OCT 02, 2019 8:46 AM PDT

Attn: STOP WITH THE DELICATE CYCLE!

It’s more than likely that you’ve heard of plastic microfibers and the dangers that they pose to our oceans, air, and earth. But did you know that even just the simple act of washing your clothes releases microplastics into the sewage that eventually ends up in the oceans? In fact, a study from Plymouth University found that a single load of laundry can release up to 700,000 microplastic fibers.

 

But what can we do about this? You’re not likely to stop washing your clothes in a washing machine, so it’s time to look at the alternative options. That’s where new research from Newcastle University comes in. The study, published in the academic journal Environmental Science and Technology, suggests that the setting we choose to wash our clothes in has a big impact on the release of microfibers – with the delicate cycle being the worst offender.

In fact, according to the study, the delicate cycle releases the most microfibers because of the volume of water that it uses, not because of agitation from the spin cycle. Ph.D. student Max Kelly led the research and explained the surprising finding:

"Counterintuitively, we discovered that 'delicate' cycles release more plastic microfibers into the water, and then the environment, than standard cycles. Previous research has suggested the speed the drum spins at, the number of times it changes spinning direction during a cycle and the length of pauses in the cycle -- all known as the machine agitation -- is the most important factor in the amount of microfiber released. But we have shown here that even at reduced levels of agitation, microfiber release is still greatest with higher water-volume-to-fabric ratios. This is because the high volume of water used in a delicate cycle which is supposed to protect sensitive clothing from damage actually 'plucks' away more fibers from the material."

And just to put some hard numbers down, Kelly and his fellow researchers found that the high volume of water used in delicate cycles is so much more impactful in terms of microfibers that on average, 800,000 more fibers were released in a delicate wash than a standard cycle.

How did the team actually measure this? They basically installed a faux laundromat in their lab, otherwise known as a tergotometer, or a benchtop device made up of eight (1000 mL) washing vessels that simulate full-scale domestic washing. Then they tested out how different conditions such as water volume, spin speed, temperature, and time affected polyester clothing. Finally, in order to count the microfibers, they used a DigiEye camera, which is a digital color imaging system that can accurately detect microfibers.

Researchers say the delicate cycle releases the most microfiber plastics. Photo: Pixabay

This research contradicts the previous notion that delicate cycles release fewer microplastics. Kelly hopes that the team’s work will result in changes in the manufacturing industry. "Reducing the amount of plastic pollution is everyone's responsibility and often it's the small changes that make a huge difference,” he said. “By avoiding high water-volume-to-fabric washes such as the delicate cycles and ensuring full wash loads then we can all do our bit to help reduce the amount of these synthetic fibers being released into the environment. Hopefully, these findings may also be used by manufacturers to influence the design of future washing machines and reduce our plastic footprint. Over time these changes could also see a global reduction in the amount of energy and water required to wash our clothes."

Sources: Environmental Science and TechnologyScience Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUL 25, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Fungal Pathogens Can Grow on Microplastics
JUL 25, 2021
Fungal Pathogens Can Grow on Microplastics
Microplastics are being found throughout our world; they're in the oceans, in soil, and in our bodies, among other place ...
JUL 27, 2021
Health & Medicine
Toxic pollution due to climate change is more likely in low income areas
JUL 27, 2021
Toxic pollution due to climate change is more likely in low income areas
Climate change causes toxic air and water pollution, especially in low income countries
AUG 05, 2021
Technology
Top Ways to Make the Most out of Your Ethernet
AUG 05, 2021
Top Ways to Make the Most out of Your Ethernet
Today, the Ethernet connection has emerged as one of the most popular ways to make the most out of an internet connectio ...
AUG 15, 2021
Plants & Animals
The Killer Instinct of a Dainty Flower is Finally Exposed
AUG 15, 2021
The Killer Instinct of a Dainty Flower is Finally Exposed
The exotic Venus flytrap is a famous carnivorous plant that's easy to identify. But it seems that another carnivorous pl ...
SEP 09, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
"Shape-Shifting" Birds: Climate Change's Newest Outcome
SEP 09, 2021
"Shape-Shifting" Birds: Climate Change's Newest Outcome
A new study released last Tuesday highlights a surprising response to climate change: physical changes in animal mo ...
SEP 22, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Commercial Fusion Energy Could be Within Reach, Thanks to the World's Most Powerful Magnet
SEP 22, 2021
Commercial Fusion Energy Could be Within Reach, Thanks to the World's Most Powerful Magnet
Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) announced this month that their new magnet might be the breakthrough needed to make fu ...
Loading Comments...