For many years anyone cleaning a car has used soft cotton cloth for polishing, be it ‘cotton stockinette (mutton cloth) or maybe even old cotton towelling. Whilst a deep shine is easily achievable the main downside to these types of products is they tend to shed bits of fluff called lint over the polished surface. This can be eliminated using a lint free cotton cloth. Problem solved…not quite.
Don’t get me wrong, soft cotton cloths are available in many great products and are generally good value for money but microfibre* is in a different performance league while remaining great value for money.
How Microfibre cloth is made
Microfibre cloth is made from microfibre yarn. Microfibre yarn is made from two types of oil based hydrocarbon derivatives, that’s plastic to you and me, polyester and polyamide (nylon). Most automotive microfibre cloths will be an 80:20, 70:30 mix of these two materials. To produce yarn, granules of the two materials are mixed together with a colour pigment added and then heated until they melt and are then pressure sprayed through tiny nozzles. This produces a yarn made up of numerous strands of micro fibres – you wondered where the name came from. This process is similar to a spider using its spinaret to produce spider’s web and is of a similar thickness, between 3 and 5 microns, about half the thickness of a human hair. This yarn is then woven or knitted into cloth.
We use different cloths for different jobs – big soft moppy microfibres for final buffing, flat twill type microfibres for glass and noodle looped microfibre mitts for washing to name but a few applications. They all start as the same yarn but are woven or knitted on different machines to produce very different final cloths with special characteristics for particular applications.
So, why is Microfibre so special?
Well, it’s all down to the science.
There are two ways of cleaning a surface, chemical action and mechanical action.
Firstly, chemical cleaning requires some kind of solvent to loosen dirt’s grip on a surface so it can be removed by wiping with a cloth or jet washed away. We usually use the most common and cheapest solvent around, water. Water on its own is not great at releasing grease and dirt from a surface so we generally add some kind of detergent like car shampoo or TFR (traffic film remover) to the water. Detergents are what are known as adjuvants, they make the water wetter! This simply means they weaken the surface tension of water molecules allowing the water to more easily encapsulate the dirt particles so they can be removed without scratching the surface being cleaned. So once the chemical action has happened it’s time for the mechanical phase.
Going over your car with a soapy sponge or cotton cloth will remove most of the dirt. For the most part you are simply mechanically pushing the dirt off the surface.
There is a second mechanical process at work too. This is down to the physical attraction of molecules to each other explained by Van der Waals force where tiny charged particles in molecules stick together like tiny magnets. Remember the microfibre strands are 3 to 5 microns thick. The very finest of cotton yarns are at least 10 microns across. This means that microfibre cloth can collect many more particles of dirt and of a much smaller size, even as small as bacteria. So, this explains in part why the ‘ dirt grabbing’ surface of a sponge or cloth is not as effective as the ‘dirt grabbing’ ability of a microbre mitt.
The second, and possibly more important, reason why microfibre is more effective for removing dirt, water or polish residue than other cloths, sponges or wash leathers is due to the material it is made from – plastic- plastic’s physical and chemical properties means it attracts more particles by van der Waals force than natural products like cotton cloth, sponge or chamois leather, so more dirt is removed with each pass. Not only this, a microfibre cloth will hold the gritty particles inside the cloth until you wash it in hot water when the fibres uncurl slightly releasing the dirt.
Once you have washed your car you put your microfibre mitt to one side and rinse with clean water in order to remove the remainder of soapy water molecules holding dirt particles. If you have ever used a chamois leather to dry your car you will have found that several passes are needed to collect all the water into the wash leather. Again, the ‘water grabbing’ ability of the fibres in the leather are not as effective as the ‘water grabbing’ ability of microfibre drying towels.
To protect the paint surface of a car we tend to use a wax based polish. Once a layer of polish has been applied it needs to be buffed to a deep shine, again the special characteristics of microfibre cloth allow a quicker removal of polish residue from the surface than other cloths.
*Microfibre is spelt microfiber by some people, especially Americans and ‘USA-o-philes’.
Chamois leather (a.k.a. Shammy, Shammie, Chammy and wash leather) has been used for years by car fanatics, window cleaners and anyone wanting to dry off delicate surfaces after they have been cleaned.
Is your chamois real?
It has been years, possibly 100 years, since the chamois goat / antelope has been ‘committed’* to the production of the chamois leather in commercial quantities due to a severe decline in species numbers. The vast majority of commercial shammy’s are now made from sheepskin. The skins being widely available as a by product of meat production.
In the UK, there is a British Standard relating to the specification of Genuine Chamois Leather (BS 6715:1991) it covers the type and grade of leather and its preparation and treatment and the absorbancy of the finished product. This allows for wash leathers derived from sheep skin to be generically described as ‘chamois leather’. This is to distinguish a product made from a natural leather from a material made from man-made fibre and is not intended to mislead the public into thinking their genuine chamois leather is made from a small wild goat from the high Pyrenees. For most people the basic test is whether or not the packaging claims to be Genuine Chamois Leather. In a world where counterfeit products do exist the easiest way to ensure that the product is what it claims to be is to buy from a reputable source. Few of us will be referring a product we buy to the trading standards office for checking.
*Referring to the old joke about the chicken being involved in the production of breakfast while the pig is committed!
How it’s made
Chamois is one split of the leather with the grain removed. The leather is snag trimmed and then tanned (oil pounded into the leather and then oxidised). The oil specified for ‘Genuine Chamois’ is fish oil, often Cod. Once the rough skin is tanned it is then ‘polished’ on what is best described as a large circular belt sander. This is called ‘wheeling’, this process gently scrubs/sands away imperfections and rough spots in the skin. The heaviest skins tend to be wheeled on one side and the finer skins wheeled on both sides. The finished product is then trimmed to the required size.
Why it works
Shammies work because the fibres of the leather are open i.e. not close together this allows water, and dirt, to be absorbed into the material taking it away from the surface being dried.
How to use a Shammie
When completely dry a shammie isn’t able to absorb water efficiently. Therefore, before starting to dry your vehicle, wet the leather and wring it out (to wring out your leather, make it into a ball and squeeze it between your hands, try never to twist and wring as this tends to tear the fibres of the leather causing it to shed bits and quickly go into holes. The perfect way to dry a chammy is to put it through a mangle so the water is crushed out not twisted out). The presence of a little water enables the fibres to absorb much more water as it is being used.
During use once the leather is soaked simply wring it out and carry on.
Chamois Care Instructions
Before using the leather for the first time wash it in lukewarm, slightly soapy water (ideally use some of your car shampoo, never use dishwashing liquid or washing powder as they contain, amongst other nasty chemicals, a lot of salt) rinse it in clean water (note it may lose a little colour as excess fish oil is washed out) and you are ready to go.
After use the same washing regime is needed to clean out any dirt picked up from the surface of the vehicle. Once clean don’t be too enthusiastic on the final rinse. Leaving a little soap in the leather helps it to stay soft. (The rinse before you next use it will remove the soap left behind and leave the leather ready to go.)
After you have washed and wrung the leather spread it out to its original shape and hang to dry. Avoid drying conditions which will dry it too quickly as it will harden. Definitely do not leave your leather wet in a bucket or polythene bag as it will mildew and rot.
Having been in the valeting / detailing / vehicle cleaning trade for years many hours have been wasted with enthusiastic supporters of chamois leathers vs staunch advocates for microfibre cloths vs the newly fervent adherents of the drying towels.
Get real folks. There isn’t one solution which suits everyone. There isn’t a best product which works well in all circumstances. Everyone is entitled to lobby for their favourite but the reality is that there are many ways to skin this particular cat. Drying your vehicle without scratching it and without leaving nasty looking smudges, stains, smears etc with minimum effort and maximum style is down to how you want to do it. In recent years we have even started to hear from people who blow dry their vehicle – presumably on the basis that if they don’t touch the paintwork to dry it they can’t possibly scratch it!
The claims are out there that one product or another makes waxing / polishing the paintwork more or less effective. Until someone comes up with a scientific test which proves it one way or another we recommend that you pick the leather, microfibre cloth which best suits how you want to work and let others do it their own way. It is even worth trying different fabrics sometimes – you might surprise yourself and like working with something new.
Stockinette is widely used in car detailing but it is rarely discussed. So, we thought we would try to pull together everything we know and could find out about stockinette and why it is so useful to car detailers.
Since detailing is all about getting the body work to look its best then all of the materials commonly used are specialised in some way. Stockinette is useful because it is relatively inexpensive and, when used properly, won’t damage the paintwork at all. The often used description of ‘Super Soft Cotton Stockinette’ captures the basics pretty well.
Stockinette is also known as
Mutton Cloth – primarily because its original use was for the wrapping of meat
Cheese Cloth – used to make and / or wrap cheeses
Muslin Cloth – often used for personal hygiene
Grades & Uses
There are different grades / thicknesses of Stockinette available. The grades are largely used for different purposes:
coarser grades used in building and decorating
finer grades generally used in kitchens and medical environments for purposes other than cleaning and polishing
the grades used for car detailing are largely equivalent to the medical type/grade
Stockinette for Detailing / Valeting
The best stockinettes for detailing / valeting are made from unbleached (cream to beige coloured) fine grade 100% cotton. The cloths manufactured from synthetic or mixed fibres are used as rags and wipers only – never on paintwork or other similarly soft / delicate surfaces.
Cotton Stockinette is available in a variety of colours including unbleached but the most common and generally most cheaply available cloth is bleached white. However, the coloured or bleached white material is rarely 100% cotton, with bleached cotton usually made from what is known as Condenser Yarn – which is a yarn made from cycled cotton spun on a synthetic base yarn for strength. This is because recycled cotton fibres are too short to hold together on their own and need a core filament.
The properties which make stockinette so useful are its: Softness, Absorbancy and Strength when wet.
Because of the method of manufacture (circular knitted) if you cut your cloth from a roll it will shed some little bits of fluff. Therefore, the pedantic say, it isn’t possible to get Lint-free stockinette on a roll. However, if you use edged and finished stockinette polishing cloths then they are, for all practical purposes, lint-free. Another effective option is to cut a length of stockinette, shake off the bits and turn the ends in to significantly reduce fluff.
The cloth can be machine washed. However, many, if not most, detailers prefer to use until dirty and then discard. The cost effectiveness of the material makes that a viable proposition.
The main uses for stockinette in detailing are: drying, wiping, application of waxes and polishes and general cleaning up.
The cloth is made around the world with the main areas producing Stockinette being China, India, South Africa and a few places across Europe.
Note: MH Textiles produces all grades of stockinette from certified yarn in the UK and supply to the building trade, kitchen and medical as well as the motor detailing / valeting industry.