Importance of Water-Volume on the Release of Microplastic Fibers from Laundry

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The influence of laundry washing parameters on the release of microfibers (MF) from polyester textiles was studied. These fibers are an important type of microplastic pollution. However, the factors which affect MF release during laundry are poorly understood and more rigorous methods for quantifying this release are needed. A novel method was therefore developed using a tergotometer with eight 1000 mL washing vessels and the CIELab color space measure of lightness (L*). L* was related to the mass of released MFs by creating a calibration curve to quantify the amounts of MFs released from textiles during washing. This method was used to investigate the effect of water-volume, agitation, temperature, and duration of the wash on MF release. Counterintuitively, increased water-volume, characteristic of European “delicate” cycles, resulted in the greatest release of MFs. Full-scale testing was then carried out using domestic washing machines with real consumer cycles to determine the effect of cycle type on MF release. In the first wash, delicate wash cycles released 800 000 more MFs (94 mg/kg) per wash than a lower water-volume standard wash and also increased MF release in subsequent washing cycles (P < 0.05). These results indicate that a high water-volume-to-fabric ratio is the most influential factor for MF release, rather than agitation as previously thought. Therefore, consumers can reduce MF release by avoiding high water-volume washes (delicate cycles), transitioning to appliances that use a lower water-volume (North American high-efficiency washing machines), and ensuring that full wash loads are used.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11735-11744
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number20
Early online date29 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019

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