Smart Wash Cycle Design Can Reduce Microfiber Shedding

Basket, plant, and soap dispenser on shelf above washing machine and laundry basket
Image credit: Pexels/Rachel Claire

Microfibers, small bits of fibers similar to those found in our clothes, are a type of microplastic found to be pervasive in even the most pristine environments, including the Arctic Ocean. With recent studies finding microplastics in human blood and even breastmilk there is a growing movement for new solutions that can stop their leak into the environment. 

Ocean Wise – in partnership with Samsung and Patagonia – has published a new report titled Smart Laundry Wash Design Can Reduce Microfiber Shedding which builds on this research by examining the impact wash cycles can have on microfiber shedding. The findings from this research are conclusive: low intensity wash conditions – generally described as ‘gentle’ cycles – can reduce microfiber shedding by approximately 70%. 

For this study the Ocean Wise Plastics Lab, a state-of-the-art research laboratory located in Vancouver, BC, tested 21 different wash conditions with 10 different washing machinesUsing a methodology based on peer-reviewed scientific studies, Ocean Wise’s team of research scientists conducted over one hundred washes using loads of polyester jerseys representing the weight of a typical laundry load.  The tests were conducted in collaboration with Samsung, who provided the washing machines as well as input on testing conditions. 

The study’s findings show that there is significant opportunity for washing machine manufacturers to play a leading role in addressing growing global concerns around microplastic pollution as well as identifying several key questions for further research. 

Based on the results of this study, Samsung is applying a low shedding wash condition to the newly launched Bespoke AI washing machines. They are now available in the European region, though Samsung plans to gradually expand the launch of the washing machine with the new wash cycle to the global market. This newly designed wash condition has an average shed rate that is 54% lower compared to the baseline. 

“It’s our hope that more manufacturers join Samsung in creating an ocean friendly wash cycle that can help to reduce microfiber shedding,” says Charlie Cox, Ocean Wise’s Microplastics Solutions Manager. “A clearly labelled low microfiber cycle on all washing machines can help us achieve the drastic reduction in microfiber shedding that the oceans desperately need.” 

Ocean Wise is hoping that this report will encourage more industry players to join Samsung and Patagonia and investigate:  

  1. Which specific part of the wash cycle contributes most to microfiber shedding and can this be adapted or replaced, to reduce shedding? 
  2. What is the microscopic mechanism of microfiber shedding in home laundry, and how is it affected by material and wash cycle design?  
  3. How can wash conditions be designed to minimize the range of environmental impacts, including microfiber shedding as well as water usage, energy efficiency and so on? 
  4. What is the extent of microfiber shedding during tumble drying? How important respectively are air and water transport for textile microfibers? 

The study also shows that everyone has an opportunity to become informed and take simple actions to help stop the leak of microfibers into the ocean. In addition to washing gently whenever possible everyone can reduce their microfiber footprint by buying new clothes only when needed, washing only when needed, washing on cold, and using a front-loading washer.

Source: Ocean Wise news release

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