Delicate wash cycles in clothes washers is found to discharge more plastic microfibres than different cycles.

New research driven by Newcastle University has demonstrated that it is the volume of water used during the wash cycle, as opposed to the turning activity of the clothes washer, which is the main factor in the release of plastic microfibres from garments. A large number of plastic microfibres are shed each time we wash garments that contain materials like nylon, polyester and acrylic.

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Since these strands are so little, they channel out of our washing machine and can enter the sea at the end of the journey.

Once in the sea, they are ingested by the creatures living there and 2 years ago Newcastle University scientists announced for the first time that these fibres have now arrived at the deepest place in the sea.

Working with Procter and Gamble in Newcastle, the group estimated the arrival of plastic microfibres from polyester clothes for a scope of cycles and water volumes. Checking the fibres discharged, the group found the higher volume of water the more fidres released. Actually, they found that 800,000 additional fibres were discharged in a fragile wash than a standard cycle.

Photo by Dan Gold / Unsplash

Publishing their findings today in the academic journal Environmental Science and Technology, PhD student Max Kelly, who led the research, explained:

"Counterintuitively, we discovered that 'delicate' cycles release more plastic microfibres into the water, and then the environment, than standard cycles. Previous research has suggested the speed the drum spins at, the number of times it changes spinning direction during a cycle and the length of pauses in the cycle -- all known as the machine agitation -- is the most important factor in the amount of microfibre released. But we have shown here that even at reduced levels of agitation, microfibre release is still greatest with higher water-volume-to-fabric ratios. This is because the high volume of water used in a delicate cycle which is supposed to protect sensitive clothing from damage actually 'plucks' away more fibres from the material."

The volume of water used during a wash cycle, rather than the spinning action of the washing machine, is the main factor in the release of plastic microfibres from clothes.