Washing clothes has become an important source of microplastics in aquatic environment


Microplastics are small plastic particles in the environment that are generally smaller than 1 mm. They have accumulated in oceans and freshwater.

A new study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin shows that washing clothes have become a major source of microplastics in environment.

Researchers from Plymouth University conducted the study. They examined the release of microplastic fibers from several clothes materials (e.g., polyester, polyester-cotton blend and acrylic fabrics).

These fabrics were laundered under different temperatures (30˚C and 40˚C), detergents and fabric conditioners.

Researchers then extracted fibers from the waste effluent and examined using an electron microscope to determine the typical size and any differences in mass and abundance among wash conditions.

The result showed that all clothes materials released tiny fibers with average size between 11.9 and 17.7 μm in diameter, and 5.0 and 7.8 mm in length.

In addition, Polyester-cotton fabric consistently released fewer fibers than other materials, but fiber release varied according to different wash conditions.

Based on the result, researchers estimate over 700,000 fibers can be released from an average 6 kg wash load. This confirms their previous findings that washing clothes has become an important source of microscope fibers in aquatic environment.

The study has important implications for environment protection. Researchers suggest that “the quantity of microplastics in the environment is expected to increase over the next few decades, and there are concerns about the potential for it to have harmful effects if ingested.”

In the future, they will focus on the effects of microplastics release on environment and factors that can reduce the release.

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Citation: Napper IE, Thompson RC. Release of synthetic microplastic plastic fibres from domestic washing machines: Effects of fabric type and washing conditions. Marine Pollution Bulletin, published online. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.09.025.
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is credited to Chesapeake Bay Program.