Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Mitter Cloth Selection

Getting a clean car without manual labor

September 24, 2013
Every time I’m asked to write about wash material selection for mitters, I immediately flash back to childhood memories at the family wash. I laugh as I remember cutting up strips of artificial turf that dragged over the car with foamed soap as it entered the tunnel. I’m then astonished at how far our industry has advanced in the last couple of decades.

Mitters were originally designed to simulate a human hand washing a car with a mitt that moves back and forth over horizontal vehicle surfaces. The alternate piece of equipment to do this job, the top brush, has regained popularity in recent years. Despite improved wash materials and automated retract capabilities now available on top brushes, the mitter still remains the preferred choice for most operators due to its inherent safety and ease of operation. There are four main types of mitters on the market today. Front to back, side to side, and less commonly, diagonal, and circular mitters can be found from various manufacturers. Some mitters offer longer strokes, some shorter, but over all, not that much has changed in recent years with equipment. What has changed is the availability of new wash materials offering improved cleaning performance. What’s more, new materials are entering the market at an accelerating pace.

Non-woven Fabric

Lots of materials can clean a car well; few can stand up to the abuse of a car wash. Harsh detergents, changing temperatures, and whipping motions combine to quickly destroy and fade most materials. Selecting the right wash material for your mitter requires balancing durability, safety, and color fastness, against cleaning performance. Few materials hold up as well as non-woven fabric. This engineered cloth bonds fibers together by entangling them mechanically, thermally, or chemically. When installed in a car wash, non-woven fabrics deliver specific controlled absorbency which is a vital characteristic of a good mitter material. Basically, this type of cloth will absorb enough water to provide sufficient weight to maintain surface contact without becoming so heavy that it restricts movement or causes damage. In addition, non-woven fabrics provide resilience, some stretch, softness, strength, and sterility. They clean well, don’t fray, maintain their color, last a long time, and won’t create offensive odors. It’s no wonder that they are the leading choice in mitter material. When evaluating cloth, consider the blend ratio of polypropylene and polyester, the weight of the material, density, surface texture, and the material’s flexibility.

Despite how well suited non-woven fabrics are for the automated car wash industry, their relatively stiff, smooth, surface doesn’t allow them to clean windshield eyebrow, grooves, and other concave surface features. Soft cloth alone is incapable of delivering a completely clean car. Traditionally, online prep labor and exit end touch up staff would address missed areas. Operators looking to eliminate labor would commonly look to a hybrid wash process using high pressure blasters to supplement mitter cleaning. More recently, new mitter wash materials have appeared in the market to improve cleaning performance. Let’s take a look at their trade offs.

Plush Mitter Materials

Few people outside the industry could truly appreciate just how revolutionary some of the new “plush” wash materials really are. The latest designs deliver a specific controlled absorbency allowing them to maintain the necessary weight to provide complete contact with the vehicle’s surface without becoming so heavy that they alarm customers with excessive slapping, or potential damage. The tufted texture presents a distinct advantage over cloth by more effectively agitating detergents and reaching into grooves. Without debate, these materials can improve the cleaning performance of your equipment and reduce the need for manual labor. That said, there is no question that even the most durable brands still won’t hold up as long as non-woven cloth. They also require more lubrication to use safely and increase life expectancy. Hence, these materials should appear earlier in the wash process after an initial application of lubricating soap. Personally, I use a plush wash material on my entrance front to back mitter immediately after presoak, and non-woven cloth on a side to side mitter as the last friction wash where I also begin rinsing. At that stage, after a high pressure arch, unless the customer purchased triple foam, there is not enough detergent in my wash process remaining to use a plush material. By mixing both wash materials and motions in your wash, you are more likely to enhance the luster of a broader range of different paint, metal, and glass surfaces.

Closed Cell Foam Materials

Widely accepted as a safe, effective material for spinning brushes, closed cell foam does not absorb water, and therefore lacks the weight to be used effectively on a mitter. I do recall one manufacturer’s attempt to create a combination cloth and foam non-woven material in an attempt to marry the cleaning qualities of both materials.  It wore out quickly and the project was shelved. Maybe it will be available someday, but not today.

Recycled Plastic Materials

Most recently, plush mitter materials manufactured from recycled plastic bottles have begun to enter the market. Aside from the novelty of reducing your environmental impact, these materials appear to release water more quickly. This feature delivers two important qualities. First, the quick release of water results in a material that maintains a constant weight no matter how many cars are processed, delivering improved wash consistency. Second, the material remains heavy enough to wash well, but light enough to remain soft and quiet on the vehicles surface. It will take some time to see how these materials work over time under varying environmental conditions, but their performance so far is attracting the attention of many operators looking to reduce noise inside the tunnel.

Summary

Delivering your customer a clean, dry, shiny car at a profit margin that makes sense to do so requires careful attention to every detail of the wash process. Finding the most efficient balance between labor, equipment, and detergent can be unique to every location. Experimenting with different mitter materials, motions, and locations is just one more tool available to refine your service and remove labor from the equation. There isn’t one single right answer to finding the best result. It may take some trial and error. Hey, if it was easy – everybody would be doing it.

Good luck, and good washing.

Bio: Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as a President of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.comor at 800-327-8723 ext 104