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Ask a professional cleaner and they'll likely tell you that cleaning with microfiber is a definite must. Relatively new to the market, microfiber first materialized in the early 2000s and has since become a staple in many cleaning arsenals. While the price tag is a bit steeper than, say, a roll of paper towels, many users assert that investing in microfiber cleaning cloths saves money in the long run, makes their homes cleaner, and is far gentler on their health and the environment.

Price Comparison.

Microfiber cleaning cloths range in price from less than $1 each (e.g., Zwipes) to $10 and more (e.g., Norwex). While anything above a dollar or so may seem a bit steep, microfiber cloths are said to survive more than 300 uses with proper care and shave your bill for cleaning supplies to near zero. In other words, you get your money's worth.

For comparison's sake, consider a 32-ounce bottle of Windex, which costs about $3.60, and a roll of paper towels, which costs about $1. Assume that each weekly window cleaning uses up an ounce of Windex (32 cleanings per bottle) and one-quarter roll of paper towels (eight rolls over 32 weeks) for a bottom-line total of $11.60. Alternatively, if you clean every window in your home each week with a single microfiber cloth and some water, it should last nearly six years (at the minimum 300 uses) with a one-time outlay of less than $10. Over the same period you would have bought roughly 10 bottles of window cleaner and 78 rolls of paper towels and spent $114. Clearly, you'll reward your frugal ways even if you buy the most expensive microfiber cleaning cloth.

Microfiber cleaning cloths do a number on all manner of surfaces, from windows and mirrors to countertops and dressers, bathtubs and toilets, computer screens and cars. If you go microfiber all the way, an upfront investment might put a small dent in your budget because you'll need several cleaning cloths for different purposes. (Tip: Buy a variety of colors and designate one for each room). Also, some microfiber cleaning cloths are better suited for particular purposes; dusting, say, or windows or the kitchen. There's even a microfiber mop that means you can kiss Swiffer refills goodbye (and save: $11.50 for 36 for dry mop refills and $13 for 24 for wet mop refills).

Janine King, an independent sales consultant for Norwex, which makes and sells microfiber cleaning supplies through in-home parties, keeps a stock of the company's products (six Enviro Cloths, two dusting mitts, two window cloths, and one mopping system) at the ready. Her initial expenditure of nearly $285 is hardly cheap, but she has not bought any additional cleaning products over the past two years. Moreover, she says that without any chemicals in the house her son's asthma has improved and his doctor bills have shrunk.

Bulk buying makes microfiber cloths more affordable. A starter pack of the popular E-cloths, for example, costs about $36 at Amazon, where they earn an average 4.5 shares from dozens of online reviews. Included are four multipurpose cloths for surfaces as varied as stainless steel, ceramic, chrome, marble, wood, and more, plus one softer glass and polishing cloth. The unit price comes to slightly more than $7, which is a $1 saving over the single cloth price.

Cleaning Ability.

Why the hype? Microfiber cleaning cloths have a lot going for them. Putting cost and durability aside, they thoroughly tackle dust, dirt, and germs. The Environmental Protection Agency has posted a case study about the use of microfiber mops to clean hospital floors in areas that aren't awash in bodily fluids and compared the costs and benefits against those of a conventional wet mop. The study found that microfiber mops eliminate nearly all cross-contamination; pick up more dust, dirt, and bacteria; improve labor productivity; and cut costs.

Good quality microfiber cloths are woven in a looping pattern on both sides, which boosts performance. The EPA study states that a microfiber mop can hold up to six times its weight in water. King notes that microfiber cloths absorb spills quickly and clean surfaces without leaving streaks. And consumers, some of whom describe themselves as professional housecleaners, rave about the cloths' efficiency and effectiveness in combating fingerprints, years of grime (on the glass face of a grandfather clock, for example), and water spots on chrome bathroom fixtures. Cleaning proceeds with just a cloth and water, so there's no crusty chemical residue from cleaning products -- a boon to your health and the environment --and no stickiness that might attract dirt.

Microfiber cloths with a touch of silver can yield even better results. "Silver has been used for centuries because of its purification and antibacterial properties," King explains. The Norwex cloths incorporate silver technology, which she says helps clean the cloth itself and eliminate odors and grime.

Ease of Use.

Microfiber cleaning cloths are very easy to use. Fold a damp or dry cloth into quarters, producing eight cleaning sides. Use each on one surface area, rinse in hot water after all the sides have done their job, and wring out firmly. Refold and use again.

Proper care enhances the useful life of microfiber cloths. Follow care instructions specific to the cloths you buy.

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