What Is Microfiber: What It's Made of and How To Use It

on December 20, 2021

Microfiber has exploded in popularity over the last few decades and is found pretty much everywhere. You probably have several items made out of microfiber and might not even know it. 

Microfiber is incredibly soft, highly absorbent, and very durable so it is very commonly used for clothing and cleaning materials. This combination is highly beneficial for athletic clothing as you’ll be able to stay comfortable and dry while working up a sweat. You’ll be able to stay cool while exercising and the sweat is better absorbed so it won’t stain as easily as cotton. 

It’s also a very helpful combination when cleaning delicate surfaces. Microfiber is soft enough to be able to clean glass, plastic, and ceramic paint that might otherwise get scratched if you use abrasive materials like cotton. The possibilities are endless with microfiber and it’s becoming more and more common every year.

 

What Is Microfiber? 

Microfiber has been around a lot longer than you are probably thinking. Although it didn’t really start taking off commercially until the 1990s in Europe, microfiber was actually invented during the late 1950s. 

During this time, textiles began to experiment with new technologies and spinning techniques that allowed for revolutionary products to be created. New machinery made it possible to produce ultra-fine fibers (less than a 0.7 denier) that were previously impossible. However, the process was still very difficult and timely so only small quantities could be produced at a time. These restrictions prevented practical applications for ultra-fine fiber so it largely went unused. 

Over the next few decades, improvements to technology and various experiments helped to streamline the process and microfiber became more common. Microfiber really started to boom in popularity in Sweden during the early 1990s and quickly swept through Europe. Since then, microfiber has gone worldwide and is now found in countless products and the applications are virtually endless.

 

How Is Microfiber Made?

Technically, microfiber is a plastic material because it’s made from blending together polyester and polyamide (more commonly known as nylon). Polyester makes up about 80% of microfiber and provides the basic structure of the fiber. Polyamide is most commonly used to make up the remaining 20% but is sometimes substituted to varying degrees with other synthetic fibers. 

The materials are created according to the chemical formula and end up as plastic pellets. These pellets are then superheated and melted down into an extremely hot liquid. Using the properties of gravity, the liquid drops and is cooled by air in order to create filaments. These filaments are woven or knitted into a rudimentary fabric that is placed into an alkaline solution. 

During this stage, the microfiber fabric is chemically split to create porous openings in the fibers. Some versions of microfiber can end up with over 200,000 fibers per square inch of fabric.

For high-quality microfiber, it can even reach 300,000 fibers in a single square inch. The microfiber is then dried and spun onto large spools before being shipped to manufacturers who cut and sew the microfibers to create their products.

 

How Does Microfiber Work? 

The key to microfiber is that it’s so incredibly thin. By the end of the manufacturing process, microfiber has been split so much that a single thread can be more than 200 times thinner than a human hair. To put that in perspective, silk is commonly considered to be one of the softest fabrics and is only about a fifth as thin as hair. 

Since microfiber is so small, it can allow for a much larger cloth surface than traditional materials. The process that allows microfiber to be split so often also changes its structure in order to make it more absorbent. 

The shape of microfiber resembles an asterisk that will allow for more contaminants to be absorbed and trapped in the fabric. Each individual strand of microfiber has the ability to act like a barbed hook that can soak up debris, but it’s soft enough that it won’t scratch. 

Even the ingredients used to make microfiber also come with several benefits. Polyester is positively charged and is considered lyophilic so it attracts and absorbs dirt, dust, and oils. Polyamide is negatively charged and is considered hydrophilic so it attracts and absorbs water.

The polarizing charges work similar to magnets and not only helps attract debris but helps hold onto it more tightly as well. All of these factors combine in order to create a product that is very soft and highly absorbent. 

 

What Is the Difference Between Cotton and Microfiber?

Cotton has been used for centuries to create clothing and cleaning materials. While cotton is one of the best natural options for creating these products, it doesn’t stand a chance when compared to microfiber.

Cotton is a natural material that is breathable, soft, and fairly cheap to produce. However, cotton strands are pretty bulky (usually three times the diameter of microfiber) so it doesn’t absorb debris as much as it just pushes it around.

It usually takes a while to break in cotton and soften it up so it can be a little harsh at first. Since cotton is organic, it also has a tendency to carry unpleasant odors and bacteria. Lastly, cotton will take a while to dry and commonly leaves behind lint. 

Microfiber is synthetic and so it will require more resources to produce. However, that’s really the only downside to it and it beats cotton in pretty much every other category. It’s softer, stronger, and more absorbent than cotton while also being more breathable and doesn’t leave behind lint. 

You will probably spend a little bit more on microfiber products than cotton, but you will undeniably be getting your money’s worth. Looking in the right places can help you lower the cost of microfiber and still receive all of its plentiful benefits. 

 

What Is Microfiber Used For?

It would take a few hours to list every product that contains microfiber. It’s that useful. The primary uses are for clothing and cleaning materials. 

For clothing, microfiber is very beneficial for athletic gear and activewear. Compression clothing commonly used by athletes is commonly made out of microfiber because it’s strong, soft, breathable, and absorbent. 

Cleaning materials such as towels, rags, and mops can be much more effective when made from microfiber. Cleaning grime, oil, grease, dirt, or other contaminants will be much easier with highly absorbent microfiber. Microfiber is also incredibly soft on top of being highly absorbent so it can be used to clean glass, ceramic paint, and plastic without scratching it. 

In addition to these common uses, microfiber is also commonly found around the home in furniture, tablecloths, bedsheets, and insulation for blankets or sleeping bags. It’s also starting to be used as a replacement for leather so shoes, wallets, handbags, backpacks, cell phone cases, and sports equipment might be made from microfiber.  

 

What Is the Proper Technique for Cleaning Microfiber? 

One of the few downsides to microfiber is that it comes with some special requirements for washing it. For example, microfiber can hold seven times its own weight in liquid so it can be a little challenging to dry. Although microfiber is used as a cloth, it’s important to remember that it’s still plastic. 

Since plastic can melt and get damaged at high temperatures, you should avoid using a dryer for your microfiber-based products. Fortunately, microfiber dries pretty quickly so it won’t too long after hanging them up for them to dry out. 

You will also need to be careful what type of cleaning product that you use on it. Chlorine bleach or heavily acidic detergents can damage the fibers and fabric softeners can clog up the fiber making it less effective. 

It’s probably best to stick to hand washing whenever possible. You can run some warm water over the cloth until it eventually runs clear. It might take a while since microfiber is so absorbent, but it’s important that you wash out any debris that it might have picked up. Reusing unclean microfiber could lead to scratches. 

You should be okay as long as you follow the directions on the label of the product that you’re trying to clean. After all, the manufacturer knows their product the best and wants you to get as many uses out of it as possible. 

 

The Many Purposes of Marvelous Microfiber 

Microfiber is an incredible invention and its potential is limitless. As the process of manufacturing it has gotten easier over time, it’s becoming more and more common in various products. Clothing is starting to use microfiber more often since it’s such a soft and breathable material. Using microfiber shirts when working out is a game-changer and it’s almost impossible to go back to cotton. 

Microfiber really excels when being used as a cleaning product. The combination of unmatched absorbency with incredible softness is impossible to beat. Microfiber towels are a must-have product for any car enthusiast. They are soft enough to clean the glass, ceramic, and plastic parts of your car without the possibility of scratching them. When combined with a quick coat cleaner, microfiber will keep your car as protected as possible.

 

Sources:

What's so great about microfiber? | Western States PEHSU

Microfiber Cleaning Systems | Services Mag

What is Microfiber? Benefits of Microfiber | University Of Washington

Differences Between Microfiber And Cotton | Clean Link

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