The Dangers of Microfiber Cloths

03.07.2017

0600

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You know when a new product comes out, and it promises to eliminate chemicals and cut down on the process of cleaning, and then we wait ten years or so and figure out the drawbacks from this said new product? Yeah, that’s what this post is about. So when microfiber cloths hit mainstream media, I purchased a set just to try it out. They worked as the company had stated, they worked efficiently and I never had to use any chemicals ever again. They seemed like the perfect clean up rag for tile surfaces, mirrors and I even tested it out on some pen marks on room walls.

Because I used these rag mostly for cleaning up and wiping down surfaces that were wet from water, I washed them when it was necessary. The first time I washed them, they stuck to the rest of the rags in the load so after that, I used a laundry delicates wash bag to contain them.

Then more research started popping up, and here’s what was discovered…

What are microfiber cloths?
Microfiber cleaning cloths are made of microfiber fabric comprised of polyester and nylon. Microfibers are much thinner in diameter than human hair. Those used in cleaning textiles are split in a way that creates spaces within each fiber. Regular microfiber, such as Split microfiber vs cotton that used on furniture or in clothing, is soft but not useful for cleaning because it is not absorbent. Conversely, the spaces within the split fibers in split microfiber can absorb up to 8 times their weight in liquid and trap dust and germs so they are not spread around or released into the air. Studies have found split microfiber products can reduce the bacteria count on surfaces much more effectively than cotton. Check a product’s packaging to determine if it is split microfiber or not. If it’s not labeled, you can check by running your hand over the cloth. If it doesn’t grab at the imperfections of your skin, then it’s not split microfiber.

Uses for microfiber cloths

  • Dusting surfaces. Simply wipe the surfaces with a dry cloth. No sprays are needed because a static electric charge that attracts and traps dust develops when the cloths are moved across a surface.
  • Cleaning mirrors and glass. Slightly dampen a portion of a cloth and rub the glass surface with it. Once you’ve removed any spots or smudges, use the dry portion of the cloth to dry and polish the surface.
  • Cleaning counters. To superficially clean counters, use dry cloths to pick up surface dust, dirt, and hair. To deeply clean counters, slightly dampen a cloth and use your usual cleaning spray.
  • Washing dishes. Use just as you would any other dishcloth.
  • Mopping floors. You can use a dry cloth to pick up surface dust, dirt, and hair or a slightly damp cloth to wipe down your floors with your usual cleaning solution. You can also purchase mop heads made of microfiber fabrics. Many people who own Swiffer-type mops designed for disposable mopping pads simple attach a microfiber cloth to the mop instead of a disposable pad.

Cleaning microfiber cloths

If you take good care of your microfiber cloths, they should continue to perform at their peak for years.

  • Remove trapped dust, dirt, and hair by presoaking the cloths in water and a mild detergent.
  • Wash the cloths in cold water (hot water damages the fabric so it is no longer effective). Only wash the cloths with similar fabrics because they will pull lint out of cotton or other materials during the washing process. Bleach and fabric softeners shouldn’t be used (bleach deteriorates the fabric and fabric softeners clog the spaces in the microfibers so they are no longer absorbent).
  • Line dry the cloths or use the lowest heat setting on your dryer and do not iron them. This prevents heat damage to the microfibers.

Environmental ramifications
There is debate over the extent to which microfiber cloths are environmentally friendly. They are beneficial to the environment in that they aren’t tossed out in the trash after each use like paper towels, nor do they need replaced as frequently as cotton cloths. Moreover, they significantly reduce the amount of water and cleaning products needed when cleaning.

Despite these advantages, microfiber cloths are made from nonrenewable resources and are not biodegradable. There is also concern about their role in microplastic pollution. This sort of pollution occurs when tiny bits of polyester and acrylic rinse off of fabrics during washing and end up collecting on the coastlines of densely populated areas. Fish can ingest the harmful debris, as can humans when they eat affected fish.

Inevitably, choose your products wisely. There are positive aspects and negative aspects of every product you purchase. I’ll probably keep my microfiber cloths to wipe down mirrors still, but I’ll switch out for cotton rags to wipe down my surfaces instead. I would like to get rid of them, but that would also mean that because these are not recyclable, they would inevitably go to the landfill. I have used them to protect my glassware and dishware when I was moving, so that seemed fine. Pick and choose how you want to use these cloths depending on your lifestyle and routines. Microplastic pollution is everywhere and it’s up to us to change our thinking habits about the products we use and how we go about discarding them. Maybe we will not be able to eliminate the pollution, but we can certainly reduce.

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “The Dangers of Microfiber Cloths

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  2. I completely agree! All products that get reused and washed need to be cared for and the filtering system for these products need to be advanced or the core materials of our products need to be more naturally sourced.

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  3. You make a great point! This is why it is so important to properly care for your microfiber cleaning tools. Mops, cloths and dusters can all be re-used over and over again if they are cleaned properly. If not, they become useless.

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  4. I have too! It’s unfortunate that the products we once thought to be wonderful, turn out to be detrimental to the environment. Yes, even other products like CFL light bulbs have their drawbacks. It seems that going back to our roots of how products were designed with organic and biodegradable materials seems to be the best choice. Searching those products out is now a rare find, but that’s why our movement is so important 🙂

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  5. Yes, I agree, the ongoing dilemma of “getting rid of” versus “using up and then getting rid of” is always an issue once we find out more about the products we use. It’s unfortunate when that issue comes up because it feels like a lose-lose situation. Just purchase more organic materials and I think you’ll be on your way.

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  6. I have a few friends that use these – I will be sure to forward this post on to them so they can research it more! I haven’t learned much about microplastics but I wonder how much my regular clothes are releasing these as well. Thanks for bringing to my attention again!

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  7. The debate between using up less than ideal products or purchasing new ones that are more environmentally friendly is a hard one. We have a few microfiber cloths and they do work well, but I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any new ones. We just finally used up the last of our paper towels so I’ll be looking for something!

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  8. This is so thought provoking. I’ve been promoting microfiber cloths for years, simply because mine have lasted over 10 years and I’m still using them. So I thought they were a good ‘zero waste’ alternative. It’s amazing that as you go further into your zero waste journey you learn more and more.

    Thank you for educating me about this – it’s worrying to think they are possibly contributing to microplastic pollution. I feel the same way about CFL light bulbs that were supposed to save tonnes of energy, YET they contain mercury and are potentially polluting the atmosphere. It’s not easy to make informed choices is it?!

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