A chamois cloth is actually a soft leather that is traditionally made from the skin of a chamois, a variety of mountain sheep, but can be any type of lamb or sheep skin. In the U.S., chamois is pronounced "shammy," a word which can refer to natural chamois or various types of synthetic fabrics. These highly absorbent cloths are often used in boat and car cleaning, because they can make it easy to dry the vehicle's surface and buff it to a high shine. The best chamois cloth to choose will likely depend on how — and how often — it is used.
A real chamois cloth, because it is a natural material, shouldn't be thrown in a washing machine or dryer. It must be washed in a mild detergent, by hand, and carefully rinsed after each use. Though a shammy can last a very long time, it may tend to leave fuzz or tiny bits behind after extended use. It also may become less absorbent because of car wax or polish build-up.
An auto chamois made from man-made fibers can be tossed in a washing machine when it starts to lose its effectiveness. This usually makes a synthetic chamois a longer-lasting choice. Synthetic cloths, many of them made from microfiber materials, are typically less expensive, too. For car maintenance, however, many enthusiasts prefer a natural chamois cloth because it will dry with fewer spots and streaks than an artificial shammy.
A chamois cloth can usually be purchased from a range of retailers, from discount stores to specialty auto shops. This type of shammy may be called a car towel, car drying towel, or car chamois, among other names. While it is not necessary to use one to dry a car after a wash, it does remove water that can leave spots and streaks as it dries. Many people use something like a car squeegee to scrape away as much excess water as possible before using a chamois cloth to finish drying and buffing the surface.
When choosing a synthetic or natural chamois cloth, opt for a large size. A small cloth will take longer to dry the car or vehicle. One that is at least 25 inches (63.5 cm) square might seem large, but will make the job go much faster. Even where there is no pressure against the chamois, it will wick up moisture from the car's surface and dry it quickly. Small chamois cloths are also ideal for things like bicycles, motorcycles, sports equipment, and touch-up jobs on larger vehicles.