Karen Adams, president and owner of The Mop Bucket, a cleaning retailer/distributor in Kansas City, Mo., says she hopped on the microfiber bandwagon early. “We’ve been offering microfiber products for a good eight years,” she says. “Back then, I’d go to the ISSA shows and I’d always end up telling people they were missing the boat if they didn’t understand how well microfiber cleans.”

So she’s gratified — but not at all surprised — that microfiber mops and towels are increasingly popular among her colleagues and clients.

“We just placed an order for a couple thousand microfiber mop pads,” she notes. “In fact, we probably sell anywhere from one to two dozen customers a week on the benefits of microfiber technology.”

To prove her point, Adams tells her customers to dust once using their favorite process or cleaner, and then re-dust with a microfiber cloth. They’re amazed, she says, when they see the amount of additional dust and dirt that the microfiber cloth picks up.

A penny saved
Adams is one of many suppliers who turn higher cost into a selling point. Distributors say cost plays a large role in the gains microfiber has made in the workplace.

But it’s not the actual price of the products that these distributors and retailers tout. They can’t. Microfiber products are, across the board, more expensive than their cotton counterparts. Various surveys put the price of a higher quality microfiber cloth, for example, at $4.00 and up. According to 2004 reports, a cotton-loop mop costs approximately $15, while a microfiber mop-head alone runs $30 or more.

A growing number of industry observers make a compelling case for the long-term savings of microfiber. They stress reductions in: the amount of water and chemicals needed; the number of job-related injuries that occur; and the time it takes to clean a room as a few of microfiber’s myriad benefits.

A study done in 2002 by the Sustainable Hospitals Project concluded that switching to a microfiber flat-mopping system yields “immediate water and chemical savings.” Using one cotton-loop mop for a day will require 21 gallons of water and 10.5 ounces of chemical, says the study, while a microfiber mop will use only one gallon of water and a half-ounce of chemicals on the same day.

Adams agrees with these findings. “There are so many pluses with these products,” she says. “When you clean a window with a microfiber cloth, not only are you not adding chemicals to the atmosphere, but you save money by eliminating ammoniated products that will dry the glass faster than you can clean it, and surfactants that keep the glass wetter so it can be cleaned.”

The hospital study also determined that a microfiber flat-mop system helps protect workers by reducing the risks of injury that are inherent in a conventional mopping strategy. With no need to wring, the study notes, workers aren’t subjected to extremes in trunk, shoulder and elbow flexion.

Also, moving and lifting a bucket that contains only five pounds of water — instead of 15 pounds of water — goes a long way to prevent corresponding back strain. As any housekeeping supervisor knows, less strain results in fewer worker’s compensation claims.

Beyond those benefits, though, Adams and others point out that time is money and therefore, a major benefit of cleaning with microfiber is the quick work it makes of a variety of tasks.

The hospital study, for example, determined that a worker using a flat microfiber mop will clean 22 patient rooms per day, instead of the 20 he or she would clean using a cotton-loop mop. Because there’s no need to wring a microfiber mop or change a bucket of mop water, workers are able to move in and out of areas quickly.

“Most cost savings are the result of reduced labor,” the study reports.

Added features
These are some of the obvious benefits to using microfiber, but it is far from a complete list. Distributors often tout durability and longevity as major features to this evolving technology.

A microfiber mop-head can be washed and reused several hundreds of times, compared to the wash-life expectancy of a cotton-loop mop, which is measured, at best, in the dozens. And cheaper, non-industrial washing machines — out of the question when it comes to laundering traditional mops — actually do a better job with microfiber.

The clean-and-reuse aspect of microfiber is yet another area where housekeeping departments can save money, say experts. David Polonsky, former director of environmental services, and J. Douglas Roill, former manager of hospitality services, at Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., say that a microfiber mop-head can be expected to last ten times as long as a cotton-loop mop. And they estimate a 95 percent cost reduction on the use of water and chemicals (both by volume) in microfiber mopping.

Add everything up — cheaper laundry costs, less employee fatigue, faster cleaning processes, they say, and the estimated net savings of using microfiber mops instead of cotton-loop mops is at least “$35 per 100 rooms cleaned.”

Rave reviews
Now that microfiber products are making their way to in-house service providers, it’s worth noting that the reviews continue to be positive.

“I love microfiber mops and towels,” says Barbara Murray, housekeeping floor supervisor for Harrah’s in Atlantic City, N.J. “They pick up a lot and are very efficient.”

She reports, too, that the predicted long-term pay-off for switching to microfiber has proved accurate at her job sites.

“I believe it’s cost effective,” she says, noting that her workers do indeed “get in and out of the room faster and use less chemicals.”

In fact, the sheer volume of cleaning at Harrah’s has yielded an even quicker pay-off, especially when it comes to keeping floors shiny and clean.

“We have at least 700 rooms that have wood floors and require daily cleaning,” Murray says. “If we had to use a regular mop in these areas, the mop would get musty and we’d have to throw it away. So even though we might be spending a little more in the beginning to switch to microfiber, it is paying off in the long run.”

Some users comment that for microfiber to be truly cost-effective, departments must have laundry services on site.

“Microfiber needs to be cleaned, dried and stored,” says John Dalman, sales manager for Hillyard, Inc., a distributor based in St. Joseph, Mo. “If the facility doesn’t have laundry on site, they have to pack it up every night, get it cleaned and back to the site.”

Nevertheless, housekeepers, janitors and custodians everywhere increasingly mirror the experience and sentiments of George Kom, the superintendent for custodians at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho. Although in a different facility, and clear across the country from Harrah’s Murray, Kom is as enthusiastic as she is about microfiber’s effectiveness.

“It seems like it collects dust better than anything we’ve ever used,” says Kom. “Dust sticks right to the fiber and we don’t have to treat it or anything.”

In fact, Kom began transitioning to microfiber products several months ago at the suggestion of a distributor.

“We implemented microfiber as a demo,” Kom says. “We have about 70 or 80 academic custodians and a third of them were asked to test the products on their daily tasks.”

When the response was overwhelmingly positive, Kom looked at the cost of making the switch permanent. He liked what he saw.

“They’re a money saver for us, as well as the fact that they’re convenient,” he says, of his conclusion. “We are always looking for ways to conserve our budget, and microfiber gave us the result we were looking for.”

There is no question that microfiber carries with it obvious benefits, but cleaning mangers should do their research before implementing a full program.

Industry experts caution that cleaning managers factor in the cost of pilferage when putting together a microfiber budget. It turns out that these products make very tempting targets — and a microfiber cloth costs dollars instead of the pennies that are lost when someone walks off with even a dozen cotton rags.

In addition, microfiber isn’t always ideal for every job, so experts advise against abandoning cotton-loop mops altogether. These mops are still necessary for tasks such as stripping and waxing floors, as well as bulk cleaning of infectious matter.

Microfiber certainly has its place in the cleaning industry, but it is up to the cleaning manager to determine how it best fits into their cleaning program.

Mary Erpenbach is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.