I received a question in my Ask Annie column about microfiber cloths, about what they were and what I thought of them.
With some caveats—the fibers are not natural, and stick with high quality microfiber because not all microfiber cloths are created equal—I think that microfiber cloths are great. And the color coding is fun, helpful and brings some sense to one’s cleaning closet!
Microfiber cloths are eco-friendly because they reduce water usage (both while cleaning and in avoided laundry loads), reduce the use of cleaning products and paper towels or other disposables, and they thoroughly remove dust, allergens and bacteria.
They also have a very long life span if you buy a high-quality microfiber. The microfibers I use are durable (2,000 wear cycles), have a high “scrub” factor (#36 abrasiveness), can last for 1,000 wash cycles, and have a 14,000 ml/m absorbency. A thousand wash cycles is a lot of cleaning, over a lot of years! They certainly last a lot longer than traditional rags and mops; one study found a microfiber mop to have a lifespan 10 times that of a traditional mop!
Here’s how microfibers work: They are a blend of microscopic polyester and polyamide (nylon) fibers that are split during manufacturing to create microscopic “hooks” which act as claws that scrape up and hold dust, dirt and grime. They are 1/16 the thickness of a human hair and can hold six times their weight in water! Importantly, the fibers have a positive charge. They attract dust, which has a negative charge and hold them in their network of fibers.
What makes microfiber clothes NOT ecofriendly is that the fibers used are polyester and nylon (polyamide), which are made from petroleum; a non-renewable and non-biodegradable resource. (However, the size of the cloths is not that large and, as mentioned, you might only need to buy a few in your lifetime.) Nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals, whose production creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And there is evidence to suggest that the production of polyester and nylon can be toxic and hormone-disrupting to textile workers. It is unclear if the fabric used in microfiber cloths would be large enough to have toxic effects on the end user.
I love the microfiber color code system. Using different colors prevents cross contamination, and quickly identifies use for different surface areas. There are usually four colors: Green, blue, yellow and pink. You decide which color to use where. Blue for the bathroom, green for the living room, yellow for the kitchen, pink for the kids’ rooms?