Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Mitter cloth selection

October 11, 2010
Conveyor carwash 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 top brush, the alternate piece of equipment to do this job, 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.

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.

Non-woven fabric
Lots of materials can clean a car well; few can stand up to the abuse of a carwash. Harsh detergents, changing temperatures, and whipping motions combine to quickly destroy and fade most materials.

When evaluating cloth, first consider these five characteristics of the material:
  • Blend ratio of polypropylene and polyester;
  • The weight of the material;
  • Density;
  • Surface texture; and
  • The material’s flexibility.
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 carwash, 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.

Non-woven fabrics provide resilience, 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.

Despite how well suited non-woven fabrics are for the automated carwash 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 typically 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.

Plush mitter materials
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 heavy. Balance ensures that customers won’t be alarmed by 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.

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.

Anthony Analetto is the chief operating officer of SONNYS The Carwash Factory and one of the company’s driving forces behind new carwash equipment innovations.

Prior to joining SONNY’S, Analetto was the director of operations for a national carwash chain featuring 74 locations across the country.

He represents over 25 years of experience in the carwash industry and can be reached at 800-327-8723 or via email at