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What is Microfibre Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • November 25, 2020 • 7 min read

Fabric name Microfibre
Fabric also known as Microfiber
Fabric composition Ultra-fine synthetic fibres such as polyester, polyamide, or polypropylene
Fabric possible thread count variations 200-1,800
Fabric breathability High
Moisture-wicking abilities High
Heat retention abilities Medium
Stretchability (give) Medium
Prone to pilling/bubbling Medium
Country where fabric was first produced Contested—either Sweden or Japan
Biggest exporting/producing country today China
Recommended washing temperatures Machine wash cold or warm
Commonly used in Cleaning cloths, floor mops, insulation, tablecloths, upholstery, athletic wear, jerseys, skirts, jackets, bathrobes, bathing suits, imitation suede, wallets, handbags, shoes, book covers, backpacks

What is microfibre fabric?

Microfibre is a synthetic fabric consisting of ultra-fine fibres. These fibres generally have diameters measuring less than 10 micrometers and have denier weights under 0.7 D. Comparatively, a single strand of silk is around 1 D, making microfibre one of the world’s finest forms of textile fibre.

Popularized by its use in cleaning products, microfibre has unparalleled softness, which has led to the rise of microfibre apparel and accessories. Microfibre is also highly durable, and it is both reasonably absorbent and water-repellant. Due to its impressive electrostatic qualities, microfibre also excels as a filtration mechanism, leading to a recent surge of interest in using this fabric as a protective face mask material.

Over the years, textile manufacturers have developed quite a few different types of microfibre fabrics, and new applications for this fabric within various industries continue to emerge. Despite its impressive beneficial properties, microfibre has a distinctly negative impact on the environment.

History of microfibre fabric

Textile manufacturers have experimented with extremely low-denier fabric fibres since the early 1950s. While early attempts to produce ultra-thin fibres were largely successful, it was difficult to control the length of the fibres produced, significantly limiting the potential applications of this new textile technology.

The first major breakthrough in mass-scale microfibre production occurred when textile manufacturers moved away from the melt-spinning process, which remains one of the primary production methods for other synthetic textiles, and began using bicomponent polymers that featured multiple types of textile plastics. These polymers proved to be much stronger than plastics consisting of single components, reducing the breakage that had previously occurred when extruding extremely thin textile fibres.

In the 1960s, the famed Japanese textile company Toray started mass-producing microfibre fabric for the first time. Dr. Miyoshi Okamoto proved to be the primary architect of the microfibre revolution, and with the assistance of Dr. Toyohiko Hikota, Toray produced a variety of microfibre fabrics including ultrasuede, which was one of the first microfibres to attain widespread popularity.

Aside from the notable exception of ultrasuede, however, use of microfibre fabrics remained highly limited in scope until the 1990s when Swedish textile manufacturers began producing a wide variety of other microfibre materials. Practically overnight, microfibre became a popular apparel material throughout Europe, and additional applications of microfibre in the arenas of cleaning and industry were also established. Therefore, while Toray is credited with the development of the first commercially successful microfibre fabrics, it’s likely that this material would not have become popular without the subsequent European microfibre revolution.

Microfibre fabric today

Microfibre continued to gain popularity in Asia and Europe throughout the 1990s, and by the early 2000s, this fabric had also become popular in North America and throughout the rest of the world. Due to the unique cleaning properties of microfibre, this fabric became a staple textile for washcloths, kitchen towels, mopheads, and a variety of other cleaning materials. While microfibre clothing never became as popular in the rest of the world as it was during the 1990s in Europe, microfibre apparel and accessories remain reasonably popular within certain niche applications.

Recently, the popularity of microfibre has endured a significant hit due to the ongoing controversy surrounding microfibre pollution. Despite the somewhat misleading nomenclature, microfibre fabric is not the greatest contributor to microfibre pollution, and common fabrics such as polyester and rayon actually contribute to this ecological disaster far more than microfibre fabric. Partially due to its name and also due to the fact that microfibre does, indeed, contribute to microfibre pollution, consumer sentiment toward this useful and inexpensive fabric has worsened.

How is microfibre fabric made?

Most microfibre fabrics consist of a combination of polyester and polyamide (nylon). Textile manufacturers produce these two fibres separately and then fuse them together using heat.

Structure of microfibres

Due to its relatively high tensile strength, it’s possible to form polyester into a wide variety of shapes. The cores of most microfibres are polyester, and these polyester cores are commonly star-shaped or asterisk-shaped.

Textile manufacturers then fit polyamide into the gaps between the “points” of these polyester fibres. Polyamide is considerably less dense than polyester, and it has less tensile strength. Therefore, it’s difficult to make polyamide into complex shapes, but this textile serves as an ideal filler substance.

Together, polyester creates the structure of microfibres, and polyamide provides the bulk. When used for cleaning cloths, polyester is responsible for the scrubbing action while polyamide provides absorbency and improves the thickness of the cloth.

The microfibre production process

Since microfibres can be as small as 0.2 deniers in diameter, textile manufacturers cannot extrude the polyester fibres used in microfibre production through conventional spinnerets. Instead, they use long, metallic tubes, and the resulting polyester fibres are allowed to cool before they are melded with miniscule polyamide strips using heat.

At this point, it’s possible to dye microfibres or subject them to chemical treatments that improve heat resistance or provide other desirable qualities. Completed microfibres are then woven into long sheets of fabric and transported to facilities that manufacture end products.

How is microfibre fabric used?

Microfibre fabrics are used in a wide variety of different contexts. Here are a few examples of the ways that people around the world use this unique fabric:

Cleaning

Microfibre is uniquely suited for cleaning. The original designers of this fabric combined polyester with polyamide to provide a synergy of durability and absorbency.

Due to the unique design of its fibres, microfibre cloth can pick up more dirt and grime than other types of cloth. Scientific research suggests that microfibre may even be useful for removing dangerous microbes and viruses from surfaces.

Homewares

Since microfibre is highly absorbent and durable, fabric producers use this substance to make all sorts of different towels. From bath sheets to kitchen towels to washcloths, microfibre is an incredibly popular towel material.

While somewhat less common, microfibre is also used to make sheets and pillowcases as a result of its absorbency and unparalleled softness. Furniture manufacturers sometimes use microfibre as an upholstery material due to its combined absorbency and moisture impermeability. Microfibre is also a relatively common material for rugs and throw blankets.

Industry

Microfibre’s electrostatic properties make it an excellent filtration material. As a result, this substance is used as an industrial filtration fiber in a variety of different applications. Some construction contractors and builders also use microfibre as an insulation material due to its high fibre density.

Apparel & accessories

The primary attributes of microfibre that make this substance desirable for apparel and accessories are its softness, durability, and moisture-wicking properties. Most commonly used to make women’s skirts and jackets, microfibre is also desired for its resistance to stains. Certain types of microfibre also reasonably approximate the hand of leather textiles, making this fabric popular for belts, wallets, handbags, and other accessory items that would otherwise feature genuine or imitation leather.

Where is microfibre fabric produced?

China is the world’s epicenter of synthetic textile production. As a result, the majority of the world’s microfibre products originated in China with the United States and European Union also being significant microfibre producers.

How much does microfibre fabric cost?

Microfibre is one of the least expensive textiles. While it can be marginally more expensive than less complex forms of polyester or polyamide, it is far more reasonably priced than silk, cotton, or other natural fibres.

What different types of microfibre fabric are there?

There are quite a few different types of microfibre. Here are a few of the most popular forms of this unique fabric:

1. Flat-weave microfibre

Flat-weave microfibre is one of the most durable forms of this textile, but it is not as absorbent as split-weave microfibre. Most microfibre garments and accessories feature flat-weave forms of this fabric.

2. Split-weave microfibre

Split-weave microfibre features fibres that are split during production, resulting in the formation of countless tiny loops on the surface of microfibre fabric. While flat-weave microfibre is soft and smooth, split-weave microfibre clings to your skin when you touch it.

3. Micromodal

Technically a type of microfibre due to the small diameter of its fibres, micromodal is a 100%-polyamide fabric that serves as a softer, finer alternative to conventional modal fabric. Compared to polyester-polyamide microfibre fabrics, micromodal is stretchier and less durable.

4. Ultrasuede

As one of the first microfibre products to be developed, ultrasuede is a competitor of genuine suede leather. Ultrasuede fibres are generally somewhat wider than the fibres used in other microfibre fabrics, but since they are under 1 denier in diameter, ultrasuede is considered to be a type of microfibre.

5. Prolen

Prolen is a trademarked microfibre fabric consisting solely of polypropylene. This textile can have either high or low elasticity, and it is somewhat softer than polyester-polyamide microfibre fabrics.

6. Terry microfibre

Terry is one of the most common types of weaves for towels, and many microfibre towels feature terry weaves. This type of microfibre is less commonly used in non-towel applications.

7. Waffle weave microfibre

Named for its raised, grid-like pattern, waffle weave microfibre is uniquely suited for glass cleaning. This type of microfibre’s waffle pattern reduces its surface contact, providing increased glide and reduced friction.

8. Chenille microfibre

Chenille microfibre features thick, finger-like protuberances of fibre held together by a thin base fabric. Commonly used to make sponges and car wash mitts, chenille microfibre is used almost exclusively for cleaning applications.

9. Suede microfibre

Designed to be soft like suede, this type of microfibre has a remarkably low pile. It is ideal for cleaning glasses lenses, and many types of apparel, accessories, and upholstery feature suede microfibre.

How does microfibre fabric impact the environment?

The environmental impact of microfibre fabric is considerably negative. Even though microfibre production only makes up a relatively small portion of overall synthetic textile production worldwide, this substance has a polluting effect during every stage of its use cycle.

Producing polyester and polyamide involves a variety of toxic, man-made chemicals that are either difficult or entirely impossible to dispose of properly. During use, microfibre fabric releases plastic microfibres into the hydrosphere, contaminating waterways and contributing to plastic pollution. Once its useful life has expired, microfibre fills up landfills or becomes a polluting plastic since neither polyester nor polyamide are biodegradable.

Microfibre fabric certifications available

Microfibre fabric consisting of recycled fibers may be eligible for Global Recycle Standard (GRS) or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. Additionally, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides certifications for various grades and types of microfibre fabric.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.