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Equipment/Tools / Maintenance
May 2013

Asking More from Cleaning Textiles

As cleaning practices change, the textiles you choose becomes paramount.

May 15, 2013
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Today, cleaning professionals are asking more from their textiles.

Previous generations of cleaners relied more heavily on their chemicals to loosen soil, attract dust and bring out a shine.

But now, because of economics and green cleaning initiatives, chemicals are playing a less important role in cleaning than ever before; we now need our mops, towels and dusters to be able to pick up the slack.

These tools are expected to be aggressive, absorbent and durable.

Cleaning professionals use three main types of cleaning textiles: cotton blend, synthetic and microfiber.

Cotton Blend Textiles

Cotton blend textiles are what most of us started out using.

The inexpensive cut end or looped end mop, a cotton rag or cut up towel and a flannel dust cloth served us well when we relied heavily on chemicals.

Using strong cleaners and degreasers did the work and the cotton mop, once it was broken in, did an adequate job of soaking up the mess.

Cotton dust mops and flannel dust cloths, which were treated with oil, did a great job of holding onto any dust they came in contact with.

The towels seemed absorbent enough; they did a fine job of spreading disinfectant and cleaning as long as you didn’t mind a little lint left behind.

With few exceptions, none of the cotton cleaning products lasted very long. 

If you had looped end wet mops, you probably didn’t expect to get more than a few dozen washings out of them and after they had been washed for several times, they were a fraction of the size they started out as.

Cotton towels didn’t fare much better.

Synthetic Textiles

Later, we were introduced to synthetics, especially synthetic mops.

These didn’t require the break in period that we were used to.

The first time I put a synthetic mop in a bucket, I was surprised to see it sink like a stone, instead of float like a cotton mop. That convinced me that they were absorbent.

They also lasted longer, thanks to the longer staple length of the blend of polyester, rayon and acrylic fibers commonly used in synthetic mops.

Rayon is neither natural like cotton, nor fully synthetic like polyester; it’s considered a semi-synthetic.

They laundered well too, allowing more turns and less shrinkage.

Filament yarn made for great finish mops as well, leaving no lint behind and wasting less wax and floor finish.

Synthetic dusters made from polypropylene also came on the market and attracted dust electrostatically, not with chemicals.

All in all, synthetics worked pretty well, and they got us prepared for the next innovation in cleaning textiles.

Microfiber Textiles

At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, cleaning professionals became conscious of the detrimental effects — known and unknown — of the products they were being exposed to every day.

Green cleaning initiatives were introduced and the cleaning chemical products began to change.

Instead of spraying a disinfectant with chlorine on a toilet and then an ammonia-based glass cleaner on a mirror a few feet away, we began to look for more healthful alternatives.

There is no shortage of these alternatives on the market.

Methods changed as well; instead of atomizing chemicals, and thus inhaling them, cleaning workers began to apply them directly to a cleaning cloth.

Chemicals also became more job-specific.

Cleaning pros also made an effort to reduce the use of chemicals.

The reasons for this are both for health and economics.

The need arose for textiles that would make these new methods more effective.

They needed a textile that would help the green cleaning chemicals lift and remove soil, attract dust without treating the duster and leave a streak-free finish on glass.

Microfiber is that textile.

Microfiber was already being used extensively in Europe, but wasn’t readily available, or cheap, in this country. 

I remember reading an EPA study from 2002 that listed the cost of a microfiber wet mop pad, not a looped end mop or a tube mop, at over $17.

Since then the price of microfiber has dropped significantly.

Now microfiber mops are comparable in price to high quality looped end mops.

Microfiber towel prices have gone down, while the cost of cotton has increased.

When you factor in the longevity of microfiber cleaning products, microfiber can actually be cheaper than other cleaning textiles.

We have a restaurant chain that tested our microfiber tube mop.

They used the mop for their daily maintenance as well as for cleaning up spills.

At the end of the day, they would clean the mop with a pressure washer. 

This went on for eight months before they happily sent us the mop to show us how well it performed.

Can you image a cotton cut end mop or even a high quality synthetic looped end mop lasting that long under those conditions?

They would have used a dozen cotton mops in that amount of time, especially if they cleaned it with a pressure washer.

Under a Microscope

As its name implies, microfiber is made up of tiny fibers.

Microfiber is defined as any fiber that is less than one denier (a measure for the linear mass density of fibers).

Typically, microfiber used in cleaning products is .4 to .1 denier.

By comparison, silk is typically 1 denier.

The fineness of microfiber is important to understand because it helps us visualize how many individual fibers are in a microfiber towel, mop or duster.

The more fibers, the more surface area; the more surface area, the more absorbency and cleaning power.

Microfiber made for cleaning applications is split.

The fiber is split with a chemical process which creates open spaces in the fiber.

If you were to look at a cross section of the fiber under a microscope you would see something similar in shape to an asterisk.

On the other hand, a cotton or non-split synthetic would be round.

The benefits of the split fiber are two-fold: it creates defined edges which are useful for scraping and lifting soil from surfaces and it creates open spaces and surface area which make microfiber absorbent.

Microfiber is aggressive without being abrasive.

This fact makes it ideal for helping our green cleaning chemicals get the job done.

It’s the defined edges of each split fiber that do the work.

Think of it this way: obviously, a sharp scraper would be more effective at removing gum from underneath a desk than something with a rounded edge.

The comparison between split microfiber and other textiles is the same just on a micro level.

The defined edges of each fiber give microfiber the ability to scrape and lift soil from the surface.

Microfiber is extremely absorbent.

It’s not just great at absorbing liquids, it’s great at storing soil that you have removed from the surface being cleaned.

The reason it is so absorbent is simple — surface area.

Because the fiber is so small and there are so many of them there is an incredible amount of surface area for liquid and soil to attach to.

That surface area is increased exponentially by the splitting process.

When looking at both close up, compare how much surface area there is on cotton fiber to the microfiber.

Now, take all of those tiny fibers, weave them into a fabric, sew that into a tube and then loop it into a tube mop.

It’s easy to understand why a microfiber tube mop would absorb three to four times as much liquid as a cotton mop.

Microfiber holds many other advantages over cotton and synthetic textiles as well.

It’s far more durable; a microfiber towel or mop pad will typically last hundreds of washings if a few simple instructions are followed to not diminish its useful life.

These instructions include: 

1. Air dry if possible. If machine drying is necessary, use low heat or no heat.

2. Don’t use fabric softener or detergents with softeners.

3. Use bleach as sparingly as possible. 

Microfiber doesn’t give off very much lint because of the long staple length of the fibers, especially compared to cotton.

It’s also electrostatic. It is positively charged so it will attract dust like a magnet, eliminating the need to treat a cloth or dust mop.

Because of the changes in the way we clean, we expect our textiles to do more.

Microfiber does more.

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