Cleaning With Microfiber:Analyzing The Benefits And Costs Of This New Fabric
Building service contractors use microfiber most often in flat mops and cloths for the numerous benefits that come from its superior absorbency and natural electrostatic qualities. Yet, many BSCs hold back because of the perception that it’s more expensive than conventional cloths and mops.
Actually, microfiber cost savings can be substantial due to the cloth’s longevity and a 95 percent reduction in volume of chemicals used, according to David Polonsky, CHESP, in a May 2004 Healthcare Purchasing News article titled “Should You Microfiber?” Polonsky estimated the net savings at his hospital to exceed $35 per 100 rooms cleaned.
Once BSCs consider reductions in cleaning times, surface drying times and amount of chemicals needed, plus take into account less tangible savings due to reduced chemical exposure to workers, improved indoor air quality and less risk of slips and falls and surface damage — the real cost may come into better perspective.
Microfiber comes in a variety of naps, sizes, weights and weaves for different applications. When purchasing microfiber cloths, BSCs must first understand that not all microfiber is created or priced equally.
Microfiber products are often a blend of polyester and microfiber polymer, and blends vary. A combination of 70 percent polyester/30 percent microfiber polymer will be more effective than an 80/20 blend.
“That’s what a lot of people don’t understand,” says James Thompson, owner of A-1 Building Services in Wyoming, Mich. “Be sure you know what you’re paying for.”
A-1 cleans hospitals in southwest Mich. and opts for 100 percent microfiber products.
“They cost more,” says Thompson, “but they last so long it far outweighs the cost difference — and I believe they do a better job.”
In addition to blend, it’s also valuable to understand that the more splits in a microfiber, the more absorbent it is. Thompson is currently upgrading to a 16-split mop pad and says it will afford twice the surface contact area as an eight-split.
“They’re a buck more per head,” Thompson says, adding that prices have been coming down the last couple of years and that more distributors are handling microfiber. Thompson adds that you often get what you pay for, and backings that attach to poles can fall off of some lower quality mop pads after only 100 to 200 launderings, where higher quality pads stay intact through more than 600 launderings.
BSCs who have adopted microfiber typically looked into it for reasons of quality and image — and then discovered that pricing wasn’t out of reach. Some of the larger BSCs are tracking their returns on the investment, but say it’s still too early to share any hard numbers.
As of last December, USSI in Vienna, Va., was about 85 percent of the way through a two-year rollout of microfiber mophead systems beginning with five million square feet of Class A office space — mostly high-end law firms — in downtown Washington D.C.
“We’ve had to do it in a staged fashion in order to map cost, transition and economic returns,” says USSI’s director of marketing Bob Wall.
Costs for USSI have increased from $3 to $4 for a string mop pad to $7.25 for a microfiber mop pad for smooth surfaces and a $9.50 microfiber pad for grout that has additional texture, explains executive vice president Ron Harris.
“Microfiber is expensive,” adds Wall. “The initial analysis needs to be done with an ongoing process of keeping them clean and periodically replacing them.”
A-1’s Thompson has been ahead of the curve and using microfiber since the late ‘90s. He initially paid $6 to $10 for cloths, but thanks to the rise in microfiber suppliers, cloths have reduced to the $2.50 to $6 range.
That’s still too high for some BSCs to justify all the up-front costs of the new technology, says Harris. However, once the advantages are understood, the benefits far outweigh the cost, he continues.
“If a customer asks why you’re not using it, and you say cost, there’s not a lot of logic to it,” says Harris.
Thompson says microfiber has been a profitable investment for his firm, especially when it comes to combatting cross-contamination and standing out from his competition.
High-end customers look to their contract cleaners for premiere service, adds Harris. When they are typically paying hundreds of dollars per square foot in rent alone, they want everything to be perfect, and remain perfect all day long.
Change Is Not Always Easy
Sometimes, the resistance doesn’t come from a BSC’s wallet, but instead the staff. Bob Merkt, owner of Kettle Moraine Professional Cleaners in West Bend, Wis., equips his 30 part-time cleaning employees with microfiber cloths and mop pads to clean office space in manufacturing facilities. The products require a third less chemical product and remove more dust from the environment, which reduces the frequency of restorative work, says Merkt.
But Merkt says his staff, many who have been with him for years, haven’t embraced the technology.
“The employees are resistant,” he says. “They are used to a thick absorbent fiber. Now you give them a lightweight, flimsy microfiber towel and they don’t believe it works.”
Fortunately for A-1 and USSI they haven’t encountered that problem.
“It’s been good [for] morale,” says Wall. “It’s nice to work with something that’s explained to be the best and newest.”
Lauren Summerstone is a business writer in Madison, Wis., and a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.
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