The Complete Guide To Microfiber!

Microfiber products have existed for decades, yet fewer than 20% of car owners use them.

This exceptional tool remains under-utilized.

You’re in the right place to learn more about microfiber and the car detailing benefits!

What Exactly is Microfiber?

First, let’s define this amazing technology.

Microfiber is basically ultra-fine manufactured fibers. They weigh less than 0.1 denier.

So, why is that significant?

The resulting fabrics provide a superior hand, a gentle drape and incredible softness.

Microfiber is absolutely perfect for auto detailing enthusiasts!

How Does It Stack Up?

Comparatively, microfibers are:

  • Two times finer than silk
  • 3 times finer than cotton
  • 8 times finer than wool
  • 100 times finer than a human hair

Very impressive indeed!

The Different Materials

So, what’s it made of?

Currently, there are four types of microfibers being mass produced.

Here they are:

  1. Nylon
  2. Polyester
  3. Rayon
  4. Acrylic

I’ll be focusing on the most common blends of microfiber material used in car detailing applications; Nylon (polyamide) and polyester.

These are DuPont fiber inventions that go way back.

Polyamide is actually used as the core of hybrid fiber (generally 20 to 30% of the content) and polyester is the outer skin (70 to 80%).

This all seems so technical, right? What I want you to know is this:

Each fiber has specific qualities. When professionally blended, they can be used to create extremely beneficial fabrics for car owners.

History of Adaptation

The revolution happened by accident…

Yup! The cleaning and water absorbing ability offered by microfiber fabrics was discovered by pure chance!

Microfiber yarn development, in the 1980s and early 1990s, was intended to stimulate competition for natural yarn materials, like cotton and silk.

Long story, short…

An early adopter of microfiber yarn was Olsson Cleaning Technology. This company operates from Sweden.

Anyway, things took a weird turn!

They discovered that splitting fibers made them “grab”. This was found to vastly improve performance of cleaning towels.

A Visualization of Microfiber Functionality
A basic visual comparison of how standard fiber and microfiber handle dirt, water and liquid.

By 1994, the semiconductor industry had adopted microfiber to wipe down computer processors, microchips, etc.

It was a no-brainer.

Compared to conventional cleaning chemicals, microfiber is nearly lint-free.

Wedges and Spokes

What if you could look at a cross-section of the fiber itself?

Well, you’d see it is sliced into wedges (polyester) and attached to spokes (polyamide).

Polyester wedges have an ability to scrape away microscopic bits of dirt. Meanwhile, polyamide spokes create a wicking action that pulls liquid in.

The result is astounding!

In fact, many microfiber manufactures claim their yarn can absorb 7 to 8 times its weight in water.

Guys, that’s nearly double the cotton’s capacity!

FYI: Microfiber towels are also effective for removing bacteria from smooth surfaces.

Tiny Yet Terrific Technology

Microfiber is so good that it’s very difficult to imagine.

Try wrapping your head around this:

A square inch of fabric contains 90,000 to 200,000 fiber strands.

What! To the human eye this thread would be all but unnoticeable.

In practical terms, when woven into cloth it has a soft feel, like cashmere or silk.

But it’s the capillary action ability as well as quick, strong absorbency that is mind blowing. This is what enables microfiber towels to clean and polish at the same time.

Automotive Microfiber Products

OK, so let’s get down to what this means for your car.

There’s a diverse offering of microfiber products for detailing including:

  • Towels
  • Applicators
  • Gloves
  • Dusters
  • Wash mitts

For towels you’ll find dozens of different weaves, material weights, fabric blends, colors and sizes (more on color in a moment).

Microfiber Color Counts
Color does matter!

Here’s how I categorize microfiber towels:

1.  General Purpose – This is typically a microfiber towel (16″ by 16″) with a standard terry cloth weave and an 80/20 blend of polyester and polyamide. The towel has no specific purpose. It’s adept at wiping paint, glass, vinyl, plastic and leather. This could be the towel you use most frequently.

2. Glass & Polishing – Microfiber cloths for polishing and glass cleaning seem to have the same basic characteristics. First, the towel should be 100% lint-free. In most cases, the weave will have a shorter nap than a general purpose towel.

FYI: A decent glass towel needs scrubbing power to remove residues that cause streaking. It’s the same characteristic that makes a good polishing cloth.

3.  Drying – There are two microfiber toweling weaves that work for drying: Terry cloth and waffle. A short terry loop or one of the offset (longer on one side than the other) both work well for drying. Choose a microfiber terry cloth with a heavy (plush nap) and you won’t be able to wring it out. Towels with a satin edge are known to offer superior drying.

For everyday use, I recommend a waffle design. It has an ability to wick up water like nothing else!

Microfiber “waffle weave” drying towels come in a range of fabric weights. (more on this later)

4.  Cleaning – There are a few microfiber weaves marketed specifically as “cleaning towels”. The nap is very tight and course, and the microfiber strands aren’t split. These towels have little absorbency. The intended purpose of these towels is janitorial work, not car detailing. What I have found works best for me are hand towel size polishing towels.

5.  Final Buffing – Years ago microfiber “suede” fabrics crossed over into the automobile detailing arena as final wipe towels and final buffing bonnets. I haven’t been overly impressed. It is soft, but it does not seem to perform any better on paint (for final buffing) than a general purpose towel.

To be clear:

You do not need a specialized microfiber towel for buffing. A polishing or all-purpose towel will suffice.

Learn From My Microfiber Experience

I’ve made some key observations after buying and using these products over the years:

1.  Look and feel is deceptive. You cannot judge how a microfiber product will perform by its look or feel alone. You must test. Some towels appear very soft and plush, yet they leave micro marring on a delicate paint finish.

2.  Color makes a significant difference. Dark colors don’t feel as soft as light colors. You can take towels of the exact same fabric (dyed different colors) and the darker towel will not feel as plush or soft.

3.  Edge binding makes a big difference in towel safety (as a detailing towel). Towels surge bound with heavy polyester thread, or improperly cut by a hot wire, are likely to cause marring on paintwork.

4.  Weave determines the best function of the towel, not the material blend or weight. It’s true polyamide is more absorbent than polyester. Nevertheless, a towel with a blend of 70% polyester and 30% polyamide is not necessarily better at drying than an 80/20 blend (respectively). The weave and fiber treatment (splitting) determine wicking ability as much or more than the material blend.

Guidelines For Comparing Products

The market for microfiber towel products is fierce.

Demand for microfiber technology will remain high for the foreseeable future.

As a result, dozens of factories (mostly in Asia) have sprung up. This seemingly happened over night!

For the most part, they compete solely on cost.

The result?

Affordability, but at a cost. The American market has been flooded with cheap, inferior products.

Take it from me…

There is a significant difference between quality microfiber towels and junk coming in by the boat load.

Here’s what you must consider:

1.  Most inexpensive towels use microfiber thread that isn’t split. The equipment necessary to produce micro-replication splitting is quite expensive. Avoid these towels.

2.  Microfiber threads are larger on cheap towels. Quality microfiber strands are .01 to .02 denier. I’ve seen cloths from China with a denier of .5 or higher. That’s about the same as polyester thread used in bath towels. Terrible!

3.  Some inexpensive towels are 100% polyester or have low polyamide content. As a result, they offer little absorbency capability. Forget it!

Let me stress something here…

Look, feel and read the label before buying a bundle of microfiber towels at a bargain price.

Don’t misunderstand me! You don’t need expensive microfiber detailing towels.

You’re golden as long as the cloths are definitely suitable for detailing a fine automobile.

But just because it’s “microfiber” does not mean it will suit your needs!

How to Buy Microfiber (The Smart Way)

Learn the ins and outs of these attributes and you’ll be a microfiber marvel.

1.  Towel density is key. It’s a measure of fibers per square inch of fabric. Quality microfiber is between 90,000 to 225,000 fibers per square inch. Generally speaking, a higher fiber count means the towel will very effectively absorb water.

2.  The ratio of the polyester and polyamide is also very important. Polyamide is more expensive than polyester. Expect to pay more for a 70/30 blend.

3.  Look at the weave and fabric thickness (plush-ness). 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.  Again, quality doesn’t come cheap. Microfiber is no different. This isn’t always obvious. The biggest complaint with automotive microfiber is towels with cheap edging scratch paint.

Let’s discuss the edging phenomenon!

People may be searching the net asking, “Why is microfiber scratching my paint?”

There are 2 possible reasons:

The factory used a hot wire system to cut their towels. A hot wire can melt fabric.

When polyester and nylon melt, they turn into hard plastic.

Or the towel may be generating excessive lint.

Microfiber lint is caused by a high pile or a broad weave using a bad fiber split. This allows fibers to break off, creating lint.

However, do not assume you have an excellent towel just because it doesn’t produce lint.

FYI: The cheapest towels often don’t lint since they do not have split fibers.

How To Use Microfiber

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. A common use for microfiber towels is quick detailing.

This is 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!

It’s best to wipe in a single direction until all visible dust and contamination is removed. And be sure to also flip the towel frequently.

Here’s why!

A good microfiber cannot unload particles without being immersed in water. Wipe back and forth while quick detailing and you’ll be rubbing the dirt you pick up back and forth over the paint.

To remove polish or wax, wipe in a back and forth motion.

Never in circles.

Fibers will unload some of the product previously picked up when used in a circular motion.

So, flip and refold the towel frequently to maintain a fresh side.

Pro Tip: It’s time to get a fresh towel when polish or wax begins to smear.

My Maintenance Advice

I’ve read a lot of tips on how to clean and care for microfiber. People are all over the map!

Take it from me, it’s very simple.

The best general purpose cleaner is a liquid detergent. Liquid is recommended over powder.

Why is that?

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.

What happens if you wash in hot water?

The fibers will absolutely shrink and the towel will no longer perform.

Also, do not use fabric softeners of any kind.

The softener will become lodged in the microfiber. This reduces an ability to absorb water, clean and pick up dirt. You’ll have a useless soft towel.

What else?

Do not dry above medium heat.

Treat microfiber towels the same as you would delicate clothing.

Fact: Drying with high heat is worse that washing in hot water.

Most Valuable Players

The most versatile microfiber product I have discovered is the waffle weave detailing towel.

Originally designed to be a drying towel, the waffle (Piqué) weave has the best characteristics.

Here’s what I mean:

It’s adept for drying, polishing, glass cleaning and quick detailing.

Go waffle if you’re looking for a single towel to do the most work!

Choose a light grey, purple or white waffle towel (these are the softest) in a medium weight.

Heavy weight towels are good for drying only. The best size is 25’ by 36” (bath towel size).

For all other work? Go with a 16” by 26” (hand towel size).

Here’s another microfiber tool you should be aware of:

A new generation of edgeless microfiber towels that reduce a possibility of scratching by removing the binding.

Critics Be Gone

Even after years of beneficial use, there are still microfiber critics.

You have staunch supporters of 100% made-in-America terry cloth cotton toweling. They claim that cotton is the only safe material.

It is possible these people haven’t seen magnified results of cotton vs. microfiber toweling.

Summing It Up

The future of microfiber is bright.

Manufacturers continue to develop this fantastic technology. Soon scratching problems will be a thing of the past.

Part of the reason for advancements is intense competition. Low-cost providers keep prices in check.

It’s a buyers market when it comes to microfiber tools.

Just be super selective!

Check out the Paint Repair Clinic section of the website!