Furniture that have pleasing aesthetics has historically been made from natural fibers, which often have a very soft hand, bright colors, and are comfortable to sit on.
These natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk, wool, as well as synthetic regenerated cellulose materials such as rayon and acetate) fill all of these needs, but are a challenge to maintain.
More recently, “nubuck leather” broke into the market within the last decade, but this “feel good” fabric has proven to be even more difficult to maintain than the above-mentioned textiles.
Microfibers are not new to our industry. In the late 1970s, Ultrasuede™ was introduced as an upholstery fabric.
This polyester fiber so convincingly imitated true suede that otherwise trained and savvy cleaners turned down the opportunity to clean what they thought was a very difficult material to service, when in reality it had very few challenges.
Microfiber remained a relatively small percentage of the fabrics we saw until nubuck leather left its mark on the industry. Nubuck leather was widely accepted by the public for its very soft touch, but rapidly lost favor when consumers learned how difficult it was to maintain and restore.
But the marketplace proved that a “soft touch” material was what the consumer wanted.
It was at this time that microfibers exploded into the marketplace.
How do these microfibers so easily imitate the feel and appearance of suede, and provide the look and feel of natural fiber textiles?
The name says it all
Microfibers are, as the name implies, synthetic fibers that are far smaller in diameter than “typical fibers.”
As an example, they are 100 times finer than a human hair, one-third of the diameter of cotton, one-fourth the diameter of wool, and one-half the diameter of silk.
The measurement that is used for measuring such fibers is “denier.”
Silk has a denier of 1.25, and for a synthetic fiber to be deemed a “microfiber,” it has to be less than 0.9 denier.
Most microfibers used for upholstery are .4 to .5 denier.
These very fine fibers create a fabric that is light, very resilient, and relatively strong and durable.
What makes this product “feel” like a more delicate natural fiber is that it has enough “space” between the fibers to create a material that breathes and allows body heat and moisture to migrate away from the person sitting on it, thus creating the same “cool” feel that usually only comes from natural fibers.
That same characteristic also gives it an extremely appealing “soft hand.”
Considering the strength and durability of the two dominant fibers used for microfibers (polyester and nylon), one might consider this to be an “idiot proof” fabric.
This, unfortunately, is not the case.
Like most fabrics that we clean, there is more technical skill involved than might be originally thought.
Soils, spots and stains
A polyester microfiber may adsorb more than seven times its weight in water.
This makes microfiber a great cleaning cloth, but a “spill magnet” when used for upholstery fabrics.
Microfibers will hold great volumes of dried sugary materials from spills, and may require heavy preconditioning and hot water extraction to completely remove such materials.
Polyester is also very oil loving; thus hair and body oils will take thorough preconditioning to break these oily films down so that they can be emulsified and flushed from the fabric.
Microfibers made from polyester or nylon are vastly superior to nubuck leather, as well as rayon velvets and chenilles, all of which feel soft, but have terrible problems in retaining their soft texture after moderate use and cleaning with any water-based solutions.
Nevertheless, microfibers will flatten out and become permanently distorted in heavy usage areas.
As with any fine fabrics used in furniture coverings, they need to be maintained by a professional cleaning company that has the solutions, skills and tools to clean and restore those pieces of furniture.