Why You Should Never Dry Your Car with a Bath Towel

A lot of car owners are turning to the bath towel to avoid water spots after washing their cars. It may seem like a cheap and effective solution, but bath towels often do far more harm than good to the paintwork.

I’ve been guilty of it in the past too. But once I learnt about, and saw, the damage it causes to the paint, I realised bath towels just weren’t suitable.

In this article, I’ll explain the issues with using bathroom towels to dry your car, and give you a cost effective and safer alternative. So let’s get started.

The Quick Answer

Bath towels should never be used to dry a car because they cause micro-scratches and swirl marks in the clear coat paint. Instead, use a soft, clean and plush microfiber towel to dry your car safely.

The Material is Too Harsh

 The main issue with bath towels, is that the fibres are simply too harsh and coarse for the paintwork. 

It’s often the harsh material that causes ugly swirls and scratches in the car’s clear coat. Let me explain. 

Your car’s paint consists of several layers. The two most important to consider, are the clear coat and the base coat. The base coat is what gives your car its colour. The clear coat sits on top and protects the base coat from UV damage, corrosion and dirt, so it doesn’t fade over time. 

However, the clear coat isn’t as tough as it sounds. In fact, it’s actually incredibly delicate.
Any type of friction is highly likely to cause scratches. They aren’t the kind of scratches that you see in normal lighting, like the ones that look grey or white.

Instead, clear coat scratches can only really be seen in direct sunlight. But they do generally make the car look duller and flatter in all kinds of lighting. 

The only way to remove them, is by cutting a layer of the paint away to reveal a smooth flat surface that light reflects off evenly. However, you want to avoid this because you should always preserve the clear coat so the base coat underneath is protected. 

Okay so going back to bath towels. 

You may not think it, but bath towels are actually quite aggressive and whenever they come into contact with the paint, they are very likely to cause these micro clear coat scratches. 

Like I said, the clear coat is super delicate so only the softest materials can be used.
Even the “super soft” bath towels aren’t suitable. In most cases they are still too aggressive for the clear coat. There’s also a second issue with bath towels. 

They Drag Dust Along the Paint

There is also another way that bath towels cause scratches, but it’s a little more indirect. 
Whenever you wash your car, seconds after rinsing, dust will settle on the surface.

It’s almost impossible to avoid. If you’re washing your car in an enclosed garage, it can help, but the dust will still be there just to a lesser extent than outside. The issue with bath towels, is that when you wipe them across the panel, they drag dust along the paint as well. 

Your car’s clear coat is so delicate that even dust can cause these scratches and swirls. Remember, dust is actually made of solid particles. So it isn’t inaccurate to think of it thr same as dragging grit across the paint, just smaller particles of it. 

Bathroom towels aren’t capable of pulling the dust into the fibres. Instead the dust will remain trapped between the towel and the car. So every time you run a towel along the panel, you’re causing these micro scratches. 

What to Use Instead

So if you can’t use a bath towel to dry your car, what can you use instead?

The most effective way to dry your car safely, is by using a microfiber towel. They are much better alternatives for a few reasons.

  • The fibres are super soft so they won’t damage your car’s clear coat.
  • Microfiber towels are far more effective at drying the car without streaks.
  • The fibres pull dust into the towel, rather than dragging it along the car.

I have always found that microfiber best absorbs water when it’s slightly damp. I know this sounds counter-intuitive but it really works.

There are also a few other things to keep in mind though when using a microfiber towel.

  • Make sure it’s always clean. Never drop it on the floor. The microfiber material quickly attaches to dust and dirt so don’t let it come into contact with any.
  • You can machine wash microfiber, but don’t put it on a cycle with any other materials. The fibres will attract cotton etc.
  • Air dry the microfiber, never put it in the dryer. Heat causes it to harden, making it more harsh and potentially abrasive to the clear coat (which can cause scratches).

Take a look at this article I’ve written that takes you through how to use microfiber safely on a car, without damaging the clear coat.

What About Other Methods

Besides using a microfiber towel, the only other safe method of drying your car without causing scratches is to use a car dryer, or even a leaf blower if you have one that’s air-filtered.

Take a look at this article I’ve written on drying your car with a leaf blower before trying it though.

These are safe methods because you don’t have to touch the paint at all, so there isn’t any risk of causing scratches and swirls.

However, you can only use it on a car with a hydrophobic wax, sealant or ceramic coating. Otherwise the water will just linger and won’t fly off the panels.

The same goes with driving your car to dry it off. It can work if you’re in a rush, and it is definitely better than air drying it when it’s parked, or using a bath towel. However, often all the water won’t be removed and you can get annoying water spots left behind in certain areas.

Never use chamois leather to dry a car.

Chamois leather is a popular choice when it comes to drying, but causes scratches in the same way as a bath towel. So never use anything other than microfiber to actually touch your paintwork with.

So remember, always stick to microfiber, or pressurised air (car dryer or leaf blower) to dry your car safely, without inflicting scratches.

Check out this complete guide to washing your car without causing scratches.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Check out the rest of the website to learn more about cleaning your car safely to make it look its best.



Heather is a professional car detailer & valeter based in Cheshire and the owner of Auto Care HQ. A familiar face in the car detailing community, she has written over 200 car detailing guides on autocarehq.com and has produced over 165 videos on the Auto Care HQ YouTube channel.

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