All About Microfiber Fabrics

Brightly-colored microfiber towels folded closeup

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

It seems that microfiber is everywhere these days. You can find microfiber in household cleaning cloths, athletic gear, upholstery on furniture and cars, and even bed sheets. But what is microfiber and is it really something new?

What Is Microfiber?

Whether you see the term microfiber or microfibre (European spelling), it is a reference to the thickness of the fibers used to create the threads that are then woven into cloth. A microfiber is no more than one denier (a standard unit of weight) thick—about one-fifth of a human hair. 

All microfiber currently on the market is man-made. Most are made of polyester but may also be mixed with nylon to add strength and water repellency. A few are made from rayon and resemble the qualities of natural silk. Depending upon the shape, size, and combination of materials, microfibers can take on different qualities, like strength, softness, water absorbency, or repellency.

The production of these ultra-fine fibers actually began in the 1950s. Remember Ultrasuede from the 1970s? It was made from microfibers, and scientists have continued to find new applications as more and more companies develop uses for the easy-care fabrics that consumers want.

Microfiber Washing Tips

  • Chlorine bleach should not be used when washing microfiber. Bleach or acidic cleaning solutions can damage the fibers.
  • Never use self-softening, soap-based detergents that will affect the properties of the fibers.
  • For cleaning cloths, washing after every use will prevent the dirt and debris collected by the cloth from scratching surfaces.
  • Skip the addition of fabric softener because the residue from fabric softener will clog up the fibers and make them less effective.
  • Fibers can actually melt at high temperatures and wrinkling can become nearly permanent.

Uses and Care

Cleaning Rags and Mops

Microfiber cloths, towels, and mops can be found everywhere and are excellent fabrics for cleaning. They are woven to be strong and long-lasting, and due to their extremely fine man-made fibers, they leave no lint or dirt. Due to the type of microfiber used, these cloths are electrostatic and will also absorb grease and oil. Because of the fine thread and weave, they can even be anti-bacterial because they will pick up small bacteria that a cotton cloth can not. Cleaning cloths made of microfiber should be washed after every use in laundry detergent.

Brightly-colored microfiber towels soaking in white bucket with soapy water

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Activewear and Compression Garments

Many garments promoted for use by athletes—jerseys, t-shirts, and shorts—are made from microfiber fabrics because the material wicks perspiration away from the body. The tightly woven fabric is also used for compression garments that are used for both athletic training and medical uses to increase blood flow.

All of these microfiber garments should be washed using cool or warm water by hand or in a gentle machine cycle. Allow to air dry.

Accessories and Sports Equipment

Most of the fabric wallets, coin purses, backpacks and shoes that you purchase today are made of microfibers. The fabric makes them water-resistant and strong. Microfiber is even used in today's desert combat boots and to make footballs and basketballs.

Blue microfiber sneakers cleaned with yellow sponge and soapy water

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Bedsheets, Table Linens, and Towels

Since microfibers are extremely thin, they can be woven to feel very silky but remain quite strong. Bed sheets made from microfiber are breathable, light, and longer-lasting than natural fibers and easy to wash. And, because the fabric can be woven so tightly to make pillow and mattress covers, it is great for those with allergies because dust mites are more easily trapped.

Tablecloths and napkins are woven from microfibers with qualities that will cause spilled liquids to bead up, making stain removal much more simple. The opposite weaving technique is employed for microfiber bath and beach towels, so they will absorb water quickly and in great quantities. These towels will dry quickly and are less likely to mildew than cotton towels if not dried immediately.

Follow the care labels on your bedding and linens when washing. Microfiber sheets, tablecloths, and towels should not be dried on high heat or for extended periods of time.

Light pink, blue and green microfiber towels stacked on each other with care label held by hand

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska