How We Wash Our Clothes Can Help Reduce Microfiber Pollution In Our Waters

eco-friendly products microfiber pollution tips for washing clothes environmentally

 

 

       You may or may not have heard the term "microfiber pollution", but it's something very real and I suspect that you will be hearing more and more about it if you haven't already.  I was vaguely aware of it, however, the extent and severity was recently brought to my attention by a close friend whose work is related to water issues.  Microfiber pollution means that every time you wash your synthetic fiber clothing or fabrics (nylon, polyester, spandex, fleece, acrylic and some say even rayon), millions of tiny microfiber particles (plastics) are being washed into our waterways. The microfiber particles are too small to be filtered out by our current wastewater treatments and so they are now in our rivers and oceans and showing up inside of fish and other sea life, mammals and birds. These fibers are also the largest portion of the worlds shoreline pollution. And... these microfibers become increasingly toxic by absorbing other contaminants from municipal and agricultural runoff. I want to add that we are eating these fibers as well - not only from fish sources but microfibers have been found in sea salt, tap water and even our beer!

    I thought this issue is of particular interest to our sewing community. We are very fortunate in that we get to choose what fabrics we make our clothing out of instead of taking what the fashion industry gives us. However, as a sewist, I find myself doing LOTS of laundry - pre-washing fabrics before and after sewing them up. I found the suggestions below very informational and my household is adopting many of these practices into our daily routines. 

     I bought myself a few early holiday presents this year to help as well. First, I bought this Cora Ball shown below. It's designed to catch lint and threads in the washing machine. We use dryer balls and lint traps in our dryers but the washing machine lint is just as important. I have to say that I haven't found too many fibers on my Cora ball. Perhaps I have the spin cycle set too high on my washing machine. I need more practice. I also just ordered the Guppyfriend washing bag and the Filtrol microfiber filter for my washing machine. I haven't received those yet but am looking forward to trying them out. You can find out more about those in the links below and perhaps they would make great holiday gifts.

     By the way, I have purchased an extra Cora Ball and Guppy Bag and plan on giving them away to two lucky people. Follow me on Instagram @sewhouse7 and in a few days, I will explain how to win. 

Cora Ball 

   The best solutions involve improving our waste water treatments, developing washing machines that have built in filters and most of all, putting pressure on clothing and fabric manufacturers to use more natural fiber products and to produce fewer or at least better quality microfiber fabrics. 

     I have always preferred natural fibers to synthetic - they just feel and look better in my opinion. However, sometimes synthetic fabrics are the best option for performance clothing. My family is constantly washing our kayaking, skiing, biking and work-out clothing. Although these fabrics may be difficult to avoid completely, by being aware of the issue we may be more prone to take care of these clothes - maybe not wash them as frequently and choose performance wool over polypro. Better yet, not buy so many articles of clothing - just what you need not want. 

   Yuk! So what else can we do to help this situation? I know I don't want to give up my yoga pants completely - I work from home in comfort!  However, there are things we can do to help. Below is a list of ideas and things to do and think about when purchasing clothes and washing clothes AND fabric. I found the first list (15 - 1) from this article by the Plastics Pollution Coalition

 

15. Watch The Story of Stuff’s microfiber movie to learn about the issue.

14. Wash synthetic clothes less frequently and for a shorter duration.

13. Fill up your washing machine. Washing a full load results in less friction between the clothes and fewer fibers released.

12. Consider switching to a liquid laundry soap. Laundry powder “scrubs” and loosens more microfibers. *note from me - My only beef with this one is that liquid detergent comes in a big, hard, plastic jug rather than a cardboard box.

11. Use a colder wash setting. Higher temperature can damage clothes and release more fibers.

10. Dry spin clothes at low revs. Higher revolutions increase the friction between the clothes.

9. When you clean out your dryer, place lint in the trash instead of washing it down the drain.

8. Consider purchasing a Guppy Friend wash bag. In tests, the bag captured 99 percent of fibers released in the washing process. The bags are available for purchase at Patagonia for $29.97.

6. Speak up and tell clothing designers to choose natural fabrics that aren’t prone to shedding. Sign the petition here!

5. Join Plastic Pollution Coalition to read the latest news and help us get the word out.

4. Tell your friends and family about microfiber pollution.

3. Avoid purchasing cheaply-made, “fast fashion” clothes, whenever possible. 

2. Buy clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool. Natural fibers will eventually break down in the environment. Plastic fibers will never go away. 

1. Share this article to spread the #StopTheMicrofiber message. We all can do something to help. 

A FEW OTHER TIPS TO ADD TO THE LIST ARE :

1 - Use a front-loading washing machine that has way less friction than a top loader.

2 - Higher quality microfiber fabrics USUALLY shed less so go for the good stuff when purchasing your performance clothing AND support great companies with a conscious like Patagonia who is accepting responsibility for their part in the problem and putting up big money for research and development to combat the problem. 

3 - Strategically do your laundry. Try to make your synthetic clothes last as long as possible between washes by airing them out in the sun or dust with baking soda to help absorb smells.

4 - Avoid products with known microplastics like microbeads in face washes and toothpastes. O.K. this isn't microFIBER pollution but rather single use plastic pollution but I found it interesting and important to add. 

5 -Purchase the Cora Ball from the Rozalia Project to help catch fibers (and hair) in your washing machine.

   Alright. I hope this doesn't sound too preachy but rather informative. I love our sewing community! I know it is made up of intelligent, beautiful and loving people who care to do good. Together, maybe we can help revolutionize how the clothing and fabric industries conduct themselves. 

Happy Holidays!

 


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  • Francesca on

    Thanks for this! I had no idea that loading up the machine is better.

  • ruth on

    I belong to the women’s institute in England and we have been campaigning on #plasticsoup for the past year. The fight against plastics is global and hopefully we can pressurise all our govenments to work towards a better plastic free future.

  • BMGM on

    Microfibers and microplastics vary a great deal in toxicity. We just don’t know enough about the quantity and type of microfibers and plastics in our waterways. While we are doing the research, it’s good to reduce the amount we are releasing.

    In Los Angeles county, we pay a water reclamation fee and our sewage water is treated and then recycled. Solids are screened out, composted, and then spread on farmland in Kern county. The liquid portion is microfiltered through tiny tubes the size of human hair. Then reverse osmosis (nano filtration) removes even smaller things, including salt. Finally, UV disinfection kills any germs and breaks up small molecules (drug metabolites) that survive filtration. Then it is released into the wild or reused. It’s expensive, but we live in a desert and don’t have many other sources of water.

    I’m already doing the things you listed and pay taxes to take care of the rest. I would like to win a ball to see if it works.

  • Megan on

    I already wash everything in cool water. It works just as well as warm and saves energy. I want to say my biggest excitement over the Cora Ball is to pick up microfibers (which we most certainly have in our laundry), but I’m mostly excited that it happens to grab dog fur too.

  • Tamika on

    Thank you! I am becoming more aware of this issue and am thrilled some of the garment industry is taking steps to help heal it (Patagonia). I dont use a dryer but would love anything that helps in the wash.



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