Washing Advice with regards to Microfibres

What are microfibres?

The term ‘microfibre’ is currently used to describe fibres that are shed from clothing during production, consumer use, or end of life, and end up as pollution in the environment. Microfibres can originate from all textiles and therefore can be comprised of both synthetic (plastic) and natural (cellulose/protein) materials. However, synthetic microfibres are also a subset of microplastics (plastic particles less than 5mm in size) which can originate from many sources and so much of the conversation around microfibres assumes them to only be plastic in nature. While there is no standard threshold for the size of microfibres, they are often defined as any fibres less than 5 mm. It is important to avoid confusion around the term “microfibre,” which has historically been used to describe synthetic fibres finer than one denier or decitex/thread, having a diameter of less than ten micrometres, and a type of fabric made from these fibres, commonly used as cleaning cloths, but also seen in other applications.

Isn’t this just an issue with synthetic fabrics and fibres, like polyester fleece?

No. ALL fabrics and fibres shed, whether natural or synthetic.

  • Synthetic fibre shedding occurs not only with polyester, but also with nylon, acrylic, etc.
  • Natural fibre shedding occurs as well – with fabrics like cotton, rayon, viscose, and wool.
  • Blended fabrics are extremely commonplace (i.e. cotton/polyester blends.)
  • In addition to the fibre itself, fabrics of any type, natural or synthetic, often include chemical coatings and finishes, which are then transported with the microfibres when. they shed where they can also cause problems in the environment.

What is the problem with microfibres? 

The concern with microfibres is around their potential impacts to human health, to marine life, and to the environment. Research does not yet exist to confirm these potential impacts, though a number of projects are currently in progress that will hopefully provide this crucial data.

All textile products and apparel shed microfibres (not just outdoor apparel):

  • Fashion apparel
  •  Sport/outdoor apparel
  • Industrial textiles, such as carpets
  • Home textiles, such as bedding, furniture, window treatments, towels
  • Automotive textiles
  • Geotextiles
  • Personal care products 

Shedding can occur during, and be influenced by, all phases of the product life cycle, including the manufacturing process of products as well as in the consumer use, care, and disposal phases. This infographic illustrates the multiple factors that can affect shedding.

Textile process

What do we know now about the choices consumers can make to help reduce the impacts of microfibre shedding?

Until standardised test methods are in place, there is no way to determine which fabrics or fibres are “better” or “worse” in terms of shed rates. Until that time, consumers are encouraged to do the following:

  • Wash your clothes and home textiles less.
  • Wash clothing in cold water and use a lower spin cycle.
  • Utilise front-load washing machines where possible.
  • Line-dry instead of using a mechanical dryer.
  • Invest in a microfibre catch product; some examples are listed below.

     Guppy Friend

     Cora Ball

     Lint LuvR

     Planet care filter

Important note: these are NOT ultimate solutions, as the fibres caught go into your bin, then into the landfill and potentially into groundwater or the air from there. However, they are helpful tools to begin to understand the microfibres you and your household may be producing.