Whether you’re working on a DIY project or a professional job, dirt and dust in the workplace are unavoidable. It settles over the work surface, and when left unchecked, can affect the overall finish of your project, leading to a scratched and bumpy surface.

Tack cloths are used to clean surfaces of dust and dirt and provide a smooth surface fo r painting, staining, varnishing, etc. However, as the name suggests, tack cloths are extremely tacky and make your hand greasy, not always ideal to use.

Thankfully, there are many other tack cloth alternative that can be used that serve the same purpose without the greasiness.

What Is A Tack Cloth?

When you are applying the finishing touches or the last coat of paint, you need a clean and smooth surface to work on.

It is necessary to keep even the smallest speck of dust out of the way as any dirt or dust will create visible imperfections and completely ruin the final job.

Tack cloths help with this. They are lint-free, gauze-like cloth pieces that are soaked or coated with a sticky, tacky substance like beeswax or oil. This coating attracts all the dirt or sanding dust from the surface to which it is applied.

Tack Cloth Alternative

Tack cloth or tack rag is effective for removing any dust, but it does come with a set of drawbacks. Given how sticky these rags are, tack cloths can often leave a residue of the sticky substance behind that can interfere with the finish or paint of the surface.

There is also the risk of the beeswax, oil, lacquer, or varnish of the tack cloth reacting with the paint, which can be harmful to the environment.

Tack rags also get easily gummed up, and you will need to fold them over to use a fresh surface, making them quite messy. Another drawback is that the cloth can not absorb heavy dust. 

These are some of the concerns that have led most experts and DIYers to look for better alternatives. Let’s take a look at some commonly used alternatives to a tack cloth.

1. Microfiber Towel

JML Microfiber Bath Towel 2 Pack(30' x 60'), Oversized Thick...
16,829 Reviews
JML Microfiber Bath Towel 2 Pack(30" x 60"), Oversized Thick...
  • COMFORTABLE & SOFT - Made of High Quality Microfiber, Lightweight and Soft than Ordinary towel. Ideal for Bath, Outdoor Camping, Swimming, Sports, Yoga and Travel holiday
  • ABSORBENT & FAST DRYING – JML Microfiber towels can absorb 7 times their weight in water makes quick drying large surface and easy, This towel can be washed and reused hundred of times.
  • MULTI USE TOWEL - Perfect as bath towel when you swimming or bath, you also use it as Fitness Towel or yoga Towel when you at gym or at home

A microfiber towel is a great alternative to tack cloth. Not only is it soft enough that it does not scratch the surface, but it also does not leave any sticky residue on the surface or your hands.

It is capable of holding water eight times its weight and is long-lasting and reusable. Microfiber is also easy to clean; just shake it to remove the dust, soak it in warm water for 15-20 mins, hand wash it under running water, and let it air dry.

It is best to avoid using bleach, fabric softener, or harsh detergents that are heavily scented on the microfibre towel.

2. Electrostatic/Swiffer Sheet

Swiffer Sweeper Dry Cloths Refill 8 " X 10.4 " 32 Count
  • "Disposable refill cloths for 10"" Swiffer® Sweeper® 09060. Also can be used alone for hand dusting. S
  • tock up and save! Application: General Purpose. Unit of Measure : Carton"
  • Please Note: Photo may not represent actual item, refer to full description for detailed accurate product information

The cloth is chemically treated so it receives a negative charge over the surface. This negative charge attracts dust and dirt particles. An electrostatic sheet is best used when dry to avoid any damage from moisture.

You can find both disposable and reusable or washable types of electrostatic sheets. They are easy to use and the washable forms are easily cleaned. The best part is that even after washing, the cloth still retains its negative charge and can attract dust particles.

3. Damp Towel

A damp cloth is an emergency alternative when you do not have access to a tack cloth. It is readily accessible and does an effective job of wiping dust and dirt off the surface. However, there are some drawbacks.

Although, you must know that a regular damp towel will not be as effective as a tack cloth and may even push the dirt deeper into the project you’re working on. It can also hold too much water, which can be detrimental to wooden surfaces.

4. Naphtha/Mineral spirits

  • Fast-evaporating Paint Thinner
  • Quickens Dry Time For Oil-based Paints
  • Excellent Cleaner And Degreaser

Instead of using commercially available tack cloths, you can make your own tack cloth using naphtha and mineral spirits as they are both good cleaning agents. (Find out how to use mineral spirits on wood in our guide.)

You just need to soak a linen-free cotton cloth with either of these liquids.

Naphthalene is a solvent and it does not damage any surfaces unless it is soaked in the liquid for 30 mins or more. It is also a flammable liquid that has been used to remove tough crayon stains and other surfaces for many years; so be careful when using it.

The liquid readily evaporates and does not leave any residual chemicals. Just allow your project to dry in an airy room for faster evaporation and to remove any foul smells.

Mineral spirit is a solvent like turpentine and is made from petroleum-based compounds. It is milder than naphthalene.

Is Tack Cloth Necessary?

Yes, using a tack cloth is a necessary step when you’re finishing up your project and moving on to painting or staining it. A tack cloth helps clear all the dirt and provides a clean and smooth surface for applying paint.

If not cleaned, the surface is unsuitable for bonding. If there is any dirt on the surface and you apply paint or stain on top of it, the dirt along with the finish, paint, or stain that has bonded with it instead of the surface will get brushed off later.

Tack cloth is also an effective way of removing lint from surfaces. Lint can make your surface look bumpy. So, an unclean surface may have an irregular texture, which is extremely undesirable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should You Use A Tack Cloth Before Staining?

Using a tack cloth before staining is an unavoidable step. Tack cloths have become a staple as they are ideal for preparing a surface for varnish, paint, and stain. They remove any loose particles of dust and dirt, making the surface smooth for staining. However, they are extremely sticky, so it is recommended to use gloves or use other tack cloth alternatives.

When Should You Use a Tack Cloth?

Tack cloths are used by woodworkers and painters to clean their surfaces and remove dust before painting, staining, and varnishing. After a wipe from the tack cloth, the surface will be clean and smooth for efficient paint or stain application.

Can a Tack Cloth Be Washed and Reused?

No, it is a one-use item. Since a tack cloth is sticky and is used to clean surfaces, it becomes full of dirt and dust after it has been used. It is not washable and cannot be reused.

Can I Make My Own Tack Cloth?

Yes, you can. To make a homemade tack cloth, cut up a cotton cloth or a cotton dish towel into small square or rectangular pieces. Clean them by dipping them in water, dry them, and then fold them into several layers and dip them in turpentine so that the cloth is saturated. Do not soak the cloth completely.

After the turpentine is dried, pour varnish over the cloth. The varnish must distribute evenly through the folds. You now have a DIY tack cloth that you can use to clean your surface.

Tack Cloth vs Microfiber?

Tack cloth and microfiber cloth are the two most popular choices for cleaning surfaces before staining, painting, and varnishing. A traditional tack cloth is made from sticky resin-treated gauze-like fabric. The stickiness helps remove all the dust off surfaces and makes them clean for further paint/stain application. However, tack cloths leave a sticky residue and cannot be reused.

A microfibre cloth is made of tiny synthetic fibers that effectively pick up any dirt and dust from the surface. They are not sticky and do not leave any residue on the surface. Microfiber cloth is also washable and reusable, making it an environment-friendly alternative to tack cloth.

Between the two, microfibre cloths are an overall better option.

How To Make A Tack Cloth?

Take a piece of cheesecloth or cotton cloth and cut it into small rectangular pieces, the approximate size of a dish towel. Clean the cloth with water and air dry it. Fold it and pour turpentine over it. Distribute the turpentine uniformly and let it dry. Once dried, pour varnish over it and use it as a tack cloth. You can check for a uniform yellow color to confirm proper varnish distribution.

What Is The Best Tack Cloth?

The Crystal Tack Cloth is the best tack cloth available in the market. With a 4.8 rating on Amazon, it is a popular product online. It comes in a pack of 12 and is priced at $17. The cloths are of premium quality and made to ensure they will not unwind or fray. They can be used for painting, staining, woodworking, automotive work, as well as home usage.

The cloth pieces are non-toxic, reusable, and machine-washable. All the 12 pieces are individually packaged, so you can use them as required.


Tack cloth is an essential tool for woodworkers and painters. Tack cloths help provide a clean canvas and a smooth surface that can be painted, stained, varnished, etc.

However, since tack cloths can leave a sticky residue, many DIYers opt for other alternatives. A microfiber cloth is arguably the best tack cloth alternative that can ensure a clean surface without any stickiness or residue.

Leave a Comment