Dr Detail Part 3...Detail Fabrics
Details … Details … Details!
Rx: Detail Fabrics
A couple questions were asked during a regular GTO Club meeting held at Cerritos Pontiac GMC.
One of them was regarding the revolutionary new generation of automotive care fabrics collectively known as “Microfiber” (MF).
What is Microfiber (MF)
According to Wikipedia, “Microfiber or microfibre refers to synthetic fibers (fibers) that measure less than one Denier. The most common types of microfibers are made from polyesters, polyamides (e.g., Nylon, Kevlar, Nomex, or Trogamide), and or a conjugation of polyester and polyamide.”
“Microfiber is used to make non-woven, woven and knitted textiles. The shape, size and combinations of synthetic fibers are selected for specific characteristics, including: softness, durability, absorption, wicking abilities, water repellency, electrodynamics, and filtering capabilities.”
“Microfiber is commonly used for apparel, upholstery, industrial filters and cleaning products.”
Thank you, Wikipedia!
What does that mean to you?
For automotive detailing purposes, the blend of polymers (plastics); namely the Polyamide (the absorbing and quick drying part) and Polyester (the scrubbing and cleaning part) is extruded into a fiber no larger than 1/100th the diameter of a human hair (the “micro” part of Microfiber)! One square centimeter of fabric can have 90,000 to 225,000 fibers per square inch.
The fiber “size” is reported in terms of “Deniers”, the unit used for the measure of fineness. A Denier of man-made fibers is its weight in grams per 9000 meters of the fiber. Putting it another way, 9000 meters of a 1-denier fiber weighs one gram. Not to confuse you, but the measure of fineness or “thickness” is then actually a unit of weight! Go figure!
These fine fibers are grouped to create yarns (that’s why you can actually see strands). Yarns are then knitted or woven into a variety of fabrics.
In comparison, a thread of cotton has a rating of 200 Deniers (200 grams per 9000 meters). A human hair measures an average of 20 denier (I don’t know if that’s Redhead, Blonde, or Brunette) and a strand of silk has a Denier of 8. Microfiber, by definition, must be under 1 Denier but quality Microfiber cloth should have a Denier measurement of 0.01 to 0.02! Simple math shows us that quality MF threads are at least 100 times finer than a human hair (which range from 17 to 181 µm or millionths of a meter). You can’t actually see these things! Their small size is what makes them so very soft and yet still tough when woven into MF fabric from which the automotive care cloths are formed.
Simple, unfinished, fibers of these two materials have very poor water absorbency. In fact, they are used for water resistant clothing. The fiber construct of automotive grade MF is quite complex. Many will refer to this as splitting but it’s not as random as that term suggests. Automotive MF fabrics are made up of a core and a covering that looks a lot like a fluted corrugated rod. The polyamide is the core and the polyester is the cover. Looking at a cross section of the fiber you’ll see the cover of the fiber (polyester) is not just split but appears to be sliced into wedges which have the ability to scrape away microscopic bits of dirt. The core (polyamide) is actually more like the spider of a wheel giving it the look of spokes which pull liquid into the fiber interior. This shape allows the cloth to scrub, polish and absorb with double the capacity of cotton.
All MF fabrics are the softest fabrics on the market for automotive use but there ARE differences. Let’s look at a few in no particular order.
1. Materials: The actual blend usually falls in the 80/20 or 70/30 range (PE/PM) although it can be as extreme as 50/50. These variations in blend are significant in the way the fabrics perform. The more polyamide the more absorbency. The more polyester, the more scrubbing.
2. Thread size/Fabric weight: The industry standard for automotive grade Microfiber is a Denier of 0.02 or smaller. Some low-quality cloths sold into the automotive market today may have as much as a 0.50 Denier. A fiber 25 to 50 times larger than the best Microfiber thread will have very poor absorption and scrubbing qualities. Thicker fibers yield loose weaves and light fabric weight. Furthermore the surface area is drastically reduced. Imagine, if you will, that same 0.50 Denier fiber sliced length wise twice, quartering it. When thus cut that 0.50 Denier fiber will yield roughly 4 fibers of 0.25 Denier and almost four times the surface area which is crucial to absorbency.
3. Color varieties. You will find Yellows, Greens, Blues, Browns and Whites. Color doesn’t matter much although some suggest that the lighter the color the softer it feels. Ultimately there is no technical purpose to the color. It doesn’t indicate quality or use. The cloth is colored merely at the whim of the manufacturer.
4. Country of Origin. This used to be, arguably, the most significant factor in fabric quality, but times have changed. The Chinese or Taiwanese fabrics used to lint and not hold up well with repeated washings. The Korean fabrics were lint free and withstood 400 to 500 washings. Today the better machines can be found in China as well and the Korean fabrics are being finished into cloths in China. So the label doesn’t tell you much anymore.
5. Lint. As mentioned in #3, lint is a big concern. Who wants to stand back from a freshly detailed surface only to see lint all over like the young bear in the Charmin bathroom tissue commercial. To avoid lint conduct a simple test. Fold the cloth into about a 6”x 6” pad (for some rigidity) and hold it up so that you can sight across the surface. If you can see fuzz sticking up across the surface you can bet that it will wind up on you paint. Of course the thicker the nap the more slack you’ll have to cut it. The Doctor doesn’t recommend a high nap for this reason. It’s not necessary and just gets in the way. A good, quality fabric will have the little to no fuzz on the surface … BUY IT!
6. Targeted use. Naps vary greatly from nearly non-existent to very thick and fluffy. Remember the thicker the nap the harder it is to wring out and the more lint it will produce. Thicker is not better.
Glass – Microfiber cloths that work well for glass cleaning have a shorter nap, if any at all, than a general purpose towel. A good glass towel needs scrubbing power to successfully remove the residues that cause streaking, but those are the same characteristic that makes a good polishing cloth. A separate Glass cloth is not necessary
General Purpose – Polishing cloths are small and square but have a medium nap and terry cloth weave (look for loops). Typical sizes are 12”x 12” or 16”x 16”. Be sure you know which you’re paying for. This towel will be equally adept at polishing paint, glass, vinyl, plastic and leather. This will be the towel you use most frequently. You can pay anywhere from $0.50 to $5 a towel but here’s where “You Get What You Pay For” comes in!
Drying – Drying cloths can hold 7 to 10 times their weight in water, will dry an average size car without the need to wring out and will dry out, themselves, in a third of the time required by cotton terry fabrics, thanks to the Polyester in the blend. There are two different weaves that make good drying towels: terry weave and waffle weave. Either will work well for drying. Expect to pay $7 to $10 for a 24”x 36” towel.
7. Price. Yes there is a difference here too. Higher prices go to properly constructed and finished cloths. Furthermore the 70/30 blends will cost a bit more. Now that you know some of the differences maybe you will find a reason to spend just a little more to get a quality fabric. Finally the larger drying cloths will run $7 to $10 but compare that against even the cheap chamois at a Pepboys for $12 to $15 which will not hold nearly as much water and may strip some wax.
8. Edges. Typically cloths edges are finished with the same MF threads used in the fabric but the finer the thread the better. There are some exceptions. Some are edged in silk and the latest have no “edging” at all but are cut and cauterized by a hot wire to avoid unraveling. A poor quality fabric may have been cut improperly. If the wire is too hot it may melt enough fabric to form a relatively thick bead which may leave fine scratches. The doctor prefers either sewn or edgeless from a trustworthy manufacturer.
9. Surface Conformation or shape. Some fabrics have a “flat“ surface and some have a “waffle” pattern. Why? Surface area. The waffle patterned MF is marketed as having a greater surface area squeezed into the 24”x 36”: cloth. OK .. so? For a polishing cloth it doesn’t ad much value. For a drying towel it makes more sense since surface area determines absorbency of the cloth. Another thought is that the edges of the recesses of the pattern will scoop water into the recesses giving the fabric more time to absorb. The Doctor hasn’t seen a big advantage during testing. You can’t go wrong with either.
Appearance and feel are deceptive. You cannot judge how a microfiber product will perform by its look or feel alone. You must test for yourself and be discriminating to protect a delicate paint finish such as lacquer,
11. Finish (you can ask but they probably won’t know – so - test)
Depending on the specific task the cloth is designed to perform, the fiber ends can be tightly “hooked” (better for grabbing and holding grime and residues), feathered (best for general glass cleaning and absorbency), or finely polished, like suede (best for cleaning eye glasses and optical glass). Cheaper fabrics may not have ANY finishing resulting in a relatively useless cloth. The reason these fabrics are “cheap” is simple. The machines that do the processing of the fiber ends may cost 10x what the basic thread making machine do. It’s cheaper to skip that step!
Selecting the right MF cloth
What do you need to ask to get a quality fabric (or just your money’s worth)?
The range for quality microfiber is 90,000 to 225,000 fibers per square inch. Generally speaking, the higher the fiber count the better the towel will absorb water and clean. You can also ask about weight. Generally measured in Grams/Sq. Meter, the same caveat applies .. the heavier the better. More fiber = more weight. The finer the thread, the more weight. See the Conversion chart below.
80/20 vs 70/30?
If you’re polishing you don’t need as much absorbency so try the 80/20.
When you’re drying it IS important, so try the 70/30 – Simple.
Buy a medium nap cloth. Thick naps will lint more, even over time, and will be harder to wring out.
Finally let’s briefly cover care of the fabric. Wash it! In fact wash it before the first use. When washing ANY fabric for auto use, DOUBLE WASH it! Here’s what I mean. Throw it in the machine and use enough liquid detergent to clean it. Don’t skimp here but don’t over do it either. Excess soap can leave the fabric hard. The Doctor suggests liquid over powder detergents because the solid varieties may not dissolve completely during the wash and will be more difficult to rinse out. Use cold water for the wash. MF doesn’t handle heat very well and may shrink.
To eliminate residual detergent, run it back through ALL cycles again but this time without any detergent. This should remove any excess soap and leave your fabric soft enough to qualify for automotive detail status. Your fabric will live longer and will retain it’s softness longer.
Do not use any fabric softeners, whether liquid or towel. Just rinse out the soap. Fabric softeners will be retained in the fabric and occupy most of the surface area you depend upon for polishing and drying. You won’t like the result!
Air drying is best but not in a dusty area. If you must machine dry keep temps low or off. A hot drier can shrink the fabric as well. Treat it as if it were your ladies delicate “Unmentionables”. Don’t use Chlorine bleaches if you care about the color and store clean cloths in a bag to avoid dust and other contaminants.
Yes, of course, there are other fabrics. Some of you fall into one of two camps like the Hatfields and McCoys. When it comes to cotton you’re either pro-terry or pro-diaper and the other camp is the enemy. Cotton in any form has been the traditional choice for auto detailing. Cotton has not become passé since MF arrived. It’s still a valid choice BUT, like any other fabric, including MF, you MUST keep it clean when working on your paint. There is an exception re: cotton. T-Shirt fabric is not a good choice. There is something about this source of cotton that makes it rather harsh to paint. Avoid it.
Exposed foam applicators can be OK but how do you know? The best practice is to rely on the manufacturer. I was recently handed a foam applicator with a nice, comfortable shape but it made me cringe at the thought of using it to spread wax. On the other hand Meguiars has been including their foam applicators with some of their products for years. The Doctor has used them and they have always done a good job. Be careful. Of course when the foam is in the form of a terry of MF wrapped pad then we’re talking fabric again.
Please submit your questions for this column at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll cover them in a future column. You can also submit your own testimonials and comments about the subjects covered here and we’ll try to publish them as well.
Thanx, until next session. So let the shining begin!