Washing machine microplastic is a fixable problem. Take a look at the labels on your clothing. They are likely made from synthetic (man-made) fibres such as polyester or nylon. These materials are a major contributor to the global plastic problem, as almost 92% of microplastic pollution found in near-surface seawater samples from across the Arctic Ocean comprises synthetic fibres. And 73% of those fibres resemble those used in clothing and textiles.
How do these fibres get there? They come from washing your clothes. Most Washing machine microplastic from clothing and textiles are released the first few times the clothing is washed. High levels of washing machine microplastic come from fast fashion as these garments account for a high share of first washes as they are used for only a short time and tend to wear out quickly because of their low quality. The Washing machine microplastic does not stay in the washing machines. They are actually discharged with the machine’s wastewater. Once the water reaches the treatment plants, large shares of microplastics can be filtered out, but not all.
Studies have shown that long washes and using high temperatures will damage the fabric structure and release more washing machine microplastic and microfibers. Washing powder versus a liquid detergent will result in more fabric shedding due to the abrasiveness of the power. In contrast, fabric softeners will have low microfibre shedding as it reduces friction and fibre damage during washing.
Washing Machine Microplastic Laws
Recently in California, the State Assembly held a hearing on Assembly Bill 1628, which would require new washing machines to include devices that can trap washing machine microplastic particles down to 100 micrometres by 2029. France has already approved that requirement, making it official in 2025. Patagonia and Samsung have also announced a washing machine model that can cut microplastic emissions by up to 54%.
Commercially available filters like the PlanetCare, Lint LUV-R and Filtrol are currently available to strain the grey water through an ultra-fine mesh that collects the microplastics and can be disposed of after each wash.
Companies are also looking at ways to reduce the use of microfibres before they make it into washing machines. Intrinsic Advanced Materials, based in California, sells a pre-treatment that can be added to fabrics during manufacturing, which helps washing machine microplastic like polyester and nylon biodegrade in seawater. Keracol develops natural dyes out of fruit waste which can break down more quickly in nature than synthetic ones. Researchers from the University of Toronto have also created a coating that makes nylon fabric more slippery in the wash, reducing friction and reducing microfiber emissions by 90% after nine washes.
While the ultimate solution to our washing machine microplastic problem would be to stop using synthetic fibres and making clothing out of natural fibres, we may still be ways away from that. As long as fast fashion, cheaply made and mass-produced clothing and textiles still exist, we might have to find different strategies to minimize the amount of synthetic fibres that end up in the oceans. Specially designed washing machines, filtres and coatings can potentially reduce our impact, and they are initial solutions that can be modified over time.