Is microfiber biodegradable? Can it be composted?

  • Date: May 13, 2022

Microfiber cloths are a common household item which can be found in most cleaning cupboards and garages across the country. Nobody can deny how effective they are for your day-to-day cleaning needs – however, their eco-friendly credentials are questionable, to say the least. In terms of its post-use disposal, is microfiber biodegradable and can it be composted? Let’s have a look…

What is microfiber made from?

Microfiber is, usually, made from a blend of polyester and polyamide (nylon). These are both types of plastic. It is such an effective fabric due to the different qualities that polyester and polyamide bring. Polyester brings wicking ability and stiffness, polyamide is softer and brings an element of stretch. The exact blend varies from brand to brand and depends on what the cloth is being used for.

So, is microfiber biodegradable?

An item is said to be biodegradable if it can be broken down by micro-organisms like bacteria. The component parts of natural materials can return to nature. Microfiber cloth is, essentially, made from plastic – a synthetic material. When it comes to the end of its usable life, unfortunately, it will not biodegrade. Plastics will break down eventually into smaller and smaller pieces, but this is not the same as biodegradation. It does not return to nature. It is likely that every microfiber cloth you have ever used, and thrown in the trash, still has remnants in landfill somewhere due to the heavy plastic element they contain. Quite a sobering thought.

Can microfiber be composted?

Composting is becoming more common year-on-year. And it is obvious why – it is a great way to dispose of organic waste whilst producing a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden.  It is a common misconception that ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ mean the same thing. Not all biodegradable items are fit for the compost pile. However, to be compostable an item must be biodegradable! Since standard, plastic-based microfiber is not biodegradable it cannot be composted.

But, it’s not all bad news….

As with many areas of life, researchers and entrepreneurs are coming up of new ways of doing things that are more planet-friendly. The cleaning industry is no different. Amongst other innovations, there are a growing number of biodegradable alternatives on the market. Many manufacturers offer a microfiber-like cloth made purely from bamboo. These offer some of the main advantages of microfiber cloths – a lot of chemicals do not need to be added when washing items and they are extremely durable.

Bamboo does not have flawless ‘green’ credentials – nothing really does.  But it does bring one key advantage – it is biodegradable! It should be noted that in landfill biodegradable items can hang around for a bit longer than expected. The conditions are not optimal due to poor air flow and moisture levels. However, they won’t be destined for centuries in the landfill like the plastic-based microfiber cloths. And, as long as you haven’t been using extensive chemicals on them when cleaning, they can be cut up after use and mixed into the compost pile. What’s not to like?

As you may know, composting ingredients fall into two main types – ‘brown’ (carbon-rich) and ‘greens’ (nitrogen-rich). It is important that you know which type the item falls into before adding it to your pile. Bamboo microfiber-like cloths fall into the ‘brown’ category – much like other fabrics such as linen and hemp. Ensuring you have a decent mix of both ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ is vital to the health of your compost. Too much carbon can result in dryness in the pile, whilst too much nitrogen can result in overheating or a slimy mess! As with all composting, a bit of trial-and-error is required, but you won’t go far wrong with a 1:1 ratio. Monitor the pile and tweak it as you go.  

Composting bamboo microfiber-like cloths is quite a simple process, but if you are new to composting, we answer some of the most common beginners’ questions here

The bottom line

Diverting waste from landfill will reduce our impact on the planet. Composting is a great way to do this – saving you money on fertilizers and being kinder to nature too. Unfortunately, standard microfiber is not biodegradable and can’t be composted. Bamboo microfiber-like cloths are available on the market and offer a great alternative – with the added advantage of being biodegradable and compostable too!