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Business Operations

Towels: Nine tips to get more life out of your towels

March 16, 2011
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1. Get the right towel.
“Most carwashes buy body towels and window towels,” according to Valerie Sweeney, marketing director at ERC Wiping Products Inc., a distributor of towel and wiping products.

“The number one selling body towel is a 16” x 27” terry towel. Carwashes like this type of towel for drying the bodies of the car because it is absorbent and has bulk.” For windows, Sweeney recommended huck/surgical and microfiber towels. She explained that huck towels are 100 percent cotton, lint-free and thin, which makes it easy to reach the corners of the window.

Microfiber towels are similarly lightweight and lint-free, and they will not streak windows if used properly. Additionally, a full or flex-serve carwash will need towels for detail work.

2. Know your needs.
“Depending on climate, volume and application, different towels are needed to keep vehicle wetness under control,” Sweeney explained. “In the south and west, medium weight or thinner towels do best. When the weather is cold and damp, water doesn’t evaporate as quickly so medium to heavy towels are needed. A thicker towel is also needed when it’s snowy and you need to work quickly on a cold day.”

3. Have enough towels on hand.
Sweeney suggested carwash and detail shop owner/operators evaluate the needs of their business before ordering towels. “It all depends on the volume of the carwash,” Sweeney explained.

“The average carwash orders 10 dozen body and 10 dozen hucks or two packs of microfibers for the windows, and reorders every few months. Larger volume carwashes will bring in 20-50 dozen at a time.”

Sweeney said towels should be rotated out at the first sign of deterioration, and can sometimes be repurposed as grease rags for wiping wheel wells and door jams.

4. Wash before you dry.
According to Becky Kube, president and co-owner of Q.B. Enterprises, Inc., a supplier of towels and vending products to the carwash industry, new towels should be washed in a solution of warm water and one cup of distilled white vinegar (not cider vinegar) two to three times before they are put in service.

“Dry the towels completely, making sure to empty the lint catcher,” she advised. “This removes any surface lint left over from manufacturing.” Why vinegar? Well, vinegar is needed to remove the sizing that has been added during the manufacturing process, Kube explained, and sizing prevents towels from absorbing and gives the finished towel stain resistance and a bright finish.

“After the initial washing, add vinegar once a week to the wash,” Kube continued. “This will help to remove the musty smell damp towels have.”

5. Skip the bleach.
Kube said a cardinal rule when washing towels is to never use bleach. “Bleach deteriorates the cotton fibers in the towel creating lint and shortening the life of the towel,” Kube explained. “Any questions?”

6. Don’t mix towels in the wash.
According to Kube, operators should avoid washing new towels with old towels and should also ensure they’re not washing window towels with body, wax or grease towels.

“Normal wear and tear breaks the cotton fibers in cotton towels producing lint,” Kube explained. “Washing new towels with old towels will transfer lint from your old towels onto the new towels.”

In addition to concerns about lint, the combination of chemicals in soaps, waxes and detergents does not mix well with window cleaning solutions, Kube explained.

7. Don’t forget to re-order.
Once the last batch of new towels has been broken into and put into the cycle, then it is time to reorder, Sweeney said. “Unfortunately, many carwashes lose some of their towels before they even get worn out,” she lamented.

8. Remember your vending opportunities.
According to Kube, self-serve and IBA operators should have three vending towels available to their customers: 100% cotton woven surgical towels, 100% cotton terry cloth towels, and microfiber towels. “Vending all three at the same location works well because the price points vary from $1 to $2,” Kube explained, “and customer preference rules the vending selection.”

9. Say “Thanks!”
The perfect towel for the flex-serve is a disposable courtesy towel, according to Sweeney. “These 12” x 12” paper towels are 52 lb DRC and comparable to the thickness of a paper towel for vending,” she explained. “The courtesy towel says “Thank You” and is a low cost way to let your customer know that you appreciate his business. They are useful for touching up the car or to get a spot that was missed.”