With so many options on the market, it can be hard to choose the best microfiber towels for detailing. It’s important to understand the different styles and how they work in order for you to decide which ones to buy. I’m going to break some of that info down for you, then share my own personal collection of detailing towels and why I chose each one.
The best microfiber towels for detailing tend to have a 70/30 mix of polyester and polyamide and a GSM somewhere between 300-400. A 16″x16″ towel is a great size for general detailing. Stick with well known brands like The Rag Company, Autofiber, and Microfiber Madness.
If you only take one piece of advice away from this article, make sure it’s this: the term “microfiber” does not mean that a towel can’t and won’t scratch your paint! This is a common misconception. Using microfiber doesn’t grant you immunity from scratches. Anything you touch your paint with can scratch it – even microfiber towels.
There are so many different types of detailing towels out there and using the wrong one improperly can cause trouble. This is why it’s important to choose the right ones. You can read some other crazy ways you could be scratching your paint in this post.
I’m not going to bore you with the entire history of microfiber, or every bit of science behind them. We’ll just stick to the interesting stuff that matters to you so that you can put your own collection together.
What to look for in a microfiber towel
By now, you’ve probably seen all kinds of specs and measurements of different towels being advertised and it may be confusing. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There’s really only 3 things that matter when it comes to shopping for towels. The blend, the GSM, and the size.
Microfiber towels are made up of a mixture of polyester and polyamide. The polyester helps with scrubbing. Polyamide is what makes the towel absorb liquid and pick up dirt.
In general, cheaper towels will have a higher amount of polyester (80/20 mix) due to the cost of polyamide. The blend plays a big role in which towels you use for specific purposes. A 70/30 microfiber will make a better drying towel, while an 80/20 would be better for your interior.
The first number = scrubbing power
The second number = level of absorption
What does GSM mean?
GSM is short for Grams per Square Meter. This describes the weight of the towel. Usually, a higher GSM towel will be softer and fluffier. You’ll want a mid to high level GSM for your paint (within reason) but the opposite for something like your windows.
High GSM = thicker and fluffier
This one isn’t as important and really comes down to personal preference. It’s still something to consider when shopping for detailing towels though. Most people will find a 16″x16″ microfiber to be the perfect size. You might prefer larger for some purposes (car drying) or smaller for others (engine bays).
Microfiber towel categories
It’s important that you divide your collection of towels up into different categories. They need to be kept separate in order to avoid cross-contamination. Color coding your towels is a great way to keep them separated.
You don’t want to accidentally use a towel on your engine bay, wash it, then use it on your paint. Even though microfibers can be cleaned, it’s not worth the risk. Dirtier jobs can stain them permanently as well.
You don’t need to go crazy with this. I’ve found that dividing them into 5 categories to be the most efficient:
- Drying, Waxing and Detail Spray
- Paint Correction
- Rinseless Wash and Interior
- Cheap Towels
Here’s my personal collection of towels and which ones I use for each purpose. I use these on my own vehicles as well as other peoples’. While I’m always changing and improving my system, I find that this setup works great.
Drying, Waxing and Detail Spray:
420 GSM, 70/30, Dual Pile, 16″x16″
The Creature Edgeless is a very high quality towel. Its 70/30 blend makes it great for absorbing water when drying your car. It’s a dual pile towel, meaning it has longer fibers on one side and shorter on the other.
The shorter side is great for buffing off excess wax or detail spray. At 420 GSM, it’s fluffy enough to be safe on your paint but not so thick that it squirms under your hand. These are 16″x16″ which for me is the perfect size.
360 GSM, 70/30, Single Pile, 100% Korean Microfiber, 16″x16″
The Wizard is the softest towel I’ve ever used. I keep these specifically for removing compounds and polishes during paint correction. In many cases, I’ve spent upwards of 40 hours polishing a paint job to perfection and the last thing I want is to scratch the surface with a cheap towel.
These are made with 100% AA-Grade Korean microfiber (one of the highest quality available) and rated at 360 GSM with a 70/30 blend. That combination allows them to pick up leftover polish effortlessly without having to scrub. I like that they’re single pile because I can flip them over and use both sides since I only have one use for them.
Rinseless Wash and Interior:
Kirkland / El Cheapo (Amazon)
350 GSM? 80/20, Dual Pile, 16″x16″
These are my “general purpose” towels that I use mainly for rinseless washes and also wiping down interiors. These are a bargain, so I don’t have to stress out when they get stained or ruined from washing cars.
There’s no actual rating on them but rumor has it that they’re around 350 GSM. They have an 80/20 blend and only come in a single color which explains why they’re cheaper than the others. If you can only buy one type of towel, this is the one to get. If you had to, you could use these on everything safely.
??? GSM, 70/30, 16″x24″, Lint Free, Waffle Weave
Chemical Guys doesn’t share the GSM of their towels which is why I’ve never really used them. When it comes to windows this is less of a concern for me though. Glass is tough and much harder to scratch. As long as the towel can play nice with a window cleaner and leave a streak free finish, that’s all I ask of it. These do just that.
They’re a bigger size (16″x24″) which is fine with me. I like to follow up with a 2nd towel to make sure the glass is perfect. I’ve tried lots of those silk-style glass towels and hated all of them. They tend to stick to the glass instead of my hand and I find it annoying. I prefer the waffle weave on the Chemical Guys towels.
??? GSM, ??/??, Dual Pile, 14″x14″
These towels are junk. That’s exactly why I like them. You can buy them in bulk at the local parts store for pretty cheap and they often go on sale too. These are great for dirty jobs like engine bays, wheels, exhaust tips, dirty interiors and door jams.
I wouldn’t use these on your paint or any delicate surface though. They’re a smaller size (14″x 14″) which doesn’t fit your hand as well. The beauty of these is that you can abuse them and simply throw them away. You wouldn’t want to do that with a $10 towel!
How to care for your microfiber towels:
Microfiber towels can be machine washed just like your clothes. There’s two things you need to do differently though – avoid heat and fabric softener.
Washing microfiber towels
I wash my towels on a cold cycle. Separate “clean towel” and “dirty towel” loads are a good way to avoid cross-contamination. I don’t want any chance of grease getting on my paint correction or glass towels.
A regular detergent like Tide is all I use for my general purpose and cheap towels. For my more expensive ones, I use Micro Restore. It helps to protect my investment and make sure the towels stick around for a long time.
Fabric softener might be great on your clothes but it’s awful on microfiber towels. It will clog up the fibers and render them useless. Keep that stuff away from your towels and make sure the detergent you use doesn’t have any mixed in.
Drying microfiber towels
Heat can be a killer for microfiber. The fibers can actually melt, causing them to quit their job of picking stuff up. I like to air dry my towels rather than risking overheating them in the dryer. Many people have reported success with drying them in a low temp cycle but I just avoid the situation completely.
Storing your towels
This is an important thing that a lot of people overlook. Think of microfiber towels as magnets for contaminants like dirt, dust, metal shavings and sawdust. Their absorption properties don’t magically turn off when we aren’t using them. Stacking them on the workbench or dirty shelf in your garage is a great way to end up with swirl marks on your car – even if you have top of the line towels!
I like to keep mine in separate bags for each main category to protect them from the surface they’re sitting on as well as falling contaminants. A clean, enclosed cabinet is a great place for them as well.
How long do microfiber towels last?
There’s no reason why a high quality microfiber towel won’t last for many years, as long as it’s cared for properly. Washing and drying them the way I described above should keep them around for a long time.
Sometimes towels will get permanently stained but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t safe to use anymore. The stain is usually cosmetic and won’t leave anything behind on whatever you’re wiping. If you don’t like the appearance of using a stained towel, you can always downgrade it to dirtier jobs. The life of a typical microfiber towel might look something like this:
New > Paint > Interior > Wheels > Engine > Garbage
Just because you don’t feel comfortable using it for its original purpose doesn’t mean there isn’t any life left in it! Send it down the line and it’ll keep working for you.
How many towels do you need per car?
There’s no such thing as too many microfiber towels. If you want to spend hundreds of dollars to build a massive collection, feel free. The more you have, the less likely you’ll want to cut corners and overuse them or use them improperly.
You don’t have to spend a ton of money on microfiber towels though. For a single car owner, at least 5 or 6 of each type of towel listed above should do the trick. As long as you have enough to clean your car while the others are already in the laundry, you’ll be fine.
Microfiber towels are a tool that most of us detailers wouldn’t be able to live without. My best advice to you is to try as many out as you can, then decide which ones you like for each purpose. Or you can feel free to copy my exact collection or improve on it.
Remember to care for them properly, keep them separated, and always be aware of what they might be picking up. If you found this post helpful, I’d love it if you share it with your friends!
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: