Drying a Car with Paper Towels? Do This Instead & Avoid Scratches

If you’re thinking about using paper towels to dry your car, you might want to think again. Unless your vehicle is already filled with scratches or swirl marks, paper towels are a sure fire way to create swirl marks or even scratches on a vehicle’s paint or clearcoat in many cases.

In this blog post, I’ll explain the dangers of using a roll of paper towels to dry your vehicle, why this is, and offer some alternatives to safely dry your vehicle.

Why paper towels bad for drying your car

Simply put, paper towels are actually composed of wood fibers that have the ability to scratch your vehicle or mar the paint when pressure is applied. No matter how soft the paper towels seem to be, they can and will cause some micro scratching over time. This also goes for blue shop towels which oftentimes are more abrasive than paper towels are.

Never apply a dry paper towel to your car’s clear coat

Even if your car is wet, a dry paper towel is rather abrasive, which means it can cause maring or leave swirl marks by etching into the clear layer (clear coat) that sits just on top of your paint layer. The same can be said about microfiber towels if used when very dry. If you must (although I wouldn’t recommend it) at least wet a paper towel before applying it to any surface. If your car is older it may not be as big of a deal if you’re in a pinch, but just avoid them if your vehicle still has a great looking coat of paint.

If you must use paper towels, they’re usually fine for cleaning mirrors or windows, but as I’ll mention in this next section they do leave behind quite a bit of white residue and cause streaking which is why I don’t recommend them.

Paper towels leave behind lint

Based on my experience this residue is nearly impossible to avoid, as water tends to sort-of disintegrate paper towels. These can be very difficult to avoid when paper towels get wet.

These tiny wood fibers are also pretty difficult to remove since they tend to stick to paint. I’ve experienced this when using paper towels to clean the interior, and they do in fact leave a film if tiny white lint particles on my odometer..never again.

What to use instead to avoid scratching

Car Drying - Chamois vs Microfiber Towel vs Blower

Instead of grabbing that roll of paper towels, an alternative is to pick up a pack of soft microfiber towels. Not only are they safe for your clear coat they won’t call scratching, they are also pretty affordable and actually designed to lift substances like dust and dirt from a vehicle. While the purpose of a paper towel is really to absorb, it’s not going to dry your vehicle like a microfiber towel will, an air dryer, or even a car chamois (which I’m also not a huge fan of, to be honest).

There are several safe ways to dry your vehicle, with the safest being air, since you’re obviously not touching the paint at all. If you haven’t already, head over to my blog post entitled Car Drying 101 where I break down chamois vs. microfiber towels vs. blowers and when and how to use each.

If you are considering using paper towels to simply remove dust from your car’s interior, you may want to pick up a product called The California Car Duster. This is a great tool used to clean off dust on interiors without risking scratching the surface with a paper towel.


If you do find yourself in an emergency situation, just proceed with caution and understand the risks of using paper towels. I prefer to keep a microfiber towel or two in my console or glove box in the event I need to use an instant detailer or waterless product to wipe up bird poop or the occasional gas spill.

A pack of microfiber towels and a product that will add some lubrication can make drying a lot easier and safer. Even when drying an already wet car, it’s best to apply a lubricant like a spray wax during the drying process to avoid friction.

I hope this post has been helpful! To learn how to actually wash your without even touching it, check out this post where I cover using foam cannons and foam guns to apply soap.

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