Battle of the cleaning cloths. Bamboo vs microfibre vs rayon weave.
We all use cleaning cloths daily. But they’re so engrained in our home habits that you may not have stopped yet to think about what yours is made from. Or, for that matter, how long it should last or what happens to it when you’re through with it.
When looking to switch to a more sustainable alternative (for any product) it’s not quite enough to just look for ‘natural’ contents - you want to also consider how long it’s useful life will be and how you’ll dispose of it at the end of its life.
So, let’s take a look at common cleaning cloths and consider which are reusable, renewable and biodegrable. Then you can make a conscious decision about which option you want to reach for in your home.
We’re in love with our Ecopack Multi-Purpse Bamboo Cloths. But it’s not just the soft luxurious feel of them that has captivated us, it’s their eco credentials too.
Firstly they’re reusable – and that earns a big tick from us. While it’s possible to make consumable products from renewable resources, if they’re single-use there’s still loads energy going into something with a painfully short life. But these bamboo cloths are durable enough to withstand being run through the washing machine a few times.
The second tick comes from the fact that they’re made from a renewable source. Ecopack bamboo cloths are 100% bamboo viscose. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world; it re-grows quickly (and even more fervently after being cut) earning it the title of ‘most rapidly renewable fibre’. It’s worth noting that the viscose process does involve chemical treatment, but unfortunately that’s a necessary evil for most (if not all!) fibres to influence strength, absorbency and softness.
Bamboo gets three ticks from us because it’s also biodegrable. These cloths can be used over and over again until they’re good no more. And, at the end of their lives, they can be composted instead of contributing to landfill. We’ve even heard of people putting used bamboo cloths around plants in their garden, like a weed mat underneath mulch, safe in the knowledge that they’ll eventually return to the earth.
Microfibre is hugely popular – primarily due to the fact that it’s highly durable and very reusable. It’s become an easy go-to product for both home and professional cleaners and is available in lots of bright colours that allow you to assign a different colour for different uses (green for kitchen, blue for bathrooms, pink for office, etc). Microfibre goes the distance, and will withstand numerous machine washes, so it clearly gets a tick for reusability.
But is it renewable? Microfibre is a synthetic fabric – usually a polyester-nylon blend. A typical microfibre cloth is 80% polyester and 20% polyamide (that’s the nylon part). This composition has our earth-loving heckles up. These made-made textiles are made of petroleum-based plastic polymers and they raise deep environmental concerns.
Not only is the production of microfibre increasing our consumption of fossil fuels, but making polyamide releases nitrous oxide (N2O) into the atmosphere as a by-product (nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to ozone destruction and is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide). And it requires large quantities of water to boot.
And, unfortunately, it gets worse when you consider how it breaks down. Far from being biodegradable, when polyamide breaks down, it releases toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment. It’s likely to take hundreds of years to decompose and, as it does, it will leech microplastics into the environment. Read our previous blog Why microfibre fails to earn out green tick for more.
Blue and white weaved cloths are a kiwi household staple. But what are they actually made from? We took a closer look and realised they are made from non-woven viscose rayon. So they’re essentially a synthetic gauze that’s cut into fine strips and then ‘weaved’ back into a more course fabric. They’re man-made, highly processed, and non-renewable resource heavy. Strike one.
Like microfibre and bamboo cloths, these cloths are reusable. But unfortunately, with suppliers providing bulk rolls of them, they’re often being used as disposable cloths. So we’ll grudgingly them a tick for reusability – the cloth itself can’t be punished for our bad habits!
Like microfibre cloths, your blue and white weaved cloths will be shedding super fine microplastics as you clean and wash them. You may dismiss this as you cant see evidence of that pollution around your home. But let’s look at the bigger picture.
In late 2020 Australian scientists revealed that there’s 9.25 to 15.86 million tons of microplastics on the ocean floor. The New York Times put that in context saying that’s 18 to 24 shopping bags full of small plastic fragments for every foot of coastline on every continent except Antarctica.
Read Frontiers in Marine Science for the Australian study mentioned:
Read the New York Times reporting on microplastics:
Read more on microfibre cloths in our previous blog:
Shop Ecopack Bamboo Multi-Purpose Cloths: