GUIDELINES FOR COMPARING PRODUCTS
The market for microfiber towel products, especially automotive towels, is fierce. With the demand for microfiber increasing in both retail and professional channels, dozens of small factories in Korea and China have sprung up, seemingly over night, to compete solely on cost. These factories are flooding the American market with low-cost, inferior products.
There is a significant difference between quality microfiber towels and junk coming in by the boat load. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Most inexpensive towels use microfiber thread that is not split. Quality microfiber towels absorb 7-8 times their weight in water because the fibers are split, creating more surface area. The cheap towels are not split because the equipment necessary to produce micro-replication splitting is very expensive.
2. The Microfiber threads on cheap towels are larger. Quality microfiber strands are .01 to .02 denier. Lately, I’ve been seeing very inexpensive cloths coming from China with a denier of .5 or higher. That’s about the same as the polyester thread used in bath towels for increased durability.
Some of the inexpensive towels may also be 100% polyester or have low polyamide content. As a result, the towels will have little absorbency capability.
Before you buy a bundle of microfiber towels at a bargain price, look, feel and read the label.
These are inexpensive microfiber detailing towels. They are thin and have a short nap. These cloths are not suitable for detailing a fine automobile.
Look closely at the top of this microfiber applicator pad. Do you see the thin nap? This is a good example of the low-cost product coming from the "budget" factories in Korea and China. Just because it's "microfiber" does not mean it's a quality product.
When comparing quality microfiber towels, here’s what you need to know to make an intelligent buying decision:
1. Towel density is important. Density is a measure of fibers per square inch of fabric. The range for quality microfiber is 90,000 to 225,000 fibers per square inch. Generally speaking, the higher the fiber count the better the towel will absorb water and clean.
2. The ratio of the polyester and polyamide blend is important. While 80% polyester and 20% polyamide is typical, a 70/30 blend will absorb water faster. As polyamide is much more expensive than polyester, you can expect to pay more for a 70/30 blend.
3. Make sure you look at the weave and fabric thickness (plush-ness) of the towel. Depending on the specific task the cloth is designed to perform, the fiber ends may be hooked (for cleaning), feathered (for polishing and glass cleaning), or tufted (for drying).
4. We all know the saying; it costs more to make quality. Microfiber is no different. Quality construction is not always obvious, so let me share some observations. The biggest complaint with automotive microfiber is that towels with cheap edging scratch your paint. There are two possible reasons. First, the factory uses a hot wire system to cut their towels. If not properly adjusted, or if a cheap machine is used, the hot wire will melt the fabric. When polyester and nylon melt, they turn into hard plastic. The second complaint is that the towel creates excessive lint. Microfiber lint is caused by towels with a high pile or a broad weave using a fiber split that’s inappropriate. The high pile or loose weave allow the fibers to break off, creating lint. The same split fiber used in a towel with a higher fabric density will lint less or not at all. Don’t assume that a towel that does not lint is a high quality towel. The cheapest towels don’t lint because they do not have split fibers.
This is a great example of a quality product from China. These new microfiber applicator pads are sewn with no exposed stitching to protect your paint from being scratched.
Using microfiber towels is pretty simple. For cleaning, you simply wet, wring and wipe. For drying you wipe, wring and wipe. How much easier could it be? Of course, there’s a lot more to detailing than just cleaning.
One of the most common uses of the microfiber towel is quick detailing. If you’re not familiar, quick detailing is a light cleaning to remove dust, finger prints, water spots and other minor contamination. Microfiber towels make quick detailing a snap. Simply mist your car with a quick detailing spray and wipe. There is a catch. When using microfiber towels, it’s best to wipe in a single direction until all visible dust and contamination is removed, flipping the towel frequently. A good microfiber cannot unload particles without being immersed in water. If you wipe back and forth while quick detailing, you will be rubbing the dirt you pick up back and forth over the paint.
When using microfiber to remove polish or wax, wipe in a back and forth motion, not in circles. Most microfiber polishing towels perform better this way. When used in a circular motion, the fibers will unload some of the product previously picked up. Flip and refold the towel frequently to maintain a fresh side. When the polish or wax begins to smear, it’s time to get a fresh towel.
I’ve read a lot of tips on how to clean and care for microfiber. People seem to be all over the map with their recommendations. It’s really very simple.
The best general purpose cleaner is a liquid detergent. It’s better to use too little than too much. Liquid is recommended over powder because some powders do not completely dissolve and the granules will lodge in the toweling.
Wash in cold water only. Warm water can be tolerated, but hot water cannot. Polyester and polyamide both shrink in hot water. If you wash in hot water the fibers will shrink and the towel will not perform as intended.
Do not use fabric softeners of any kind. The softener will become lodged in the microfiber reducing its ability to absorb water, clean and pick up dirt. In short, you’ll have a soft towel that’s useless.
Do not dry above medium heat. Treat microfiber towels the same as you would your delicate clothing. Drying with high heat is worse that washing in hot water.
At Sonus, we have created a special detergent specifically designed for washing detailing products out of microfiber and foam detailing accessories. Sonus Der Wunder Wasche is a highly concentrated liquid detergent that a cleaning solution was developed specifically for cleaning microfiber towels. Sonus Der Wunder Wasche is an active cleaner designed to restore microfiber towels, wash mitts, applicators and foam buffing pads to their as-new condition. Der Wunder Wasche is an engineered blend of micro cleaning agents designed to lift, emulsify and suspend waxes, polish residue, oils, proteins, silicones and soil for complete removal in the rinse water.
The Der Wunder Wasche formula cleans without bleach and softens through natural fiber lifting. With regular use, Der Wunder Washe extends the life of all microfiber textiles and foam pads.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
The most versatile microfiber product I have discovered to date is the waffle weave detailing towel. Originally designed to be a drying towel, the waffle (Piqué) weave has the best characteristics of several different weaves, making it adept as a drying towel, polishing towel, glass cleaning towel, and a quick detailing towel. The Piqué pattern does not allow it to be a good cleaning towel because it does not have hooked fibers to pull dirt away. If you’re looking for a single towel to do the most work, go waffle!
Choose a light grey, purple or white waffle towel (these are the softest) in a medium weight. The heavy weight towels are good for drying only. For drying, the best size is 25’ by 36” (bath towel size). For all other work the best size is 16” by 26” (hand towel size).
CRITICS BE GONE
Even after years of safe, beneficial use, there are still microfiber critics. Staunch supporters of 100% made-in-America terry cloth cotton toweling claim that cotton is the only safe toweling material. Possibly these people have not seen the magnified results of cotton vs. microfiber toweling.
I found these pictures showing a lab test of 100% cotton terry toweling (right) and a terry weave microfiber towel (left) and a freshly painted test panel. I was not able to get more information, including magnification or toweling specifications.
The future of this wonderful technology is very bright. Manufacturers are developing unique ways to deal with towel bindings to eliminate potential paint scratching problems. Competition from the low-cost providers is keeping the quality towel prices in check. We should expect to see better fabrics with new weaves and even higher thread counts in the near future.