Natural leather chamois’ have been used to dry vehicles and glass since the early 1700s where they were used by French “footman” responsible for the care and cleaning of carriages. They are no less effective or useful today for drying modern vehicle finishes and windscreens. Natural chamois cloths have been, and continue to be, used because they are durable, extremely soft, remove dirt and trap in the cloth away from the surface, and release dirt effectively when rinsed. And although many products have been introduced in recent years as better or less expensive substitutes for the chamois, none have the combination of these characteristics that make the natural leather chamois so useful and effective.
What is a Natural Leather Chamois?
A chamois, like any leather product, can last for years with proper care. A genuine leather chamois cloth is defined by the National Standards Body in the UK (British Standard BS 6715: 1991) and, in America, by the United States Federal Standard (CS99-1970) as “flesh split of the sheep or lambskin tanned solely with oils”; typically fish oils. Although they may be tanned in many different countries, the best chamois’ hides come from New Zealand. However, because they may be tanned in some other country, many chamois cloths that originate in New Zealand are labeled as “made in” or “product of” some other country; this is a result of the regulations that govern labeling. A genuine leather chamois will have a slight fish oil smell and will fade if left in direct sunlight.
The Softness of Chamois Leather
Chamois leather is one of the softest materials available for drying a car or truck. Like the chamois skin the original cloths were made from, sheep or lamb skin has a naturally open fiber structure. The open fiber structure has spaces or voids between the fibers that, combined with the frayed fiber ends, give a chamois leather its softness. When tanned with fish oils, soaps form in the loose weave of the fiber of the leather. These soaps give the cloth a slick feel when wet and create a “buffer” layer between the body of the chamois and the surface of the vehicle. It is the same fish oils that make it extremely absorbent and durable.
Although a genuine leather chamois will become stiff when dry, it may be re-softened by rewetting the cloth. To re-soften a chamois without wetting it, simply rub it against itself or grip it on either side and drawing it across the edge of a hard clean surface
Natural Chamois Nap
The spaces naturally created by the loose weave of the sheepskin and the frayed ends of the fibers that stick out from the weave create the “nap” or pile of a chamois. Nap is what gives a material a soft feeling and provides the pockets in the material that dirt and grit are pulled into and trapped. The natural nap of a chamois, and the soaps created by the tanning process, are what traps and retains dirt grit and water in a leather chamois. A large degree of nap is essential to any car drying product to keep from scratching or marring the finish. The advantage a natural leather chamois has over synthetic materials is that it not only traps the dirt, grit and water, but then releases the abrasive material when rinsed. Many synthetics are good at trapping dirt and grit, but then do not effectively release them when rinsed; causing the material to become increasingly abrasive over time.
Chamois Leather is Extremely Absorbent
A quality natural leather chamois will hold, on average, more than 5 times its own weight in water, while retaining the ability to be easily rinsed and wrung out. A 20oz cloth will hold 0.8 gallons of water. The loose weave of the fiber in leather chamois will not only release more dirt and grit than synthetic products, but will also release more water when rung out, making it an ideal material for drying a car.
Chamois as a Renewable Resource
In addition to being soft, absorbent and durable, a natural sheepskin chamois is organic and a natural byproduct of the sheep farming industry. In addition to providing a large percentage of the world’s food and natural fiber (in the form of wool) production, Sheep farming also produces numerous essential byproducts such as lanolin, tallow, gelatin and leather, to name a few. It is a renewable and sustainable resource that has been an essential part of the world economy for several millennium and promises to remain so for the foreseeable future.
Because of its natural properties, a leather chamois remains the most cost effective, safe and efficient product available for drying a car today. Although many newer materials and products have been introduced since Chamois first came into use in the early 1700’s, none have the unique combination of properties that make the chamois ideal for drying vehicles; And all, but the most recently introduced, have eventually fallen into disuse.
Properly maintained, a natural leather chamois can last for years. They are also extremely absorbent and cut down on drying time. Natural chamois cloths are extremely soft, especially when wetted, and protect the finish being dried with both soaps infused into the open fibers during the tanning process and by trapping dirt and grit away from the surface in the naturally occurring nap. So regardless of the numerous new products that are continuously made available for drying a car, a natural leather chamois is still the Best and Safest Car Drying Cloth.