If you had to name a handful of products that revolutionized cleaning, chances are microfiber would be somewhere near the top. Although the popularity of microfiber cleaning cloths has seen exponential growth over the course of the past decade or so, these super soft home and car cleaning products have been around for a hot minute, just not in the form that one might expect.
The quest for the ultimate, fully-synthetic fabric began in the 1950s, but the big breakthrough didn’t come until 1970, when Japanese scientist Miyoshi Okamoto developed a revolutionary product called Ultrasuede. This man-made Japanese material (as well as its Alcantara Italian cousin) took the world of upholstery and fabrics by storm, offering superior softness and durability, without the expense and maintenance headaches associated with traditional materials. That said, it would not be until decades later that this technology would replace cotton towels as a preferred cleaning and drying material.
How do microfiber towels work?
So exactly what are microfiber products made from? Microfiber cloths typically consist of blended polyester and nylon fibers (or fibres for all you Brits out there), and these hooked threads are often slimmer than a strand of silk. While the thought of using a plastic cloth to wipe down your windows after a quick car wash or while detailing a vehicle may seem a little strange, it is this marriage between polyester and nylon that gives the fibers within microfiber cloths their winning edge.
While soaking-up spills and removing water from a freshly washed machine are certainly microfiber strong suits, it is also an excellent dust collector. Since a microfiber cloths’ polyester strands are positively-charged, and its nylon fibers are negatively-charged, these cloths literally attract dirt, dust, and debris. Microfiber cleaning has even been known to sweep-up bacteria via those electrostatically-charged fibers, with the polyester portion of the product serving as an outstanding tool for absorbing fats and oils.
Why use microfiber?
- If cleaned regularly, high-end microfiber cloths have the ability to withstand up to 500 washes, while still absorbing more contaminants than traditional cleaning cloths.
- In most cases, microfiber cloths can be cleaned with little more than warm water, thus negating the need to use chemicals when washing.
- When properly maintained, microfiber cloths have the ability to remove up to 99% of bacteria on smooth surfaces.
- Microfiber cloths effectively absorb liquids at an astonishing rate, and are quick to dry due to their extremely porous composition and synthetic nature.
- Streak-free shines and unrivaled polishing power make microfiber products ideal for car cleaning, an indispensable item in the average box of detailing supplies.
4 Ways to Wash Microfiber Cloths (And What to Avoid)
1. Use the Washing Machine… With Caution
While rinsing regularly under cool water will definitely help dislodge any excess dirt or grime, a quick spin in the washing machine will return most microfiber cloths to their near original state. Simply rinse microfiber cloths in warm water with an unscented, additive-free liquid detergent, and then run them on low heat in the dryer for a few minutes afterward.
That said, there are some things to watch out for when going this route. Washing microfiber cloths with things like powdered or scented laundry detergent, fabric softener, and bleach will compromise the quality of those precious split strands. Unlike liquid laundry detergent, the powdered kind will clump-up and embed itself within a microfiber cloths’ ridges, and the scented stuff tends to prevent the fabric from attracting dust. While bleach tends to cause microfiber cloths to lose their absorption capacity, fabric softener is a more commonplace culprit, as it does little to make these super supple cloths more absorbent or gentle to the touch, and will clog those fibrous pores.
Cleaning microfiber in the washing machine alongside anything made from cotton will also shorten the lifespan of cleaning follicles. Cotton lint is notorious for getting everywhere, and will render the fibers found within a microfiber cloth useless even after one wash. It is also important to remember that microfiber dries extremely quickly, so always set your dryer to its coolest setting, run it for just a few minutes, and never use dryer sheets, as they too will compromise the quality of those precious fibers.
2. Rinse in the Dishwasher
Cleaning microfiber towels in the dishwasher is a nifty way of removing contaminants and refreshing the synthetic fibers found within your favorite cleaning cloths. Just spread your cloths out on the top rack of the dishwasher, clip them in place with some plastic laundry pins, and run a quick warm water cycle to refresh said microfiber cleaning product. Just remember to hold-off on adding any dishwasher detergent and then hang your freshly rinsed cleaning cloths somewhere to dry, just like you would any other form of laundry.
3. Nuke ‘em in the Microwave!
While this cleaning method may sound a bit odd, microfiber products clean-up beautifully in the “nuke machine,” just as long as they aren’t heavily soiled. Simply rinse your cloths in fresh water, and then microwave them for one minute on a medium/low setting. Once cool to the touch, hang your microfiber cleaning towels somewhere safe to air dry like any other piece of laundry.
Quick Tip: Certain microfiber products have specific care instructions, so always check the brand label first.
4. Hand Wash and Air Dry
If your microfiber cloths appear mildly dirty after use, shake them out to remove any large debris, and then give them a quick soak in a bowl of warm water. A little hand-scrubbing at this point will bring most of the filth trapped within a microfiber cleaning towel to the surface, so feel free to dump and refill the water as necessary.
Once hand scrubbed, rinse your towel(s) under warm water until what drips out runs clear of dust and debris. After that, all your microfiber cloths need is a little air dry time before being put back to use.
How often should you wash microfiber towels?
Cleaning microfiber cloths should be a weekly affair, especially if they are used regularly. If your microfiber cleaning cloths begin to develop a rank odor, forego spritzing them with an air freshener, and instead boil them in water with 1/4 cup of baking soda or a splash of distilled white vinegar for about 10-15 minutes.
What are the benefits of using a properly cleaned microfiber towel?
When not washed properly, microfiber towels tend to push whatever is being cleaned-up around, instead of absorbing or attracting said filth. In contrast, a report by Texas Microfibers, shows that properly cleaned microfiber products have been known to result in “20% daily savings on cleaning labor, and a 95% drop in cleaning chemical expenses.”
Not all microfiber is created equal
Like most products, there are multiple grades of microfiber, and both performance and longevity are reflected in this fact. While cheaper microfiber products typically rely upon around 50,000 fibers per square inch, ultra high-end alternatives have been known to pack over 3.1 million follicles into a single square inch of surface area! This translates to better moisture absorption and far more efficient cleaning.
When should microfiber towels be replaced?
Many microfiber cloths can withstand up to 500 washings, or about two years of household abuse. While products like microfiber car wash mitts and floor mops tend to have a different life expectancy, it’s pretty obvious when it is time to replace a well-used microfiber cleaning product. Attracting dirt and absorbing moisture will become almost impossible, and streaks will be in abundance. At which point it is probably best to “throw in the towel” and buy a brand new microfiber product.