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3 Steps to Choosing the Right Wiper, Shop Towel or Rag

From removing thick, dirty, caked-on grease from machine gears to wiping a circuit board in a cleanroom, wipers, shop towels and rags are essential tools for completing a variety of work tasks. With so many choices, however, it can be overwhelming to pick the right one.

To begin, the terms “wiper,” “shop towel” and “rag” are often used interchangeably in industry, but each product has characteristics that differentiate it. These characteristics can help narrow down a wide selection of wipers, shop towels and rags to the one you need.

  • Wipers: Task-specific , designed for one-time use and consistent , uniform size and quality
  • Shop Towels: Most commonly supplied on a weekly or monthly basis by rental company, usually laundered and returned for reuse and uniform size
  • Rags: Cut from mill-ends or recycled from clothing, wide variety of styles available and often a cost-effective alternative to wipers

Using the wrong wiper, towel or rag can be wasteful. The wrong type may spoil a surface that is being prepared for finishing, not clean the surface completely or cause other problems. Like any tool in a toolbox, having the right products for the job enhances efficiency and allows the job to be done right the first time. Answering the following three questions will match up the right product for the jobs at hand.

1. What tasks are being performed?

Knowing how wipers, towels or rags will be used is the first step in choosing the best product for the various tasks throughout a facility. Mechanics rebuilding engines and custodians washing windows have different needs. Mechanics need a wiper, shop towel or rag that can be used to remove dirt and grime, won’t tear and will stand up to solvents and degreasers. Custodians need an absorbent product that won’t leave streaks.

Wipers, shop towels and rags are used for thousands of different tasks, but those tasks can be grouped into four general categories:


Picking up spills, removing oil, grease or fingerprints from smooth surfaces. Look for wipers or rags that are absorbent, have cellulose content and are inexpensive. Avoid laundered shop towels if they’ll be used for glass cleaning or absorbing water-based liquids and that may contain metal shavings or other contaminants that scratch.


Scrubbing or removing dirt, stains or adhesives from surfaces. May be used dry or with cleaning chemicals. Look for wipers, shop towels or rags that do not tear or shred easily and with strong, coarse fabric. Avoid low-end paper towels and hand towels.

Surface Preparation:

Removing lint or other contaminants from a surface that is going to be painted; also used to clean print plates and in cleanroom applications. Look for microfibers or other synthetic fibers and wipers with low lint content and without binders (glues) that could transfer onto the surface. Avoid shop towels, rags and wipers with high cellulose content.


Removing harmful germs from surfaces, often with sanitizing chemicals. Look for wipers or rags with good wet strength. Avoid laundered shop towels that may contain trace amounts of contaminants from other processes.

Matching the task to the wiper, towel or rag helps to avoid purchasing expensive products or those that won’t work well. Often, this means that more than one wiper, towel or rag is needed for various areas or tasks throughout the facility, but having the right type saves both time and money.

2. What is the work environment?

In a large production area, a big cardboard box of rags may work well because it’s easy to find and provides an ample supply of product to get everyone through the day or week. Technicians or service crews who work out of trucks usually don’t have a lot of room to spare and may benefit from wipers in pop-up boxes or on rolls.

Quarter-folded wipers are a good option for vending machines or supply rooms, because they are pre-counted and can be dispensed or distributed easily and neatly. Knowing where wipers, towels or rags will be used helps to minimize waste.

3. What type of wiper, towel or rag is needed?

A wiper’s construction plays a role in its longevity. Wipers, shop towels and rags can last from around 20 seconds to several months or years. Knowing a little bit about how wipers, towels and rags are made can help to manage expectations.

Airlaid Wipers:

Soft, bulky, porous wipes; good water absorption and wet strength and inexpensive. Ideal for wiping smooth surfaces and picking up small spills.

Spunlace Wipers:

Low to no lint, strong and long-lasting, works well wet or dry and solvent-resistant. Great for extended use, scrubbing and cleaning rough parts or surfaces.

Scrim Wipers:

Single use and low cost. Best for wiping glass, mirrors and other smooth surfaces.

Wet-laid Wipers:

Best for single use and ideal for wiping wet hands and face.

Double Re-Creped Cellulose Wipers:

Versatile, moderately priced, all purpose and good strength when wet.

Meltblown Wipers:

Great for use in cleanrooms because it leaves little to no lint on surfaces. Also resistant to corrosive liquids.

Microfiber Wipers:

Extremely durable, which means it can be laundered and reused. Leaves no lint behind, so it’s great for cleaning, polishing and removing oils.

Shop Towels:

Typically delivered on a weekly or monthly basis for convenience. Used towels are picked up and laundered for reuse.


Made from fabric ends and comes in various sizes. Sometimes a low-cost alternative to wipers.

Considering these factors when choosing a wiper, towel or rag will help ensure that the right product is being used for the task, as well as save time and money.