CALIFORNIA – One of the most comprehensive studies of its kind has found that textiles shed between 31,000 and 3,500,000 fibres per load during normal laundering in household washing machines. Several outdoor clothing manufacturers contributed fabric samples to measure the impact of laundering on microfibre shedding for the groundbreaking research. The researchers found that not all textiles shed equally, with fluffy textiles such as fleece, as well as textiles made of spun staple yarns and textiles pre-treated with brushing being the highest-shedding types. The researchers hope the findings will be important for designing new fabrics that perform well but release less microfibre pollution.
“Some fabrics shed a large amount during the very first wash, and then shed little,” said the researchers, led by US outdoor brand Patagonia. “This suggests that a pre-treatment during manufacturing may be able to capture and recycle what would otherwise go down consumers’ drains.”
Together with industry partners, Patagonia commissioned Ocean Wise’s Plastic Lab to investigate microfibres, the tiny textile particles that shed from garments over their lifetime, and these findings represent the end of the first phase of the project. Patagonia, Arc’teryx, REI, MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op), and Metro Vancouver are all contributing to the project.
Stephen Chastain, research technician at the Plastics Lab for Ocean Wise said: “Thousands to millions of microfibres are shed from garments every time they are washed in a typical washing machine. The goal of phase 1 of the research was to determine which characteristics of the fabrics used in outdoor apparel are affecting the shedding rate of microfibres when washing clothes at home. To test this, we used washing machines and a filtration system to collect the microfibres released during a normal washing cycle. The microfibres lost by each textile were collected, filtered and dried. The lint accumulated on the filters was weighed and examined with a microscope to evaluate the mass and number of microfibres shed by the different textiles.
“Another goal of phase 1 was to determine what happens to different types of microfibres as they weather and decompose in the environment. For this experiment, our lab team exposed fabric samples contributed by the partners to atmospheric and oceanic conditions at the Pacific Science Enterprise Centre in West Vancouver, British Columbia for a full year. Some samples were collected during this time to carefully track the physical and chemical changes in the materials over time.
“The data from both the laundry study and the weathering study was used to create a reference library of spectra and shedding catalog for the most common textiles used in outdoor apparel. This will be a valuable resource for future research into microfibres in the environment, allowing Ocean Wise researchers to reliably identify microscopic textile fibres and help trace pollution back to its source.”