The Surprising Reason Your Microfiber Cloths Aren’t Cleaning Properly

published Mar 29, 2024
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Cleaning of the house and apartment.
Credit: Getty Images/ Ekaterina Goncharova

Microfiber cloths are often touted as a more eco-friendly and effective alternative to paper towels, as they’re washable (and therefore reusable). They also have less of a tendency to leave streaks behind, and are great at trapping dust and debris within their tiny fibers. And I tend to agree! But during a conversation with cleaning expert and founder of Clean My Space, Melissa Maker, she brought something to my attention I had never realized: Not all microfiber cloths are created equal. 

Over the course of her cleaning career, Maker realized that microfiber cloths were far superior to paper towels or generic rags. “Microfiber made my job so much easier,” she says. “I got significantly better results in half the time compared to using regular cleaning rags.” Eventually, she would go on to create her own line of microfiber cloths, and, spoiler alert: There are several different types for different jobs. If you’ve been wondering why your microfiber cloths aren’t exactly working for the job you’re tackling, read on for more info. 

What *Is* Microfiber? 

As the name implies, microfiber cloths are woven from lots of soft little fibers to create a cleaning cloth. According to Maker, microfiber is an ultra-fine synthetic fiber composed of an 80/20 mix of polyester and polyamide. “The multi-stranded fibers are two times finer than silk, three times finer than cotton, and eight times finer than wool,” she says. “This makes microfiber ideal for lifting dirt, absorbing liquids, and removing bacteria from surfaces while leaving no lint or streaks behind.” 

What Are the Different Kinds of Microfiber Cloths?

To better understand the different weaves of microfiber, the grams per square meter — aka GSM — can provide immediate insight into what the cloth is designed for. In general, the higher the GSM, the more absorbent and fluffy the cloth will be for drying, polishing, and picking up debris, Maker says; the lower the GSM, the better the cloth is for drier, more delicate jobs that don’t require a ton of debris pickup. Below are the four different types of microfiber cloths — that all work for different tasks.

General-Purpose Terry Weave Microfiber 

The microfiber cloths you’re likely most familiar with are the ones with a super-soft, fluffy pile, similar to that of a bath towel. At a fleecy 350 GSM, this type of microfiber cloth is a catch-all for almost any household cleaning task, and the thick, looped fibers are gentle enough not to scratch delicate surfaces, but pick up debris and absorb moisture exceedingly well. Maker recommends using general-purpose microfiber for cleaning and polishing metal fixtures, wiping down everyday spills, cleaning baseboards, deep-cleaning the stovetop and oven, and, of course, for getting every last bit of dust off surfaces in your home.  

Ultra-Plush Terry Weave Microfiber 

For an extra boost of fluff and tons of moisture absorption, a microfiber with a GSM of 520 is perfect for drying and buffing the car, picking up after big spills, and getting a super high shine on metallic surfaces, like a stainless steel sink.  

Waffle Weave Microfiber 

When it comes to maximum absorbency and quick drying time, waffle weave microfiber cloths are top-notch. While general-purpose microfiber is definitely absorbent, it’s better suited to wiping, polishing, and buffing surfaces, while a waffle weave microfiber cloth is a great option for any task that requires significant liquid absorption and will ideally air-dry quickly. The 320 GSM of waffle weave cloths means they’re still soft and absorbent, but for tasks that require lots of debris pickup, stick with a general-purpose or high-pile cloth. Maker suggests keeping waffle weave towels on hand for wiping down glass shower doors, drying dishes, and using as super-absorbent hand towels. If they’re large enough, Maker says you can even use waffle weave microfiber cloths as pet towels and as a gentle wrap for wet hair. 

Flat-Weave Microfiber 

For tasks that require a decidedly gentler touch (think: cleaning glasses, computer screens, TVs, and cell phones) a flat-weave microfiber cloth is a good tool to have in your arsenal. Maker points out that a flat-weave cloth “tends not to hold onto large debris, which helps prevent streaking and scratching delicate surfaces,” like the aforementioned ones. With the lowest GSM of all the microfiber cloths (280), flat-weave cloths are not ideal for trapping dirt and debris within their fibers, but they’re perfect for small, delicate cleaning tasks. 

How to Care for Your Microfiber Cloths 

Arguably the best part about microfiber cloths is how durable they are, and that they’re able to be reused for years on end for just about every job in your house. To best take care of them, Maker suggests starting with a rinse to get rid of any extra debris, cleaning product, or grease you picked up during use. Then, she says it’s a good idea to keep microfiber separate from other fabrics in the washing machine, as their miraculously magnetic fibers will cling onto any lint that comes off of other fabrics during laundering. Skip the fabric softener (this will diminish absorbency), but add some white vinegar should your cloths need a bit of deodorizing, and tumble dry on low.