaning solutions. To help break down wax build-up on towels, once every couple of weeks, let them sit in water with 1 cup ammonia. This will break down the wax and grease. Then wash with ammonia and detergent. How long your towels last depends on climate and how well you care for them.


Is a larger towel better than a smaller towel?

The answer to this question is based mainly on personal preference. A typical size for a hand towel is 16?x28. The size of a towel for the body can vary, but many prefer 24"x24" because it can be folded over four times and used again.


PROS Fast break-in period
Can be used for windows
Won't be heavy when saturated
Dries quickly
CONS Shorter life span (deterioration)
PROS More absorbent once broken in
Good body towels
Longer life span
More drying power per towel
CONS Heavy when saturated must change towels frequently more costly (but last longer)

2000 Paul Gasparola and Angela Brown (Member Profession Concourse Detailers Association)