By definition, a microfiber is any synthetic fiber that is finer than 1 denier. That happens to be half the diameter of a strand of silk and 100th the diameter of a human hair. The super-fine fibers can be tightly woven to create a lightweight, exceedingly strong, breathable, durable, and easy-to-maintain fabric. The material, however, is made from petroleum byproducts and waste, which may increase or decrease its appeal. Microfiber also has a propensity to grip dust, hairs and other small particles, depending on the weave, quality and treatment of the fabric.
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An Alternative to Leather and Suede
When microfiber was first introduced, the interior design community heralded it as the go-to fabric for its color range, durability and ease of cleaning. The material is warmer than leather but still has a sleek, contemporary look that suits transitional and modern styles. The soft nap is reminiscent of suede, but microfiber, sometimes called ultrasuede or micro suede, is much easier to maintain.
Some microfiber weaves have a more prominent nap than others, which can show movement. If this will distress you and feel messy, be sure to test the fabric prior to purchase.
Children and Pets
For people with children or pets, microfiber is highly wearable. While it is not indestructible, microfiber is naturally resistant to stains and repels water. Provided spills or marks are tended to promptly, they can often be removed with a soft cloth and warm water, though most furniture pieces come with cleaning codes or instructions. Additional protection can be obtained through manufacturer-applied stain protection.
A caution about pets that like to scratch: Take a close look at the quality of the seams before you buy. Unless a decorative or contrast topstitch is part of the design, the seams should not be overly apparent. Even with a more elaborate decorative detail, loose threads are an indication of poor workmanship and will lead to future problems.
Untreated microfiber is used for cleaning cloths for a reason: The material attracts dust and other small particles that float in the air. If pets will be sharing the furniture with you, their hair can stick in the fibers. The dust, however, remains on the surface and can generally be easily removed with regular vacuuming.
Not all microfibers are made equal; some seem to be more prone to static electricity than others. Many manufacturers offer an anti-static protection that will largely eliminate the potential for static.
Supporting Big Oil
For those who try not to support the petroleum industry, microfiber, which contains polyester or its close cousins, like polyurethane, is an extension from that sector and is technically a plastic. Despite reusing waste petroleum, manufacturing microfiber fabrics still consumes more energy than does the production of natural materials, such as cotton, linen and hemp. And, unlike natural materials, microfiber will not biodegrade at the end of its useful life.