In cleaning products made of microfiber, it looks like the jan/san industry has found a “better mousetrap.” Microfiber has the potential to be one of the hottest jan/san products around. But for as much talk as there is in the industry about it, it’s still new to customers, according to Neal Pelz, vice president of sales and marketing for Nassco Inc., New Berlin, Wis.

Distributors who are familiar with microfiber are high on its unique cleaning abilities. The basic design consists of two strong, lint-free synthetic fibers — polyester and polyamide. These lightweight fibers are able to accumulate and absorb more particles of dirt and bacteria than any other known fabric. They produce a strong positive charge that attracts dust, and they can absorb up to seven times their weight in dirt or liquid.

Health care institutions are perfect candidates for this type of product, says Tom Sughrue, corporate trainer, HP Products, Indianapolis.

“Our first experience with microfiber was with a hospital in Illinois. The hospital just didn’t like it,” he explains. “So, our initial feeling was negative. However, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest over the past two years or so because microfiber products do a better, more efficient job of cleaning patients’ rooms in hospitals and nursing homes. If done correctly, cleaning can be a one-step process, as opposed to the very time-consuming, labor-intensive sequence of dust mopping, vacuuming, sweeping and then putting down disinfectant. Cleaning with microfiber is a slicker way to do it.

“It seems like every major manufacturer has come out with the product,” says Sughrue. “Not only does it come in flat mops, but also in dusters that you can put on your hand, or on a wand as a sleeve going on a polyester duster, and in cloths that you can use to clean mirrors or glass. There are no chemicals — you just use the cloth itself.”

A Certain Magnetism
Microfiber cloths, mops and wipes and dusting products have unique features and benefits: The microfiber surface contains hundreds of thousands of microscopic “hooks” per square inch that attract grease, dirt and grime like a magnet. The tiny fibers have been slit into millions of fibers that are no thicker than one hundredth of a human hair. The special slitting process produces an ultra-fine fiber with wedge-shaped filaments and a core of nylon. The wedge shape, nylon core, and smaller size fiber are key to microfiber’s effectiveness. When these tiny fibers are woven together into a cloth, you have a powerful cleaning tool. Each cloth consists of tens of thousands of tiny storage compartments that lift the dirt up, trap it and leave a clean, streak-free surface.

The nylon core within the microfiber forms tiny cutting edges that break up surface dirt and easily absorb and remove oils and other grimy substances. The only solvent needed is water.

“We started selling microfiber products about a half-year ago, and although they’ve been slow to launch, we see that our customers like it because it makes cleaning much more effective,” Pelz says. “It’s a more expensive product, but the productivity that results makes it more cost effective. Anyone who does a lot of routine cleaning, such as health care institutions and cleaning contractors can clean surfaces more effectively with microfiber hand wipers.”

Dennis Ervin, founding owner of Dee Janitorial Supply Inc., Chicago, agrees that the price of microfiber products is steep. “But if you pay $6 for a microfiber duster, for example, that’s cost effective because you can rewash it numerous times. That’s true of microfiber mops, too. If you wash them properly, you can get longer life from them. The problem is sometimes you can’t convince people to rewash them. If they did, they’d be ahead of the game.”

Will Green, vice president of operations for Southeastern Paper Group, Spartanburg, S.C., points to some successes his company has had selling wipers made of microfibers. “We started seeing some samples about a year-and-a-half ago and began selling them to large-volume foodservice organizations in colleges and schools, as well as healthcare institutions.”

His company is one of the largest nursing home suppliers in the Carolinas and sells to many hospitals as well.

“Because healthcare environments generally have a more open-minded view of cleaning and its impact on health, they’re willing to invest more in products that enhance cleanliness,” he says.

Microfiber Mops Clean Up
A recent study conducted by the Sustainable Hospitals Project of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell details the benefits of using microfiber products. The study focuses on the environmental and health and safety aspects of microfiber, specifically mops, in order to help hospitals around the country evaluate that product as an alternative to conventional loop mops.

The study found that the microfiber mopping system is an effective mopping technique.

Microfiber mops appear to be more comfortable tools for the workers, according to the study. Microfiber “single-use mop heads prevent cross-contamination between the rooms. There is a reduction in water usage and exposure to disinfectant chemicals. Major ergonomic hazards of conventional loop mops are reduced or eliminated,” according to the study.

The use of microfiber also offers other health and safety benefits. Its use reduces environmental impact, and has tangible cost benefits. “It is anticipated that many tasks and activities associated with microfiber mopping could be further optimized for more efficient mopping, greater health and safety benefits, and additional cost savings,” the study says.

Worth the Weight
The density of the tiny fibers makes the material very absorbent, allowing the mop to hold more than six times its weight in water. This means that a microfiber cloth head is lightweight and compact, yet holds sufficient water for cleaning. At the same time, it doesn’t drip. Instead of repeatedly rinsing and wringing as with a loop mop, soiled microfiber mop pads are replaced frequently with clean pads, and the soiled pads are washed and reused. Much less water and cleaner are required with microfiber mops, and little water remains on the floor, whereas traditional mops leave floors visibly wet.

Microfiber’s positive charge picks up dust and dirt, and holds it so it’s not redistributed back into the air.

“In addition to reduced water and cleaner use, the microfiber mops proved to be favorable from the worker’s perspective,” the report said. “Ergonomic analyses of both microfiber mopping and wet loop mopping concluded that the microfiber mop system significantly reduces heavy lifting and awkward postures that could contribute to back or musculoskeletal injuries. This is mainly because microfiber mops avoid the need for a large bucket of water, eliminating the need for repeated filling, lifting, moving and dumping. Workers also found microfiber mopping less tiring because it eliminates the need to rinse and wring out a heavy loop mop. It also eliminates the need to repeatedly change the bucket of dirty cleaning solution.

Growing Fan Base
Gary Bright, vice president and general manager of Mission Janitorial and Abrasives, San Diego, says microfiber is starting to sell well to the company’s customer base. “We haven’t heard any complaints about it and our customers are expanding their usage of it.” Healthcare facilities, an entertainment park and cleaning contractors are some of his biggest customers.

Customers with tight budgets are also targets, since microfiber saves money in the long-term. “We’re currently targeting schools, too. There’s a big school budget crunch here in California and we think a good selling point to present to them is the fact that microfiber products last longer than others. Their price is higher, but because they’re cost effective, that’s an advantage. Like anything you sell, if it lasts longer than what you normally buy, you have to look at the payback.”

Ervin is impressed with the cleaning ability of microfiber products, and the fact they fit the demand for green products. “They do a remarkable job of cleaning. We sell primarily to residential high rises and schools here. But the latter are very resistant to change, so it’s difficult to sell them the new green products in spite of the fact that here in Chicago, Mayor Daley has mandated green products for the schools.”

Still, microfiber’s use will continue to extend to new markets. “Microfiber is definitely here to stay and I believe it’s just a matter of getting through the price hurdles and the resistance to change that many people have,” adds Pelz.

Even salespeople need some prodding in the form of education.

“Another challenge,” he adds, “is getting our sales force to do a good job of communicating the message of microfibers to our customers. We meet that challenge by micromanaging. By that, I mean we constantly educate our people about the advantages of those products.”

Sughrue, too, believes the product will be around a long time. “There’s a growing use of microfibers and it’s like a train coming down the track. You’d better either jump on board or get out of the way. The healthcare industry is going to be a major user because [microfiber] does a better job of cleaning patient rooms in hospitals and nursing homes,” he adds.

Southeastern Paper’s Green is another distributor who feels that microfiber products will find a lasting audience. “When we sell to our customers, we tell them they need to take a close look at microfibers. We mostly emphasize the product performance and effectiveness that are unique to microfibers. We stress that they will hold up well over a long period of time, making them cost effective, too.”

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.