Microfibers: Best cleaning practices
by Jeff CrossMany furniture cleaners have started to clean a microfiber sofa and halfway through the job wondered "Should I have accepted this job?" and "I wonder how this will look in my living room, because I think I'm going to have to buy this sofa."Pile distortion, water squirting out the side of the upholstery tool and more can make a cleaner squeamish.Microfibers look like fine fabric, often with a leathery appearance.But... they are anything but fine fabric. They are very durable.While inspecting microfibers, many cleaners think they are perhaps suede, sometimes nubuck... and these same cleaners will say- "I can't clean this" when - in fact - that fiber in question can be cleaned easily with virtually any of the accepted cleaning processes.Microfibers are very fine fibers (speaking of the denier, or thickness of the fiber)... but they are typically very durable.Don't be fooled into thinking that you can't handle a microfiber cleaning challenge.Microfiber truthsMicrofibers are normally a polyester fiber that is spun very thin - thus the term "micro".Polyester is the best choice because of its natural soft feel (hand) and durability with colorfastness.But not all microfibers are polyester. There are microfibers made from cotton, rayon, acrylic and nylon.Most of the time, though, the fiber is polyester. A simple burn test will tell you which fiber the product contains.A very easy test is to take a butane lighter and put the fiber close to the flame, but not in the flame.If the fiber pulls away from the flame, you have a synthetic fiber (nylon or polyester, most likely).This means you can easily clean the fabric with typical aggression.If the fiber does not pull away, burn it.If the resulting ash is crumbly and gives you a "dirty finger" when you crush it, you no doubt have a natural fiber.Then, clean with caution. Be careful with chemistry, agitation and colorfastness.When it's polyesterMost of the time, the fiber will be polyester. It's the most popular choice for microfiber technology.As you know from your own experience or from carpet cleaning seminars, polyester is a close cousin to olefin (or polypropylene, if you like big words) and is very durable in the cleaning process.Most microfibers are half the thickness (denier) of silk, but many times stronger.Don't be fooled by the "thinness" of the fiber. It makes it seem weak, but it is not.A typical polyester microfiber sofa, loveseat, chair or other piece can be easily cleaned with aggressive chemicals and procedures - many times without damage. Of course, any aggressive cleaning should be performed only when necessary and at the approval of your client.But... you think a fiber is leather? That's a very common misconception.Do a simple burn test. Be sure to obtain your sample for the burn test from an inconspicuous location, such as inside a cushion.The most important thing you can do is identify the fiber. If it is polyester (or nylon, from time to time), clean it with your typical cleaning method.If not, be cautious. But you must know the fiber content.Don't be fooledRemember that looks can be deceiving.Just because a fabric looks or feels soft doesn't mean that it is weak fabric.Testing is a must.Once you know you are dealing with a polyester microfiber, clean it as you would any synthetic fabric.Apply your appropriate preconditioner, agitate it into the fabric, rinse, groom, etc.Grooming and setting the napAlthough polyester microfiber materials are "tough" compared to others, there are cautions to consider. Aggressive cleaning won't usually permanently harm a microfiber piece, but the nap has special grooming concerns.You will notice tool marks as you clean, especially if you use a truckmount with high vacuum. The marks left as you work should be groomed until the marks are gone and the nap is set.Use a velvet carding brush, a horsehair or other soft brush - or a white, cotton towel. A white towel will not only help set the nap but also work to remove more soil if you are leaving some behind, and to speed the drying process.
You have lots of choices in grooming tools - as long as your grooming tool of choice sets the nap correctly.If you notice heavy tool marks as you clean, perhaps rethink what you are doing. Lower the vacuum, change tools, move the tool a bit faster over the fabric... doing this helps prevent more work in the nap-setting process.If you allow the upholstery tool marks to set (especially when the piece is dry) you may have to rewet or reclean the piece to set the nap correctly.Just remember to treat microfiber fabrics as a velvet, which has the industry rule of grooming or setting the nap after each section if the fabric is natural and after each complete piece of upholstery cleaned if it is synthetic.But it is safer to groom as you work. This also gives you opportunity for closer inspection of your cleaning results.