Microfiber cloths and mops, used properly, are effective cleaning tools. Polyester and polyamide fibers combine to form millions of soil-removing loops in microfiber cloths and mops to surpass standard textiles by capturing and removing more unwanted matter, moisture and micro-soils such as bacteria.
Still, there are abuses when it comes to marketing and performance claims.
Marketers may cite 99.9% kill or removal of bacteria as a way to sell microfiber products, a practice reflecting a statement from the book, How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff: “The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify.”
Truth vs Untruth
Since the lofty 99.9% germ-removal claim relates to public health, it is vital to separate truth from untruth.
Truth: Used correctly, microfiber is capable of removing soils as tiny as bacteria. For example, starting with a clean folded cloth on a pre-moistened surface (folding a microfiber cloth into quarters yields eight fresh surfaces) and flipping the cloth to expose a fresh surface after each few swipes can remove a significant amount of microbial contamination along with other soil.
Untruth: Microfiber is capable of consistently removing 99.9% of bacteria.
While this sensational rate of removal may hold true under lab conditions, in practice, microfiber cloths and mops fall far short of this inflated statistic, and may readily cross-contaminate surfaces, causing the virtually opposite outcome.
According to Test # TURI SCL#2012-19-326-0-4-C conducted by TURI (Toxics Use Reduction Institute) at UMASS, Lowell, comparing a microfiber mop with both an automatic floor scrubber and newer dispense-and-vac technology, the mop left behind 40 times more organic soil (i.e., food for bacteria) than the other methods. Bacterial cultures helped confirm this.
Microfiber Cloths and Mops as Sources of Contamination
On a related point, according to the article, Microbial contamination of hospital reusable cleaning towels, published in the American Journal of Infection Control:
“Studies of microbial survival in towels have indicated that the more absorbent a cloth towel, the longer the microorganisms can survive.”
Allen Rathey is the principal of the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI), director of the Indoor Wellness Council (IWC), and author of articles about best practices in cleaning and indoor environmental management.