Microfiber was invented in Sweden in the mid-1980s and quickly spread throughout Europe and Asia. Environmentally aware Europeans liked that the material could be used with little or no chemicals and could be repeatedly laundered, reducing waste.

Recently, microfiber has become popular with American contractors. However, some building service contractors are still confused as to what microfiber really is.

Microfiber is a synthetic fiber made up of a blend of polyester and microfiber polymer. These materials are bundled together to form a strand so small the human eye can barely see it. When examined under a microscope the strand appears in the shape of a star. Those bundles are then split into ultra-fine single fibers (estimated to be at least one-sixteenth the size of a human hair) using a specific combination of chemicals, heat and agitation.

The amount of splits determines the quality of the microfiber. The more splits, the more absorbent it is. In addition, the chemical process manufacturers use to split the microfibers creates a positive electric charge. When dry, the static causes dirt, which has a negative charge, to cling better to the mop or cloth. The dirt will be trapped until the microfiber is washed, at which time the charge is broken and the dirt is released.

The single fibers are woven together to make the finished microfiber product. When woven together the strands create a surface area covered with millions of spaces between the fibers to trap moisture, dirt and debris. This dense fiber is able to hold seven to eight times its own weight in water. While cotton can absorb about 70 percent of moisture, microfiber can pick up about 98 percent.

Microfiber is available in cloths, mops, mitts and other products. It can be used wet or dry and on a variety of surfaces. Dusting should be done totally dry — that means no water or dust-treating chemicals. When it comes to wet mopping, people often overload the microfiber cloth or pad with water or chemical. However, if all the crevices of the cloth are filled, then there won’t be room for the dirt, which will cause streaking.

Microfiber will last a long time if properly cared for. As a synthetic, microfiber needs to be laundered at appropriate temperatures. It is recommended that washing temperatures do not exceed 200 degrees. In addition, cloths and pads need to be washed only with like materials. The lint of cotton and other fibers will clog up the crevices in the cloth. Also, never wash microfiber with bleach or fabric softener. These chemicals will damage the polyamide fiber and reduce the static charge that makes microfiber effective. Finally, when drying, temperatures should range between 130 and 140 degrees. Anything higher could potentially damage the product.

Excerpted from the August 2005 issue of Sanitary Maintenance and the February 2006 issue of Housekeeping Solutions.