Microfiber is an extremely fine synthetic fiber that can be woven into textiles with the texture and drape of natural-fiber cloth but with enhanced washability, breathability, and water repellancy.
The most common types of microfibers are made from polyesters, polyamides (nylon), and or a conjugation of polyester and polyamide.
Microfiber is used in the manufacture of non-woven, woven and knitted textiles. The shape, size and combinations of synthetic fibers are selected for specific characteristics, including: softness, durability, absorption, wicking abilities, water repellency, electrodynamics, and filtering capabilities.
Microfiber is commonly used for apparel, upholstery, industrial filters and janitorial products.
Microfiber is a fiber with less than 1 denier per filament. (Denier is a measure of linear density and is often used to describe of the size of a fiber or filament. Nine thousand meters of a one-denier fiber weighs one gram.) Fibers are combined to form yarns. Yarns are knitted or woven in a variety of constructions. While many microfibers are made of polyester, they can also be composed of polyamide (nylon) or other polymers.
Production of ultra-fine fibers (less than 0.7 denier) dates back to the late 1950s using melt-blown spinning and flash spinning techniques. However only fine staples of random length could be manufactured and very few applications could be found. Experiments to produce ultra-fine fibers of a continuous filament type were made subsequently, the most promising attempts being run in Japan along the 1960s by Dr. Miyoshi Okamoto. Okamoto's discoveries, together with those of Dr. Toyohiko Hikota, resulted in wide industrial applications such as Ultrasuede, also known as Alcantara, one of the first successful synthetic microfibers, which found its way on the market in the 1970s. Microfiber use in textile industry consecutively expanded. Microfibers were first publicized in the early 1990s in Sweden, and saw success as a product in Europe over the course of the decade. In 2007, Rubbermaid began a line of microfiber products for American markets, the first major company to do so.
Microfiber performance apparel has become a very popular alternative to cotton apparel for athletic wear, such as cycling jerseys, because the microfiber material wicks moisture away from the body, keeping the athlete cool and dry. Microfibers were also initiated for use in the military and for many federal agencies, such as in the so-called Future Force Warrior Program in the United States for more rapid drying of the soldier and less skin irritation due to moisture. However the U.S. military has since banned the wearing of most synthetic clothing due to melting and burn risk.
Microfiber materials, such as PrimaLoft are also used for thermal insulation as a replacement for down feather insulation in sleeping bags and outdoor equipment, due to its better retention of heat when damp or wet.
With microfiber basketballs already popular worldwide and in FIBA, the NBA proposed the use of a microfiber ball for the 2006-07 season. The ball, which is manufactured by Spalding, does not require a "break-in" period of use as leather balls do, and has the ability to absorb water and oils, meaning that sweat from players touching the ball is better absorbed, making the ball less slippery. Over the course of the season, the league received many complaints from players who found that the ball bounced differently than leather balls and that it left cuts on their hands. On January 1, 2007, the league scrapped the use of all microfiber balls and returned to leather basketballs.
Cross section of microfiber and cotton threads. Principle of action, illustrated with the movement to the right. Microfiber leaves no residue, contrary to cotton.
Microfiber products used for consumer cleaning are generally constructed from split conjugated fibers of polyester and polyamide. Microfiber used for commercial cleaning products also include many products constructed of 100% polyester microfiber. Fabrics made with microfibers are exceptionally soft and hold their shape well. When high-quality microfiber is combined with the right knitting process, it creates an extremely effective cleaning material. This material can hold up to seven times its weight in water. They are also used for some cleaning applications, because of their exceptional ability to absorb oils.
A microfiber mop with velcro back for fastening on handle.Microfiber is also widely used by car detailers to handle such tasks as removing wax, quick detailing, cleaning interior, cleaning glass, as well as drying. Due to its fine fibers which leave no lint or dust, microfiber towels are a popular choice for avid car detailers and enAs a resultiasts and are used in a similar manner to a Chamois leather.
In professional cleaning, microfiber is used in many tools, for example mops and cleaning cloths. Microfiber mops are more costly than conventional mops, however some institutions find them more economical because they are longer lasting and require less effort to use.
Microfiber's impact, besides being labor saving and cost saving, is that it is environmental friendly. Microfiber textiles designed for cleaning are precision tools that allow cleaning on a microscopic scale. As a result, according to tests, using microfiber materials to clean a surface leads to reducing the number of bacteria by 99% whereas a conventional cleaning material reduces this number only by 33%. In addition, microfiber cleaning tools have the ability to absorb fat and grease and their electrostatic properties have a high dust-attracting power, hence making unnecessary many cleaning products.
Microfiber cloths are also now used to clean
photographic lenses, with major manufacturers such as
Canon offering them.
Care should be exercised when using microfiber for cleaning of sensitive surfaces. By nature it accumulates dust, debris, and particles inside its material. Sensitive surfaces (such as all high-tech coated surfaces e.g. CRT,
LCD and plasma screens) can easily be damaged by a microfiber cloth if it has picked up grit or other abrasive particles during use. The cloth itself is generally safer to use on these surfaces than more common cloths, particularly as no cleaning fluid is required for cleaning such surfaces. One way to minimize the risk of damage to flat surfaces is to use a flat, non-rugged microfiber cloth, as these tend to be less prone to holding, for example, sand grains.
Cleaning textiles made of microfiber must only be washed in regular washing detergent, not oily, self-softening, soap-based detergents. Fabric softener may not be used. The oils in the softener and self-softening detergents will clog up the fibers and make them less effective until the oils are removed by washing.
Other textile uses
Microfibers used in tablecloths, furniture, and car interiors are designed to repel liquids and consequently are difficult to stain. Microfiber tablecloths will bead liquids until they are removed, they are often advertised showing red wine on a white tablecloth that wipes clean with a paper towel. Unfortunately, microfiber furniture has a tendency to attract and contain cat hair within itself.
Microfibers are also used in towels, especially those to be used at swimming pools, as they allow very quick drying of one's body with only a very small piece (compared with a traditional towel), which lends itself to carrying on-the-go. They also dry quicker and are less prone to become stale if not dried immediately. Such towels, perhaps counterintuitively, need to be soaked in water (and pressed) prior to usage; otherwise they would repel water as microfiber tablecloths do.
Microfiber textiles tend to be flammable and emit toxic gases when burning. They are made with synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon (often constructed from polypropylene), which are made from petrochemicals.
Microfibers are not made from a renewable resource and they are not biodegradable. However, they are designed for repeated use, unlike many disposable cleaning materials such as paper towels. In many household cleaning applications (washing dishes, floors, furniture, etc.) using microfiber tools disposes of the need to use detergents and cleaning solutions, bringing potentially significant environmental and economic benefits.