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Study finds laundry lint causing damage to marine life

Wednesday, October 7th 2020, 4:06 pm - According to the paper, small fibres -- or microfibres -- created during the laundry cycle can damage the gills, liver, and DNA of marine species.

You've probably heard of microplastics -- plastic particles that are less than 5 mm in diameter. They form when products break down in the environment and we're just beginning to understand the negative impact they have on humans, animals, and the environment.

Studies suggest there is a sizeable amount of microplastics floating in the ocean, in addition to standard-sized trash.

Now, a new study draws attention to a lesser-known source of plastic waste that's found its way into our waterways: laundry lint.

According to the paper, small fibres -- or microfibres -- created during the laundry cycle can damage the gills, liver, and DNA of marine species. Researchers still aren't sure why the chemicals are so damaging, but the fibres themselves and the chemicals within them -- like polyester-based plastics, antimony, flame retardants, and dyes -- may play a role.

Laundry lint isn't the only source of microfibres in waterways, according to senior author Dr. Andrew Turner, Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth.

"Fibres from fishing activities and equipment are the other major source," he tells The Weather Network in an email.

"The impacts on wildlife are still unclear, but potentially anything large enough to take in microfibres could be at risk."

Like microplastics, microfibres are tiny particles less than 5 mm in length, and are more likely to be concentrated near sources like wastewater effluents, Dr. Turner says.

According to the European Outdoor Group (EOG), a microfibre is defined as small fibres shed from textiles during production, consumer use, or when discarded.


All textiles products shed microfibres, according to the microfibre consortium. Common sources, according to Dr. Turner and the EOG, include:

  • Laundering clothes
  • Fishing equipment
  • Industrial textiles like carpets
  • Home textiles, such as bedding, furniture, window treatments, and towels
  • Automotive textiles
  • Geotextiles and tarps used for gardening and in agriculture


There are ways to reduce the impact of microfibres at the consumer level.

"One means would be to wear clothing constructed of natural fibres," Dr. Turner says.

"There have been suggestions that installing filtration devices on washing machine effluents could help."

Other tips, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition include:

  • Washing synthetic clothes less frequently and for shorter wash cycles.
  • Switching to a laundry liquid soap, as powders can release more microfibres.
  • Using a colder wash setting when doing laundry.
  • Always place laundry lint in the trash, rather than rinsing it down the drain.

Thumbnail image courtesy Courtesy: Emiliano Arano.

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