10 tips to care for and wash microfibres
This will be a controversial topic. The reason for this is that there is a lot of conflicting information floating around the internet. Don’t believe me? Then go ahead, ask how to properly wash microfibre towels in a detailing-related Facebook group and then watch the ground open up and Beelzebub climbing his way to the light of day…
I have a very distinctive meaning about cleaning and washing microfibre towels, mitts, or applicators. And I will do my best to explain my opinion in the following.
The simple fact of the matter is that microfibre is a completely different material than what (some of) your clothes are made of. Whereas clothes, bed sheets etc. are often made of cotton and other naturally occurring materials – although there are also clothes made of synthetic materials. Microfibre is completely synthetic stuff made of polyester and polyamid (also known as nylon). As you can imagine, microfibre towels therefore have a completely different fibre structure than cotton. Microfibre fibres are much thinner than cotton fibres and thanks to their structure, they not just push dirt around, they actually pick it up - which is why microfibre is much more suitable for cleaning tasks in general.
However, that special fibre structure comes with the need for a special laundering treatment - as does e.g. specialised sport clothing with breathable / waterproof membrane material, too. And that’s why I will present you 10 tips on how to properly look after, care for and wash microfibres in the following.
- Use dedicated automotive microfibre washing liquids
In my opinion, this is the single most controversial aspect of washing microfibre materials: which detergent to use. You see, the main issue with regular wash liquids for clothes is that they often contain either fabric softeners or other additives (like scents). Remember, microfibre fibres are excellent at picking up stuff and holding on to it, so any additive that may be in a regular washing liquid can be picked up by those fibres and, over time, clog up your microfibers, making them stiffer and less absorbent. In extreme cases, you can make your microfibre towels useless by washing them with the wrong liquids!
And that’s where specialised microfibre wash liquids are different. In short, they are extremely pure detergents without any additives in it which could clog up you towels. However, that’s only half the story, because in this case you could also use any other pure washing liquid. But what dedicated automotive microfibre washing liquids also do, is being able to remove stuff that we as car care enthusiasts work with: waxes, sealants, polymers, …
And that really is the single most important tip I want to give you: use dedicated automotive microfibre washing liquids. Yes, they are more expensive than regular laundry washing liquids. But the reason for that is not that car care manufacturers are greedy bastards, it’s simple economics: if they would produce the same amounts as those laundry wash liquid manufacturers, they could offer it for the same price. But the fact that they are small manufactures (sometimes run by just one guy), they simply can’t. Plus, there are enough manufacturers like Angelwax, AutoBrite, ODK, Waxplanet or AutoGlanz which offer their microfiber wash liquids also in 5L sizes for a very fair price.
Now, even if you don‘t believe me and think that all of this is nonsense, then let me ask you the following question: you spend a lot of money for the softest, most absorbent towels on the market, so why would and should you risk your towels by saving a few pennies during the laundering process of those towels and risk a decrease in performance over time? Because if you calculate the costs per wash, it really is just a few pennies.
I‘m not saying that there are pure wash detergents out there that could work with microfibre towels. There probably are. But I personally am just not willing to risk my towels which were quite expensive to test that hypothesis. But there are some that will tell you that you can use something like Woolite and to provide you with a balanced article on this subject, you should also have a look at this video: https://youtu.be/1qS62-6PqOA
I personally like microfibre wash detergents that are really pure. Which means I like to use ones which don’t even have a scent in them. We now can have a discussion about how “bad” scents are in microfibre wash detergents, but it’s just my personal principle to use as pure as washing liquids as I can get.
What I can definitely recommend is that you use liquid detergents and not granulates. There is a small risk that granulates don’t completely dissolve in the washing machine (i.e. if you wash cold, see below) and then become embedded in the microfibre towels’ fibres.
- Separate towels according to their colour and wash towels before their first use
Microfibre towel manufacturers use dye to colour their towels. And if you wash them for the first time, they will lose some of that dye in the process. So, if you wash a red and a white towel together, you’ll end up with a pink towel instead of a white one.
Also, because of how microfibre towels are made, there can be lint that comes loose. This can be especially tiresome if you remove waxes because lint then becomes embedded in the wax – which is not the end of the world, but it’s a mess. You can mitigate the risk of lint of you wash your towels before the first use.
- Pre-soak very dirty towels before washing them
If you have very, very dirty towels, polishing pads, or if you applied and removed a very strong, water repellent type of wax or sealant, I would recommend to pre-soak towels, polishing pads, and / or applicators in a separate bucket in which you pour in water and an APC. This will help breaking down dirt and residue before you then wash them.
- Separate your towels according to their purpose of use
The keyword here is cross-contamination. For example, it’s already notoriously difficult to clean glass to a streak-free finish. But if you contaminate your glass towels with residue from towels that you removed a very oily wax with, then this task becomes almost impossible. Same with drying towels which are there to absorb water to the best of their abilities. If you cross-contaminate them with a very water repellent sealant, then they loose their ability to absorb water.
So, I would suggest to at least separate your microfibre towels according to the following categories:
- Towels with which you remove polish residue
- Very very dirty towels with which you e.g. clean engine bays or remove tar spots
- Towels you use to apply and remove waxes and sealants
- Drying towels and wash mitts
If you think this is excessive, then always remember why you buy plush (and expensive) microfiber towels in the first place: to clean and care for your car’s paint in the most gentle manner. So why would you risk for them to become less gentle just because you want to save a few pennies during the wash process? Car care is about chasing perfection, so don’t be greedy and limit your chances to achieve perfection from the get go.
- Don’t wash microfibres with regular laundry
Once again, this tip is all about lint. You see, regular laundry, i.e. if it is of cotton, creates and looses lint when washed. And as microfibre has the ability to grab everything that it touches, this lint then becomes embodied in the microfibres. So always wash you microfibres separate to your regular laundry and also make sure that you clean the lint sieves of your washing machine.
- Wash cold or with 60 degrees at max
This aspect is always one of the more controversial ones. The reason for this is that the answer to the question of how hot or cold you should set your washing machine is: it depends. Because in general, the correct answer is always to ask the manufacturer of your towels (if they don’t already tell it to you on tags or the packaging they come with).
Some manufacturers tell you to wash their towels cold, some say between 30 and 40 degrees, and some go as high as 60 degrees. This recommendation scares a lot of people because they read somewhere that microfibre can melt – yes, you read that right: melt! – starting at 60 degrees. And in general, that’s correct. Microfibre is a comparably delicate material that definitely can be damaged by e.g. washing it at too high temperatures.
The reason for this discrepancy is that some microfibres are “more equal than others”. Remember when I told you above that microfibre is a synthetic material made of polyester and polyamid (nylon). However, there are differing mixing ratios between those two materials. The share of polyester is pretty much always higher than the share of polyamid, but the share of the polyamid usually ranges between 10% and 30%. In general, the higher the share of polyamid is, the higher the quality of the microfibre is, meaning it’s plusher, softer and more absorbent. However, a higher share of polyamid also means that such towels need a bit more care to keep up their qualities. And that’s exactly why microfibre towels with a 70/30 mix usually need to be washed either cold or at 30 degrees max, whereas the more usually used 80/20 (and the rarer used 90/10) mix can be washed at up to 60 degrees. That’s why I said that the safest method to wash towels at the right temperature setting is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Use low RPM settings
As I said above, microfibre is a delicate material. This does not only mean that you have to watch out about the temperatures at which you wash those towels, but also at how “rough” your washing machine is to them. In general, I recommend to not go higher than 1’000 RPMs, preferably even lower than that.
- Use programs with a long rinse cycle
Microfibre towels absorb stuff. So, they also absorb detergents. Yes, you need those detergents to get them cleaned, but there’s also a risk of those detergents staying in the towels’ fibres if they are not properly flushed out. That’s why I recommend to use a program of your washing machine with a long rinse cycle to properly flush out all detergents there could be in them. If you don’t have such a setting on your washing machine, then another possibility would be to run a second wash cycle without using any detergent at all.
Once again, you may think that this is over the top. But if there for example stay detergents in drying towels, then they can’t really do their job of drying your car.
- Use a bite of vinegar if you have hard water
Having hard water can be one of the reasons why your microfibre towels don’t come out as soft as they used to be after washing them. Adding a shot of pure vinegar into the wash can help to mitigate the effects that hard water can have on your towels.
- Properly beat out or tumble dry towels after the wash
You can do everything right in terms of washing you microfibre towels, but if you don’t follow this last tip they can still come out stiff and not as plush as they were before if you don’t dry them properly after washing them.
After you took them out of the washing machine and before you hang them to air dry, properly beat them out. This helps to free up the single fibers and “unstick” them from each other.
Tumble drying microfibre towels is a controversial topic, as some manufacturers say you can with their towels, and some say you can’t. This once again boils down to the different polyester and polyamid mixes that exist. In general and on a broad level, you can tumble dry microfibres if you don’t use a setting with too much heat. Once again, microfibre actually can melt with too much heat, so keep the temperature settings of your tumble dryer on a low level and you should be fine.
Another general rule of thumb is to not tumble dry microfibres with twisted pile / twisted loop fibre structures (e.g. the famous “Dual Tommy” towel or the Detail Freaks Absorber towel). You can easily spot the difference between regular microfibre structures and those twisted pile / twisted loop fibre structures: the latter ones feel harder, less soft and also tend to “stick” or hook up with rough skin when you touch them, whereas regular microfibers feel plush and soft. However, once again, if the manufacturer of your (twisted pile / twisted loop fiber) towels says you can tumble dry them, then it’s safe to assume that you actually can do it.
Tumble drying towels can be an especially appropriate strategy with towels that have become less plush and hard over time as it actually can help to free up and untangle those fibres again. Another alternative to “revive” towels which don’t feel as plush as they once were, is to use a stiff brush with which you brush out those towels and maybe “unstick” the single fibres. It’s perfectly possible that old and often used towels are beyond reparable, but it’s worth a shot!
The 10 tips on how to properly care for and wash microfibres, i.e. towels, are the most important ones in my opinion. However, I want to provide you with some additional tips in regards to this topic that help you to get the maximum life span out of your towels and better understand the material:
- If your chosen microfibre towels do come with tags, then the first thing you should do before using them is to remove and rip off those tags. They can cause micro scratches when they touch your car’s paint.
- When you apply a ceramic coating, you should throw away the towels you used to remove the ceramic coating residue and level the coating. Once again, this is controversial and you will hear people tell you that you actually can re-use such towels when you immediately put them into a bucket of water and APC and then wash them, but that’s actually a popular disbelief. Chemically, ceramic coatings react and cure with the water (or moisture) which is in the air which is why coatings cure faster in high humidity contexts. And therefore, when you put a towel which has been used to remove ceramic coatings into water, a chemical shock reaction occurs which lets the coating (more or less) immediately harden. So the coating is not removed from the towels by dumping them into water, it is actually and suddenly cured and hardened. The simple fact of the matter is: microfibre towels are consumables, and when it comes to ceramic coating application, they are throw-away items. Once a coating has cured and hardened in those towels, you will definitely scratch your car’s paint if you reuse them.
- Drying towels can lose their ability to absorb water if you use drying aids. Drying aids, i.e. if you use quick detailers as such, can contain polymers, waxes, silicone's or other stuff which your drying towels absorbs. Now, this stuff can be removed from your drying towel if you wash it regularly (with dedicated automotive microfibre detergents). If you don’t wash them, those towels can start to lose their ability to absorb water because the microfibers are “full” with the stuff that’s in your drying aid.
I think one very important aspect you also need to understand in regards to microfibres and which a lot of people don’t understand is that, at the end of the day, they are consumables. So much like polishing pads or clay, if you use them a lot, there will be a point in time in which those microfibres will have gone past their life span. In general, I don’t recommend to throw away microfibre towels, as you can e.g. always use them to clean engine bays or wheels, but after that and if they have become really, really dirty, then it’s time to get new ones.