So that’s what comes out in the wash

Scientists have used science to determine how best to use our washing machines.

It’s not just about helping clothes last longer – valuable as that information may be. They wanted to see if cycle choice affects how many microfibres break free and inevitably find their way into the ocean.

A team from the University of Leeds, UK, working with washing machine manufacturers, found that washing for a shorter time in cooler water can reduce the number of microfibres released by up to a half, while also cutting dye release by as much as 74%.

“Synthetic microfibres are released every time textiles are washed and account for more than a third of all plastic reaching the ocean,” says Richard Blackburn, co-author of a paper in the journal Dyes and Pigments

“But microfibres from cotton and other natural sources are found in even greater numbers in the sea, and we’re worried about their impact too.”

Tests were carried out on the garments and fabric squares, and the washing machine water was analysed. Chemical analysis distinguished individual dyes washed out of the clothing, and microfibres were collected and weighed.

The laboratory research was then repeated and validated with authentic loads of dirty laundry provided by the public.

Microfibre release was found to still be significant after 16 washes.

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