Microfiber release from real soiled consumer laundry and the impact of fabric care products and washing conditions

Neil J. Lant, Adam S. Hayward, Madusha M.D. Peththawadu, Kelly J. Sheridan, John R. Dean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)
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Fiber release during domestic textile washing is a cause of marine microplastic pollution, but better understanding of the magnitude of the issue and role of fabric care products, appliances and washing cycles is needed. Soiled consumer wash loads from U.K. households were found to release a mean of 114 ± 66.8 ppm (mg microfiber per kg fabric) (n = 79) fibers during typical washing conditions and these were mainly composed of natural fibers. Microfiber release decreased with increasing wash load size and hence decreasing water to fabric ratio, with mean microfiber release from wash loads in the mass range 1.0-3.5 kg (n = 57) found to be 132.4 ± 68.6 ppm, significantly (p = 3.3 x 10-8) higher than the 66.3 ± 27.0 ppm of those in the 3.5-6.0 kg range (n = 22). In further tests with similar soiled consumer wash loads, moving to colder and quicker washing cycles (i.e. 15°C for 30 mins, as opposed to 40°C for 85 mins) significantly reduced microfiber generation by 30% (p = 0.036) and reduced whiteness loss by 42% (p = 0.000) through reduced dye transfer and soil re-deposition, compared to conventional 40°C cycles. In multicycle technical testing, detergent pods were selected for investigation and found to have no impact on microfiber release compared to washing in water alone. Fabric softeners were also found to have no direct impact on microfiber release in testing under both European and North American washing conditions. Extended testing of polyester fleece garments up to a 48-wash cycle history under European conditions found that microfiber release significantly reduced to a consistent low level of 28.7 ± 10.9 ppm from eight through 64 washes. Emerging North American High-Efficiency top-loading washing machines generated significantly lower microfiber release than traditional top-loading machines, likely due to their lower water fill volumes and hence lower water to fabric ratio, with a 69.7% reduction observed for polyester fleece (n = 32, p = 7.9 x 10-6) and 37.4% reduction for polyester T-shirt (n = 32, p = 0.0032). These results conclude that consumers can directly reduce the levels of microfibers generated per wash during domestic textile washing by using colder and quicker wash cycles, washing complete (but not overfilled) loads, and (in North America) converting to High-Efficiency washing machines. Moving to colder and quicker cycles will also indirectly reduce microfiber release by extending the lifetime of clothing, leading to fewer new garments being purchased and hence lower incidence of the high microfiber release occurring during the first few washes of a new item.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0233332
Pages (from-to)e0233332
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2020


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