Are you aware of the environmental impact of your laundry? According to new research from the University of Leeds, the UK’s laundry releases microfibres weighing the equivalent of up to 1,500 double-decker buses every year. That’s a lot of microfibres entering our environment, and it’s important to understand the scale and sources of this pollution. In this blog post, we’ll explore the research and discover how we can reduce our own microfibre release.

Microfibres are tiny threads that enter the environment when garments are made, worn and washed. They’re smaller than 5mm and invisible to the naked eye, but they have a substantial impact as a major source of water pollution. To help quantify this problem, the researchers estimated that annual microfibre release from the UK’s washing was between 6,860 and 17,847 tonnes. That’s the equivalent of around 600 to 1,500 double-decker buses.

The researchers developed a test to measure how different materials and washing conditions affect the amount of microfibres released into water. They tested 16 common fabrics, including polyester, cotton, viscose and blended materials, and compared different yarn types and constructions (knitted or woven fabrics). They also measured the effects of washing conditions, including the size of the load and how much the machine shakes the clothes.

The results showed that more than twice as much microfibre material was released when the ratio of water to clothing was doubled. Filling up the washing machine drum with more clothes can reduce the amount of microfibres lost because less water moves through the clothes and dislodges loose material. Agitation also had a big impact, with higher agitations increasing microfibre loss significantly.

The testing showed that the fabric characteristics — yarn type, construction (knitted or woven), fibre type (eg polyester or cotton) — had more influence than washing conditions on how many microfibres were released. The worst offender for microfibre release was a chenille polyester fabric, whereas some fabrics that had been brushed or peached lost less material.

Ultimately, the research shows that fabric choice is complex and we shouldn’t assume some fabrics are worse than others. This is important to remember when considering the environmental impact of our laundry. The TMC Test Method has already been adopted by EU and US standard bodies due to its reliability. This will help clothing brands more accurately test their garments for microfibre release, inform washing machine manufacturers about filtering and give a clearer picture of the scale of the problem.

By understanding the scale of the microfibre problem and the fabrics that are most likely to cause it, we can take steps to reduce our own microfibre release. Let’s make sure we’re doing our part to protect our environment.