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There seem to be two types of lens cleaning cloth called "microfiber".

One looks like a miniature towel, with a fuzz or "nap" to it, and in my experience is pretty useless for cleaning lenses.

The other is soft and has a somewhat silky feel, with a very fine weave, but does not have a nap. This kind works extremely well in my experience.

As far as I've been able to tell, there isn't a unique name for the second kind and ordering anything labeled "microfiber" online is likely to get you the first kind.

Question: What is the name of the second kind of "microfiber" described above?

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    This doesn't answer your question, but for cleaning lenses, you're better off with something disposable so you don't run the risk of redepositing what you remove from one lens onto another. I use Photosol's Pec Pads and Eclipse (near-pure methanol), and rarely at that because most of what ends up on my lenses comes right off with air from a blower. – Blrfl Jun 27 '17 at 11:17
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I used to work for a firm that imported these from China by the container full. They called the towel like one a microtex to be used as a wet or dry cleaning cloth (or rag), and the smooth one a microglass for glass cleaning and dry dusting. I use the microtex for the body and the microglass for the glass for a heavy clean, though I use those lens pens most often and occasionally lens fluid and tissue.

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Perhaps the first one you describe is a regional naming as I have never seen one like that and I have bought easily dozens of microfiber cloths, all the right kind for cleaning screens and lenses (although what I use for lenses is a LensPen first and a cloth with ROR applied only if the LensPen failed).

Often though they are described as lint-free microfiber cloths, so that should avoid any one with fuzz. A Google Image Search for this term shows cloths that look like mine.

  • I have ordered 'lint free' microfiber from Amazon that came with an entire cloud of lint. It was the kind with the fuzzy 'nap'. If a photo is provided, you can usually tell which kind of microfiber it is. Unfortunately I've not encountered any textual distinctions between the two types. – user7264855 Jun 26 '17 at 12:02
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One looks like a miniature towel, with a fuzz or "nap" to it, and in my experience is pretty useless for cleaning lenses.

You often find this kind of microfiber cloth sold in bundles of several dozen at home centers and other "big box" stores. They're meant for general purpose cleaning, and they work great for that because the terrycloth-like nap and the very fine fibers pick up and trap dirt. I've read in at least a couple places that you should not use this type of cloth for cleaning lenses for exactly that reason: the dirt and grit previously trapped in the cloth can scratch the lens surface or wear away the coatings.

The smooth-feeling type of microfiber cloth is what eyeglass shops and smartphone manufacturers often provide for cleaning those products, so it seems like a reasonable choice for cleaning camera lenses, especially if you're just trying to remove fingerprints and such.

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Microfiber varies in terms of quality, manufacturer as well as design. There are hundreds of uses, and hundreds of applications. Some microfiber is designed for cleaning, some for absorbency, etc. So, don't assume all microfiber is the same. Microfiber is a mix of polyamide and polyester, and you will see ratios listed: 70/30 or 80/20 polyester/polyamide. Often, towels made of 70/30 feel 'softer' but this is not always the case. The other factors include density i.e. how many fibers per square inch, as well as how it is finished. You will also see reference to Korean vs Chinese, with Korean generally being higher quality, but again, not always.

You want to purchase 'lint free' microfiber. However, often you will experience lint from 'lint free' microfiber. This is most often because you did not wash it first, and the lint is left over from the manufaturing process. Be sure to wash, separately, all microfiber before use, and you will not find much or any lint, even from cheap towels.

I find that microfiber towels that feel 'rough' or 'grabby' are awful for lenses, but pretty good for general cleaning. For glass you generally want dense, smooth microfiber.

The best for lenses I find are dense, smooth cloths, made for lens cleaning. They are usually smooth, almost shiny, because they are dense. This keeps them from getting embedded with dirt. The other type is sueded, that feels like, well, sueded leather. These are somewhat more effective, but I feel they need cleaning more often. Your local optician offers/sells these, and you can also find them online through reputable dealers. Cheap promotional items I find can be less dense and hold dirt, risking scratches.

It is also important to wash microfiber, especially for lenses. You must wash them separately, otherwise, they will grab all the fibers and lint from other items in the wash. For this reason, its good to have many microfiber towels and cloths around (I use them for car drying, waxing/polishing and window washing).

I recommend purchasing lens cloths from a microfiber vendors that are trusted sources. I have no relationship with these other than a customer: The Rag Company offers hundreds of microfiber towels, with full details of their application and quality. Their Knit Lens cloth is what you would call 'smooth' and is my daily cloth for eyeglasses and camera lenses. They also offer a 'suede' version, that while not rough, does offer a bit more texture that is great for especially greasy eye glasses (and mobile phone displays): Sueded lens cloth. At the time of this writing, these are both less than $1USD.

Microfiber Tech is another trusted vendor, with similar products and prices.

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The kind with the larger woven texture are often marketed for home or auto cleaning. The kind with the smoother textures are usually smaller and intended for cleaning optical surfaces such as eyeglasses or cameras and binoculars.

I use both types on my gear. I've done so for years with no ill effects. I do take a few precautions with the textured type.

  • I reserve one side for cleaning non-optical surfaces such as the external surfaces of my camera and lenses, including the LCD screens on my cameras. I use the side the tag is sewn to for this purpose.
  • I reserve the other side for lenses only. I use it for 'dry' cleaning of lens surfaces only after I've blown as much loose dust as I can off the lens with a bulb air blower. If there is something that looks a bit sticky on the lens, like oil from a fingerprint, I'll gently blow some warm breath on it and immediately wipe the condensation away in a circular motion with the cloth.
  • When I put the cloth away after use I always fold it with the 'lens' side inside the first fold and only handle the cloth using the back side. I then store it in a pocket of my bag that only has cleaning supplies in it and stays closed most of the time.
  • When the cloth begins to look the least bit dirty or dusty I retire it from my camera bag and move it to household cleaning usage.

The smaller, smoother types of microfiber cloths are what I use for 'wet' cleaning.

  • Just a few drops of lens cleaning fluid are applied onto one corner of the cloth. The lens is cleaned with the wet corner in a circular motion while moving from center to edge, then the lens is dried with the opposite dry corner using the same movement.
  • Again, I use only one side to contact the lens surfaces and then fold and handle them from the other side (and the very edges of the corners). Most of the smaller cloths come with hard creases where they have been folded in their packaging so it is very easy to tell which side is which.
  • They also tend to come in small plastic holders that keep dust away from them when they are stored.
  • When they begin to look the least bit dirty or soiled, I replace them with a fresh one and repurpose the older one for other, non-photographic uses.

I've never washed a microfiber cloth, either before initial use or after. When they are too full of dust to be usable for even the dirtiest household jobs I dispose of them in the same way I do with other products with no biodegradable contents.

From Wikipedia:

Microfiber that is made from petrochemicals includes polyester and nylon which are not biodegradable. However, microfiber made from polypropylene can be recyclable. Microfiber products may also have the potential of entering the oceanic water supply and food chain similar to other microplastics.[3] Synthetic clothing made of microfibers that are washed can release materials and travel to local wastewater treatment plants, contributing to plastic pollution in water.

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