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Do bath towels scratch car paint?

Can You Wash A Car With Laundry Detergent?

You’ve probably heard that there are a variety of soaps and detergents you can use to safely wash your vehicle. After all, suds are suds, right? But some of these cleaning agents will do more harm than good, so it’s wise to know what you can and cannot use on your paint. If you’ve ever wondered if laundry detergent can be used for this chore, we can help you. We researched the science behind it so that you’ll know for sure if it’s okay.

You shouldn’t wash a car with laundry detergent. There are active ingredients in this soap that will damage your vehicle’s paint.

Now that we know that you shouldn’t wash a car with laundry detergent, we’ll take a look at why this is harmful. You might also be curious about what you can use at home to wash your vehicle or how you can make homemade car wash soap. For the answers to these questions and more, keep reading this post and see what our research has uncovered.

Why You Should Never Use Laundry Detergent To Wash A Car

Hands of African man holding yellow sponge, washing car wheel with foam. Cleaning of modern rims of luxury yellow car at self car wash service outdoors., Can You Wash A Car With Laundry Detergent?

While laundry detergent works great on soiled fabrics, it can be a huge detriment to the paint job on your car or truck. The layer of paint and protective coatings serve as more than just a cosmetic aesthetic. They serve to keep the body of your vehicle free from rust, so it’s best to treat them with care.

Laundry detergents have chemical agents in them that work as degreasers. These work so well at removing stains from clothing that they work too well on the wax and other coatings on your car’s paint job. In their effort to remove the dirt and grime, they also eat away at the very things you want to be left intact on the surface of your vehicle.

The soap you dump into your washer isn’t the only form of suds in your home that can damage your paint. Most dish soaps have the same chemicals as detergent, so be sure to exercise extreme caution when reaching for soap at home to wash your car. Fortunately, there are things you can use that are safe!

What Can You Use At Home To Wash Your Car?

One approved soap for cars you might have in your home is Dawn. While still a dish soap, it doesn’t have the harsh chemical makeup of many of the others you might find on the shelves of the grocery store. A squirt of this in a bucket with warm water added will go a long way in getting your car to shine again.

For best results with Dawn, be sure not to overuse it. Dish soaps are pretty sudsy as is, so you shouldn’t need more than just a single squirt of it to do the job. Dawn will lather perfectly as you work the soap across the surface of your car or truck, and it will generally come off the paint without leaving pesky streaks.

This soap will work best if you use good car-washing mitts.

Asian oldman using yellow sponge washing front fog light of new red car.

How Do You Make Homemade Car Wash Soap?

It’s not hard to make your car wash soap. And you very likely have the ingredients to create it right in your cabinets. Let’s take a look at how to concoct your soap with common household items.

One method is to use a combination of white vinegar and water. By using a 1:1 ratio of these two liquids, you’ll create a cleanser that is harsh enough to dissolve the dirt and grime on your car’s surfaces but mellow enough to leave the wax and other coatings intact.

Just be sure to NEVER use more than this ratio, as too much vinegar will damage the coatings.

Baby shampoo is another alternative. This is mellow enough for your baby’s skin but suds up enough to do a great job removing all the dirt from your paint. It’s also inexpensive and only requires a squirt of it or two. It will work great with any car wash mitts or sponges you bought for the job, too.

baby bath accessories on white table

What’s The Fastest Way To Wash A Car At Home?

No one washes a car at home to save time. A thorough hand-washing job will take a bit of time and a lot of care. It also requires some preparation, which eats away a bit at the clock.

The fastest way is to always have the materials you need on hand. Soap, a garden hose, car wash mitts, buckets, and soft cloths for drying is all that you need unless you are planning on doing a coat of wax or two. Start by having what you need, then use a certain technique.

Rinse the vehicle off to loosen the dirt and grime, beginning from the top and working your way down. Do the same with soaping and scrubbing. Finally, rinse it from the top down. Allowing it to air dry will save a lot more time but will also leave some streaks.

If you’re in a hurry, though, it’s best to just go to an automatic car wash. This will cost a lot more money, but they can get you in and out in almost no time at all. And as a bonus, most of them have an auto-dryer or staff that will hand-dry your car off with shammies when you’re finished.

Father And Teenage Daughter Washing Car Together

Can I Wash My Car With Just Water And A Rag?

Are you in a position where you don’t have any soap on hand? You might think that you can get by with just water from your hose and a rag. But you’ll find that this can be a waste of your time.

You will be able to loosen and remove a good amount of the dirt and grime that has built up on your car or truck with the sprayer on your hose, but it won’t remove most of it.

Scrubbing the surface of your car with nothing but a rag and water just moves the greasy substances that are accumulated on your paint around instead of removing them.

In a pinch, it’s okay to use just a hose in the winter to spray off the road salt from the undercarriage. Just don’t expect to ever get your car clean without some sort of approved soap or cleaner. This will be especially important when you are cleaning the tires and wheels of a dirty car.

Will A Bath Towel Scratch A Car?

It’s recommended to always use an approved cloth when drying off your vehicle. While we all know that other towels—like bath towels—do great at drying off people and other objects, they aren’t the best when it comes to drying off your car.

A bath towel will not scratch your car’s paint. In fact, it will do a good job of removing the water that’s on the surface after a thorough washing. But the thickness of a bath towel causes two problems.

First, the bath towel will leave too many streaks on your paint job. It’ll be dry, but it won’t look its best. Bath towels also leave a lot of lint behind, making the car you just washed look a bit unsightly.

Pile of clean new towels against grey wall

Final Thoughts

While washing a car or truck at home can be a fun and rewarding chore, you need to use caution when choosing the soap you will use for the job.

Being prepared with all the materials needed will certainly speed up the time it takes to wash your vehicle at home, but it’s still a lot faster to visit an automatic car wash. In a pinch, there are some great car wash soap alternatives in your home that you might consider trying sometimes. Drive safe!

Make it this far? We hope this post answered all of your questions. For additional information, we suggest reading the following posts:

Common Things You Shouldn’t Clean With A Paper Towel

hand pulling paper towel

Paper towels are easily one of the most sought-out household items in the United States. Americans spend as much money on paper towels as the rest of the world combined, proving how much we rely on this disposable resource (via The Atlantic). Although many people rely on these wood-fiber papers for nearly every household and daily task, their original purpose was not so all-encompassing. Paper towels were originally invented as a hygienic alternative to cloth, though their disposable nature makes them seem ideal for most chores around the home. Generally, they make cleaning jobs easier and minimize the size of laundry loads, making them ideal tools for the average person.

However, paper towels aren’t always the best choice for every job. They are generally weaker than other cleaning instruments, causing them to leave residue or small pieces behind. Paper towels also contain chemicals that may make you think twice about using them for certain chores. Learn more about what’s in your paper towels and what home tasks you should never use them for in the list below.

Low to high pile carpeting and rugs

cleaning white rug with brush

Many homes feature both low and high-pile rugs or carpeting in the living room, bedrooms, office spaces, and hallways. Low pile refers to fabrics with short, tightly looped fibers, while high pile textiles are often shaggy and loosely made. Either way, using a paper towel to clean up messes and spills is not recommended on these surfaces. The paper-like texture of these household tools tears easily on low-pile fabrics, being ripped apart by the short, firm fibers that comprise them. High-pile textiles cause a similar issue, as the long strands easily catch and break up paper towels. This is especially an issue when using a stain remover or other cleaning solution, which moistens the towel in use and makes it even weaker when rubbed against uneven terrain.

Instead of using a paper towel, you should use clean white rags made of microfiber, sponges, or soft-bristled brushes to clean carpets. Don’t rub, but carefully blot the stain to remove the mess. If all you have on hand are paper towels, you can use them as a last resort. Just remember that blotting minimizes tearing and reduces the number of remnant pieces left behind, making this a technique to keep in mind. However, you should not use your paper towels if they have a printed design on them, for the dye can rub off on your carpet or rug.

Electronic screens

wiping tablet with soft tissue

Over time, fingerprints and dust can accrue on various screens around your home, including smart kitchen appliances, TVs, Google Nests, Apple HomePods, and other electronic devices. It may be tempting just to give them a quick swipe over using a traditional paper towel, but electronic manufacturers warn against using this method. Paper towels can potentially scratch and abrade electronic screens, leaving permanent scratches and indentations on their interface. They also leave lint behind, which isn’t as damaging but still a nuisance when you’re trying to clean up and not leave more debris.

If any screens in your home need a wipe down, use microfiber cloths, diluted 70-percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol, electronic wipes, or a vacuum with a narrow nozzle attachment. Make sure the fabric you’re cleaning with is only damp and not soaked with fluid to avoid causing moisture damage to whatever product you’re working on. As always, you should check the manufacturer’s manual for the product you’re about to wipe down— it may have specific cleaning instructions and advice to use a certain specialized formula instead of rubbing alcohol.

Silverware and dishes

wiping bowls with pink towel

Whether you handwash your dishes or run them through a dishwasher, they may require a quick dry before being put away. Even if paper towels are in close proximity, you shouldn’t turn to this resource to dry your glass, ceramic, plastic, or earthenware kitchen items. Paper towels are made with chlorine and formaldehyde, and both chemical byproducts are left behind when you rub them on dishes and silverware. Many paper towel brands also contain Bisphenol A (BPA), which is a chemical thought to affect the brain, circulatory system, and cardiovascular health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers BPA to be safe at low levels. However, higher concentrations can have ill effects.

With this in mind, you probably don’t want the dishes you eat from to be exposed to the carcinogens detected in many paper towel products. There is no reason to subject yourself to these health risks when you can air dry your items using a dish mat or rack. If you need to dry them more immediately, you can always use a dish towel, although this can spread bacteria if you aren’t careful to use a clean cloth.

Mirrors and windows

using glass cleaner on mirror

Using a paper towel on glass housewares, such as windows, furniture, and mirrors, may not have ill health effects, but it is still inadvisable. Using this type of cleaning product makes your efforts futile, as it leaves streaks of lint behind. Ditch the paper towels and use a soft cleaning pad better suited for these tasks— you can use microfiber cloths, which are the usual recommended alternative. Coffee filters, fresh t-shirts, kitchen and bathroom towels, and other soft fabrics also get the job done without leaving residue behind. If you really want to optimize your glass cleaning technique, spot-clean the problem areas first before wiping down the entire item. This keeps you from spreading dust, dirt, and streaks, and helps clump the unsightly residue together, making the job less tedious.


white cloth on blue sofa

The upholstery in your home is the soft materials that make up many furniture pieces, usually couches, armchairs, dining chairs, ottomans, and other seating options. These materials are synthetic or all-natural textiles; cotton, leather, linen, nylon, polyester, silk, velvet, or synthetic blends. No matter which fabric makes up most of your upholstery, you should not be using paper towels to clean these items.

The fibers in textiles easily tear and rip paper towels, leaving paper trails in the wake of your wiping. Paper towels can even make a mess worse when cleaning up a spill; you’ll just rub a stain deeper into your furniture, making it more difficult or impossible to remove. Darker fabrics are especially susceptible to these problems since the white residue from paper towels is more visible on these types of upholstery. You can avoid the complications associated with paper towels by washing your fabrics based on manufacturer instructions and cleaning guidelines. You should know that furniture manufacturers created a universal system for washing upholstery fabrics based on an alphabetized code. This code is indicated by a letter on your furniture tag, which explains how to clean your product using dry or water-based procedures.

Grout lines

toothbrush scrubbing tile grout lines

Many homeowners make the mistake of trying to clean grout with paper towels, and they learn the hard way that this is ineffective and creates a bigger mess. Grout is a hardened mixture of sand, cement, and water, which is often used to fill the gaps between wall and floor tiles. It usually has a sandpaper-like texture that is rough to the touch and will easily shred paper towels. Wet or dry paper fibers will snag on the grout lines, creating a more sizable mess than what you started with.

You’ll need to use a more specialized process for grout-related cleaning endeavors. A broom, sponge mop, or towel will better suit the task at hand, and some people even use toothbrushes to scrub the thin lines between their tiling. The best recommendation is to use specialized grout sponges for the task since everyday cleaning tools are at risk of tearing the way paper towels do.

Wood furniture

woman cleaning wood kitchen countertop

Wood is one of the most popular natural resources for making household furniture. Bed frames, cabinets, chairs, decorative objects, tables, and other items are built from different types, including natural wood products, engineered particleboard, rattan, and wicker materials. When dusting or cleaning this type of furniture, you don’t want to use paper towels. They have the potential to damage the wood by scratching its finish, especially if you’re dry-dusting. If you’re cleaning up a spill, they’re often not absorbent enough to soak the spill up completely, at least, not without having to use several paper towels.

Wood furniture should be cleaned using a soft cloth and with a wood-specific formula or a diluted cleaning solution. Many finishes are easily damaged by dust and small debris, which is why paper towels are so impractical for the task. You should also use another cloth to completely dry the wood after you finish the scrubbing step of the cleaning process.

Toilet bowls

woman cleaning toilet bowl with brush

When considering the practicality of using paper towels to clean toilets, health concerns again come into play. Unless you’re equipped with substantial PPE (personal protective equipment), such as elbow-length rubber gloves, you probably don’t want to get too close to the fixture where human waste is disposed of. This makes a toilet brush the best tool for the job since you can scrub down the inner pot with an extended pole.

Paper towels put your hands in dangerously close proximity to the powerful cleaning chemicals used to scour a toilet, and the towels themselves can be damaging to your plumbing appliance. If pieces of the paper fibers break off and get flushed into plumbing lines, they take between two to four weeks to biodegrade. This can lead to clogs in your septic and plumbing system, cause a backed-up toilet, and result in house damage, making the common household commodity highly unadvisable for this chore.

Car interiors and exteriors

red microfiber cloth on leather car interior

There is a final belonging that you should never use paper towels on; a personal vehicle, specifically all car makes and models. You already know the issues with using paper towels for most situations; they break apart, leave lint trails, contain trace chemicals, and can cause plumbing blockages. When using them to clean your car, you should keep many of these points in mind. However, you should also consider an additional one — you’ll need to use an abundant number of paper towels to cover the many spaces inside and outside your vehicle. The exterior paint job, windows and windshield, dashboard, plastic casings, and upholstery would take multiple rolls of paper towels to wash and dry. Although this popular household item may be considered «disposable,» you should consider that it’ll fill up your trash bag quickly and be quite costly for a single cleaning job.

You’ll be paying to use an entire case of paper towels when a chamois or spare rag does the job much more effectively. Using a soft cloth is also less likely to scratch your car’s paint job. You may not notice the marks right away, but microabrasion is sure to occur with repetitive paper towel use.

Best Car Drying Towel That Won’t Scratch Your Paint

Drying a Tesla Model 3 with Microfiber Drying Towels

You want to ensure you follow proper car washing techniques when washing your car. But just as important as it is to wash your car correctly, it’s equally important that you have the correct tools. The care you exhibit and the tools you use during the drying process are super important because if you use the wrong towels, you risk damaging (scratching) your paint. You don’t want to use anything other than a quality microfiber car drying towel to get the job done correctly.

Why Microfiber Drying Towels Are Best For Drying Your Vehicle

What you want in a microfiber towel during the drying process is for it to be super absorbent and soft. The central concept is to get up as much water as possible with only a few wipes and without scratching your paint. The amount of water these towels can hold is insane.

Things you want in your drying towel are:

  • Durability. That may seem like an obvious thing to want in any car detailing product, but so many people tend to cheapen out when it comes to buying microfiber towels. Yes, you can pick up some inexpensive towels from a big-box store, but my argument is how well they will hold up over time. Specifically, drying towels. I want mine to have a long lifecycle.
  • Absorbency. The two towels I use when drying are the high pile drying aid towel and the low pile drying aid towel . They both do a terrific job absorbing water and leaving the surface of my car scratch/streak-free. The high pile (gray) towel is the bulkier one of the two. It’s a double-sown, premium Korean 70/30 blended fiber microfiber towel that sucks water well. The low pile (orange) towel was designed by The Rag Company to be used for window cleaning, but I found that it works better in the drying process. It has a twist loop and weave material that makes it perfect for soaking up water — this is the follow-up towel I use to get any remaining drying aid off the car.
  • Soft material. Easily one of the main features you want in your drying towel. Why? The obvious reason is no scratches or swirl marks. I beg you not to be one of those people who uses a cotton towel or a shammy. You’re asking for trouble.

If you’re new to the car detailing world, you probably didn’t realize the importance of having these essentials in your microfiber towels. Or, even if you have been detailing your car for a while and are experiencing scratches on your paint, you may want to look at your current drying towels and see what kind of condition they’re in. It may be time to replace or upgrade them.

Don’t Dry Your Car This Way

Many of us have dried our cars in very creative ways and not necessarily the correct way. Whether out of pure laziness or ignorance, getting the darn water off the paint is the objective. With all the technological advances in car detailing products, we now have tools that can safely do all the heavy lifting. Don’t sacrifice your car’s paint with poor car drying methods when we have processes and equipment designed to prevent it.

Ways to NOT dry your car:

  • Air drying. This drying technique is probably the #1 way many people dry off their cars when they are either in a rush or just don’t feel like grabbing the proper towels to do the job right. Just hop in the car and zoom down the road. Don’t do this! You’re begging for water spots . If you know anything about water spots, they’re a pain. Leaving your car to air-dry in the sun will inevitably cause lasting damage to the paint’s finish.
  • Using bath or cotton towels. If you want to go to scratch-city, use regular cotton towels. These kinds of towels leave lint and don’t absorb water well. You’ll also see hairline scratches and streaks. No type of towel will protect your paint from defects like a microfiber towel.

Do Dry Your Car This Way

There is a right way to dry your car to limit the possibility of scratching the paint. This entails having the right tools and ensuring you don’t have any debris sitting on the paint before drying. You don’t want to drag anything across the surface. I’ve washed my cars for years, and in several videos, I’ve demonstrated how to dry your car correctly . It’s honestly a super simple process. You do it a few times, and it becomes second nature. The only things I’ve adjusted are a few product changes and improvements to my drying process.

Ways TO dry your car:

  • Blow dry. I’ve always liked blow-drying my car off before making contact with it using a microfiber towel. The main reason is to get the bulk of the water off the surface. For years, I’ve used the EGO leaf blower , specifically the 580 model. I like this one because it’s light and doesn’t have a shrill sound. Some of the other EGO blowers have a high-pitch sound that hurts my ears.
  • Microfiber towels. I can’t say this enough, the best and only way to dry the surface of your vehicle is to use the proper towels, and that’s microfiber towels. These towels are denser than your regular towels because they have microscopic fibers that are softer, more absorbent, and resistant to wrinkling.

The Rag Company Microfiber Drying Towel

You’ve spent an hour or two washing your car; the last thing you want to do is get lazy towards the end and do the drying process incorrectly. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but I’m telling you that using the correct tools and following proper procedures to dry your car can limit scratching your paint. The process I’ve used for years entails having a leaf blower (EGO 580) and drying towels that I sell in the store, sourced from The Rag Company.

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