In the 18th century French glove manufacturers discovered that tanning chamois skins in cod oil produced a leather that was soft and highly absorbent. Chamois glove customers included footmen, who began to use chamois leather to care for their carriages. When cars were invented and they gained windscreens, chamois became the chosen material to keep screens free of mist.
So, for over a century chamois leathers have been associated with car maintenance, particularly drying cars to avoid water spots showing. This blog explores the production and use of natural chamois leather and explains why preparation and correct usage is the key to effective car drying. It also looks at how chamois should be washed and cared for to ensure they last.
Understanding Natural Chamois Leathers
The chamois is a species of goat-antelope native to European mountains. Chamois skins have been used for hundreds of years and put to many uses; the Romans even used them to write on. Today chamois leathers are made from sheep skin rather than the mountain loving Rupicapra Rupicapra.
Creating a soft chamois requires a great deal of skill, often passed on from one generation of maker to the next. The first of those skill is knowing which sheep skins to select. The best skins are soaked in water and tannins to open the closed fibres of the material, which makes it so absorbent. The tannins also soften and preserve the leather. Different tannins are used depending on the end use.
After tanning the skins are stretched and dried. The drying process is very important as it has a big effect on the final product. In days gone by chamois were air dried, but today huge tumble dryers ensure every batch is dried at the right temperature for the right time. After drying the leather is cut to shape. As a natural animal product, the final shape of the chamois isn’t normally uniform.
Chamois leathers are great for drying cars because they’re very absorbent, being able to hold many times their own weight in water. They’re also very gentle, meaning when used correctly they won’t damage paintwork. Natural chamois tends to be a little more expensive than synthetic ones and other drying cloths, but they can last years. Being 100% natural they’re also environmentally friendly.
Preparing Your Chamois Leather For Use
If you don’t prepare your chamois properly, you’ll likely find tiny yellow fibres on your nicely dried car. You may also find your chamois leaves oily steaks, most notable on glass. Chamois tend to be sold with excess tanning oil to protect the leather during shipping or extended storage. Removing this excess oil reduces the risk of streaking and removes any loose fibres left over from tanning.
A new chamois should be washed in warm soapy water. A mild soap designed specifically for car cleaning should be used – a small squirt of ClasX Winter Wash [LINK] is ideal. General purpose soaps shouldn’t be used because they’re designed to break down grease and oil and can strip the chamois of its tanning oil. Once washed the chamois should be folded over a few times and wrung out.
The next step is to swirl the unfolded chamois in cold clean water, before folding it over several times and giving it a firm twist. Loose fibres tend to float to the top of the water and the water may also take on a yellow hue. This step may need to be repeated several times using clean water until the water runs clear without any yellow tint. Your chamois will then be ready to use.
Proper Techniques For Using Chamois Leathers
A chamois leather should only be used to dry a car that’s been thoroughly washed and rinsed. When you’re ready to dry your car dip your chamois in a bucket of cold water and wring it out. ClasX recommend reserving a bucket fitted solely for this purpose. Fold the chamois into a manageable size and place it down gently. Press it lightly and wipe it in a straight line across your car’s surface.
The surface behind the chamois should be almost dry after wiping. When you’ve used a chamois a few times you’ll get a good feel for when it’s reached its maximum capacity. You should then rinse the chamois in your bucket of cold water and repeat this process over and over until your whole car is dry. Please don’t be tempted to just rinse the chamois on the floor between each wipe.
Chamois leathers are very good at picking up any dirt particles missed by washing and frequent rinsing releases any dirt that’s gets caught. Contrary to what advocates of man-made products say a chamois will only scratch paint if there’s any dirt on car for the chamois to pick up and if it’s not rinsed out, but that’s also true of less absorbent man-made materials.
Chamois are normally associated with drying cars, but they can also be used for polishing. Its soft velvety texture makes it an ideal material for cleaning delicate surfaces that might be scratched by anything more abrasive. One tip is to cut a large chamois into small rectangles for working on smaller items. If you have a leather interior, you can also try cleaning your leather with a chamois.
Cleaning And Storing Your Chamois Leather
When you’ve finished drying your car you should wash your chamois. If you’ve followed the techniques above clean water alone should be sufficient, but you can use a little car wash if you wish. Wring the chamois out and then pull it at opposite ends to stretch it back into shape. You should then hang it up out of direct sunlight and allow it to dry completely.
It’s normal for dry chamois to become pretty stiff, but they regain their soft character as soon they’re wetted again. Some people like to fold their chamois up ready for their next use. If you wish to do that, a stiff chamois can be rubbed on itself until it loosens up. Another way is to pull the chamois gently over a smooth clean surface like the edge of a workbench until it softens up.
If your chamois become grubby you can soak it overnight in a bucket of water with some car wash. Never wash a chamois in a washing machine and never use harsh soap. It’s best to avoid any chemicals (other than car wash) going anywhere near your chamois. Another thing you should never do is store your chamois wet, particularly in a plastic bag as that is asking for rot and mould to form.
Chamois leathers have been used to dry cars for many years. It’s a natural product that is soft, strong, absorbent and long lasting. They still compare very favourably with man-made materials.
ClasX encourage readers to try out these tips to achieve the best results when using chamois leathers for car drying. Used correctly and stored properly your chamois should last several seasons. The ClasX Winter Wash System for shifting road salt includes a chamois for drying.