Microfibers: Functional Beauty
Joyce A. Smith
Performance with beauty describes the potential of microfibers. They are
very fine fibers compared to more conventional forms which gives them unique
and desirable properties. To provide a measure for comparison, microfibers
are half the diameter of a fine silk fiber, one-third the diameter of
cotton, one-quarter the diameter of fine wool, and one hundred times finer
than human hair.
"Denier" is the term used to define the diameter or fineness of a
continuous or filament fiber such as silk or man-made fibers. Denier is the
weight in grams of a 9000-meter length of fiber or yarn. The higher the
number, the thicker the fiber.
In order to be called a "microfiber," the fiber must be less than one
denier. Fine silk, for example, is approximately 1.25 denier. A microfiber
would need to be 0.9 denier or finer. Many microfibers are 0.5 to 0.6
denier. For another comparison, very fine nylon stockings are knit from 10
to 15 denier yarns consisting of 3 to 4 filaments. A 15 denier yarn made of
microfiber would have as many as 30 filaments.
So what is so special about very fine or microfibers? The many fine
fibers packed together create a depth and a body to fabrics from which they
are made. Fabrics have luxurious drape. Although fine and lightweight, they
don't exhibit a flimsy quality. The many tiny filaments or fibers can slide
back and forth and maneuver around within the yarns in a fabric allowing the
fabric to flow and drape freely, yet still possess body.
Consider a very thick rope. If you bend it, it will be stiff and form a
rounded arc. If you take many finer threads or yarns together until they
form the same diameter as the thick rope and bend them, they will form a
sharper bend or curve. Each of the individual strands can move independently
to create more flexibility or pliability. This effect occurs with
microfibers. Each of the many very fine fibers moves independently to create
lovely drape, yet the fine fibers can be packed together tightly for body in
Microfibers are not necessarily new, but they are being used in different
ways today. The first fabric made from microfiber was Ultrasuede
short polyester microfibers were imbedded into a urethane base. Today,
microfibers are being used in both long continuous lengths as well as short
or staple lengths.
Properties of Microfiber Fabrics
Microfiber fabrics are generally lightweight, resilient or resist
wrinkling, have a luxurious drape and body, retain shape, and resist
pilling. Also, they are relatively strong and durable in relation to other
fabrics of similar weight.
Because microfibers are so fine, many fibers can be packed together very
tightly. The denseness results in other desirable properties. With many more
fine fibers required to form a yarn, greater fiber surface area results
making deeper, richer and brighter colors possible.
Also, since fine yarns can be packed tightly together, microfibers work
well in garments requiring wind resistance and water repellency. Yet, the
spaces between the yarns are porous enough to breathe and wick body moisture
away from the body. When comparing two similar fabrics, one made from a
conventional fiber and one from a microfiber, generally the microfiber
fabric will be more breathable and more comfortable to wear. Microfibers
seem to be less "clammy" in warm weather than conventional synthetics.
One caution related to synthetic microfibers is heat sensitivity. Because
the fiber strands are so fine, heat penetrates more quickly than with
thicker conventional fibers. As a result, microfibers are more heat
sensitive and will scorch or glaze if too much heat is applied or if it is
applied for too long a period. Generally, microfibers are wrinkle resistant,
but if pressing is needed at home or by drycleaners, care should be taken to
use lower temperatures.
Man-made fibers are formed by forcing a liquid through tiny holes in a
device called a spinneret. With microfibers, the holes are finer than with
conventional fibers. Potentially, any man-made fiber could be made into a
microfiber. Microfibers are most commonly found in polyester and nylon. Some
rayon and acrylic micros are in production and available to consumers.
Micros can be used alone or blended with conventional denier man-made fibers
as well as with natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and silk.
Garments made from microfibers are usually labeled to identify their
presence, for example: "100% polyester microfiber." Many fiber companies use
trade names to identify their microfiber products. A few examples include:
- Trevira Finesse (polyester)
- Fortrel Microspun (polyester)
- DuPont Micromattique (polyester)
- Shingosen (polyester)
- Supplex Microfiber (nylon)
- Tactel Micro (nylon)
- Silky Touch (nylon)
- Microsupreme (acrylic)
Fabric manufacturers also use trade names for microfiber fabrics. They
- Charisma--dress weight with suede-like finish
- Ultima--water repellent finish
Thompson of California:
- Moonstruck--soft sueded finish, silk-like
- Micromist--brushed finish
- Regal--dry hand
- Silkmore--sandwashed silk finish
- Stanza--water repellent microtwill
- Vanessa--reversible fabric for rainwear
Microfibers are used in a variety of fabrics, but most commonly in dress
and blouse weight garments. Suit jackets and bottom weights are becoming
available. Look for micros in lingerie, rainwear, outdoor fleece and
wind-resistant sportswear, as well as tents, sleeping bags, track and
jogging suits. The strength of microfibers make them particularly adaptable
to sueded or sandwashed finishes because of their extensive fiber surface
area and the use of strong fibers like polyester and nylon. As a result,
many microfibers simulate the appearance of sandwashed silk.
Caring for Microfibers
Microfibers can generally be cared for in a manner similar to that of
conventional fibers made from the same fiber type. For example, fabrics made
from polyester and nylon microfibers can probably be machine washed and
tumble dried similar to fabrics made from regular polyester and nylon
fibers. Polynosic or high wet modulus rayons are machine washable while
viscose rayons perform best when drycleaned. Rayon microfiber should be
cared for depending on whether it is a polynosic or viscose-type rayon. The
fiber properties, not the fineness of the fiber, usually dictate recommended
care. Always follow care labels on garments.
A few cautions should be noted regarding microfibers. Because they are
very fine or small diameter, heat penetrates the fibers more quickly than
thicker fibers. As a result, glazing, melting or scorching can occur
quickly. This is a particular concern with heat sensitive fibers such as
polyester or nylon. Use a cool iron, if pressing is necessary, and do not
leave the iron on the fabric too long. Also, avoid using too much pressure
as shine and ridges may develop on the surface.
Static may develop in fabrics from synthetic microfibers, especially
during dry winter months when heating systems are turned on and the humidity
is low. Fabric softeners in the rinse cycle of the washing machine may
lessen the problem. Paper dryer sheets can be used; however, temporary spots
from excessive heat in the dryer may form on the microfiber. The delicate
finish of microfiber fabrics and the amount of fiber surface make the spots
noticeable if they develop.
As with all fine garments, avoid jewelry that is rough or jagged. It can
cause pulls, snags or general abrasion to garments. Although microfibers in
a yarn are strong, the individual fibers are extremely fine and could abrade
Enjoy microfiber garments in your wardrobe. They have a luxurious
silk-like hand. Generally, microfibers are durable and should provide good
wear if used appropriately and cared for properly.