By Stephen Ashkin

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a nationally renowned consulting firm helping both contractors and building owners “green” the cleaning process.

When it comes to green initiatives, much of the focus is on reducing energy consumption, but there are other issues getting significantly less press coverage and are just as important: water usage and worker and occupant health. And these are areas where microfiber products shine.

Microfiber flat mops used for damp mopping interior corridors, offices, patient rooms and other areas can reduce water consumption conservatively estimated between 25 and 50 percent compared to using a traditional mop and bucket application. For some cleaning and dusting applications, microfiber cloths can work effectively without the use of any chemicals, thus eliminating environmental impacts from these products.

Not having to use chemicals also benefits occupant and worker health because there are no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be harmful if inhaled. VOCs also can contribute to smog formation when they are ultimately exhausted outdoors.

Another health benefit is the fact that microfiber can reduce cross-contamination. A study by the University of California at Davis Medical Center found that microfiber materials led to reducing the number of bacteria on a surface by 99 percent, whereas a conventional cleaning material reduces bacteria by only 33 percent.

Finally for janitorial workers, microfiber flat mops can reduce the potential for muscular skeletal injuries (e.g. back and repetitive motion injuries) because they are lighter in weight when loaded with water, cleaning solution or floor finish compared to their traditional counterparts.

The big challenge, however, for a contractor selecting microfiber products is the lack of industry standards to help separate quality products from cheap alternatives.

Begin by considering the use of the products. Some products are softer or more aggressive due to how the fibers are extruded, but of course it is impossible for the naked eye to see the difference. However, products do vary by weight and some are observably thicker than others (users should choose heavier and thicker products). Also check the end bindings and choose those with a tighter edging which will reduce fraying during laundering and extend the life of the product.

Dusting cloths should have loops and feel “fluffy.” Cloths blended with other fibers are useful for spray and wipe cleaning in restrooms. For flat mops, determine the application (for example damp mopping vs. applying floor finish) and then choose the right fiber blend to hold the appropriate amount of liquid.

In the end, you get what you pay for — or more accurately — you don’t get what you don’t pay for.