Microfiber towels are perhaps the most important consumer tool you can have for detailing a car. Because these pieces of furry cloth are used for dusting, removing wax and other products, drying, cleaning, and numerous other tasks, they need to be versatile. Not only do they need to be soft enough to touch your car’s paint without damaging it, they also need to be durable enough to last through repeated abuse and washings.
They also need to be affordable because you’ll often end up throwing them away when they’re soiled beyond saving. This happens a lot if you’re working in your garage on the regular, as the editors at The Drive do. So, when we saw Amazon Basics offering 24 microfiber “cleaning cloths,” Amazon’s term for microfiber towels, for $17.93 with taxes (discounted to $11.38 at the time of writing, about $0.47 per towel), we knew this was something we needed to test.
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Even if you’re not a serious detailer, every garage should have a stock of clean microfiber towels, and we’re on the hunt to determine which brands you can trust and which you should stay away from. Amazon Basics is known for being a cheap alternative to just about everything. But given our demands, does cheap translate to cheap quality? Or does it mean value? A majority of other microfiber towels from bigger names cost between $15 and $30, but the packs are limited to six or 12 towels.
After putting these Amazon Basics towels to the test, we can say these should be left in the house. We’ll explain why.
I do not say this facetiously or to be overly dramatic, but people who truly care about their cars might reject these towels the second they see how they’re packaged. The 24-pack arrives in a flat rectangular cardboard package. The whole thing is held together by folded flaps and glue, and there’s nothing stopping dirt or any other abrasive particles from getting into the box through the corners and creases.
If such debris gets inside the packaging during shipping, it’s going to get on the towels because there’s zero plastic protection. That means when you go to wipe down your pristine car after a wash, you may hear that excruciating scratching sound. It’s always a good idea to wash your microfiber towels before using them for the first time, but this is just lazy cost-cutting from Amazon.
Once I had the towels in my hands, my skepticism continued to grow and my hopes of a bargain find quickly waned. They felt small, light, not very soft, and generally low quality. They’d work for certain jobs, sure, but I didn’t have much faith that I’d be a repeat customer.
Amazon might be showing its own cards by naming these microfiber cleaning cloths rather than microfiber towels. The name struck me as odd at the beginning of this test, and it quickly became apparent that these cloths seem better suited for indoor house use than work on a car’s finished surfaces.
Over the roughly three or four months I had Amazon’s towels, I tested them in a variety of ways on my car’s windows, the interior, and small patches of my bumpers. I also literally tore them apart to see how they’d hold up. Because they’re meant to be reusable, I also ran them through the washing machine to see if they kept their shape and structure.
To check the absorbency of Amazon’s towels, I ran a comparison test against a similarly priced towel from Costco’s Kirkland brand. The Costco pack lists for $17.99 at the time of writing for 36 towels (about $0.50 per towel) that measure 16 inches square with an 80/20 polyester/polyamide blend. I placed both towels flat on the ground, which made it clear how much bigger Costco’s towels are than Amazon’s at 12 by 16 inches. I then poured two eight-ounce glasses of water on each towel.
The results clearly landed in favor of the Costco towels. When pouring the water on the Costco towel, it soaked up nearly all of the water with only a bit of seepage. Water practically ran straight through the Amazon towels and spread in multiple directions.
I then picked up the towels, still soaking wet, and wrung them out into a measuring cup. The Amazon towel released about six ounces of water, and the Costco towel gave up about 12 ounces. This is not a direct comparison because of the size difference, but the Costco towel was still much more absorbent.
To see how abrasive these towels are, I used them as a bug-removal tool. I took a couple passes on my front bumper after approximately 18 hours of highway driving from Chicago to the north woods of Wisconsin and from Chicago to a Chain O’ Lakes State Park in northeast Indiana. The bumper looked like a Rustoleum sealed garage floor, except the flakes were insects. I wet the towel down, splashed some water on the bumper, and took a few wipes under a fair amount of pressure. By measure of the eye test, that took off approximately 80 percent of the bugs. As for swirl marks, my bumper is already full of ‘em, so it’s hard to say if the towels did any damage.
Throughout my tests, I noticed a few things about the towels that I liked and a bunch more that I didn’t. I’ll tell you exactly what’s good about these towels, what’s terrible, and how they compare to a similar option from Costco.
The best part of Amazon’s microfiber towels is that I can have them delivered to my doorstep in a day or two by clicking Buy It Now. I could even hit Amazon’s subscription option and keep my garage fully stocked with towels, though I’d never personally buy these towels again.
The quantity of towels provided by Amazon for the price point is tough to beat. These towels were about $18 at the time of purchase, but if you catch a sale, you might be able to grab them for about $12. Even at about $0.50 a piece, however, we’d rather buy Costco’s towels, which were listed for about $18 for a 36-pack at the time of writing.
In my experience with Amazon’s towels, the only automotive applications they’re suited for is washing your car’s windows, interior, wheels, and engine bay. As dusters, these things work pretty well, and they were perfect for wiping down the dash whenever it started to get dusty. With a couple of swipes, all dust is gone and virtually no lint is left behind. I even started using a few of them inside the house. Turns out it’s also common for people to use these as recyclable Swiffer cloths.
I’ve kept a few in my trunk so I could clean my windows at any time. I always have a can of Rain-X’s two-in-one glass cleaner and rain repellant in my car — my dad hooked me on Rain-X at an early age — so I used Amazon’s towels to apply it. The fabric didn’t wipe up all of the liquid in one shot, but that was good for its application. Once I refolded the towels, the dry sections wiped the Rain-X up with zero streaks and no lint left behind.
These towels are claimed to last through hundreds of washes. I didn’t get through that many, but after running them through the washer and the dryer (it’s better to air dry) on a variety of settings, they seemed to generally hold their shape, only marginally losing a bit of initial softness.
The makeup of a cloth’s materials tells part of its story, just not all of it. One thing about Amazon’s microfiber cloths is that they’re made of 90 percent polyester and 10 percent polyamide. No other towel had lower than an 85/15 percent ratio (Mr. Siga), and none of the major brands dipped below 80/20. Ammo’s towels are 80/20, Kirkland (Costco) towels are 80/20, Armor All’s are 80/20, and Chemical Guys’ towels are 70/30. Even Amazon’s ultra-absorbent version isn’t up to spec, which has the same ratio as these towels (90/10).
As pointed out by Larry Kosilla, the well-known automotive detailer behind Ammo NYC, polyester is the part that is meant to “scrub” things like wax off a vehicle, while polyamide is meant to be absorbent. Amazon’s ratio doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad, but these are the roughest-feeling microfiber towels I’ve ever held.
Normally, you want to rub your face with new microfiber towels because they’re so soft, but Amazon’s towels felt grabby when I dragged them across my palms. This roughness might turn some people completely away from these towels, as they might not trust them on a car’s delicate paint.
Amazon’s towels are also smaller (12 by 16 inches compared to 16 by 16 or 16 by 24) and thinner than many competitors. They were more like 12 by 15.5 inches out of the box. They feel pretty light and cheaply made to the point that you could actually see other colors right through them, something I haven’t noticed with plusher towels. I also went full Lou Ferrigno and had no problem ripping Amazon’s towels in half with barely any effort, which speaks to the quality of the weave.
I was also disappointed in the towels’ absorbency. The Costco towels soaked up quite a bit of water, but it essentially ran straight through the Amazon towels, which proves the material blend does matter.
And then are the edges of Amazon’s towels. Rather than use a separate piece of cloth like silk or similarly soft material to cover the edges of the towels, Amazon takes the shortcut route and simply loops more threads around the edges to seal them.
Each towel also has an annoying plastic tag. I ripped a bunch of them off to varying results, such as ripping the microfiber and ripping off the tag only halfway. If somebody uses these without removing the tag, that could result in swirls or scratches.
If you haven’t already guessed, Amazon Basics microfiber towels aren’t something we’d recommend. Although the price is right, the product isn’t.
There are perfectly acceptable ways to use the Amazon Basics towels, but not one of them involves your car’s paint. Use these for cleaning, drying, and detailing your car’s engine, wheels, interior, or windows, and that’s it. If you don’t care about lint and just want some crummy towels to wipe the dirt away, however, a cheaper option is Home Depot’s ProLine shop towels with 48 towels for about $14. Just don’t use shop towels for dusting; microfiber towels are best for that.
If you want a microfiber towel that won’t mess up your paint, try out options from Costco, Chemical Guys, Meguiar’s, or Ammo NYC.
The Amazon Basics microfiber cleaning cloths are extremely affordable, but they lack quality, thickness, and softness required for use on a car's delicate paint. Use these for glass, engines, wheels, tires, and at-home tasks..
You've got questions. The Drive has answers.
A. For automotive purposes, microfiber towels are most often used for interior or exterior cleaning, drying, dusting, product application, or product removal. They can also be used to clean up around the house, clean glasses, clean electronics, or to dry anything else.
A. For a few bucks more, Amazon offers an “ultra absorbent” version of its microfiber towels, but you get half the number of towels. They certainly have more heft to them, as they are about double the weight of the low-cost option, but they still have the same material construction of 90 percent polyester and 10 percent polyamide. One of the biggest differences is the covered edges, which the basic towels do not have.
A. Each towel maker has specific instructions for how they should be washed, but in general, you should wash them by hand or machine wash them in a low temperature with delicate options. It’s also advised to use a specific microfiber cleaning solution to break down any waxes, oils, or other automotive products in addition to the basic laundry. Make sure your soap doesn't have any additives, scents, or dyes that could ruin the towels, and be sure not to use any fabric softener.
A. You’re better off letting them air dry. If you don’t have the time or space to hang them, dry them on the delicates setting or the lowest temperature. It’s possible that the heat of the dryer could damage the towel and render it useless.
A. Here’s a short list:
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