In the cleaning industry, healthcare facilities have been the most likely to embrace microfiber cleaning products because of their superior ability to address the market’s chief concern: preventing cross-contamination.

With superbugs like methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) becoming a growing problem for healthcare facilities, taking every reasonable step to avoid cross-contamination is vital. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MRSA infections accounted for 22 percent of staph infections in 1974; by 2004, that percentage grew to 63 percent.

Given such stark evidence, it is not surprising that the healthcare industry has looked for creative solutions to prevent cross-contamination of patients and workers.

Microfiber mop systems are designed to easily isolate germs and bacteria picked up during cleaning.

“After the room is finished being mopped, you simply place the dirty mop head into a separate, sealed container and move on to the next room where a fresh mop head is pulled out of the disinfecting bucket and the process starts over,” said Matt Miller, sales manager at B. Miller Products, Hibbing, Minn.

Beyond Healthcare
While the healthcare industry has proven to be a lucrative market for distributors of microfiber products, commercial settings are posing a challenge. However, this does not mean there are not inroads into these markets.

Most distributors agreed that as the retail market for microfiber product grows, the commercial market will follow. A perfect example of retail to commercial acceptance is hydrogen peroxide cleaners.

“Hydrogen peroxide cleaners have been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until that rotund guy with a beard started hawking Oxyclean® in infomercials that hydrogen peroxide cleaners took off,” said Tom Sughrue, a member of the purchasing department at HP Products, Indianapolis.

With hydrogen peroxide cleaners, it was a clear case of the retail market paving the way for the product’s acceptance in the commercial market. As consumers became more receptive to the product, commercial cleaners embraced it as well.

The same effect may be underway in the microfiber market. Karen Adams, owner of The Mop Bucket, North Kansas City, Mo., whose store caters to both retail consumers and commercial cleaners, has seen a rapid growth in the amount of retail sales of microfiber cleaning cloths.

“Once a consumer uses the products, she invariably will be hooked and will not go back to traditional cloth products because microfiber works so well,” Adams explains. “The microfiber products clean so much better and with far smaller use of chemical cleaning agents that consumers hardly even have to think about the choice.”

Adams notes that all she has to do is to give a customer dusting spray and a regular cloth. They apply the spray and wipe it clean. Then she gives them a yellow microfiber cloth and asks them to wipe the same surface.

“When the customer sees all the dirt the cloth picked up, they require no further convincing,” Adams says. “Honestly, these products work so well that the biggest problem for commercial cleaners will be figuring out how to keep their employees from taking them to use at home.”

Sughrue believes that the retail market will eventually pave the way for regular use in commercial settings, because once home users begin using them, they, as customers, will start demanding their building service contractors (BSCs) or in-house cleaning providers use microfiber.

“They’ll ask themselves, ‘If I use this at home because it works better than anything else, why isn’t the guy who has my $250,000 contract using it,’” Sughrue points out. “When that happens, jan/san end users will start using microfiber products.”

Green Steam
Just as the growth of the hydrogen peroxide cleaner market was — at least in some part — fueled by the growing green cleaning movement, distributors agree that a similar effect may benefit microfiber.

As more businesses, school districts, and government agencies enact environmentally preferable purchasing programs and other green cleaning policies, end users will need to find ways to comply. Microfiber products will help end users do so.

One mission of green cleaning is the attempt to reduce the amount of chemicals used in cleaning. Microfiber helps realize this goal because its inherent properties mean fewer chemicals need to be used when compared to traditional cloth products.

In some instances, chemical use can be eliminated completely. For example, Adams points out that windows can be cleaned effectively using plain water, a wet microfiber cloth, and a dry microfiber cloth.

Ultimately, if an end user resists microfiber because of up-front cost concerns, sometimes the environmental aspect can get them over the hump. And, as Adams notes, “Once they start, they’ll never look back.”

Full Market Adoption
The sale of microfiber products lies squarely on the shoulders of distributors.

“If I can show an end user that the product works as well as advertised and will save him or her time and money over the long term, I can get the sale,” Adams reasons.

Sughrue says the current state of microfiber in jan/san is a transitory one.

“The healthcare industry was drawn to microfiber mop systems to fight cross-contamination but they have come to recognize the product’s efficiencies,” he suggests. “Unfortunately, the biggest barrier to increasing sales [in the general jan/san market] is end users who, for one reason or another, will not weigh the long-term cost savings microfiber products provide against their greater up front costs.”

Still, the combination of education, retail growth, and the continued search for green cleaning methods is likely to spur the continued growth of the microfiber market in the jan/san industry.

Whether retail sales or the green movement fuel the microfiber market, it is undeniable that microfiber has gained more than a foothold in the cleaning industry. The only question will be how fast end users warm to the benefits of microfiber outside of the healthcare niche.

Patrick Callahan is a freelance writer from Milwaukee.