How do you tackle microplastics? Start with your washing machine (2024)

As environmental challenges go, microfiber pollution has come from practically out of nowhere. It was only a decade or so ago that scientists first suspected our clothing, increasingly made of synthetic materials like polyester and nylon, might be major contributors to the global plastic problem.

Today a growing body of science suggests the tiny strands that slough off clothes are everywhere and in everything. By one estimate, they account for as much as one-third of all microplastics released to the ocean. They've been found on Mount Everest and in the Mariana Trench, along with tap water, plankton, shrimp guts, and our poo.

Research has yet to establish just what this means for human and planetary health. But the emerging science has left some governments, particularly in the Global North, scrambling to respond. Their first target: the humble washing machine, which environmentalists say represents a major way microfiber pollution reaches the environment.

Late last month a California State Assembly committee held a hearing on Assembly Bill 1628, which would require new washing machines to include devices that trap particles down to 100 micrometers — roughly the width of human hair — by 2029. The Golden State isn't alone here, or even first. France already approved such a requirement, effective 2025. Lawmakers in Oregon and Ontario, Canada have considered similar bills. The European Commission says it'll do the same in 2025.

Environmental groups, earth scientists and some outdoor apparel companies cheer the policies as an important first response to a massive problem. But quietly, some sustainability experts feel perplexed by all the focus on washers. They doubt filters will achieve much, and say what's really needed is a comprehensive shift in how we make, clean and dispose of clothes.

The wash is "only one shedding point in the lifecycle of the garment. To focus on that tiny, tiny moment of laundry is completely nuts," said Richard Blackburn, a professor of sustainable materials at the University of Leeds. "It would be much better to focus on the whole life cycle of the garment, of which the manufacturing stage is much more significant in terms of loss than laundering, but all points should be considered."

Today, some 60 percent of all textiles incorporate synthetic material. Anyone who's worn yoga pants, workout gear or stretchy jeans knows the benefits: These materials add softness, wicking and flexibility. Under a microscope, though, they look a lot like plain old plastic. From the moment they're made, synthetic clothes — like all clothes — release tiny shreds of themselves. Once liberated these fibers are no easier to retrieve than glitter tossed into the wind. But their size, shape, and tendency to absorb chemicals leaves scientists concerned about their impacts on habitats and the food chain.

Anja Brandon is an associate director for U.S. plastics policy at the Ocean Conservancy who has supported the California and Oregon bills. She concedes that filters won't fix the problem, but believes they offer a way to get started. She also supports clothing innovations but said they could be years away. "I for one don't want to wait until it's a five-alarm fire," she said.

Studies suggest a typical load of laundry can release thousands or even millions of fibers. Commercially available filters, like the PlanetCare, Lint LUV-R and Filtrol, strain the gray water through ultra-fine mesh before flushing it into the world. It's the owner's job, of course, to periodically empty that filter — ideally into a trash bag, which Brandon said will secure microfibers better than the status quo of letting them loose into nature.

Washing machine manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe have pushed back, saying the devices pose technical risks, like flooding and increased energy consumption, that must be addressed first. University experiments with these filters, including an oft-cited 2019 study by the University of Toronto and the Ocean Conservancy, haven't found these issues, but it's not a closed case yet: Last year a federal report on microfibers, led by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called for more research in this vein.

Manufacturers also argue that microfibers originate in a lot of places, but washers are a relatively modest one. As self-serving as that sounds, people who study the issue agree there's a huge hole in the available science: While we know clothes shed microfibers throughout their lives, we know surprisingly little about when most of it happens.

Some evidence suggests that the friction of simply wearing clothes might release about as many microfibers as washing them. Then there are dryers, which some suspect are a major source of microfiber litter but have been barely studied, according to the federal report. There is also limited knowledge about how much microfiber pollution comes from the developing world, where most people wash by hand. (A recent study led by Hangzhou Dianzi University in Hangzhou, China pointed to this knowledge gap – and found that hand-washing two synthetic fabrics released on average 80 to 90 percent fewer microfiber pollution than machine-washing.)

To Blackburn, it's obvious that most releases occur in textile mills, where it's been known for centuries that spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing fabric spritzes lots of fiber. "Where do you think it goes when we get it out of the factory?" he said. "It goes into the open air."

He calls filter policies "totally reactionary," arguing that they would at best shave a few percentage points off the total microfiber problem. But there is one area where Blackburn is in broad agreement with environmentalists: In the long run, tackling the issue will take a lot of new technology. No silver-bullet solution has appeared yet, but a slew of recent announcements reveals a vibrant scene of research and development attacking the problem from many angles.

Some best practices already are known within the industry. For example, more tightly woven clothes, and clothes made of long fibers rather than short ones, fray less. But for years, popular brands like Patagonia and REI have said what they really need is a way to experiment with many different materials and compare their shedding head to head. This has been tricky: Microfibers are, well, micro, and there's no industry standard on how to measure them.

That might be changing. In separate announcements in February, Hohenstein, a company that develops international standards for textiles, and activewear brand Under Armour revealed new methods in this vein. Under Armour is targeting 75 percent "low-shed" fabrics in its products by 2030.

These approaches would at best reduce microfiber emissions, not eliminate them. So another field of research is what Blackburn calls "biocompatibility": making microfibers less harmful to nature. California-based companyIntrinsic Advanced Materials sells a pre-treatment, added to fabrics during manufacturing, that it claims helps polyester and nylon biodegrade in seawater within years rather than decades. Blackburn's own startup, Keracol, develops natural dyes, pulled from things like fruit waste, that break down more easily in nature than synthetic ones.

New ideas to dispose of clothes are also emerging, though some will cause arched eyebrows among environmentalists. This year U.S. chemical giant Eastman will start building a facility in Normandy, France that it claims "unzips" hard-to-recycle plastics, like polyester clothes, into molecular precursors that can be fashioned into new products like clothes and insulation. Critics charge that such "chemical recycling" techniques are not only of dubious benefit to the environment, they're really just a smokescreen for fossil-fuel corporations trying to keep their product in demand.

Lest anyone forget about washing machines, there's R&D going after them, too. In January Patagonia and appliance giant Samsung announced a model that they claim cuts micro plastic emissions up to 54%. It's already rolled out in Europe and Korea. At around the same time, University of Toronto researchers published research on a coating that, they claim, makes nylon fabric more slippery in the wash, reducing friction and thus microfiber emissions by 90 percent after nine washes. In a press release the researchers tut-tutted governments for their focus on washing-machine filters, which they called a "Band-Aid" for the issue.

One continuous thread through all these efforts, of course, is that everyone is working with imperfect information. The emerging science on microfibers – and microplastics in general – suggests they're a gritty fact of modern life, but doesn't yet show the magnitude of their harm to humans and other species. For the moment environmentalists, policymakers and manufacturers aren't just debating whether to put filters on washing machines, but whether we know enough to act. In 20 years, when scientists know a lot more, it'll be easier to judge whether today's policies represented proactive leadership on an emerging environmental problem — or a soggy Band-Aid.

Editor's note: Patagonia is an advertiser with Grist. Advertisers have no role in Grist's editorial decisions.

This article originally appeared in Grist at https://grist.org/technology/how-do-you-tackle-microplastics-start-with-your-washing-machine/.

Grist is a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future. Learn more at Grist.org

How do you tackle microplastics? Start with your washing machine (2024)

FAQs

How do I remove microplastics from my washing machine? ›

Get a Laundry Filter or Ball

Consumers can buy these products, which help capture the microfibers before the water carries them off. The balls go directly in the washer, while the filters connect with the laundry discharge outlet and require installation.

Can you wash off microplastics? ›

A single load of laundry can release over a million microplastic fibers. In order to combat this, you can install a filter in your washing machine to catch these plastics. Then, you can properly dispose of them. You can also wash your clothes on a lower setting, wash by hand, or try to buy less synthetic clothing.

How much microplastics come from washing machine? ›

Every year, over a million tons of microplastics end up in oceans. Our washing machines are a major source of this plastic pollution. Researchers found that an average 6 kg load of laundry releases more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibers into wastewater.

How do I get the particles out of my washing machine? ›

To remove black particles, follow these steps to clean the Washing Machine:
  1. 1 Fill the Washing Machine with 3/4 of water.
  2. 2 Add 1 to 2 litres of Clorox/Bleach.
  3. 3 Leave it overnight.
  4. 4 On the next day, do a clean tub or quick wash to wash away the molds (do not put in any clothing).
Jul 14, 2022

Do washing machines have filters that remove microplastics? ›

PlanetCare filter attaches to your washing machine and captures microplastics before they enter your drain.

What kills microplastics? ›

Carbon Blocks faucet filters: The most efficient ones, such as TAPP 2 remove 100% of all known microplastics. Reverse Osmosis filters: Can filter down to to 0.001 micron so will remove all known microplastics, but are more expensive and require maintenance.

What fabrics shed the most microplastics? ›

The most common synthetic fibres found in fashion items:
  • Nylon (also known as Polyamide)
  • Acrylic.
  • Viscose (often referred to as Rayon in the US)
  • Rayon.
  • Fleece.
  • Microfleece.
  • Elastane (often referred to as Spandex in the US, and Dupont has its own version, known as LYCRA®)
  • Acetate.
May 29, 2018

Do laundry sheets contain microplastics? ›

Yes. Laundry and dishwasher pods and sheets are made with or wrapped in petroleum-based plastic called polyvinyl alcohol, also referred to as PVA or PVOH.

How do you detox your body from plastic? ›

Eat an abundance of organic cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli and cauliflower are miracle workers to help guard and detoxify from those dangerous chemicals. Colon hydrotherapy, infrared saunas when used correctly, juice cleanses, and castor oil packs applied to the liver can also be useful.

Can anything filter out microplastics? ›

Reverse osmosis filters are the most effective for removing microplastics. These filters use a semi-permeable membrane that can filter down to 0.001 microns and remove all known microplastics.

What water filters remove microplastics? ›

A Reverse Osmosis Filter has a pore size of approximately 0.0001 micron so it's, by far, best way to remove microplastics (or anything else) from your drinking water due to its ability to completely separate solids from water.

Do laundry pods put microplastics in the water? ›

PVOH is a sythnetic, petroleum-based polymeric plastic that "dissolves" in water – breaking down into smaller plastic particles called microplastics. Once the detergent pods or sheets meet the water in the washing machine, they break down into microplastics and are discharged as part of the wastewater.

Do detergent pods leave microplastics? ›

Detergent pods and laundry sheets are made from a plastic called PVA/PVOH (polyvinyl alcohol) and release microplastics in the water. A study published in June 2021 concluded that PVA/PVOH was only 25% biodegraded in water, the rest persisting in the environment.

What products have the most microplastics? ›

Which foods contain microplastics? “They're in everything you eat or drink,” says Mason. But the largest dietary source of microplastics can be found in drinking water.

Is it better to clean washing machine with bleach or vinegar? ›

The results will be exactly the same, however white vinegar is most definitely the more environmentally option (and it's more affordable too). Just remember to never mix the both bleach and vinegar together or even use them at the same time, as this can cause a dangerous reaction and release chlorine gas.

How much vinegar do I put in my washing machine? ›

To clean your clothes with vinegar, put 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar in your washing machine's detergent compartment. You don't need to add any other detergents.

How much vinegar do I use to clean my washing machine? ›

Set your washing machine to the highest and hottest water setting. Add in four cups of white vinegar, and start a cycle. Once the washing machine is filled up and barely started, pause it and allow the water and white vinegar to soak the drum for an hour.

Do all washing machines have a filter to clean? ›

Some washing machines may not have a filter. In that case the blockage will be in the sump hose, inside the pump itself, or in the drain hose.

Can coffee filters catch microplastics? ›

Apparently yes, if you're using a disposable coffee cup, microplastics may be leaching into your coffee … or tea. From now on, there is another, very important reason to ditch takeaway coffee cups and this doesn't just relate to the environment, it relates to your health.

Have all washing machines get a filter? ›

Not all modern washing machines have a filter, however. Some modern machines have self-cleaning pumps, and as a result, the pump doesn't need to be accessible. If your washing machine doesn't have a filter but you are experiencing issues, check the manufacturer's guide that came with the machine.

What fungus eats microplastics? ›

The Marvellous Plastic-eating Mushroom

When Yale University students found Pestalotiopsis , in the rainforests of Ecuador in 2011, they discovered the first fungus that not only has a voracious appetite for plastic but can thrive in oxygen-starved environments like landfills. They taste good too.

What bugs eat microplastics? ›

They found that superworm, wax moth, and yellow mealworm larvae could eat polyethylene, with wax moth larvae eating the most per day. Wax moth larvae also consumed the most polystyrene per day, followed by dark mealworm larvae, then yellow mealworm larvae.

Do microplastics stay in body? ›

Therefore, ingested and inhaled microplastics can potentially be trapped and accumulate in different tissues and organs, such as lungs or placenta.

What is the number one source of microplastics? ›

Sources. Most microplastic pollution comes from textiles, tires and city dust which account for over 80% of all microplastic in the environment. The existence of microplastics in the environment is often established through aquatic studies.

What is the highest source of microplastics? ›

According to the researchers, 1.9 million tonnes of paint end up in the oceans and waterways every year, which represents 58% of all the microplastics in the water, and outweighs other sources of microplastics, including textile fibres and tyre dust.

Do microfiber towels release microplastics? ›

Microfibers are the most prevalent type of microplastic (plastic pieces less than 5 mm in diameter) found in the environment. Though we cannot see them, plastic microfibers are all around us.

Do Ziploc bags have microplastics? ›

Are Ziploc Bags Toxic? Research suggests polyethylene is considered safe when used in food packaging and in cosmetics. Polypropylene is also regarded as safe for food packaging. However, in the environment, these plastics can still break into microplastics and cause pollution.

What clothes release microplastics? ›

Microfibres are a type of microplastic released when we wash synthetic clothing – clothing made from plastic such as polyester and acrylic. These fibres detach from our clothes during washing and go into the wastewater.

Does dryer lint have microplastics? ›

Through wear and tear, fabrics shed tiny fibers. That includes the fabric polyester. Since polyester is a type of plastic, its microfibers are microplastics. Scientists had seen microplastic fibers in lint coming from washing machines.

How do you flush everything out of your body? ›

While detox diets have a seductive appeal, your body is fully equipped to handle toxins and other unwanted substances.
  1. Limit alcohol. ...
  2. Focus on sleep. ...
  3. Drink more water. ...
  4. Reduce your intake of sugar and processed foods. ...
  5. Eat antioxidant-rich foods. ...
  6. Eat foods high in prebiotics. ...
  7. Decrease your salt intake. ...
  8. Stay active.
Jun 22, 2022

How long does it take to remove all toxins from body? ›

The detoxification process may vary from one day to weeks depending on the type of detox you choose. Good and adequate sleep allows eliminating toxins that accumulate throughout the day. Eating a diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics keeps your digestive system healthy, and thus helps in proper detoxification.

How long does plastic take to get out of your system? ›

The good news is that eating a piece of plastic won't mean you will have the same fate as the poor animals that mistake plastic for food. According to Lusher, the plastic will leave your system after a day since it's small and your body tries to get rid of anything that can't be dissolved or used effectively.

Do Brita filters remove microplastics? ›

Does my brita remove microplastics? Brita water filter pitchers use Granular Activated Carbon filters to reduce impurities from water, such as chlorine, taste and odor. These filters are inexpensive to manufacture and not specifically designed to remove microplastics or water contaminants like lead.

Can you absorb microplastics through skin? ›

Generally, microplastics and nanoplastics pose potential risks to human health. Evidence from clinical studies indicates that they can enter the human body via ingestion, inhalation and absorption through the skin and accumulate in organs including the placenta (Wright and Kelly 2017; Cox et al.

How do you filter tap water at home? ›

You can filter water at home with a water filter pitcher, an attachment for your faucet, a point-of-use system, a refrigerator filter, or a whole-house filtration system. You can also filter water using a handheld pump, running water through a clean cloth, or purifying water by boiling it for at least 60 seconds.

What is the best water filter to remove hormones? ›

The Royal Berkey Water Filter is one of our best-sellers of the Berkey Water Filtration System. This can be used both inside the home or outdoors. With this gravity water filter, one is assured that his drinking water is free from hormones and other pharmaceutical contamination.

Are laundry sheets better than liquid? ›

Laundry detergent sheets are better for the environment because they reduce the number of plastic jugs in landfills and contain less toxic ingredients. Because detergent sheets are lighter weight, transport pollution can be reduced by 94%. Additionally, these sheets come in a cardboard box that can be recycled.

Is liquid detergent better than pods? ›

Jennifer Ahoni, principal scientist at Tide, takes that one step further and says pods not only perform better because they are measured correctly, but also because they have more concentrated cleaning ingredients.

Are washing machine pods bad? ›

Detergent pods may contribute to plastic pollution

It focused on the deleterious environmental effects of their outer shell. Consisting of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), the coating actually turns into a plastic solution when exposed to water. It may not be completely biodegradable, as has been claimed by the industry.

Why are detergent pods not recommended? ›

In wastewater, this plastic film has the potential to absorb dangerous chemicals or contaminants, antibiotics, or heavy metals at high concentrations and then work their way up the food chain. Clean-water advocates say what's most concerning is that consumers don't even realize laundry pods contain plastic.

What everyday products release microplastics? ›

Suvi Haimi, CEO and Co-founder at Sulapac, a material innovation company with the mission to save the world from plastic waste.
  • Here are six other surprising everyday things that contain and release microplastics.
  • ❶ Nail polish.
  • ❷ Acrylic paint.
  • ❸ Gum.
  • ❹ Water bottles.
  • ❺ Toys – for babies and pets.
  • ❻ Cutting boards.
Oct 20, 2022

How do you know if soap has microplastics? ›

You can check for yourself if a product uses microbeads if the label includes these ingredients: Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon (PA).

Do eggs have microplastics? ›

Highlights. Microplastics are detected in eggs and confirmed by multiple methods. Nile red staining can help to detect microplastics more quickly and accurately. The existence of microplastics in eggs also needs people's attention.

What fruit has microplastics? ›

Apples were the most contaminated fruit, and carrots had the highest levels of microplastics among the sampled vegetables.

Does canned tuna have microplastics? ›

LONDON – Scientists found microplastics from polyester, polystyrene and nylon in all 32 samples of canned tuna analysed. A study team used fluorescence and micro-FTIR spectrometry to analyse the content of 32 cans of tuna, 16 in brine and 16 in oil.

How do you clean the plastic body of a washing machine? ›

Pour a quart of white vinegar into the wash drum with a cup of baking soda. Use a stiff nylon brush and vinegar to scrub the interior of the wash drum. At the hottest temperature setting, run a wash cycle with this cleaning solution in an empty washer; select the heavy-duty wash cycle if available.

What dissolves microplastics? ›

Microplastics dissolve at the sea surface due to sunlight-driven photochemistry. Dissolved organic carbon is produced as microplastics photo-dissolve in sunlight.

Where do you put baking soda in a washing machine? ›

For Extra-Clean Clothes

“It will help lift dirt and grime from clothing,” says Reichert. Don't put baking soda in your washer's detergent dispenser, however. Instead, sprinkle it into the empty drum of your washer, then add clothes and whatever detergent and fabric softeners you'd normally use.

Is it safe to use vinegar in washing machine? ›

Using vinegar in laundry will whiten, brighten, reduce odors, and soften clothes without harsh chemicals. Vinegar is inexpensive, and it's safe to use in both standard and high-efficiency washers. When buying vinegar for laundry, choose distilled white vinegar.

Is bleach or vinegar better to clean washing machine? ›

The results will be exactly the same, however white vinegar is most definitely the more environmentally option (and it's more affordable too). Just remember to never mix the both bleach and vinegar together or even use them at the same time, as this can cause a dangerous reaction and release chlorine gas.

What is a liquid that removes microplastics from water? ›

Ferrofluid was first synthesized and dispersed in various oil solutions such as vegetable oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil and canola oil.

Do Tide Pods leave microplastics? ›

Detergent pods and laundry sheets are made from a plastic called PVA/PVOH (polyvinyl alcohol) and release microplastics in the water.

Do all laundry sheets have microplastics? ›

Yes. Laundry and dishwasher pods and sheets are made with or wrapped in petroleum-based plastic called polyvinyl alcohol, also referred to as PVA or PVOH.

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