When it comes to drying your car after washing it, you have a couple of good options: shammy towels and microfiber towels.
But which one is really the best choice for safely and effectively getting that just-washed shine?
What is a Shammy Towel?
A shammy (also spelled shammie or chamois) towel gets its name from chamois leather. Traditionally, shammy cloths were made from the hides of mountain antelopes called chamois. These days, the term “shammy” has become widely used for any extremely smooth and soft buffing cloth.
There’s an important distinction between real chamois leather and synthetic chamois material used in many automotive shammy towels:
- Genuine chamois leather – Made from animal hides, genuine chamois is very porous and absorbent. It has an open, knappy texture that helps it soak up moisture. Real chamois leather lacks any chemically enhanced water-wicking abilities.
- Synthetic chamois – Most car shammy cloths today are made of synthetic materials. The most common is an ultra-smooth foam rubber called neoprene. Neoprene shammy towels act more like squeegees. They effectively push and wipe away liquid through mechanical friction rather than true absorption.
How Do Shammy Towels Work on Wet Car Paint?
A shammy’s porous leather or non-porous synthetic material comes into direct contact with your car’s wet surface when used for drying. Both real and synthetic shammies act like windshield wiper blades to displace water.
The key benefit shammy fans point to is speed. With a swiping squeegee action, a shammy can whisk away water quickly and (if used properly) leave behind a streak-free surface. But shammy naysayers counter that the direct surface contact poses risks of fine swirl scratches if debris particles get trapped and dragged during drying strokes.
Proper shammy drying technique is important to avoid paint damage. You need to fully rinse off all loose dirt and grit before drying a car with a shammy cloth. Always wring out excess moisture frequently. And keep re-folding the shammy to access drier material as you work in sections across wet surfaces.
Key Takeaway: Shammy towels make direct contact with wet paint. They rely more on wiping friction than absorption to displace water rapidly. But that friction can potentially instill light scratches if debris gets trapped under the towel.
What is a Microfiber Towel? How Does it Differ from Terry and Cotton Towels?
The key benefit most cited for microfiber towels is gentleness. Microfiber cloths are finely woven or knitted from polyester/polyamide synthetic fibers with a thickness only 2-3x larger than a human hair. The micro-fine fibers create an ultra-plush, almost feather-like texture. Microfiber material is also engineered to wick moisture through capillary action on a microscopic scale.
In contrast to shammy towels, microfiber drying cloths do not directly contact the paint surface. The dense thicket of tiny strands provides cushioning separation from the vehicle’s finish. This helps greatly reduce the potential for fine swirl marring during drying.
Standard cotton terry towels and even premium cotton bath sheets do directly contact the surface when used for drying. And typical terry cloth loops and cotton fibers are large enough relative to clear coat paint thickness that they can inflict light scratches despite appearing perfectly smooth to the naked eye.
Key Takeaway: Microfiber is finely woven from tiny synthetic fibers to create microscopic moisture wicking spaces within the material. This allows it to softly draw water into towel’s bulk and off the car’s surface without direct contact.
Shammy Towels vs Microfiber: Pros and Cons Comparison
Shammy Towel Pros
- Wipes away large volumes of water rapidly
- Leaves surfaces streak-free when properly used
- Can be very durable with proper care
- Provides some gentle surface polishing/buffing
Shammy Towel Cons
- Direct surface contact creates scratch risk if grit trapped
- Can leave behind water spots if not fully dried
- Requires more technique to avoid drips and streaking
- synthetic versions tend to eventually crack and stiffen
Microfiber Towel Pros
- Ultra-fine fibers prevent direct surface contact
- Extremely plush texture is gentlest on all surfaces
- Traps dirt/debris within towel thickness
- Available very inexpensively
Microfiber Towel Cons
- Initial cost more than basic terry or shammy
- Requires specific laundry methods
- May spread contaminants if reused while dirty
- Needs frequent replacement as fibers wear
Caring for Shammy Towels vs. Microfiber Towels
To preserve effectiveness and longevity of shammy or microfiber drying towels, proper maintenance is key. Here is a quick comparison of recommended care procedures:
Shammy Towel Care
- Hand wash only with mild detergent
- Fully rinse out all soap residue
- Air dry thoroughly after each use
- Avoid heat drying, bleach, fabric softener
- Machine washable but avoid mixing with cotton items
- Use powdered detergent plus white vinegar
- Wash in cold water on gentle cycle
- Tumble dry low heat or line dry
Bottom line: Shammy towels require more delicate care without the convenience of machine washing and drying. Microfiber can withstand occasional machine cleaning if washed separately from lint-producing laundry.
Key Takeaway: Microfiber towels are easier to keep clean long-term compared to more labor intensive hand-wash only care required for shammy cloths.
Helpful Tips For Using Shammy and Microfiber Drying Towels
Follow these handy tips when using either a shammy or microfiber cloth for drying your freshly washed and rinsed vehicle:
- Always start drying a car when surfaces are wettest right after rinsing
- Work in sections from top surfaces down to minimize water drips
- Fold towel to access drier areas as you work
- Check for debris stuck to towels frequently
- Stop to rinse towels if they become overloaded with soil
- Wring out excess water from towels before switching sections
- Overlap strokes to absorb all moisture without streaks
- Finish by lightly buffing entire surface to restore shine
- Dampen towel if leather type rather than synthetic
- Unfold shammy fully and keep flat against surfaces
- Use light pressure and frequent overlap passes
- Flip over or re-fold often to access drier shammy areas
- Use designated wash mitt on paint, separate drying cloth
- Choose minimum 300 GSM weight for good water absorption
- Fold towel in quarters to increase surface contact edges
- Rotate towel sections to expose more dry fibers as needed
Should I use a shammy or microfiber towel to dry my vehicle?
For finest paint finish preservation without swirl scratches, microfiber towels are safest thanks to lack of direct surface contact. But synthetic or real chamois shammy towels can be safely used if thoroughly pre-rinsed and applied using proper technique focused on frequent re-folding and wringing.
How do I make a shammy glide more easily over wet car surfaces?
It’s best not to apply any additional lubricating products when using shammy towels to avoid residue or water spotting left behind. Instead, simply dampen the shammy ever so slightly before use. And make sure you thoroughly pre-rinse the car to remove gritty debris so towel can glide freely.
Why does my microfiber towel leave streaks on glass or paint?
Streaking is typically caused by using a microfiber cloth that’s loaded with too much grimy residue. Even if not visibly dirty, oils and particles build up over repeated uses. Make sure to launder microfiber towels frequently using recommended methods. And always pre-rinse surfaces before drying to lift away stuck-on contaminants.
How often should I replace my shammy or microfiber drying towels?
With proper care, natural chamois leather shammy towels literally last for many years. Synthetic shammies have a shorter 1-3 year lifespan before cracking or losing pliability.
When it comes to safely drying your freshly washed car, microfiber towels are the gentlest and most effective choice. With their ultra-fine and plush fibers, microfiber cloths lightly draw water away without direct surface contact that could potentially scratch the paint.
Shammy towels, whether original leather chamois or modern synthetic versions, do make direct contact. So proper wringing and re-folding technique is essential to avoid paint damage if any bits of debris get picked up in the towel.