How the Plastic in Our Clothes Is Polluting Our Water

plastic in our clothes

Communities in California have been rallying around the issue of plastic pollution, addressing major culprits from plastic bags to straws to water bottles. One huge culprit that hasn’t been addressed yet is the plastic in our clothes — simply by washing them, we’re polluting our water.

How is that possible? About 60 percent of all clothing in recent years has been made from synthetic fabrics — polyester, nylon, and acrylic, to name a few. Unlike clothing made from natural fabrics, such as cotton, these materials are made from plastic fibers that won’t ever fully biodegrade. Instead, they’ll continue to break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic. Over time, this plastic will accumulate in our water, our soil and our bodies.

One load of laundry is estimated to shake loose anywhere from 1,900 to 200,000 plastic microfibers. The microfiber-full water from our laundry machines travels to nearby water treatment plants, where some of these fibers are removed. However, most of them are too small to be filtered out of the water. The rest of the microfibers go on to enter rivers, lakes and oceans.

A recent study showed that over 80 percent of tap water tested positive for plastic fibers. Scientists aren’t completely sure what the health risks of consuming plastic microfibers are. However, studies have shown in zooplankton, microfiber consumption affects growth and reproduction. A similar study on crabs showed that those eating a small amount of microfibers ate less overall and had less energy.

So if we’re tired of drinking our plastic clothes, what can we do about it?

  1. Purchase clothing made from natural fibers whenever possible, and avoid synthetic fabrics.
  2. Wear — and wash — synthetic clothes less frequently.
  3. Use front-loading laundry machines, because they loosen fewer fibers than top-loaders.
  4. Use liquid laundry soap instead of powder soap.
  5. Wash clothes on cold water instead of hot. Hot water is tougher on them, and causes more fibers to loosen.
  6. If you have the means, consider installing a home water filter for microfibers.
  7. Try using a device to collect the fibers in your washing machine, such as a Cora Ball or a Guppyfriend.
  8. Make sure to put dryer lint in the trash — never wash it down the drain.

Still curious? Learn more about how you can reduce the impact of clothing on the environment.