Growing Trends In Microfibers

Applications and markets for microfiber technology continue to grow.

By Lauren Summerstone,

Now that microfiber has been firmly established in the United States, its use is expanding beyond hospitals, which were the first adopters. Today microfiber is used for a wider variety of cleaning duties and in schools, government buildings, hotels and the food service sector to achieve a greater level of clean.

Hospitals embraced the introduction of microfiber cloths and flat mops years ago, having had both the need to control infectious diseases and the resources to invest in new systems and training. When used and cared for properly, microfiber has been successful in controlling the spread of germs and won over cleaning workers in the process. Microfiber has gained momentum in the industry because it is light, reduces risk of worker injury, uses less paper, chemical, water and detergent used during laundering. Also, microfiber is said to have a savings in manpower hours estimated to be 45 percent that of traditional products.

Not surprisingly, manufacturers are responding to the growing demand for microfiber products with more innovations in technology, making it even more effective, easier to understand and use and even more affordable.

Expanding Markets

Following its successful inception in health care facilities, other industries have been quick to embrace the technology. In fact, schools have jumped on the microfiber bandwagon. In addition to the health benefits, schools, like hospitals, are also realizing the ergonomic and green benefits — microfiber is lighter weight than traditional products and require little to no chemicals to work effectively.

Microfiber supports the push for improved indoor air quality (IAQ) as well, by trapping dust, particulates and allergens better because of its natural static charge. It also can be used, wet or dry, to dust or clean almost any surface, from desktops and countertops to ceiling fixtures, lunch tables and light switches. Ultimately, these benefits will positively impact building occupant health.

Products that improve IAQ are important in schools where health has been proven to affect student attendance, which then impacts state and federal funding. So to protect revenue, it’s in school official’s best interest to prevent illness, outbreaks of infections and influenza through regular cleaning and the use of advanced products such as microfiber. After all, preventative cleaning is also less costly than remedial cleaning for outbreaks.

Federal office buildings are another relatively new adopter of microfiber technology. Microfiber products have made inroads with various states that now require green cleaning in state and federal government buildings because of the health benefits associated with their use.

In recent years, hotels and cruise ships have been plagued by health outbreaks and have turned to advanced cleaning technology as a way to combat it. In addition to preventing illness created by virus and cross contamination, these facilities can use microfiber to effectively address standard cleaning tasks, such as marble or textured tile floors. Microfiber products can also get into the nooks and crannies of non-slip flooring surfaces without scratching them or wearing them down prematurely. Manufacturers also offer deep scrub contour microfiber pads for bonnet cleaners that are effective at cleaning grout lines.

People who work at restaurants and food service institutions also have a newfound appreciation for microfiber. Workers can clean dining rooms and windows, sneeze guards and buffets without harsh or strong-smelling chemicals clashing with appetizing aromas.

Because of its advanced technology, microfiber products can be used effectively without the use of chemicals. It grabs and traps dust, grime, oil and grease, scrubs away residue without damaging surfaces.

Various Applications

Laying floor finish is one application where cleaning managers have embraced the use of microfiber. With string mops, floor technicians had a harder time of applying thin, even coats. Microfiber is so absorbent it can hold a vast amount of finish, delivers a smooth release and gets the job done quicker and with less fuss. Microfiber is also ideal in tight corners and near floor boards. In regards to weight, microfiber is a fraction of that of a traditional mop, saving time, while reducing stress on the employee.

For everyday cleaning tasks, cleaners have a variety of sizes to choose from in regards to wet microfiber pads. This line of products can feature scrubbers for removing spots and stubborn heel marks, or a variety of types and lengths of edgings and fringes that can improve durability and absorbency. Some also have pronounced ribs that can enhance their scrubbing action.

Dust pads also come in a variety of sizes — up to 60 inches — and offer loops to trap larger debris. Some include attachable wands that convert to high dusters or can be bent to shape.

Carpet bonnets used for surface cleaning is another common application for microfiber. Because of its high absorbency, when used in this application, more soil can be removed from the carpet.

Composition, Quality And Task

Manufacturers are getting better at creating different microfiber products that best address a variety of cleaning tasks.

There are different microfiber products for highly smooth surfaces like glass and stainless steel, others designed for dusting and dust mopping, laying finish, or scrubbing hard floors or carpeting. Manufacturers have a variety of products that serve these purposes, each with their own textures, densities, weights, loops versus cuts or compositions such as weave, knit, or hydro-entangled, blends or plys. Some microfiber products also feature antimicrobial properties.

There is no official universal grading system for microfiber, although manufacturers can refer to different grades within their own lines. “Grade” typically refers to whether the microscopic microfiber filaments are split or not split. The more splits, the higher its effectiveness will be, because it will trap more dirt and moisture. The ratio of microfiber to cotton, nylon, polyester or other material is also related to grade.

Grade is also determined by the quality of the stitching and Velcro backing, which factors into the number of washes a cloth can take, directly affecting your return on investment (ROI). With microfiber, managers often get what they pay for, and one of the most-looked-at features here is whether it’s a highly launderable product that can withstand 1,000 washes, versus a less expensive product with a lifespan of 250 washes.

Generally speaking, the amount of investment should match the sophistication of the cleaning staff. In other words, if managers have the ability to efficiently monitor the product (ensure it’s not walking out the door with workers or being tossed in the trash), provide training, and ensure the cloths and pads are being laundered and re-used correctly, a higher grade of microfiber product may achieve a suitable ROI for the facility.

To help track microfiber supplies, one manufacturer offers a mesh laundry bag, so that each cleaning technician or crew’s tools can be laundered separately at the end of a shift, and be better accounted for.

In addition to tracking, microfiber will only be effective if used properly. Color-coding is a technique that has been used effectively for years with various cleaning supplies as an extra level of defense against cross-contamination. The same rules apply to microfiber products.

It’s up to each facility to decide what color and equipment to assign to a particular task or area. For complete effectiveness, workers wouldn’t carry anything from one area to another, but on the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to have an entire janitorial cart for every task or area. Make the color-coding system as simple as possible. It shouldn’t be so complicated that it confuses or frustrates cleaning crews.

Innovations in microfiber products are being announced regularly. These relate to how the cloths are manufactured, safety conveniences such as hands-free systems, or even disposable microfiber products created for use in emergency and operating rooms, then incinerated or disposed of with biohazards — all of which will drive interest in the industry.

Lauren Summerstone is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.