Hand washing fabrics reduces microplastic release compared to machine washing – Zoo House News
From tiny plankton to giant whales, microplastics have been found throughout the ocean food chain. A major source of this soiling is fibers shed from synthetic fabrics during laundering. Although many studies show that microfibers are released during machine washing, how hand washing contributes to this is less clear. Now, researchers in ACS Environmental Science & Technology Water report that hand washing can drastically reduce the amount of fiber shedding compared to using a machine.
When clothes made from plastic fibers like polyester and nylon are washed, the fabric sheds microscopic fibers that eventually end up in wastewater and the environment. Although researchers have looked at the amount and types of microplastic fibers shed when clothes are washed, most studies have focused on washing machines. However, in many countries it is still common to wash clothes manually. One team has previously reported the effects of hand washing fabric, but the study was not comprehensive. Therefore, Wang, Zhao, Xing and colleagues wanted to systematically investigate the release of microplastic fibers from synthetic textiles using different methods of hand washing versus machine washing.
The team cleaned two types of fabric swatches made from 100% polyester and a blend of 95% polyester and 5% spandex using hand washing methods and a washing machine. The researchers found the following:
Manual methods released far fewer fibers. The 100% polyester fabric, for example, sheds an average of 1,853 pieces of microplastic when hand washed, compared to an average of 23,723 pieces for the same fabric that has been machine washed. In terms of weight, machine washing released more than five times more microplastics than the traditional method. The fibers released during hand washing tended to be longer. The addition of detergent, soaking the fabrics, and using a washboard increased the number of fibers released with manual methods, but still not to the extent of using a machine. In contrast, they found that temperature, detergent type, washing time, and amount of water used had no notable effect on the amount of microplastics released when washing hands.
The researchers say these findings will help clarify the sources of microplastic pollution in the environment and may provide guidance for “greener” washing practices.
The authors acknowledge funding from the Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Scientific Research Foundation of Hangzhou Dianzi University.