If you care about the appearance of your car, truck, RV, SUV, motorcycle or watercraft you need a good chamois. Probably more than one. A chamois is used to dry off water. Whether it comes from the car wash or a recent shower, if you leave water to dry naturally the result will be unsightly spots. This is avoided by drying the surface with a chamois.
The best chamois soaks up several times its own weight in water. Then just rinse, wring it out and repeat. Of course, their use isn't restricted to just cars and boats. People use them wherever a wet surface needs drying. Wet pets, just washed windows and surfboards are all common uses. Competitive swimmers and divers love them too for a quick dry between events.
This guide will help you pick the best chamois for your needs. We'll address the two types, correct usage, and how to pick one that will suit you best. Then we'll review five of the leading products.
Genuine Chamois Leather
Pronounced shammie or shammy, the Chamois is a breed of goat. Today though chamois leather comes from sheepskin. Because it's a natural leather product some buyers prefer the term “wash leather” or just “leather.”
Unlike most leather, sheepskin is slightly absorbent. This property is enhanced by the tanning process it's put through on the way to becoming a chamois for boat or car use. However, if you’re buying a chamois as gift, you might want to be sure that the person you’re giving it to doesn’t have a problem with using animal products!
Chamois has two properties that make it great for drying. First, it has a generous nap, which means lots of surface area for holding water. Second, and just as important, it releases this water easily, along with any grit or other particles, when rinsed and wrung out. This prevents dirt scratching the surface being dried. A downside is that natural chamois becomes stiff when left to dry, so needs soaking and wringing-out before use.
This is usually made from a type of plastic called PVA and has a cellular structure that helps it soak up an impressive volume of water. It's also soft, which helps prevent scratches. Another strength, especially in comparison with genuine chamois, is that it resists mold and mildew. This can be a problem when storing a damp chamois as it will start to smell.
Other alternatives to the shammy are microfiber toweling and the traditional terry toweling. While these can be soft they lack the drying power or absorbency of genuine chamois and especially PVA/synthetic chamois.
Some people like to spread the chamois out over the the surface, then drag it towards them. Others bundle it up like a polishing cloth and slowly work over the surface. Whichever technique you prefer is fine: the material will just suck up all the water it comes into contact with. However, it must be rinsed regularly.
Even if the surface you're drying looks clean, chances are microscopic grains of grit were left behind. The chamois will pick these up, and if they're not rinsed away they'll scratch the finish.
For this reason, your rinse bucket should have a grit guard. This is a grating that stands about an inch above the bottom of the bucket. It lets grit settle and stops it from getting back onto the chamois. We've included a grit guard in the Reviews section so you can see what we suggest.
After rinsing, wring-out the chamois so it's almost dry. (Twisting into a rope works well.) Then run it over the next wet area and repeat.
One word of caution: don't drop your chamois on the ground! If you do make this mistake the chamois should be replaced because almost certainly it will have picked up some grit.
What to Look for In a Chamois
When shopping for a good shammie, shammy or chamois leather the only criteria you’ll see defined are size and sometimes weight. While those are important they are not the only things to consider. Here we’ll run through the key points to look for.
This was covered above, but in summary, your two choices are natural or synthetic chamois.
The bigger your chamois the more water it can soak up and the faster you’ll dry your ride. That’s particularly useful if you’re working in a hot climate where going slowly around the vehicle gives the water time to dry. Note that a natural chamois will be an irregular shape so the manufacturers guarantee a minimum square footage rather than precise dimensions.
Weight gives an indication of absorbency. For drying cloths absorbency is measured in terms of how many times its own weight of water a cloth can hold. This matter because, as with a bigger chamois, the more water your drying cloth can soak up, the quicker you’ll finish. Be aware though that excellent absorbency can be a bad thing. If it means you rinse less frequently the cloth or leather is likely to retain more grit.
The best chamois can hold up to five times its own weight in water. Some modern microfiber materials are actually more absorbent than genuine chamois leather and will hold up to seven times their weight.
While color doesn't affect performance it might be a factor if you're buying a chamois as a gift. Natural chamois only comes in yellow while the synthetic materials can be any color.
Dirt release: Regular rinsing frees grit and leaves it in the bucket. The best chamois leather has a soft nap that’s quick to release grit during the rinse. Conversely, it does retain oil and grease.
Hard to quantify, but you want the softest material you can find for drying your paintwork.
Drying cloths benefit from the occasional wash as this helps ensure they’re free of any surface-damaging grit. However, chamois should only be washed in clean, cold water as anything else could damage the nap and take away the natural oils. Synthetic materials can just go straight in the washing machine along with your other laundry.
Vegetarians and vegans might have a problem with using natural chamois. Also, as a natural material it is renewable and will eventually decompose, but the tanning process is not particularly kind to the environment.