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30 Steps: In the Home

Step 15 : Washing your clothes

The Problem: microfibres, water use, high energy use
The Solution: microfibre filter, low temperatures, less often
  • When washing synthetic clothes, microfibres are shed and go down the drain, entering our watercourses and eventually oceans. With every item of clothing, about 1 million tiny plastic fibres are released but this is altered by many factors. Long, hot washes are worse than medium and using washing powder is much worse than using a liquid detergent, or better, none at all. These microplastics contribute significantly to the amount of marine pollution, being the major source of primary microplastics in our oceans. There, they are found in almost every marine organism, even those at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and carry toxins into their tissue. The microplastics are biomagnified as they work their way up the foodchain, meaning they accumulate in higher and higher levels until they reach the top predators, such as turtles, seabirds and dolphins. Chemicals coating and within the particles cause effects such as infertility in these organisms. When we eat fish, and especially shellfish, we are also ingesting these microfibres, that could have originated from your polyester shirt.
  • Using a filter bag such as a Guppyfriend for your synthetics will catch the microfibres and you can then empty them into your bin. There are also devices such as Cora balls which can be inserted into the washing machine and catch the fibres released. Always read the labels on your clothes before washing to check if they contain synthetics. Anything beginning with ‘poly’ or materials such as nylon are types of plastics.
  • There are many natural and environmentally friendly detergents and washing liquids available. Refills can often be obtained from zero waste shops, health food stores and even some supermarkets. Alternatively, water soluble sachets can be found online and there are many more natural options, such as soapnuts, horse chestnuts or even ivy in a sock!
  • Only washing a full load of laundry, say once a week, will decrease your energy use, as will washing on colder temperatures for shorter periods of time.
  • Dry your clothes naturally instead of using a tumble dryer

Initial cost


Lifetime savings


Environmental benefits


Health benefits