Hand Washing Can Significantly Reduce the Amount of Microplastic Fibers Shed When Compared to Machine Washing

Microplastics have been found in the ocean food chain, from tiny plankton to massive whales. Fibers shed while laundering synthetic fabrics are a major source of this pollution.

Although many studies have shown that microfibers are released during machine washing, it is unclear how hand washing contributes.

Plastic fibers coming out of fabrics

(Photo : Ekaterina Grosheva/Unsplash)

When plastic fiber clothing, such as polyester and nylon, is washed, the fabric sheds microscopic fibers that end up in wastewater and the environment, as per ScienceDaily.

Although researchers have studied the amount and types of microplastic fibers shed while laundering clothing, the majority of studies have focused on washing machines.

However, manual washing of clothing is still common in many countries.

A previous study on the effects of hand-washing fabric was published, but it was not comprehensive.

Chunhui Wang, Hongting Zhao, Baoshan Xing from Hangzhou Dianzi University, College of Materials and Environmental Engineering wanted to systematically investigate microplastic fiber release from synthetic textiles using various hand washing methods as opposed to machine washing.

The team used hand washing methods and a washing machine to clean two types of fabric swatches: 100% polyester and a 95% polyester-5% spandex blend.

The researchers discovered the following:

Manual methods yielded significantly fewer fibers. For example, the 100% polyester fabric shed an average of 1,853 microplastic pieces when hand washed, compared to an average of 23,723 pieces when machine washed.

Machine laundering produced more microplastics by weight than the traditional method.

Hand washing produced fibers that were longer in length.

Using manual methods, such as adding detergent, pre-soaking the fabrics, and using a washboard increased the number of released fibers, but not to the same extent as using a machine.

Temperature, detergent type, wash time, and amount of water used, on the other hand, had no discernible effect on the number of microplastics shed while hand washing.

According to the researchers, these findings will help clarify the sources of microplastic pollution in the environment and provide guidance for “greener” laundry methods.

Also Read: Microplastics Found in 75% of Fish Meant for Human Consumption: Is It Still Healthy to Eat Seafood?

Is it more environmentally friendly to wash your clothes by hand?

Water treatment plants consume a huge amount of energy.

They also use chemicals like chlorine, which, while necessary for the cleaning process, can have negative effects once released into the environment, as per Norfolk Natural Living.

Modern water treatment facilities do an excellent job of protecting the environment, but because they consume so much energy, we must waste as little water as possible in our daily lives.

When you consider the amount of detergent required for each wash, the above comparison becomes even more powerful.

Most laundry detergents recommend a certain amount of liquid for each wash (which is then obviously diluted in the cleaning process).

Because hand washing uses so much less water, you can use a smaller dosage of detergent. This reduces the amount of waste packaging as well as the number of chemicals released into the environment.

Using environmentally friendly laundry detergent will also help you reduce your environmental impact.

A typical family does 400 loads of laundry or more in a washing machine per year, resulting in an annual water consumption of nearly 14,000 gallons, as per Slow Foraged Home.

Your clothes dryer is the second component. If you use your washer and dryer, you can expect to pay around $400 in power per year at current unit prices.

To remove dirt and filth from garments, washing machines agitate the clothing and rub it against one another in the drum.

Your commercial washing detergent aims to break down the bonds that hold any impurities onto the fibers of a garment, making it easier to remove the soil.

Because your clothing is being agitated, there is a chance that the fibers will rip. Although you would never see them with your own eyes, these microscopic tears will weaken the fabric over time.

Have you ever had mysterious holes in your clothing and wondered how they got there? Your washing machine most likely contributed to the damage.

As a result, handwashing your garments is clearly preferable to using a washing machine to clean them.

Related article: 4 Million Pounds of Microplastics Found in Corals, Causing Tissue Necrosis in Fishes

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