Dot’s Reading Room – Jan. 30: Laundry Pollution

January 30, 2024

“Laundry is a top source of microplastic pollution – here’s how to clean your clothes more sustainably.”

Laundry – it’s a chore that all of us do and it’s getting more complicated these days with synthetic fibers creating “microplastic” particles that can end up in rivers and streams, the soil, in the air, and even in our bodies.  A single wash load can release several million microfibers, if  you are washing synthetic fibers (which most clothing is made of today). Even cotton and wool, to a lesser extent, can shed.

Judith Weis, Professor Emerita of Biological Sciences, Rutgers University – Newark, studies what happens to microfiber particles when they are released into wastewater. She writes in The Conversation, “Many factors affect how many fibers are released, including fabric type, mechanical action, detergents, temperature, and the duration of the wash cycle.” 

So what’s a person to do?  Weis suggests some easy solutions that you can implement today. 

  • Do laundry less often. Washing full loads instead of partial loads reduces the release of microfibers because garments are exposed to less friction during the wash cycle.
  • Use cold water, which releases fewer microfibers than hot water.
  • Use less detergent, which increases microfiber release.
  • Use a front-loading washing machine, whose tumbling action produces less microfiber release.
  • Dry laundry on a clothesline. Running clothes in dryers releases additional microfibers into the air from the dryer vent. 

Longer term solutions:

Filter your wash water with external filters that can be retrofitted onto existing washing machines. These devices can remove up to 90 percent of microfibers from rinse water, but there’s a cost of about $150 and the filters should be cleaned periodically.

Read more about Weis’s research here:

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