VICIOUS CYCLE: Delicate wash releases more plastic microfibres.

21. September 2019 | Waste, Plastics | via


Newcastle University student Max Kelly, 24, holds up washing machine filters with microfibres collected following a delicate wash (L) and a normal cycle. (Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA)

Delicate wash cycles should be avoided whenever possible, according to scientists who found they can release hundreds of thousands more plastic microfibres into the environment than standard wash cycles.

According to an article on, researchers at Newcastle University ran tests with full-scale machines to show that a delicate wash, which uses up to twice as much water as a standard cycle, releases on average 800,000 more microfibres than less water-hungry cycles.

“Our findings were a surprise,” said Prof Grant Burgess, a marine microbiologist who led the research. “You would expect delicate washes to protect clothes and lead to less microfibres being released, but our careful studies showed that in fact it was the opposite.”

“If you wash your clothes on a delicate wash cycle the clothes release far more plastic fibres. These are microplastics, made from polyester. They are not biodegradable and can build up in our environment.”

The finding challenges the assumption that more aggressive washing cycles, which use less water, change direction more frequently and spin at higher speeds, release more fibres into wastewater. Instead, the volume of water used per wash appears to be the most important factor in dislodging fibres from clothing, the study found.

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