Few people understand the true importance of a good drying towel. We have a few serious car enthusiasts on our team, so we get it. Under their guidance, plus the recommendations of three professional auto detailers, we tested seven different towel blends on a quest to find the best car drying towel. After washing and drying over 15 cars and five different paint colors, we believe the Chemical Guys Gray Matter Drying Towel is the perfect drying towel due to its extra-large size, water-trapping waffle weave pattern, and super-absorbent microfiber blend. Article Summary
When it comes to auto detailing, there are very few things more important than a good drying towel. How you dry your car, and what you use during that process, can quite literally be the difference between a professional-looking detail and a spotted mess that looks like you just left some gas station machine wash. We all know what it feels like to spend over an hour tirelessly perfecting our exterior just to be left with a complicated mess of streaks and swirls. Investing in a quality car drying towel will ensure those hard washing efforts don’t go completely wasted and you get a nice, bright, streak-free shine.
Believe it or not, there is such thing as a good car drying towel and a bad one. It might not seem that way if this is your first step into the auto detailing world, but think about it: towels come in a huge variety of materials, fiber blends, and weaves, creating countless combinations of towels that all have their own unique material properties. Some are good for dish washing, some are good for bath use, and some are good for drying and detailing cars.
To give you the most top-level example: let’s talk about cotton. Cotton is the #1 towel material in the world, so most people go straight to cotton towels for drying their car. It’s soft on the skin, so it should work fine on your car, right? Unfortunately not. Besides having terrible absorbency and a short lifespan, cotton fibers are far too rough for automotive paint, creating hairline scratches in your paint that develop into major swirls over time. We’ll talk more about this later on, but see what we mean?
Identifying the best car drying towel comes down to two major necessities: high absorbency and ultra-soft fibers (not just soft on your skin, but soft on high-sensitivity surfaces like automotive paint). We spoke to three different professional auto detailers and over a dozen serious car enthusiasts, and with their guidance, we researched towel materials, blends, and weaves in an effort to single out the best car drying towel of all. The top-level answer was microfiber material, but the deeper question become which specific blend of microfiber? After testing seven of the most common blends on over 15 cars with a variety of different paint jobs (white, black, grey and even red and blue), below are the towels that were the easiest and most effective to dry with.
Gray Matter Towel
Water Magnet Towel
The best car drying towel overall
If you’ve never heard of Chemical Guys before, now is the time to become acquainted. They’re one of the most respected car care companies in the world, and in our opinion (which is based on a pretty fair amount of research and testing), their Gray Matter Drying Towel is the best car drying towel available.
Starting with the most important aspect first, Chemical Guys’ Gray Matter towel uses a 70/30 blend of microfiber. We provide more detail on the types of microfiber further down in this guide, but in short, 70/30 is one of the highest-quality blends out there. It is super soft and super absorbent, making it perfect for drying water off your car without leaving any hidden swirls or scratches along the way. To add to its absorbency and further its drying capabilities, the towel also utilizes a waffle weave design (notice how the towel’s material looks pressed in a fashion that resembles a waffle). Waffle weaves can wick up water easier and more effectively than traditional designs (known as plush pile), maximizing each pass you make over your exterior.
As if the premium-quality microfiber blend wasn’t enough, the Gray Matter towel also uses unique silk-banded edges as another safety precaution to prevent scratching and swirls. The average microfiber cleaning towel uses nylon edges, and while these don’t really present much of a threat in the grand scheme of things, silk edges is just another way Chemical Guys ensures their towels are 100% paint protective from end-to-end.
Other than the superior quality, softness, and absorbency, another reason we chose Chemical Guys’ waffle weave towel was due to its extra-large size. This towel measures a full 36″ x 25″, which is pretty substantial for a microfiber towel, especially one of this quality. The larger size obviously helps to cover more surface area, meaning you’ll be able to dry twice as fast while doing half the work (as you can imagine, we loved this during our testing process).
Chemical Guys really covers the drying process in all aspects with the Gray Matter Drying Towel. Its combination of premium microfiber blend, waffle weave design, and custom silk edges make it the best out there for absorbing water while protecting paint, and its large sizing is a nice added bonus for reducing your workload. Compared to traditional microfiber towels, its cost is slightly higher, but paying a few dollars extra to get the best car drying towel is a small price to pay to protect your car that’s worth thousands.
A good runner-up
Like Chemical Guys above, Meguiar’s is another very well-known name in the car community, providing a whole assortment of award-winning car care products. Among their arsenal of equipment is their X2000 Water Magnet Drying Towel, which is an extremely popular drying towel but came in as our runner-up because it isn’t quite up to par with the quality of Chemical Guys’ towel.
At first glance, Meguiar’s X2000 Water Magnet doesn’t look too much different than our top pick. Both are made of microfiber and utilize the coveted waffle weave design which is known for trapping water and drying more effectively than traditional plush pile designs. However, Meguiar’s towel uses a microfiber blend of 80/20, which is more of an average blend ratio as opposed to the premium 70/30 split offered by Chemical Guys. To give you a general overview, 80/20 is thinner, not as soft, and not as absorbent as 70/30. It still does a solid job at drying, certainly better than other materials like cotton or terry cloth, but this was one of the main reasons this towel came in #2 instead of #1.
The other main drawback was in the Water Magnet’s size. With overall dimensions of 22″ x 30″, the Water Magnet is definitely bigger than the average towel and can cover a nice amount of surface area when drying, but this is almost 2 square feet less in surface area than the Gray Matter towel offers (or for those that prefer to speak in percentages, Meguiar’s towel is about 30% smaller). To translate that to workload terms, drying a car with the Meguiar’s towel would require 30% more work than drying the exact same car with the Chemical Guys towel. A smaller-sized towel isn’t the end of the world by any means, but on a hot summer day, you’re going to want to dry your car as quickly as possible, which means a bigger towel is better.
The microfiber blend and sizing are two key qualities in choosing the best drying towel for your car, which is why this towel earned our runner-up spot instead of the top spot. With that said, if you’re okay with the fact that it might take a little more time and effort to use, the Meguiar’s X2000 Water Magnet is a great towel that will leave your exterior free of spots and streaks. However, for a similar price, a lot less work, and an equally beautiful finish, we’d still recommend sticking with Chemical Guys.
A great bang for your buck
If you’re not concerned with having the highest-quality microfiber blend or the biggest towel possible, Amazon offers bulk packages of basic microfiber towels for extremely cheap. These offer a killer value for your dollar and still give you the luxury of non-abrasive microfiber instead of paint-damaging cotton.
In terms of quality, the AmazonBasics Microfiber Towels really aren’t any different than the microfiber towels you could pick up at your local auto parts store – the big difference here is going to be the massive price savings. A regular set of three microfiber towels typically runs in the $10 range, whereas a 24-pack of AmazonBasics microfibers can usually be bought for just under $20 (the price varies sometimes so check the current price to be sure). As you can see, this is a huge savings over buying retail, bringing the price per towel from over $3 to under $1.
The AmazonBasics towels are made with a 90/10 microfiber blend, which is industry standard for basic microfiber towels. It’s still soft enough to use on automotive paint without causing any damage, it will just take you a bit longer to dry your car because the absorbency isn’t as strong as either of our top two picks above. The other reason it will take you a bit longer to dry is due to size – the AmazonBasics towels are the industry-standard 12″ x 16″. With that said, if you can dual-wield these towels and have one in each hand, you should be able to cover a pretty good amount of surface area (just be sure to double-check areas after drying to ensure you’ve completely drawn up all the water).
If you want to get the best value for your dollar and stock up on regular microfiber towel for cheap, the AmazonBasics Bulk Pack is the way to go. There are multiple packages available from 24 towels all the way to 144.
Why you shouldn’t use cotton towels on your car
In the introduction to this guide, we made a brief note about towel materials. We mentioned that cotton and microfiber were the most common towel materials used for drying cars, but that microfiber was the more ideal choice whereas cotton shouldn’t be used. We wanted to take a minute to explain this in more detail so that you understand how and why we came to this conclusion.
Many of you probably use (or have at some point used) cotton bath towels to dry your car. We’ve all done it at one time or another! Not only are they cheap to buy at any local department store, but one look at their large size and soft texture and common sense tells you they should do a stellar job at drying your car after a wash. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations that proves that common sense can’t always be trusted.
Cotton comes in a number of different forms: Egyptian cotton, Turkish cotton, organic cotton, etc. There are different quality levels, different thread counts, and more, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are designed for comfort. In other words, they are designed primarily for personal jobs like drying your body after a shower or washing your face in the morning. While this makes them perfectly soft and absorbent enough to handle drying a wet body, they are nowhere near equipped to handle larger jobs like drying an entire car. After drying off from a shower, your towel is fairly wet, right? Now imagine how much larger your car is than your body. It typically takes 3-4 large cotton bath towels to completely dry a mid-size sedan, whereas the same job could be done using only a single microfiber towel.
Cotton towels also don’t last anywhere near as long as microfiber towels do – about 10% as long, to be exact. The average cotton bath towel has a shelf life of roughly 80-100 washes before the cotton fibers will deteriorate and begin to lose their softness, leaving you with a rough towel and half the absorbency power (which, as we just talked about, is already significantly lower). Microfiber, on the other hand, can be washed over 500 times before needing to be replaced, keeping your long-term costs much lower too.
The lack of absorbency and lifespan are really just inconveniences though; the real danger in using cotton towels to dry your car comes with the fact that the fibers can actually damage your paint. Automotive paint is a scratch-sensitive surface, meaning that it can be marked up easily if not treated with equally-sensitive tools and materials. Although cotton fibers may feel soft and luxurious to the touch of your skin, on a more microscopic level, they are far too rough to be used on such a sensitive surface like car paint. This is why you’ll often see swirls in your paint over time after consistently using cotton towels to dry your car. When you see swirls, what you’re actually looking at are mass amounts of hairline scratches in your paint created by the cotton fibers.
In addition, due to the fiber’s cylindrical looping shape, cotton towels have a tendency to push dirt around more than actually picking it up. This is bad for two reasons. First, it means you have to do more work in order to completely clean the dirt and dust off your car. Second, and more importantly, now the fibers aren’t the only thing scratching your paint – you’ve also got dirt particles being pushed around as well that are causing even further damage. To compare with microfiber: the synthetic fibers in microfiber towels are much more fine and shaped like an asterisk , meaning they’re not only soft enough to dry paint without scratching it, but they also pick up and grab dirt more effectively. Microfibers also contain a positive electric charge that literally attracts dirt to the towels, another reason they are so effective at cleaning.
Now, all of these notes aren’t to say that cotton is some horrible material that should never be used. Cotton is great for what it’s designed for, which is personal use and comfort. However, when it comes to auto detailing and protecting the integrity of your paint and exterior, cotton just has too many negatives.
Which microfiber blend is best for drying cars
Now that we’ve clarified why microfiber is an overall better material than cotton for car drying, let’s talk about the different types of microfiber blends to help you understand which blends are best for different car cleaning situations.
Microfiber is a synthetic fiber most commonly made from a blend of polyester and polyamide. It may sometimes contain a third material, polypropylene, but for the most part, it will only use the first two. Depending on its blend, a microfiber can be engineered to enhance specific qualities (like softness and absorption), which is why certain microfiber blends have become so popular in the auto industry.
When determining the quality, softness, and absorption of microfiber towels, it’s important to look at two variables: the blend ratio and the density. The blend ratio is the percentage of each material used in the fiber. It usually looks something like this: 80/20, 75/25, 70/30, etc. The first number in the ratio is the percentage of polyester, and the second number is the percentage of polyamide. The blend ratio is directly related to the towel’s softness; as the percentage of polyamide increases, so does the softness and plushness of the towel. The density, on the other hand, is a general measurement for the towel’s thickness, weight, and number of fibers. It is expressed in grams per square meter (or GSM). The GSM is directly related to the towel’s absorbency and cleaning power; as the GSM increases, so does the towel’s ability to hold water and attract more dirt/dust.
Ideally, the best car drying towel will have a high percentage of polyamide and a high GSM. This would make for a high-quality, super-soft, super-absorbent towel. However, GSM is sometimes harder to identify since a lot of brands don’t disclose it. They aren’t doing this to hide anything from you, it’s just not a commonly requested variable (unless you’re crazy research people like we are). Typically, if a towel has a high blend ratio of polyamide, something like 75/25 or 70/30, it’s okay to trust that the towel will have an adequate GSM to follow.
How to clean your car drying towels after use
Cleaning microfiber towels does take a little more care than your traditional dirty load of laundry to ensure you get the longest life out of them. We’ve created an easy three-step process to follow below to help you provide the right care to your new car drying towels.
1. Rinse directly after use
First and foremost, always rinse your towels directly after you’re done using them. You can rinse them off with a hose or in the sink, but the best way to do this is to soak them in a bucket of warm water (and a little bit of detergent) for about 15-20 minutes. This helps extract some of the dirt right away so that it doesn’t have time to dry into the towel (thus becoming harder to clean once the towels are in the washing machine).
2. Wash with care
Next, throw them in the washing machine. Microfiber towels can be washed in any temperature you prefer (hot is best), just make sure they are washed alone, with liquid detergent (not powder), and without fabric softener or bleach. If microfiber towels are washed with other materials, like cotton for example, they will gather the other materials’ lint and need to be re-cleaned. In addition, powder detergents, fabric softeners, and bleach can all damage the integrity of the synthetic microfibers. If you really want to take your care to the top level, you can even purchase a microfiber-specific detergent to ensure your towels get the best wash.
3. Dry gently
When your carefully-prepared wash cycle is complete, your towels are onto the dryer. Microfiber is okay to be tumble dried as opposed to hung, but be sure you use the lowest heat setting possible. Too much heat can literally melt the fibers, rendering them completely useless (this all happens at a microscopic level though, you’d never know until down the line when you realize the towels don’t absorb nearly as well as they once did). Also, remember to make sure your lint trap is clean and you don’t use dryer sheets – both can cause issues with microfiber.
See, not so difficult, right? As long as you stick to the above steps, your new microfiber car drying towels should have no problem at all lasting for years at 100% ability.
Wrapping it up
If you’re new to auto detailing, the idea of a “good” car drying towel and a “bad” car drying towel might sound crazy. However, ask any professional detailer who’s got some experience under their belt, and they will tell you how much of an impact a quality drying towel can have on the appearance of your car after a wash. We spent a lot of time researching and testing materials in order to find the best drying towel for cars available. If you want the best there is, the Chemical Guys Gray Matter towel is the way to go. For a not-as-high-quality runner-up, Meguiar’s X2000 Water Magnet will do a great job as well. Or, if you’re just looking to get a great value towel, AmazonBasics offers bulk packages at an awesome price.