Eco-Friendly tips for washing synthetics

Photo by chrissie kremer on Unsplash
Photo by chrissie kremer on Unsplash

Don't know what a microfiber is or where they come from? Please read THIS page to learn all about microfibers.

Here are 11 easy tips on washing synthetic fabrics in a more eco-friendly way.

1. Wash less. Air out your clothes and wash out stains by hand to avoid unnecessary laundering. Who doesn't love doing less laundry! Read on if your clothes reek or are covered in stains and a wash is necessary.

2. Wash in colder water. In the vast majority of cases 30°C/86°F is sufficient. Water in combination with heat weakens the yarn, which leads to more microfiber shedding. In addition, 90% of of the energy used during washing comes from heating up the water. Even switching from 40°C/104°F to 30°C/86°F can result in an average 40% reduction in your electricity usage per load. So save some energy and reduce microfibers by washing in cooler water.

3. Reduce the washer's rotation speed (also called spin cycle). A lot of friction happens during the spin cycle, and friction causes shedding. The spin cycle is used to remove excess water from your clothes. Since clothes made of synthetics dry quickly, try reducing your RPMs (rotations per minute) or skip the spin cycle all together.

4. Wash full loads. Full loads reduce the banging around which causes friction and more microfibers. You'll also save water, energy and money by washing a full load. Keep in mind a full load does not mean stuff it until you can barely shut the door. Most front loaders work best if the drum is 3/4 full.

5. Do not wash solid or hard surfaced items with your synthetics. Solid objects banging into synthetics during the wash will cause fibers to break. Avoid items such as shoes and shin guards. Also, using washing balls and soap nuts – even though used with good intentions – result in more breakage. Now I'm not saying don't use soap nuts, I'm only stating that they can increase fiber breakage. Soap nuts are great and there are many benefits to using them (if you're not familiar with them, check out this). It's really up to you to decide if they are a good option. You should separate out hard surfaces to reduce friction as well. Hard surfaces, like jeans, also increase fiber breakage.

6. Use less detergent. Most people use too much detergent. A full cap of detergent is not needed. Too much detergent can leave a soapy film on your clothes, cause mold in your machine, create too many suds, use more water, and in the end cost you more money. Too many suds makes your machine work harder to try and get rid of them, which increases breakage. So save yourself some money and use less detergent per load. 

7. Choose the "best" detergent. Best is in quotation marks because I think this is up to you to decide. From a microfiber standpoint, liquid is better than powder and soap nuts. Powder contains mineral abrasives which increase friction, and friction leads to more fibers breaking. However, powder comes in recyclable boxes and can be bought in bulk whereas liquid comes in plastic. Soap nuts are solids and cause banging, but they are natural and free from chemicals and toxins.  All options (powder, liquid, soap nuts) have their pros and cons. As long as you make an informed decision, you'll choose the option that is best for your household.  I did find this laundry paste that could be a good option.  It turns into a liquid, and you can use your own container. Also, use a detergent that does not contain bleach. Besides being harmful to you, it also slowly degrades fabrics. Here is a list of store bought eco-friendly detergents. 

8. Do not use fabric softener when washing synthetics. Fabric softener coats fabrics with a waxy residue (this residue is what makes the fabric feel soft). The waxy residue prevents water and detergent from properly cleaning the fabric, leaving the fabric feeling dingy. The residue also remains on the fabric, preventing it from breathing and wicking sweat properly. Since the residue prevents the fabric from being cleaned properly, an odor can exist even after it's washed.

9. Wash on shorter cycles. The longer you wash, the more fibers break. Unless your clothes are covered in mud, a shorter cycled will be just fine.

10. Use a filter. The filters on your washing machine or the water treatment facilities do not catch most microfibers. They are just too tiny. But you have a few options to filter microfibers from your wastewater yourself.

a. First up is the GuppyFriend. It is a mesh bag that is designed to keep microfibers inside. Place your synthetic clothing in the bag and then toss the bag into the wash. It reduces shedding by 79% (for partly synthetic blends) up to 86% (for completely synthetic garments).

The Guppyfriend not only prevents microfibers from escaping your washing machine, but it also reduce the fiber breakage in the first place. Putting your synthetics in a bag reduces the amount of banging that happens during the wash. Keep in mind that by reducing the amount of breakage you may not find fibers in your bag after every load. 

The bag is very durable and made to last. It doesn't break down over time, and if you want to throw it away, you can ship it back to them to reuse/recycle it. GuppyFriend was created by a Berlin nonprofit called STOP! MICRO WASTE. They are not just selling a product but are passionate about microfiber pollution and perform tons of research and education on this topic. You can buy the GuppyFriend here, or if you're in the US you can buy it from Patagonia.

guppy friend, catches microfibers in the washing machine
b. Another option is the Cora ball. The Cora Ball is a laundry ball that you toss into your washing machine. Inspired by the way coral filters the ocean, the Cora Ball collects microfibers into fuzz we can see, so we can dispose of them in the right way. According to a paper published out of University of Toronto, the Cora Ball catches 26% of the microfibers per load from washing downstream. They are made in the US and you can find them online or in stores across the world (they have a list on their website listed above). Once you're done with the Cora Ball you can send it back to the company for recycling. If you are wondering if the hard surface of the Cora Ball will increase the creation of microfibers (see tip #5 above), they have designed the ball with that in mind and have addressed it in their FAQs.
Cora Ball, catches microfibers in the washing machine
c. You can also install a filter to your washers discharge hose. A couple options include:
  1. The Filtrol 160 removes as much as 89% of microfibers from your laundry.The Filtrol 160 for Home is a patented, re-usable inline filter that is compatible with all residential washing machines. It attaches directly to your existing washing machine drain hose and removes non-biodegradable synthetic fibers and other debris before they are released into wastewater sources and the environment. The filter must be cleaned every 10-15 washes. They also have a commercial version that can be used at laundromats.  filtrol-set-up.png
  2. The Lint LUV-R Washing Machine Discharge Filter is another option. Similar to the Filtrol 160, you install it outside of the washing machine. According to this study it captures an average of 87% of microfibers. It needs to be cleaned approximately once every 3 weeks (for a family of four). Lint LUV-R filter

d. Finally the XFiltra was unveiled in 2018. It’s installed into the washer during manufacturing, and the target is to remove 99% of microfibers. I can't tell if this product is already in the market or not. I'm also not sure if consumers can buy it and have it installed in existing machines.

xfiltra, microfibers, eco-friendly

11. Don't tumble dry your clothes. The heat and the mechanical forces inside a tumble dryer are also a culprit of micro-plastic pollution. Synthetic clothes dry super fast anyway. And by all means do not wash lint from your dryer down the drain!

Bonus tip #12. If you are on the market for a new washing machine, go with a front loader. Studies show synthetic jackets laundered in top-load washing machines shed approximately seven times as many microfibers as the same jacket in front-load washers. 

In the end, following some or all of the tips listed above will reduce microfibers, save water, save electricity, save you money, and increase the life of your fabrics.