Microfiber Cloths… Green Cleaning or Plastic Pollution?

Microfiber Cloths

When I switched to using natural and green cleaning products, microfiber cloths seemed like a good answer. They were reusable, seemed sustainable and cleaned most surfaces with little or no additional products.  They were highly recommended as a natural cleaning alternative and I found myself using them more and more.

From a no-waste perspective, they seem a great idea!

Fast forward a few years… science and technology have made major advancements, and in the process, are bringing up potential concerns with microfiber.

In this post, I share some of the updated research on microfiber and share what I’m using now. Quoting Maya Angelou… “When you know better, do better.”

What Is Microfiber?

The microfiber used in cleaning cloths is a combination of two synthetic polymers — polyester and polyamide (nylon).  The fibers in a high quality microfiber cloths are approximately 1/100 the size of a human hair…. barely visible to the naked eye. These tiny fibers are bundled together and spun into a thread which is woven into the cloths.

I’ve even found microfiber cleaning materials that claim to be anti-bacterial because they have silver or other substances spun into them.

Unfortunately, they feel like cloth but, microfiber is essentially made of plastic. Petroleum products are used to create the plastic polymers that are spun into the cloth. The end product is really, really good at picking up dirt and dust,

But… and there is ALWAYS A “BUT”!  Recent research is shining a spotlight on a dark side of microfiber as well.

Is Microfiber Bad for the Environment?

Short answer: yes.

The longer answer is… we may not even fully know the extended impact of microfiber use yet.

There’s emerging evidence showing that synthetic materials… like microfiber cloths, can release these tiny fibers into the water during washing. Scientists have found tiny microfibers in our oceans and lakes and have traced them back to our washing machines.

It turns out that a single piece of synthetic material may release thousands of fibers into the water supply every time they’re washed.

But, when we talk about the potential environmental impact,  it’s not referring to microfiber mops and cleaning towels.  What the research is finding is that ALL synthetic material and clothing may have an environmental impact by releasing microfibers into our water supply.

How to Reduce the Environmental Impact

Sadly, this research means that microfiber cleaning cloths are not the best environmental option… but they aren’t the worst either.  I’m certainly not suggesting buying all new cleaning cloths or mops if you already have them.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water yet.

We can still use microfiber cloths to clean bacteria and viruses from our countertops, and surfaces. They are definitely a more sustainable option than paper towels or disinfecting wipes and throwing those in the landfill… which just creates more waste.

Here are some tips for reducing these microfiber/microplastics environmental impact:

(1) Wash Microfiber Infrequently

As I said earlier… most microplastics are released in the washing machine.  The less we wash them, the less we release into the water supply.

Also, use cool or warm water instead of hot water when washing them… higher temperatures seem to release more of the microplastics into the water.

(I’ve delegated them to only cleaning my mirrors, so they aren’t washed as frequently).

(2) Keep Using Them As Long As Possible

While I’m not buying any new microfiber cleaning products, I’m trying to use the ones I have as long and carefully as possibly since they can’t be recycled. I’m starting from here and reducing my impact going forward. Again… when we know better, we can do better.

(3) Use a Special Bag to Catch Microplastics

I’ve also started using a special bag called a Guppy Friend to catch the micro-plastics in my wash. I use this for any of my microfiber products and for all synthetic clothing.**** There is evidence that this step alone will greatly reduce the amount of plastics that make their way from our washing machine into our water supply.

Better Alternatives to Microfiber for Natural Cleaning

When it comes to natural cleaning options, you’re hopefully convinced that microfiber isn’t the best option. If you’re here looking for the most natural way to clean your home, I have some other suggestions that have less environmental impact:

Reuse Cotton Cloth

Instead of buying something new for natural cleaning, reuse things that you already have… old cotton t-shirts and cotton socks make great cleaning rags. Old burp cloths and baby blankets also work and can be used as is or cut them into smaller pieces.

Rather than throwing away or donating natural fiber clothing like cotton, hemp, and wool, cut them up and make reusable cleaning cloths for your home. I have a bottom drawer in the kitchen that is full of “clean” rags that I use instead of paper towels. When they get become too worn out to use in the house, they can be used as natural weed block in the garden or torn into strips to tie the tomato plants up with.  And, over time, they’ll naturally break down completely.

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Concentrate

Most cleaning products contain some pretty toxic junk.  So using microfiber cleaning cloths do let us avoid these products and that’s one reason they’re so popular.

Thankfully, there are great natural cleaning alternatives that work as well if not better and with lower environmental impact!

I personally use Thieves Household Cleaner for almost all cleaning in our home now. It offers exceptional cleaning and is naturally derived and has plant-based ingredients for a safer way to clean and purify my home.  I love that I can use it anywhere with the peace of mind that I’m not using harsh and toxic chemicals in our home.

It is a multipurpose solution for virtually any surface in the home or office.  It can be used on many surfaces, including fabrics, upholstery, carpet, floors, walls, 
dishes, and more.  The concentrated formula works hard at spot-cleaning carpets, degreasing kitchen surfaces, and everything in between.

And because it’s so incredibly concentrated, each spray bottle that I make up costs less than $1.70.  That makes it cheaper than most commercial cleaning products!

Also, as a concentrate, it has a lower environmental impact. One bottle can last for months and months and leave only one recyclable bottle as a result. I recommend keeping some glass spray bottles on hand for mixing up various concentrations for natural cleaning.

Final Verdict on Microfiber

These microfiber cleaning cloths are not the green cleaning powerhouse we once thought they were. As we learn more about microplastics, we all have an obligation to prevent plastic pollution by using it sparingly and consciously. At the same time, if microfiber is already part of your cleaning routine, use them as long as possible to keep them out of the landfill and replace with better options when the time comes.

**** You may or may not be aware of one major source of pollution to our water supply: our clothes. Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers (all of which are forms of plastic)… are now about 60 percent of the material that makes up our clothes worldwide.

How do you handle this in your home? Were you aware of the issues with micro-plastics? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

If you’re curious how and where to buy the BEST high quality essential oils, send me an email… I’d love to work with you about them.

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