Delicate Wash Program Uses More Water And Releases 800,000 More Microplastics

The delicate wash cycle uses much more water than other wash programs, resulting in hundreds of thousands of plastic microfibers coming out, traveling down the drain and potentially into marine waterways, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, found that the gentle wash program, which uses almost twice as much water as other programs, releases an average of 800,000 more plastic microfibers than programs that use lower volumes of water.

That the volume of water is the most determining factor in the release of plastic microfibers calls into question the previous belief that it is movement that leads textiles to shed their microfibers, according to the study.

Our discoveries were a surprise. Gentle washes are expected to protect clothes and reduce microfiber release, but our detailed studies showed that it was in fact the opposite. If you wash your clothes in a delicate cycle, the clothes release a lot more plastic fibers. They are microplastics, made of polyester. They are not biodegradable and can accumulate in our environment.

Grant Burgess, marine microbiologist.

That buildup is concerning to scientists, who have discovered microplastics everywhere, from the ocean floor to Arctic snow and ice.

Millions of plastic microfibers come off every time we wash nylon, polyester or acrylic clothes. The fibers are so small that they slide easily through the drain filter and the washing machine where they can enter rivers, streams and eventually the oceans where they are literally swallowed by the animals that live there.

To conduct the study, the researchers washed black polyester T-shirts, first in a series of laboratory tests and then in commercial washing machines at a Proctor and Gamble research facility, The Guardian reported. Because plastic microfibers are so difficult to trace due to their tiny size, the scientists used various high-tech devices to carry out their research.

They first used a tergotometer, a device that simulated large-scale household washing and allowed scientists to run tests under different conditions, making changes to the volume of water, spin speed, temperature and time, according to a press release. from the University of Newcastle.

They then used a DigiEye camera – a digital color imaging system – to calculate the amount of microfibers released. The results were amazing. They counted 1.4 million fibers from a delicate wash of a polyester garment, 800,000 when a normal cotton wash was used and 600,000 when an express cold program was used, according to the Irish Times.

If the volume of water is high, the water will hit the clothes more than if less water is used. Water works its way through clothing and pulls polyester fibers from textiles.

Grant Burgess, marine microbiologist.

Kelly hopes the findings will lead to changes in the appliance industry to use less water and develop filters that trap plastic microfibers. However, in the meantime, he notes that it only helps avoid the delicate cycle.

Reducing the amount of plastic pollution is everyone’s responsibility and it is often the small changes that make a big difference. By avoiding high-volume washes, such as delicate cycles, and by ensuring full loads of wash, we can all do our bit to help reduce the amount of these synthetic fibers that are released into the environment.

Max Kelly.

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