We know that microfiber and microplastic are a problem, and it’s upsetting when we see tiny bits of colors in our laundry water or our surroundings. When we try to collect them all, it’s more frustrating because there’s too many minuscule plastic bits to hold.
Measuring less than 5 millimeters in length, microplastics are almost everywhere on earth, including ocean depths and Antarctic ice cores.
Humanity has relied on plastics for decades. And thanks to technological development, we can wear clothes made from synthetic fibers now.
Now, there’s no denying that we can reap some benefits from plastics. But the downside is that the bigger plastics can break into smaller fragments, and as a result, the synthetic fibers shed microplastics–the problem.
There are actually a few products with claims to keep microplastics out of wastewater when you wash your clothes.
In terms of effectiveness, they won’t solve the global and huge-scale pollution of these tiny plastics. But, they’re good to raise awareness and help reducing microfiber from our wastewater.
And, there are reports which have compared the effectiveness of some filters. The conclusions suggest that results vary based on a lot of factors, like the model of the washing machines, fabric type, detergent, and how one uses the filters.
Laundry filters dilemma
So far, we have two popular types of filters that we can buy to reduce microfiber sheddinjjjg during laundry. The first one is an external we add to the washing machine’s water outflow so it can catch fibers before they enter municipal wastewater.
The second is the one we toss in the tub with our clothes, like laundry balls or laundry bags with miniature gaps that catch microfibers as we’re washing.
Despite these facts, it’s actually unknown if they really help or not. In fact, it tends to weigh on the negative side. Some studies show that both filters have varying results. The filters need periodic cleaning to remove the microfibers that gunk up,
When the filters are full, we must throw the build-up microplastic bits in the trash, not wash them down so they don’t end up in our wastewater.
But you know where this is going, right? Any microfiber gunks thrown away in the trash may just end up in landfills because they’re currently non-recyclable. And when they pile up in the landfills, they’ll eventually go back to the environment in many ways.
Now, even though there’s no panacea for this pollution just yet, and it seems like the solutions are unfavorable, there are things that we individuals can do to reduce it when doing the laundry.
We should also remember that currently, there’s no standardized methods or metrics to compare devices or contraptions with claims of reducing microfibers/plastics.
Therefore, even though there are some tips and suggestions below, feel free to pick the one that’s applicable to your own households and the one you trust the most.
Microfiber filters that we need to attach
These filters require installation outside our washing machines. Depending on the filter and the type of clothes that we wash, we need to empty the build-up fibers every two to the loads.
Compared to laundry bags or balls, we don’t need to adjust how we do the laundry. But, the filters are rater not space-friendly—they’re bulky and we must have enough room for the filters.
For example, a filter brand called Filtrol which costs $140, is 15 inches tall and 9 inches wide (38 x 22.9 cm) and should be installed with 1 to 2 feet of clearance above the filter.
Another brand called LUV-R costs $180 with similar size, around 13 inches tall and 10 inches wide., needs 16 to 18 inches of top clearance.
When we use it correctly, LUV-R has been shown in tests to reduce microfibers. But again, since there’s no current standards to compare the filters, we don’t definitively know how effective LUV-R is, or all the external filters are.
There’s actually another filter that’s cheaper than the two, at $45, called The Girlfriend Collective Microfiber Filter. However, the price doesn’t include eight additional parts we have to purchase on our own.
Basically, the external filters are pricier upfront, not that space-friendly, and some brands can be less hassle-free than others.
Special laundry bags
For people with limited space, don’t have a washing machine, on a tight budget, or people who rent, external filters may not be doable. Therefore, the other type of filter may be a better option.
Like mentioned above, the choices are laundry balls or bags. They both cost less upfront than the external kinds, but they may be more costly long-term. Based on the brands, each item can cost between $20 to $40, and we may need more than one of these filters.
There are some cheap ones that you can find online, but I personally doubt that they’ll do the job well. It’s best to find out about the brands or shops first before purchasing them.
One of the most well-known special laundry bag brands is Guppyfriend. Measuring about 29 by 20 inches (73 x 51 cm), Guppyfriend laundry bags are made from woven monofilament, a single polyamide filament, similar to fishing line.
Therefore, the bags themselves, although made from a type of plastic, won’t disintegrate into yet other fibers like yarns. The material feels smooth, almost slippery like windbreakers.
Each bag costs $35. It may seem a tad pricier than the ones we can find online these days, but the brand has been around since 2017 and it appears to have been well-tested and researched than its competitors.
For instance, University of Plymouth has tested the brand in a study in 2020. The researchers found that Guppyfriend reduced microfibers by 54%.
But again, such reduction won’t be the same in each household because it depends on a lot of things like machine variables, type and quantity of laundry, and detergent.
Speaking of detergent, there’s a new development done by Inditex and BASF Home Care and I&I Solutions Europe. They’ve just announced and released a detergent designed to reduce microfiber from textiles during washing.
According to the brands, this innovative product could reduce microplastics from washing machines by up to 80% depending on fabric type and washing conditions. The effectiveness was tested by several research institutions, they claim.
The detergent contains ingredients that were tested in the labs using different textiles and washing conditions. Lab results show that the detergent is suitable for washing at low temperatures.
Consumers can therefore lower their energy consumption and consequently reduce their carbon footprint. In turn, colors stay bright for longer, giving more lifespan to the textiles and reduce fabric waste.
If you’re interested, you can get the detergent at Zara Home stores and online platforms in more than 25 markets, including Spain, Germany and most of the European markets.
Another exciting fact from this innovation is that the solution or technology of this detergent can be used by other detergent manufacturers.
Imagine if we combine this detergent with the filters above. Things are looking up in regards to microplastic/fiber pollution.
Practical things to do
Now, depending on your situation, getting filters or special detergents may not be an option. But what can you do if you still care about the environment, and you want to reduce microplastic/fiber the best way you can for now?
You can start doing laundry less often, and when you do, reduce the volume of water in proportion to fabric. Other than saving water, it’ll also cause less microfiber shedding.
So, wash full loads when you can and avoid delicate settings because such settings use more water but less agitation.
I know it may sound rather gross because you’d pile up your unwashed clothes, but hey, it’s better than letting microfibers run loose in our wastewater, isn’t it?
Some experts also suggest using front-loading washing machines. Compared to the top-loading models, the front-loading ones cause less shedding.
Impacts from one person may be insignificant to the global problem, but together, we’ll be able to improve this issue.