Posted by on Aug 25, 2011 in Interesting Facts | 0 comments

Dear LSNED,

I have a “microfiber” cloth in my kitchen that was advertised as a miracle. What is so special about it? After use, should I have it blessed or can it be cleaned normally?

-John Paul

Hey JP,

Technically, a microfiber is any fiber (as in a single strand of a textile) that is less than 1 denier. A denier is the mass, in grams, of a 9000 meter length of the fiber in question. The reason it is based on 9000 meters is because standard silk fibers created the standard weighing in at 1 denier. (The metric unit, based on a 1000 meter length, is called a tex.)

Microfibers are not particularly new. The first synthetic microfibers were developed in Japan in the early 1970s.  In 1989 the first commercial microfiber hit was launched as Ultrasuede, an easier to manufacture, easier to clean alternative to leather suede.

Since the 1990s, many households in Europe have picked up microfiber cloths as an effective cleaning tool, requiring fewer chemicals. Only recently have they been hitting store shelves in North America.

There is no big magic, mystery, or miracles about it. The fibers themselves are usually polyester. Just regular old plastic. The microfiber’s cleaning prowess comes from one simple concept; more surface area.

Your average cotton fiber is at least 40 times larger than a microfiber. With that alone, a microfiber cloth would have the same surface area as a cotton cloth four times as large. When microfibers are manufactured for cleaning, the fibers are further split giving each microfiber deep crevices in it’s surface and dramatically increasing the surface area even further.

When this cloth comes in contact with water, the physical forces come into play at a molecular level. Through a combination of things such as surface tension, capillary effects, and the Van der Waals force, water and particles are forcibly sucked into the fibers.

A dry microfiber cloth, made from polyester, will also build up a negative electrostatic charge that will have dust leaping into its snuggly clutches. They are often used for glasses and cameras because of their dust-trapping ability. It pulls abrasives away from the lens as opposed to rubbing them around and causing scratches.

For a cotton cloth, some sort of soap is used to attract and hold dirt and grease. Microfibers can do much of the same work without the soap.

Much of the trapped fibers can be rinsed away from the cloth, and again due to surface area, the remaining water will evaporate quickly. The cloths can be machine washed, but best left to dry on their own. Most especially do not use fabric softener, as we learned earlier it will leave a coating on your microfibers that will clog up much of the effective surface area.

Spotlessly yours,