Tumble-drying clothes produces microfibre pollution, but this is almost halved by using a tumble dryer sheet and an anti-wrinkle fabric conditioner
6 April 2022
Tumble-drying clothes releases as many microfibres into the air as washing them does, but switching up your fabric conditioner and using a dryer sheet could drastically cut this.
Microfibres are tiny strand-like particles that detach from our clothes, particularly during washing and drying. They can end up in the air, soil and water and they are potentially harmful to humans and wildlife.
Neil Lant at consumer goods company Procter & Gamble and his colleagues tested the different factors that may affect microfibre release as a result of tumble-drying. They washed loads of laundry containing 10 cotton and 10 polyester T-shirts using various brands of detergents, fabric conditioners and dryer sheets that are popular in Europe and North America. Then they dried these clothes in vented tumble dryers, which expel moist warm air to the outside air through a pipe, and measured the amount of microfibres that were released.
They found that using ordinary fabric conditioners reduced microfibre emissions by a maximum of 22 per cent, depending on the product and dosage, but anti-wrinkle fabric conditioners cut them by up to 36 per cent.
Fabric conditioners help the fibres stick together, making them more likely to be caught in the dryer’s lint filter, says Lant. Anti-wrinkle conditioners smooth out creases in the clothes, which reduces friction between them, leading to less microfibre release.
Using tumble dryer sheets, which collect fibres, cut microfibre release by up to 35 per cent. Using an anti-wrinkle fabric conditioner and a tumble dryer sheet together reduced microfibre emissions by 45 per cent. Reducing the size of the pores on the lint filter also helped to cut the emission of fibres.
While these products can reduce microfibre pollution in the short term, tumble dryer manufacturers need to design better filtration systems, says Lant. It would also be better to move away from vented tumble dryers and towards condensed tumble dryers, which don’t release microfibres into the environment, he says.
“There will be a lot of technologies that we can put in tumble dryers that would help to prevent the release of microfibres,” says team member Kelly Sheridan at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK. “But nothing is going to help as much as stopping fibre release from clothing in the first place, and further research will help us to understand how.”
“This is indeed a very comprehensive study, further confirming our observation that tumble dryers can release microfibres into the atmosphere,” says Kenneth Mei-yee Leung at City University of Hong Kong. The researchers collected microfibres using a net with 0.2 millimetre holes, so microfibres smaller than this wouldn’t have been counted in the study, he says. “Their method likely leads to an underestimation of the total amount of microplastics being released into the air.”
Journal reference: PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0265912
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