Learn how to clean microfiber cloths so they last and so you release less microplastics into the environment. Clean with microfiber cloths responsibly!
I’ve used microfiber cloths for cleaning even before they were cool, but I’m starting to struggle with them and can’t really recommend them anymore because microfibers are made of plastic and will never biodegrade. I’m still using the ones I have but trying not to wear them out by washing less and other tricks.
There are just some tasks other cloths can’t do! As I learned when I explored the best cloth diapers, however, you can kill the absorbency of microfiber, so let’s learn how to clean your microfiber cloths after cleaning WITH them.
The Dangers of Microplastics in Microfiber Cloths
Microfiber cloths for cleaning do contain microplastics. Basically imagine the lint in your dryer, which proves that little bits and pieces come off our fabrics when we use and wash them.
Microfiber is made of polyester, i.e. plastic, so when little fuzzies come off the towels and go into the water system, they’re causing problems.
Microplastics are awful for the environment and you. In fact, we inhale and ingest over 70,000 microplastics a year.1
One more reason to filter your water really well.
However, the primary source of microplastics comes from microbeads in personal care products.2 Microplastics are a concern with fleece blankets and sweatshirts as well as my formerly favorite cleaning cloths, so I’m working on what the most conscientious move is here since microplastics contaminate our drinking water and soils.3
Why I (Used to) Love Microfiber Cloths for Cleaning
- No chemical cleaners needed for glass
- Still look new after 3 years
Overall, I’m still hopeful that the benefits of cleaning with microfiber outweigh the waste produced by single-use paper towels or wipes. I try to hold onto mine as long as possible!
Cleaning with Microfiber Cloths: Our First Date
My grandmother introduced me to microfiber cloths over a decade ago before they became so in vogue. Microfiber is an incredible fabric, some able to hold up to 7 pounds of water on a square foot of cloth.
Car enthusiasts have long understood their superior drying ability, and you can still find them least expensively in large packages in the automotive section. My grandma gets them from Sam’s Club, and they are much thicker and more absorbent than the package I bought at Meijer (and bright green – how fun!).
Don’t be too frugal here – you can buy in bulk at Sam’s Club, but don’t bother with the dollar store microfibers. They are not anywhere near as thick and just don’t perform as well.
Beyond the super soaking drying feat, microfiber cloths also have an almost abrasive quality to them. They’re not scratchy, but the fibers are so thick, plush, and numerous that they will wipe out a spot much more efficiently than flat fabric cloths. (See number 2 above.)
Microfiber cloths are a great way to decrease our cleaning disposables – getting rid of paper towels AND cleaners for dusting and mirrors in particular.
Using microfiber has allowed me to get rid of these cleaners:
- Furniture polish
- Daily shower spray
- Glass cleaner
I don’t buy any of these products anymore, which helps my supplies budget, and I don’t have to spray them in my home, which improves our indoor air quality and ultimately, the health and well-being of my family.
Uses for microfiber cloths in cleaning routines:
- Wiping down the shower (drying off after each shower/bath)
- Polishing bathroom counters
- Cleaning mirrors and windows
How to Clean with Microfiber Cloths
After each shower or bath (almost), the wet surfaces are dried thoroughly with a microfiber cloth, which is so absorbent it’s effortlessly simple. With a little elbow grease, I can clean the “ring around the tub” scum off, again because of that hard-to-describe abrasive-but-not-abrasive gripping quality of the microfiber. It wipes right off.
Sometimes I spray a 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water solution or straight vinegar on the shower surfaces before and/or after I wipe, but other than that, no cleaners are necessary.
If I let it go for a while, I end up needing a dusting of baking soda to get the scum off, but even that is not a huge job…not even worthy of writing down on the “to-do” list. (Read More: My 3 green cleaners explained.)
I honestly just use a dry or just barely moistened cloth. The microfiber picks up the dust and holds onto it amazingly well, and I don’t worry about the “perfect shine” on my furniture. It’s like dusting with a cloth full of little dust-grippers.
I have a cloth hanging behind our bathroom door that I can grab often (daily, I wish!) to wipe down the counter, grabbing all the dust, fuzzies, beard hair, and what IS all that gunk that gets on perfectly clean bathroom counters so often?
In 60 seconds I can make a yucky counter look like I just cleaned it. This is great for aesthetics when you don’t have time to clean before company comes!
I do need to have a truly clean (sanitized) counter at least once a week, so for that, I use that 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water spray, and my trusty microfiber cloth. The polished look on the faucet is gorgeous!
I moisten one corner of my microfiber cloth, then wipe the surface in question.
I rub a little on any tough spots, then use the dry half of the cloth to thoroughly dry and polish the glass. It looks perfect every time without ANY cleaner at all. I even used to have a mirror-topped coffee table and a mobile one-year-old, so this technique has had a LOT of use!
I don’t think my windows or mirrors need to be sanitized, but if I really wanted to mimic the ammonia in glass cleaner without the toxicity, I would use a dollop of vinegar in a spray bottle of water and the same technique to polish the glass.
I cut a few of my cloths in half to better fit the washcloth size, and also so that I could differentiate between dishcloths and cleaning towels. I like that the super-absorbency can sop up a lot of liquid on my countertop, like after cutting a juicy melon or having a spill, and I like that grippy-ness for cleaning dishes.
Why not on my floors or toilets?
I guess I just don’t want to get those mixed up with my countertops since I don’t wash microfiber with hot water. Can you blame me? I’m using holey socks now and am happier for it!
I make this super simple all-purpose cleaner for my wood floors.
How to Clean Microfiber Cloths
To best care for them, wash your microfiber cloths (I wash mine in the washing machine with laundry soap like normal laundry) and hang them to dry.
I find that I lose the abrasive-grippy-ness when they go through the dryer. I do dry my dishcloths (another reason to cut in half to keep separate) because they need the heat to smell better, and their texture is radically different than the rest of my stash of microfiber towels. (My dishcloths also get an un-stink-erator treatment when I make yogurt.)
ALSO something I learned from the cloth diaper ordeal, when a lot of my microfiber inserts stopped being absorbent (huge problem with cloth diapers, obviously!). Microfiber should NOT be washed on hot because being plastic, they can start to melt a wee bit.
Do not wash them with towels, because the lint from the towels tends to get in the nubby part of the microfiber cloth and decrease its absorbency as well.
Most of mine, after many years, have been mistreated because I didn’t know how to wash microfiber cloths, so they’re not as absorbent anymore 🙁 but still great for mirrors and dusting and regular old counter cleaning.
I have some newer ones from Grove Collaborative now, and OH they’re so lovely. I’m taking very good care of them!
So the two keys to washing microfiber cloths are: no hot water and hang to dry. Whether you wash by hand or machine, with soap or not is up to you.
Other Environmentally-Friendly Cleaning Cloths
I do feel that the best way to save the environment while you clean is to not use anything new at all.
If you have towels that are getting ratty, turn them into cleaning cloths by cutting them in half so they get put away in the right place.
Old T-shirts? Cut into squares to clean toilets or gross things.
Sweatpants that lost the elastic? Clean a toilet and throw away the cloth!
But for shining up mirrors and sinks and scrubbing those tubs, I just haven’t found anything I like as much as microfiber.
- Thompson, D. (2019, June 5). We Eat, Drink, Breathe 70,000 Plastic Bits a Year. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20190605/we-eat-drink-breathe-70000-plastic-bits-a-year#1
- Duis, K., & Coors, A. (2016). Microplastics in the aquatic and terrestrial environment: sources (with a specific focus on personal care products), fate and effects. Environmental Sciences Europe, 28(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5044952/
- Machado, A. A. D. S., Lau, C. W., Till, J., Kloas, W., Lehmann, A., Becker, R., & Rillig, M. C. (2018). Impacts of Microplastics on the Soil Biophysical Environment. Environmental Science & Technology, 52(17), 9656–9665. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6128618/