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How to Clean Shop Rags

Towels and wiping rags are essential for your mechanic shop, car dealership or car wash to run efficiently. Shop cloths function as one of the most valuable and versatile tools at a shop, and having a clean rag within reach makes the task at hand easier when you inevitably need to wipe something up. People's vehicles play a central role in their lives, so it's just as essential to ensure that a rag is available to clean up any spills or contaminants that leak when working on a car. A clean rag will ensure that your customer's car returns to them as sparkling as when it came into the shop. 

A pile of dirty shop rags can quickly build up when you're working on cars all day, and it may seem like an intimidating task to clean them all. Some vehicle fluids like oil can be challenging to remove from towels, but there are several methods to clean shop rags, so you don't need to buy replacement towels continuously. Cleaning shop rags is an easy process that will save you money in the long run by extending your rags' lifespan.

Automotive and Mechanic Shop Rags 

The primary culprits for dirty mechanic shop towels are oils and greases because they cling to towels' fabric and become difficult to clean. Dirt and other contaminants can also build up on rags over time. Since clean shop rags are vital for your business, it's essential to know the best methods to efficiently clean them so you can always have plenty on hand and avoid having dirty rags pile up.

Cleaning Automotive Shop Rags

There are two primary options for cleaning your shop rags — you can choose to hire a laundering company or handle the cleaning on your own, either at your shop or home. Whether you outsource your cleaning or do it yourself depends on how much time you're willing to commit to cleaning your wiping rags versus paying a local cleaning service.

Choosing to clean auto shop rags on your own will save you money without too much additional work. You can wash the rags at a local laundromat, the washing machine at your home or purchase a used washing machine to keep at your shop. Greasy rags can leave residue in a washing machine, so a laundromat or your home washing machine isn't a good option if you're washing oil-stained rags. If you frequently use rags in your day-to-day activities, finding a low-priced secondhand washing machine to keep at your shop could be your best option to avoid lugging dirty rags across town. Having a washing machine in your shop will reduce the time it takes to wash your dirty rags. 

Using the washing machine you have at home is an option, but if your rags are overly greasy, grease can spread throughout the appliance, and there is a chance clothes you wash in the future may not come out clean. To avoid this, you shouldn't wash greasy or oil-coated rags in a washing machine you also plan to use for other non-automotive linens. 

Cleaning shop rags doesn't require too much work, but you'll want to remember some steps that may be different from washing other linens like clothes. Grease and oils stick to the towel fibers, so you should take extra care to clean them thoroughly. 

3 Steps to Clean Shop Rags

Cleaning dirty shop rags requires three steps, and following them will help extend your mechanic shop towels' lifespan. It's best to launder your rags frequently. Doing so will help stains and contaminants from setting into the fabric, leading to cross-contamination and the towel fibers no longer being able to do their job effectively. 

1. Pretreat

Pretreating shop rags will help remove the buildup of dirt, oil and other debris that accumulate on a rag with everyday use. To start, you should wear gloves and try to brush off any loose debris before moving on to pretreating the rags. You can pretreat your rags using different methods, but a commercial grease remover pretreatment is the best option if you work with grease and oil. When removing grease, you can't rely solely on a washing machine. A grease remover will help prevent oil and other substances from lingering in the rags' fibers and prep the rags for washing. 

Alternatives to a grease-removing pretreatment include some everyday household items. You can toss dirty rags into a bucket of hot water mixed with oil-fighting dish soap, distilled white vinegar or baking soda as a more cost-effective pretreatment method. Soaking your rags before washing will help break down the dirt and result in a cleaner finished product. To keep your towels cleaner for longer, you can put the rags directly into the soaking bucket when you finish using them. The longer a rag has to dry after you use it, the more your difficulty of removing it will increase, so it's best to soak it right away. Let soiled rags soak for at least a few hours to see the most benefit. Soaking the rags in a bucket is better than soaking them directly in the washing machine, so you don't damage the washing machine with too much oil or debris. You should dispose of the dirty water after the rags have finished soaking.

You can also apply corn starch or talcum powder directly onto the rag before soaking if you have extremely dirty rags. After putting the powder on the rag, let it sit for several minutes to absorb the grease and oil, then use a brush to scrape it off before soaking or washing. The powder method works best if you don't have many rags because it can become tedious to do too many rags at once. 

2. Wash

After you finish pretreatment, you're ready to move on to washing the rags. You can use a standard household washing machine, but some people prefer to spread out the rags and spray them down with a pressure washer instead. This method can be helpful if your rags have a lot of oil or grease buildup, because those substances can linger in the washing machine over time. 

Using a washing machine is typically the most straightforward option, and the pretreatment process should remove much of the debris. Put the dirty rags into the washing machine and wash using high heat and laundry detergent. You should always follow the manufacturer's directions on the detergent bottle for the best results. Fabric softener isn't necessary and can even damage some materials, particularly microfiber cloths.

3. Dry 

You can dry your rags directly after you wash them and inspect them for any remaining stains. If you find any stains, rewash the cloths to ensure they're clean. Air-drying the cloth will typically extend its lifespan, and you can hang the rags to dry anywhere with decent airflow. Expect the drying to take around five to eight hours. 

You can also use a standard dryer on low to medium heat if you want your rags dried more quickly. Machine drying will set any remaining stains into the fabric, so you should avoid doing this with rags that still have stains if that's a concern. Avoid using high heat, primarily if you used the rags to wipe up any flammable liquids. If not all the oil or contaminants came off during the wash cycle, high heat settings on a dryer could lead to a fire. 

Using a Laundering Service 

Some business owners choose to pay a cleaning company to wash their towels for them, which is an excellent option if you lack the time or facilities necessary to clean your rags on your own. The rate these services charge will vary based on your location, but you can discuss the options available with local companies and find the best fit for your business. 

Some cleaning services will pick up the dirty towels and return them after washing, but you can also choose to drop off and pick up your towels yourself. While you'll be paying a fee for the cleaning service, you'll likely save money in the long term by not needing to purchase as many new shop rags, especially if you don't have time to clean them. Many different companies have developed thorough plans to ensure that their mechanic and automotive shop clients always have freshly washed rags available. 

Reusing Shop Towels

Most shop towels should be long-lasting, and it isn't necessary to throw them away after a single use. Follow these tips to keep your rags in good shape.

  • Keep oil-stained rags separate from other dirty rags: Grease and oils will quickly transfer from the fabric of one towel to another, so you must store greasy rags in a separate container to prevent getting grease on your other towels. Grease is one of the most challenging things to remove from fabrics, and by keeping the rags separated, you prevent staining other rags. 
  • Wash dirty rags as soon as possible: The sooner you wash dirty rags, the easier it will be to remove dirt, debris and other contaminants and prevent permanent stains or buildup. Stains and contaminants will be harder to remove if you let dirty rags sit for long periods without cleaning them. It's best to wash dirty rags daily to keep them from staining or hardening.
  • Air-dry rags: Dryers are hard on linens, and air-drying results in the same outcome with less damage to the rags' fibers. Choosing to air-dry your rags will help them stay absorbent and in good condition for longer. The heat from drying machines can also cause stains to set into the rags, while air-drying will not. If your rags still have dirt or stains after you wash them, it's best to air-dry them so you can remove the stains through another wash in the future. 
  • Don't reuse dirty rags: Your rags will last longer if you don't reuse them when they're dirty. It's best to switch to a clean rag when the one you're using has become too contaminated, because you'll reduce the chance of permanent stains from grease and oil building up within the rag's fibers. 
  • Use different rags for different tasks: Depending on what you use rags for, it may be beneficial to use separate towels for other jobs. For example, you can have a pile of rags for situations that involve cleaning up oil and grease and a different stack for tasks that won't cause as many stains on your rags. You can keep your rags in better condition and have an easier time washing them if you only have a select batch of rags you use for the extra dirty work.

When to Throw Away Used Shop Rags

High-quality rags and towels should last a long time when given proper care. You can expect your rags to last from several months to a year, depending on the amount of use they see. It's hard to give an exact time frame when you should throw away rags because it will vary based on what you use the rag for and how you wash and dry them. 

When you consistently expose rags to hard-to-wash substances like oil and grease, they will probably have a shorter lifespan than a rag you use to dry a car because oil can accumulate over time in the rag's fibers and decrease its ability to function. A good indicator for when to throw away a used shop rag is if the towel remains stiff even after washing and drying. There's little you can do to restore a rag once it's become rigid and inflexible because of the accumulation of contaminants that builds up over time. 

If you notice the rag is no longer doing the job as well as it once did, that's another indicator it may be time to dispose of it. If you use rags to clean up oil, grease or other environmentally harmful fluids, you should dispose of them properly when you no longer need them because the hazardous materials can leach into the ground if they go to a landfill. 

Shop Discount Prices on Wholesale Towels

At Towel Super Center, we offer high-quality towels and rags at wholesale prices so you can save money while buying shop rags that can withstand the dirtiest jobs. We offer a large variety of materials, colors and sizes, so you can find the best towels for your business. Our wholesale offers help you stock up on all the towels you need at low prices. 

You can browse our extensive supply of wholesale towels online and place your order today.

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