I'm hearing a lot about microfiber towels and mops. What can you tell me about their performance compared to more well-established products? Are they processed differently in the laundry? How do they differ from cotton and other materials?
TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Jim Mitchell, principal technical support specialist for Ecolab, Eagan, Minn., is a 25-year company veteran. He's currently its OPL lead in providing technical support to field associates. He edits Ecolab’s Institutional Technical Digest, a monthly publication reaching 2,800 employees.
The introduction of microfiber to the linen industry has created a flurry of “microfabrics” produced worldwide.
Microfibers are now being manufactured for use in the institutional market as well as consumer markets. Designs on the market today include wet mops, dust mops, cleaning cloths, sponges, towels, carpet bonnets and even clothing.
Consumer appeal for the fabric, due in part to its soft touch and ability to “wick” moisture, has led to designs in personal clothing, especially in sportswear.
Because of their superior ability to absorb moisture and to clean, microfiber cloths are even now being widely used in the car wash industry.
So, why all the rage in microfibers? Quite simply: they have superior cleaning ability, high absorption of moisture and soil, and durability, and they’re easy to clean.
Microfibers are superfine, man-made spun fibers, generally in the form of nylon and polyester (rayon and acrylic are also manufactured). Although the diameter of the fibers can vary, they are most commonly one-third the diameter of cotton or one hundred times finer than human hair, making the woven fabric’s density unequalled.
However, although the fabric is very dense, it’s also very soft and pliable. If you were to look at a microscopic cross section of a microfiber, it’s not a solid fiber, but one with small grooves or channels. These channels serve as a means of absorbing and retaining moisture, as well as trapping dirt and soils. Microfiber fabrics also tend to be oleophilic (high absorption of oils) in nature.
Quality microfiber fabrics have superior cleaning ability compared to cotton and other fibers. The fine fibers have the ability to reach into minute scratches and indentations on surfaces being cleaned that cotton and other fibers would skim over.
Also, because of the absorbent nature of the fabric and its ability to hold soil, less soiled water is redeposited onto the surface during the cleaning process. This is an important factor when using microfiber mops for cleaning and disinfecting floors.
Cotton mops are designed to be submersed in a cleaning solution (or detergent/disinfectant solution) in a mop bucket, then pushed across the surface to be cleaned. The mop is then wrung out, dipped back into the solution again and pushed across another unwashed area. Not only can this cause a transfer of soil, it can create a transfer of bacteria/pathogens from one area to another.
Microfiber mops are not used in this manner. Generally, the employee cleaning the floor carries an ample supply of clean/unused microfiber mops. A single mop is treated with the cleaning solution, used to clean a small designated area, then removed and placed in a laundry bag for transfer and cleaning in the laundry room.
The mop is not dipped back into the bucket solution. Instead, the soiled mop is removed, a clean/unused mop is attached to the mop head and the whole process is then repeated. This procedure reduces the transfer of soil as well as the transfer of bacteria/pathogens.
Microfibers trap dirt and soil, so proper cleaning after use is critical. Microfiber cloths that are used for detailing in the car wash business are a good example of this necessity. Dirt that gets trapped in the fibers and isn’t removed during the laundering process can end up leaving minute scratches on the surface of autos during reuse.
Although the purchase price of microfiber fabrics is generally higher than comparable conventional goods, they will last much longer if properly cared for.
Recommended wash procedures can vary between microfabrics. Follow the washing/cleaning recommendations designated by the manufacturer.
Microfibers have a tendency to trap and hold soil. Having a laundry machine wash formula that begins with two or three short, warm-water flushes (90-100 F) would be a big advantage to flushing out as much dirt and soil as possible prior to the suds cycle.
Microfibers are so fine that they are more sensitive to heat than conventional fibers. This includes heat generated during the wash cycle as well as the dryer. Care should be taken during these steps to protect the fabric. Mild (low-pH) detergents should be used in the suds cycle. Chlorine bleach should be avoided whenever possible, especially with nylon microfabrics.
Dryer times and temperatures are critical to protect the fabric from thermal damage and to reduce or control static electricity. Dryer temps should be set on “Low” or “Medium.” High dryer temps (over extended periods of time) can damage microfibers.
Don’t add fabric softeners to the wash formula to offset static issues. When static is present, reduce the dryer time and/or temperature. Static issues are most commonly created by overdrying.
Microfabrics should only be washed together in the same load because of their ability to absorb and hold dirt and soil. They can easily absorb and hold lint and fibers from other linen/fabrics – especially cotton – when washed together.
COMMERCIAL LAUNDERING: Richard Warren is the general manager of Institutional Services Corp., Conway, Ark., a commercial laundry that provides COG, rental and linen distribution services for healthcare clients. His experience also includes OPL and industrial laundering, linen supply, and leather/fur cleaning.
My opinion will be limited to the laundry procedure, because my exposure to microfiber products is limited.
Vendors of dust-control items have been touting the infection-control properties of their new products for some time, with walk-off mats and mops being the primary focus.
Our company doesn’t process the mats, but we do process the mops. They aren’t hard to launder. The manufacturers say to use warm water, no chlorine and moderate drying temperatures. They dry fairly easily, don’t take much space, and the clean, dry weight is low.
Most of the applications are through a rental agreement of some type, but many of the mops are being processed on a COG [customer-owned goods] basis, with a high degree of satisfaction.
Some institutions thought, “Well, it’s just another item to inventory, and will soon fall into disfavor.” Others thought that with low temps and no bleach, there would be a risk factor from infection. Both seem to have been premature and, to a great degree, off base. The facilities I have spoken with are glad they have them to use.