Today, the cleaning industry is seeing increased awareness and active participation in the development of green initiatives. As more departments pledge to embrace a holistic cleaning approach, reduce their carbon footprint and make their facilities safer and healthier, adopting microfiber cleaning products becomes necessary. What many departments didn't realize is the ROI (return on investment) associated with microfiber cleaning.

Industries such as healthcare, where microfiber cleaning has been embraced, have already captured the ROI in terms of financial and health benefits, plus the cleaning efficiencies. It is time for all custodial departments to re-evaluate the factors that impact their investment in microfiber cleaning.

In the past, cleaning focused solely on using chemicals. Now, a higher value is placed on factors such as chemical-free cleaning, water and energy conservation, time, labor, and employee and occupant safety. The combination of the right tools, products and outcome-monitoring can improve the cleaning process with less water, chemicals and employee strain.

Switching To Microfiber Cleaning

Microfiber cleaning has long been associated with chemical-free or limited-chemical cleaning. It's effective when used dry or with water because it cleans surfaces mechanically, not chemically, by scraping them with microscopic precision.

As if that alone isn't impressive to purchasers, microfiber cleaning technology continues to advance and grow. Some microfiber cleaning cloths are now treated with an antimicrobial and are designed to inhibit the growth of stain- and odor-causing bacteria. The cloths remove up to 99 percent of bacteria from non-porous surfaces without the use of chemicals, and continue to provide protection for up to 300 washings.

It's important to quantify these chemical savings when calculating ROI. Reducing chemical inventory can result in substantial savings. But that's not the only area where switching to microfiber cleaning can save valuable budget dollars.

More than 90 percent of the mopping in the United States uses a traditional string mop with a single compartment bucket. According to a study conducted by the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences, in a traditional mopping system, the water and mop head soil rapidly after the first few dips into the mop bucket. Potential contaminants and soil are redistributed to the floor and/or grout lines after the first 1,000 square feet of mopping.

This cleaning process may also damage building interiors, specifically the vertical baseboard grout lines, causing a "ring around the building." This occurs when the string mop, saturated with dirty mop water, is maneuvered close to the floor edges. The higher string mop profile of two to three inches drags along the baseboard causing soiling. Over time, this lowers appearance-based cleaning scores and will eventually cost departments time and money in restoration.

The alternative to traditional mopping is a flat microfiber mopping system. Microfiber flat mops are very versatile and effective. Their size and functionality allow the mop heads to reach hard-to-clean areas such as behind toilets or vertical partitions. The microfiber mop's low profile and square design make it easy to use around corners and edges.

The combination of functionality, high absorbency and ergonomic design result in low-moisture cleaning that is more effective and safer. When used properly, microfiber systems can clean floors 45 percent better than traditional string mops, while reducing water and chemical consumption by up to 90 percent.
Manufacturers often underestimate the usable lifetime of their products, but the figures still offer a valuable guide in comparing long-term value. Traditional cotton mops are bargain priced, at a few dollars per head, but will last no more than 50 machine laundering cycles before needing to be replaced.

For many facilities, this means hundreds of mop heads are being replaced every week. After repeated laundering, the cotton mop head begins to pill and shred leaving streaking or inconsistent appearance.

Microfiber mop heads cost about $16 each, or even less when supplied along with a full ergonomic cleaning kit, but they continue to remove surface bacteria and withstand hundreds of washings. Microfiber heads are designed for repeated use — some are designed to withstand 500 to 600 detergent laundering cycles. Laundering will release the captured dirt, thereby renewing the microfiber mop head.
After factoring in three to six months of replacement costs — including the added cost of laundering microfiber after every use — microfiber surpasses cotton, not only in sanitation, but also in value.

As an example, one Denver-based custodial operation discovered that the switch to microfiber mop heads cut replacements from 12 cotton string mop heads per week to one microfiber mop head every eight weeks. Though the microfiber mop head retails for three times the cost of a cotton mop-head, the custodial operation estimated a three-year savings of more than $6,600.

BJ MANDELSTAM is the founder and president of Cleaning Matters, Denver. For more information, visit