Whether you’re someone in the cleaning industry looking for an effective cleaning tool or you’re just a home maker who’d like cleaning to be a whole lot easier, you may have heard about microfiber cloths before. You may have even seen some infomercials about it, with all of them proclaiming that microfiber cloth is the best thing since sliced bread, able to clean surfaces more efficiently than anything else in the market today. Some are even touting that microfiber cloth renders detergents obsolete.
Are these claims true? How does microfiber cloth work, anyway? We’ll answer these questions and more in this article, so be sure to read on.
What are Microfiber Cloths?
A microfiber cloth is a piece of cloth that’s made differently than other cloths. Essentially, it’s made up of a lot of very tiny fibers, much smaller those used in other textiles and fabrics, hence the name. These fibers are so small that they actually create a really absorbent and abrasive surface that can pick up and remove bacteria from surfaces—all without the use of any detergents!
If that sounds amazing, or something right out of science fiction, then consider that normal, run-of-the-mill microfiber cloths that’s been in the market for years have been able to do that. Nowadays, microfiber technology has advanced to the point that we can now get microfiber cloths with fibers so small that they’re 1/200th the width of a human hair. That’s 0.33 microns—small enough to pick up viruses, which are even tinier than bacteria, and obviously a lot more harmful!
That’s nothing short of impressive, and all the more important for the cleaning industry, as being able to scour something clean of harmful germs and viruses without the use of harsh chemicals or cleansing solutions has always been the ideal.
With that said, how does that work? How can having really tiny fibers all over a piece of cloth make it so good at picking up dirt, grime, and even viruses? That wonderful ability of all microfiber cloths lie in something that’s called the “van der Waals force”.
The van der Waals force and what it does
What is the van der Waals force, then? Without getting too technical, it’s a term in physics that’s used to describe the force of attraction two very tiny objects have when they’re put in close contact with each other. It’s kind of like magnetism, except that it’s much weaker and only manifests if the two tiny objects are pressed right against each other. The result of it is that the two objects stick to each other, almost as if adhered by some sort of invisible glue.
If that seems confusing, then think about how small creatures such as lizards, spiders, and even ants can crawl up walls or even walk on ceilings without falling off. All of them have something in common, and that’s how their feet are usually covered in millions of very tiny hairs. Each hair is able to exert a specific amount of van der Waals force. Multiply that by the amount of hairs a lizard or spider has on their feet, and you have enough van der Waals force for a small critter like that to defy the laws of gravity.
The microfibers in a microfiber cloth pretty much work the same exact way. While a microfiber towel will never be able to stick to a wall or ceiling no matter how many fibers it has, the sheer amount of van der Waals forces exerted by its surface will ensure that loose particles as small as viruses will adhere to it and stay stuck. This is how microfiber cloths work and why they’re so good at mopping up stains and dirt from surfaces.
But does this mean that microfiber cloths are one-use only, and that whatever loose dirt or germ particles stuck to it will be stuck there permanently? Of course not! All you’d need to do is to wash the microfiber cloth in hot water. The heat and moisture will soften the fibers and cause the van der Waals forces they exert to be momentarily impeded. The dirt or grime that they’ve captured will then be easily washed away.
Microfiber Cloth: An End to Detergents?
Now that we know how microfiber cloth work, does this mean that you should be tossing away the bottles of detergent you use for cleaning, what with them being practically rendered obsolete? Obviously, the answer to that is no. While microfiber cloths are indeed effective in picking up dirt and grime, detergents have a deep cleansing and antiseptic effect that they won’t be able to replicate. Detergents also has the ability to eliminate odors and smells as well, an important part of cleaning. Instead of just going with one or the other, it’s best to simply combine the two for a truly convenient and effective cleaning approach.