The majority of clothing on the planet is made from plastic-based materials like polyester, rayon, nylon, and acrylic. When washed, synthetic clothing sheds tiny plastic fragments known as microfibers. Microfibers are the most prevalent type of microplastic (plastic pieces less than 5 mm in diameter) found in the environment. Here are some simple steps you can take to help reduce the number of microfibers that flow from your washing machine to waterways.
- Wash clothing less often. This is perhaps the simplest and most effective method for reducing microfiber pollution.
- Only wash full loads of laundry. This results in less friction between clothes and reduces shedding of synthetic fibers.
- Wash laundry with cold water for a shorter period of time. A recent study by Northumbria University and Procter & Gamble found that switching to a colder and shorter cycle can dramatically reduce microfiber shedding.
- If possible, use a front-loading washer. A 2016 study by University of California, Santa Barbara showed that top-load washing machines produced significantly more microfibers than front-loading machines.
- Install an external microfiber filter on your washing machine and/or use a microfiber-catching laundry ball or bag. Dispose of the captured microfibers in the trash. There are several commercially available external lint filters to choose from. There are also more affordable products like wash bags and laundry balls designed to capture microfibers. (See a New York Times Wirecutter review of products that capture microfibers.)
By making these relatively simple changes, we can do a lot to reduce the flow of plastic into the environment.