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How to Choose the Best Car Drying Cloth or Towel

Updated on March 4, 2013

Choosing the best car drying towel or cloth can make a big difference on car wash day. The right drying towel can reduce the time it takes to dry as well as help eliminate scratches and marring of the paint during the process. However, the vehicle must be thoroughly cleaned during the wash to ensure that any dirt or grit, that can produce swirl marks, has been removed prior to drying. The swirl marks that are often attributed to the towel used in the drying process are more often the result dirt and grit left behind by a poor washing process. In order to minimize the chance of creating swirl marks in the paint, choose a towel that pulls any dirt or grit, missed in the wash, away from the paint. Some of the most common materials used in drying towels today are cotton, microfiber and chamois leather.

The Essential Characteristics of a Car Drying Towel

The best drying towels are those that dry the vehicle quickly, but also protect the paint by pulling the grit up into the nap and away from the surface. Rinsing often with a towel that will then release the grit into the rinse water will also help protect the clear coat. Any drying towel that comes into contact with a vehicles’ paint (or clear coat) then should have the following characteristics:

· Absorbent

· Soft or Non-abrasive

· Nap (deep pile)

· Release dirt and grit when rinsed

Absorb Lots of Water

A drying towel should also be absorbent. The more absorbent a towel is, the fewer the number of passes needed for drying. And fewer passes means less chance of creating swirl marks from any grit missed in the washing process. A more absorbent towel also speeds up the drying process considerably, requiring less time and effort.

Very Soft or Non-abrasive Material

An essential attribute for any drying towel is that it be made of a soft, non-abrasive material. A soft material will better protect the paint by minimizing the amount of surface area that come in contact with the vehicle; that is, after all, the property that makes any material feel “soft.”

Have Plenty of Nap (deep pile)

Nap is arguably the factor that sets the best drying towels apart from the rest for protecting a car’s paint. Nap (or pile) is the small soft fibers that stick up from the surface of a fabric. These fibers allow any grit to be removed from the surface and pushed up into the cloth and away from the paint, preventing the dreaded swirl marks that can mar the paint. So the amount per square inch and, to some degree, the depth of the nap is what determines how much grit can be pulled away from the surface.

Release Dirt and Grit when Rinsed

Pulling dirt and grit from the paint and trapping it in the drying cloth is the most effective way to protect the vehicle, but only up to the point where the towel becomes saturated or “dirty”. Frequently rinsing the towel to clean it is essential. The best drying cloths will also release the trapped grit when rinsed. Cloths that do not effectively release the grit will become abrasive at some point during the drying process and begin to damage the paint.

The Best Car Drying Cloth Materials

Cotton Drying Towels

Cotton drying towels have been used of many years. They were reasonably durable, cheap and readily available. However, they didn’t have a sufficient amount of nap to keep from creating swirl marks, didn’t release grit very effectively and would often “shed”, leaving a significant amount of lint behind on the paint. So a number of towels were needed in order to dry a car safely and effectively, and even then the amount of lint left behind affected the vehicles appearance. Cotton towels can be washed (even bleached) and dried just like any other cotton material.


The invention of microfiber was a significant improvement on the cotton towel in several ways. Microfiber towels are more durable, absorbent and have more fibers per square inch (nap) than their cotton counterparts. Microfiber, which is a synthetic material made from petroleum by-products, is more durable than cotton and will last much longer saving on replacement costs. Microfiber doesn’t shed like cotton eliminating the lint that used to be left behind. And it is also more absorbent than cotton and requires fewer passes to dry the vehicle. And although this can be a positive attribute, microfiber like any other cloth, should still be rinsed frequently to remove the grit trapped in the fiber. Microfiber often requires more thorough rinsing because it does not release dirt easily. Microfiber can be laundered like cotton, However, do not use bleach or fabric softener when washing or it will breakdown the synthetic fibers and always wash microfiber products with other microfiber, never with any other fabrics.

Natural Chamois Leather Cloths

The gold standard for car drying cloths has been and, arguably, continues to be the genuine natural chamois leather cloth. A quality chamois is extremely durable, is highly absorbent, has lots of nap and releases dirt and grit better than most other materials. Regardless of where they are tanned (or “made”), the best natural chamois’ are made from New Zealand sheep’s hide. It is a natural renewable resource that has been used for decades. A properly maintained chamois will last for years with normal use. Natural chamois’ should not be laundered, simply rinse thoroughly and hang to dry. A chamois cloth should never be used with a degreaser or harsh detergent as it may strip the essential oils that are part of the tanning process. A chamois, like any leather product, can become stiff during the drying process; however, re-wetting the cloth will make it immediately supple and ready for use once again.


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      Sunjoo 2 years ago

      I won't disagree that there are a lot of rules, but the genarel ideas are fairly simple to follow and most are best experienced out on the course to understand fully. Knowing exactly where to mark your lie when you are near an OB line comes from experience or knowing that you can move your lie when you're near an OB line in the first place, I suppose. Tournaments certainly do play by the rules, but the ACT is a very relaxed atmosphere and we encourage the higher-level players to be understanding courteous in helping newer players to understand when they are breaking the rules while players are playing mixed-divisions during Round 1; and by and large many first-time tournament players report extremely positive things about how many rules they broke while they were playing, but how cool the people in their group were about helping them to understand all the rules they never knew existed. Look for a rules-related post tomorrow and I'll try to outline some highlights of things that newer tournament players should definitely keep an eye out for while playing. The biggies honestly are all in the realm of courtesy and any other situations that directly affect others in your group, while you'll find much more casual attitudes about things like foot faults or splashing the chains. Thanks for the feedback!