SUSTAINABILITY

Understanding Microfiber

It is arguable that microfiber technology is the most significant product innovation to the cleaning industry in the last century. Not only has microfiber proven to reduce time and energy on certain tasks, it is environmentally friendly and can even reduce the use of chemicals.

What is microfiber

At first glance, the microfiber cloth appears to be no different than other cotton cloths. Both have similar thickness and feel, but when comparing the two it’s apparent that microfiber may be a step ahead of its cotton counterparts.

The major difference between microfiber and cotton cloths is that microfiber strands are so small the human eye can barely see them,

Microfiber is a synthetic fiber made up of a blend of polyester and polyamide or nylon. These materials are bundled together to form a strand that when examined under a microscope appears in the shape of a star. Those bundles are then split into ultra-fine single fibers using a specific combination of chemicals, heat and agitation. The fibers are finally woven together to make the finished microfiber product.

Research shows that it is the amount of splits that determines the quality of the microfiber. The splitting process breaks down each fiber into a very thin strand, estimated to be at least one-sixteenth the size of a human hair. When woven together these strands create a surface area covered with millions of spaces between the fibers to trap moisture, dirt and debris. (See diagram below.)

The strands curled ends will also reach into cracks and crevices, picking up and removing dirt, holding it inside the pad, Traditional cleaning tools such as loop mops and cloths won’t reach into these crevices, but will instead push the dirt around.

Research has also shown that static charge aids in the effectiveness of microfiber cleaning. The millions of fibers rubbing together produce a static charge that attracts the dirt, pulling it in and trapping it until the cloth or pads are washed, at which time the charge is broken and the dirt is released.

Benefits of microfiber use

Because flat mops are smaller and lighter (roughly three pounds when wet) than traditional string mops (between eight and 10 pounds when wet), more mops can be carried on carts and easily changed between areas or rooms. Pushing and lifting less weight with the microfiber flat mops has also proven to reduce worker injury and fatigue.

String mops create a lot of splattering on baseboards and very little grout cleaning. String mops push the water into the grout while the microfiber flat mop’s looped fibers grab and drag the dirt out.

In addition to cleaning floors, flat mops can be used on walls and ceilings. Microfiber cloths and mitts have been developed for smaller surfaces such as counters, windows and mirrors. Also, some manufacturers have come out with wands that use microfiber products for harder-to-reach surfaces.

Care and life expectancy

The life expectancy of a microfiber product will depend on a number of factors. The first is the quality of microfiber composition that is used. The care that is given to the cleaning and storage of the product will also affect its life span. If cared for properly, microfiber can be laundered anywhere from 100 to 800 times.

There are very few chemicals can harm microfiber, but it is important to stay away from acids. Watch for warning labels. If the chemical indicates that it will harm plastics, it will most likely harm microfiber.

Regardless of the use of chemicals, the laundering of microfiber products will also impact its life span.

Laundering microfiber isn’t much different than washing other cleaning products. As long as detergents have an overall pH of under 11, which is standard in most detergents, any soaps can be used in the cleaning process. While washing, steer clear of harsh bleaches, which will break down the fibers and hinder the microfiber’s effectiveness.

It is important also to remember that microfiber should be washed in temperatures that do not exceed 200 degrees.  For drying, you want a temperature between 130 and 140 degrees, max. Temperatures higher than these could potentially harm the product.

Once detergent and temperature are determined, it is important to be conscious of what other products are included in the wash load. Although there are no restrictions as to what can and can’t be washed with microfiber, there are “best practice” recommendations.

One common mistake is to wash microfiber with products that are prone to lint. If this happens, the microfiber will continue working in the laundry and will collect that lint, making the cleaning process ineffective.

Fabric softener will have a similar effect. Microfiber may collect particles from the softener sheet, clogging up the crevices in the cloth. Softeners might also reduce and possibly eliminate the static charge that makes microfiber effective.

Cost of microfiber

The initial cost of microfiber products may be higher than what many companies are prepared to pay, but manufacturers guarantee significant savings over time. Before implementing a program, it is important for companies to consider life-cycle savings, reduction in chemical purchases, water bills, laundry services and reduced labor costs. Comparing current expenses to costs associated with microfiber will give companies a good idea of long-term savings.

It is also important to consider the fact that housekeeping departments are constantly being asked to do more with less. Products such as microfiber will help staff productivity and efficiency – saving time and money in the long run.