Eco-Friendly Gardening Toolkit: Microfibre Cloths

Plain, old water is the purest, greenest solvent for cleaning.

Plain, old water is the purest, greenest solvent for cleaning.

One of the greenest tools you can use these days is a microfibre cleaning cloth, slightly dampened by plain old water. It’s my eco-friendly tool of choice for cleaning dust and grime off leaves. I use microfibre cloths and water to dislodge bugs like scale and mealybug off houseplants. For cleaning your garden tools it’s fantastic too. Microfibre lets you enter a world of chemical-free cleaning.

Microfibre is a combination of polyester and nylon, with fibres so small they trap dirt and bacteria, allowing you to clean using only water.Water is nature’s purest solvent. You simply can’t get any more organic. As a matter of fact, using a detergent or other chemical cleaning product with a microfibre cloth actually makes it work less, not more. Explain That Stuff explains microfibres here.

Microfibers are able to attach themselves to even the smallest, most microscopic dirt particles—ones that normal cloth fibers (positively giant in comparison) crudely brush past.

There is some pretty cool science at work here. Microfibres’s dirt-sticking power is due to an adhesive force called the van der Waals force. This force was discovered by Nobel prize winning chemist, Johannes Van Der Waal, who was trying to figure out how geckos can walk on to ceilings and walls. Turns out geckos have billions and billions (say that in your best Carl Sagan voice) of tiny hairs on their feet that allow them to do this, much like the tiny fibres on the microfibre cloths.

Although there is only a microscopic amount of van der Waals force between one microfiber and any given dirt particle, remember that there are millions of microfibers in a cloth, so the overall sticking effect is magnified dramatically. That’s why dirt, dust, and other stuff can be “hoovered up” by microfiber cloths


Gecko demonstrates the van der Waals adhesion prinicple.

If you are interested in a chemical-free home when it comes to cleaning products, you might want to check out the Environmental Working Groups Cleaning Products Hall Of Shame , a PDF on cleaning products, some of which are touted as environmentally friendly.

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