Choosing the Right Wiper

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 wiper

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


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.