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

Thinking about using paper towels to dry your car? Before you do…keep reading. If you use paper towels to dry your vehicle you can bet you’ll see tiny fragments of ‘paper towel dust’ or even scratches.

In this blog post, I’ll start by explaining why you shouldn’t use paper towels and some better and safer alternatives.

Why you shouldn’t use paper towels to dry your car

Since paper towels contain wood fibers, you shouldn’t dry your vehicle with them because you risk scratching the clear coat. You can also mar the paint when pressure is applied, especially if the surface is dry. No matter how soft the paper towels seem, they can and will cause some micro scratching over time.

You also shouldn’t use blue shop towels to dry your vehicle even if they feel softer; they’re abrasive too!

How dry paper towels can damage your car’s clear coat

Even if your car is wet, a dry paper towel can abrade or cut a thin layer of clear coat—the protective clear layer on top of your paint layer. The same can be said about microfiber towels if used when 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 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

Aside from the scratch potential, paper towels leave behind tiny white ‘lint’ particles after your vehicle is dry which you’ll notice on dark paint. In detailing, I don’t recommend paper towels for anything—including on the interior. They’re simply too messy when wet and defeat the purpose of buying detailing sprays and interior cleaners!

Dry your vehicle with microfiber towels instead of paper towels

Instead of grabbing a roll of paper towels, pick up a pack of soft microfiber towels. Microfiber won’t scratch your clear coat because it’s made of materials like polyester and nylon…not wood fibers. Paper towels only absorb water and tend to slide around substances like dirt on a vehicle; microfiber can both absorb water and lift particles.

How to properly dry your vehicle

To dry your vehicle, I recommend using a drying aid with a damp microfiber towel for safety. Check out our post on how to best rinse and dry your vehicle to learn a few best practices.

I also keep several of these towels in my console for emergencies with a clear detailing spray. You never know when you’ll need to clean up bird poop or the occasional gas spill.

Ready to learn how to properly wash your vehicle? Check out our video course Washing and Detailing for Beginners to learn a few best practices that will improve your skills. Happy detailing! 

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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