Microfiber: End Users Weigh In
Any jan/san product needs to provide customers a return on investment in order to justify a purchase. Microfiber has been touted as a product that will provide results in less time and with less effort than its predecessors, thus providing a worthwhile return on microfibers’ higher initial price.
But does microfiber really work in end users’ daily routines? What do end users think about microfiber, and will they continue to use it?
Early adopters began implementing microfiber into their cleaning routines about 10 years ago in the United States. Many more have followed suit since then, and most are very pleased with the results.
Microfiber vs. Microorganisms
Microfiber technology is most commonly used in healthcare facilities. In the ongoing fight against cross contamination, microfiber fills a unique niche because of its versatility and performance.
James Thompson, owner of A-1 Building Services, Wyoming, Mich., began using microfiber mopping systems 10 years ago, and has found it so beneficial he did away with traditional mop-and-bucket systems.
Thompson’s business cleans four hospitals’ facilities, and before the company began using microfiber, mops and buckets were one of the main causes of cross contamination. “With the regular mop bucket, once you dipped the mop and put it on the floor and dipped it back in again, you’ve just contaminated your clean water,” Thompson explains.
When Thompson began using a microfiber mopping system, he was most pleased that you use a fresh pad for each room. He also likes the dispensing system on the mop itself, so clean solution is always assured. “It’s nice for the [cleaners] because they don’t have to touch anything,” said Thompson. “The biggest thing for me is I can sell to my customers that there’s no cross contamination. Specializing in medical, that’s a huge issue.”
In-house users also report benefits within their operations. Fiona Nemetz, director of environmental services, St. Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta, says the hospital implemented microfiber mops about a year and a half ago to promote staff safety.
Since then, Nemetz notes a few differences. “The changes that I see are that the staff prefers it, it provides increased infection control because you’re using a clean mop for every single room, and there is also the versatility of the microfiber mop,” says Nemetz. “We use microfiber not only on the floors … we also use it to clean all the ceilings and walls in the rooms.”
Since its debut, microfiber has undergone some improvement. In the early days of microfiber, some aspects of the product left a lot to be desired, Thompson says. “We found that the quality of the microfibers years ago wasn’t that good, because it didn’t hold up so well to washing.”
The biggest problem, he explains, was the foam backing on the mop heads that would break down after 150 washings. “The stuff nowadays, you can get 500 to 600 washings out of them, no problem,” says Thompson.
Thompson says the quality and variety of microfiber has grown since the company first began using it. He says there is advancement in the effectiveness of the cloths, because they are coming in higher “splits.” Microfiber is comprised of a polyester/nylon blend. These threads are split numerous times to create the microfibers. The more times the thread is split, the more absorbent and retentive it is.
“Most of the stuff we use now is the eight-split, but I believe we now have some samples coming in that are 16-split,” says Thompson. “We’ve probably got six or eight different kinds of mop heads and five or six different kinds of cleaning cloths. They’re all just a little bit different in the type of texture because they are all designed for the job that they do.”
Another noticeable difference is the introduction of color-coded systems that reduce cross contamination by assigning each color a specific task.
While Thompson has watched microfiber develop over the years, Kent Miller, director of environmental and linen services for Mercy Medical Center, Newton, Iowa, hasn’t seen a lot of change since two years ago when his facility began using microfiber. However, he believes this is a testament to its durability.
“It’s been pretty static really — there hasn’t been a huge amount of change. We actually have some of our mops that have been with us since we started with the system two years ago,” says Miller. “They last so much longer than a standard cotton mop does.”
Miller says they average 750 launderings per cloth.
Microfiber is typically seen as an expensive alternative that will pay off in the long run, but Miller says he has already seen prices drop. By shopping around, he was able to find a mop that was cheaper than cotton string alternatives.
Prices will decline, says Bob Merkt, owner of Merkt Education Group Associates (MEGA), a division of Kettle Moraine Professional Cleaners Inc., West Bend, Wis. However, he cautions end users to make decisions on more than just price. There are products made with lesser quality fibers that don’t work as well as the originals.
Merkt, who has used microfiber for about 10 years, will always buy microfiber cloths and mops that have at least 90,000 filaments per square inch.
Merkt also said the length of the actual fibers has helped make his job easier. “One of the biggest things was when they went to the longer microfiber because it does a nice job on grouted floors and getting the grout lines dry,” Merkt says.
Time savings is the most distinct advantage end users point to when discussing the benefits of microfiber. “The biggest thing is you’re not taking the mop water back and changing your water all the time,” says Thompson. “It has not only saved us a bunch of time in actual mopping itself, but the ancillary things — the little problems that mopping causes — it eliminated that, too.”
For example, Thompson says the dividers on floors between rooms would often cause sloshing of water and chemical onto carpets.
Microfiber also helps administration with staff accountability. Miller says that before the switch to microfiber, there was no guarantee that staff members were changing their mop heads every three rooms like they were supposed to, but with the use of microfiber mops and cloths, there is more accountability.
While microfiber mops have sped up the cleaning process because their light weight enables staff to move around the building more quickly, Miller says the cloths have also inspired out-of-the-box thinking that has resulted in time savings.
“Two or three months after we implemented the microfiber, some of my guys were doing a huge window-cleaning project and one of them used a microfiber cloth on the glass and found it worked pretty well,” Miller explained. “After wiping the window with the cloth, they squeegee it down and it works better than some of the other systems that we’ve used.”
Another frequently mentioned savings comes from the reduced use of chemicals; Miller says his facility has saved about 35 percent a year in chemical costs since making the switch.
Merkt has also noticed a reduction in the amount of product needed. “In dusting situations, you can just use a microfiber dust mop and it works well,” he explains. “For spot cleaning glass and mirrors, no product is necessary and it works well for those applications.”
Microfiber systems also have ergonomic benefits and the impact on workers’ bodies is less. If workers do experience an injury, Thompson says the lighter weight of microfiber allows workers to return to work sooner.
“We don’t have injuries very often, but when we do, we can usually bring someone back four weeks earlier than we used to be able to,” Thompson said. “We’ll just put them on as a mopping specialist and all they have to do is take that little mop around.”
Finally, Merkt sees one more type of savings — less laundry. He says his employees will simply clean their cloths in the custodial sink and hang them to dry. “You decrease the laundry frequencies because you’re able to keep them cleaner longer at the account,” says Thompson. “Getting a terrycloth rag wet and wringing it out isn’t the same because you can get a microfiber cloth clean just by rinsing it.”
Deciding to make the move to microfiber at the administrative level is one thing — training staff is another.
Merkt says staff took awhile to catch on to microfiber, particularly entry-level custodians. His department has since developed a simple way of training employees to make sure they know how much product is needed. Trainees are told to spray a surface with chemical and use the terrycloth towel. They are then asked to repeat the process using microfiber, so they can see the difference in the amount of product required by each type of material.
“One of the observations is if you put too much product down, the towel will drown in product and it will take away from [microfiber’s] ability to do its job,” says Merkt. “To the average custodian, if a little is good, a lot is better. Getting them to understand that one squirt instead of three squirts of window cleaner is going to be enough is a bit of a challenge.”
Thompson has also noted some initial resistance to microfiber. Telling employees who have never used microfiber mop heads that they will have to use 24 mop heads to clean 24 rooms seems to them like an increase in work.
“In the beginning, they always say, ‘I don’t want to do that. It’s going to take more time, and it’s not the way I’ve always done it,’ but once they start using it, they wouldn’t go back,” he says. “There’s not a single facility that we mop with a regular mop and bucket anymore.”
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