Microfiber Management When Washing Clothes

We’re big on the idea of wear more, wash less. It’s why we lean into some of nature’s best super fibers, like TENCEL Lyocell, organic cotton, and hemp. But inevitably, your clothes’ adventures catch up to them… and it’s time to get them clean.

While laundry day can make us feel good, the byproducts of a freshly washed load can be pretty tough on the environment.

What Are Microfibers?

When clothes are washed they shed microfibers. Clothing made from synthetic materials, like polyester, rayon, nylon, and acrylic, is particularly susceptible. These fine yarns are less than 5 micrometers (for reference, a micrometer is 1,000 times smaller than a millimeter) and break off clothing from friction and turbulence during the wash cycle.

Once loose, microfibers enter our wastewater systems or septic system effluent. Compared to other types of microplastics, they are particularly difficult to filter out of wastewater due to their shape and floating properties. Wastewater filters are usually coarse (6mm or larger), which means loose microfibers often pass through and end up in aquatic ecosystems.

Once in the environment, they are nearly impossible to clean up. Remember, most microfibers come from synthetic materials: they don’t biodegrade. Instead, they enter the food chain as they break into smaller and smaller pieces, leading to bioaccumulation.

Why we should care: An average household in the United States or Canada is estimated to release 553 million plastic fibers from laundry into wastewater every year (source). In septic systems, microfibers’ size could mean they are resistant to settling in the septic tank and may be dispersed into drain fields. Once in the drain field, they could clog soil pores (causing system or drain field maintenance) or be transported to the surface or groundwater aquifers. In either scenario, they may become runoff and re-enter other reservoirs.

Solving the Problem – Nationally and Globally

Microfibers are a big deal and a big problem to solve (but we love a challenge). Scientists estimate that textile production (AKA making clothes) creates 35% of the microplastic pollution in our oceans, which makes textiles the largest known source of marine microplastic pollution.

As of 2023, some legislation in the US and abroad has been passed to mitigate microfibers. France is leading the charge, and by 2025 all new washing machines made in France will have a microfiber filter (this means a projected 2.5 million machines will have one!). Sweden has implemented microfiber filters in newer homes and shared laundry facilities.

In the US, the California state panel approved a plan to reduce ocean plastic waste in February 2022. This plan includes a suggestion to use a wash bag for synthetic garments. The state also has passed a bill that implements a one-year program to tackle microfibers from a top-down approach, including requiring a hangtag on clothing that warns consumers about microfibers (more on this below).

Our Solution

Real talk: we make some of our clothes from recycled synthetic materials, like polyester and nylon (we never use rayon or acrylic – ick!). Recycled materials keeps fibers in circularity (and out of landfills), lowering the clothing’s overall footprint in terms of waste and resources used.

We are also stoked to release our cozy Campo Fleece line this fall, made with 100% recycled polyester fibers (link). Since we know that research shows polyester and polyester fleece as two of the biggest microplastic shedders (more research on that here and here), we are doing our part to give everyone cozy comfort and planet-friendly fuzziness.

Meet the Guppyfriend Washing Bag (link). It’s a master microfiber catcher and one solution to preventing microplastic pollution when washing clothes. The bag is made from a tough, monofilament material that captures any microfibers shed while washing. Simply fill the bag 2/3 full of clothes, close the top, and wash on cold. When you remove your clothes, you'll also want to throw away the microfibers that you've collected with the bag (make sure not to rinse the bag out, as that would defeat the purpose). That's it!

How We Can All Do Our Part

Small changes can make a big impact. Outside of utilizing a microfiber wash bag, like the Guppyfriend (link), here are a few other ways to reduce microfiber release:

  • Small oopsies? Spot clean fleece and other synthetic fabrics
  • If you own your washing machine, consider installing a microfiber filter
  • Looking for a new washing machine? Opt for a front-loading machine. Top Loading machines tend to expel more microfibers than front loading machines
  • Wash full loads, shorter cycles, and use the cold setting for less microfiber loss
  • Consider line drying your clothes (a tension rod and hangers come in handy)
  • Use the ToadAgain program to give Toad clothes a new home

And remember to high-five yourself for caring about Mother Earth. Together, we can make a difference.