There seems to be a difference of opinion out there when it comes to whether or not you need to throw away microfiber towels that have been used for ceramic coating. Some believe they need to be thrown straight into the garbage as soon as the job is done while others think soaking them in a water/cleaner solution will save them.
Microfiber towels should not be used on your car’s paint after they have been used to remove a ceramic coating. The excess product will crystalize in the fibers of the towel once it cures. This can increase the chance of scratching your paint greatly. It isn’t worth the risk to use them again.
The good news is that they aren’t completely useless at this point. There are still plenty of reasons to keep them around. The only thing that really matters is that you don’t use them on your paintwork again.
What does ceramic coating do to your microfiber towels?
Since you’re applying a ceramic coating to your car, you more than likely spent some time removing scratches and making your paint as perfect as possible beforehand. After applying the coating, the towels you used to remove it shouldn’t be used on your paint ever again. Even if you wash them after.
This was never an issue when applying traditional waxes and sealants – you could just wash the towels and they were good as new. So why is it different with a ceramic coating?
It’s because the coating crystallizes and hardens as it cures. This will leave tiny glass-like shards in the fibers of your towel. One wipe on your perfect paint, and you’ll have a fresh batch of new scratches to deal with. That means you’ll be starting over again from scratch – removing the coating, repolishing the paint, then reapplying the coating.
Ceramic coatings are activated by oxygen and as soon as they hit your towel, they begin to cure. At that point, there’s no turning back. The product trapped inside (remember, microfiber is designed to grab and hold contaminants) will crystalize and harden.
The problem is that some microfiber towels are pretty expensive. The entire process of applying a ceramic coating is already costly when compared to applying a wax or sealant. I can understand why someone would be hesitant to throw a bunch of $10 towels in the garbage after using them.
The argument some people have for reusing their towels is they soak them in a bucket of water immediately after use. If coatings are activated by oxygen, submerging them in water should prevent that, right? There’s a problem with this train of thought.
Ceramic coatings are solvent-based, not water-based. In a nutshell, that means that water will not break the coating down or remove it from the towel. If you’ve ever taken a whiff of a ceramic coating bottle, you know that there are some pretty powerful chemicals in there. Water isn’t going to cut it. Eventually, the towel is going to dry and at that point, the risk of the coating crystalizing remains.
What about spray-on coatings?
Ceramic coatings that come in spray bottles have been getting a lot of attention lately. The way they’re advertised makes them sound like they perform similar to a traditional coating but for the most part, these products are much weaker.
A good rule of thumb: if it comes in a glass bottle, you can’t reuse the towels. If the bottle is plastic, you might be able to get away with saving them. It’s always best to stick with whatever the manufacturer recommends. If they tell you not to use the towels again, toss them to the side (but not in the garbage!).
Other uses for microfiber towels after ceramic coating
Just because you can’t reuse your towels directly on your paint doesn’t mean you have to throw them in the trash. As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t. They still have other valuable uses!
There are plenty of other areas of a car where creating scratches isn’t a big concern. You can still use these towels for those purposes. Things like engine bays, suspension/undercarriage, tires/wheels, metal polishing, some interior work on less delicate surfaces (carpets for example), general shop towels, just to name a few.
These towels still have some life left in them. There’s no need to give up on them completely. You just can’t use them to buff off your favorite detail spray anymore.
It’s a good idea to mark which towels you’ve used for coatings previously. You can do this by using a permanent marker or even cutting a corner of the towel. Keeping them in separate areas helps too. The important thing is that you’re able to identify which ones have been contaminated and which ones haven’t.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to see or even feel the crystals in the towel. They’re more of a silent killer so you’ll have to rely on the system you put in place.
What microfiber towels to use for ceramic coating removal
The best towel to use for ceramic coating removal is one that is high enough quality to avoid scratching your paint yet cheap enough to not be used again. General specifications to aim for are 250-350 GSM and an 80/20 mixture of polyester/polyamide.
While I wouldn’t suggest you use the cheap microfiber towels from the parts store to level a ceramic coating, that doesn’t mean you have to blow a bunch of money on towels you can only use once. There’s no need to spend the money on thick, fluffy towels that cost you an arm and a leg. As a matter of fact, a lower pile towel will work better anyway.
If you’d like the peace of mind in buying a cheaper towel from a premium company, these Edgeless 245 All Purpose towels from The Rag Company are a great option. These are a great combination of price and quality since they can typically be found for less than $2 per towel.
The microfiber towels that I use personally are the yellow Kirkland ones from Costco. There is some controversy over whether or not these are safe to use on your paint. I can say that I, as well as many others, have used these to remove coatings for years without any issues.
Just because they come from a big box store doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good enough to use on your car. These are a bargain and because of that, I have no problem throwing them away or deligating them to different uses after applying a coating.
An important note: make sure to remove the tags from the towels before using them, since they will absolutely scratch your paint.
It all comes down to this: sure, you might be able to get away with reusing your coating towels. You might get lucky and avoid adding any scratches to your paint. But since we can’t always tell if a towel has shards of hardened coating in it, is it really worth taking the risk?
Do you really want to undo 30+ hours of polishing and coating your pride and joy, just to save a couple of bucks?
For me, it’s not worth taking the chance. I’d rather use a brand new towel every time, then move it down the list to other uses when I’m done. I’d rather do this with cheap towels than feel like I need to push the limits in order to justify the high cost of a fancier towel.
This post is part of our series on the truth behind ceramic coatings.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: