Cleaning clothes in a delicate washing cycle releases more plastic microfibres from clothing than any other cycle, new UK research suggests.
When clothing made of synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon is washed, tiny plastic fibres are drawn out into the water, which then drains into waterways and can ultimately end up in the ocean.
After comparing different wash cycles, researchers from the UK found that water volume, rather than the level of agitation of the clothing by the machine’s spinning, was the key factor in releasing microfibres.
The more water used, the more plastics are pulled from the fabric.
A staggering 800,000 more microfibres were released during a delicate cycle compared to a standard wash, a study published in the most recent edition of the Environmental Science and Technology journal found.
- The amount of plastic released from fabrics increased with the volume of water used during the wash
- Researchers say an average of 800,000 more plastic microfibres were released in delicate cycles compared to a standard wash
- Scientists suggest waiting for a full load of washing to accumulate before running a wash cycle
Max Kelly, a PhD student from Newcastle University who led the study, said the finding was counterintuitive.
“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 microfibre released,” he said.
“But we have shown here that even at reduced levels of agitation, microfibre 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 fibres from the material.”