Are There Microplastics in Your Laundry?

Folded laundry and liquid detergent on a wooden table with washing machine in the background.

Microplastics are everywhere. Plastic pollution is nothing new, but these tiny plastic shards are turning up in water, food, and even animals, and new research indicates laundry is a leading source of microplastic pollution. But how does laundry produce microplastics and what you can do to reduce your environmental impact?


Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic measuring less than 5 millimeters. These plastic pieces are created when large pieces of plastic break apart into smaller and smaller pieces. Microfibers are thread-like microplastics that are naturally shed from synthetic fabrics.

Roughly 60% of the clothing produced is made from synthetic fabric, like polyester, nylon, and acrylic, and every time synthetic fiber takes a spin in a washing machine, microfibers seep into the water.

Wash Cycle

Clothing made from synthetic fabric always sheds microfibers, but the numbers spike when cleaned in a washing machine. One load of laundry can produce millions of microfibers, which enter the wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants can remove up to 99% of microfibers. While that is a high number and an accomplishment, it still works out to a lot of tiny plastic particles being released.

How to Reduce Your Environmental Impact

Plastic is everywhere and a part of our lives. While plastic can be useful, it can harm the environment. You can change how you use and handle plastic to reduce environmental impact.

Avoid Fast Fashion

It’s unreasonable to avoid clothing made from synthetic fibers entirely. Loose knit synthetic fibers shed microplastics more readily, so opt for tightly woven synthetic items when possible. Try to choose items made from sustainable materials, like cotton.

Wash a Full Load

Wait until you have a full load before washing the laundry. A partially full load releases more microfibers because the washer has more space for clothing to spin and tumble. A full load produces fewer microfibers.

Temperature Selection

Synthetic clothing washed in cold water releases less microfibers. Set the dial to cold instead of hot to make a difference.

Air Dry

Dryers also cause synthetic clothing to release microfibers, so whenever possible air dry clothing instead of using the dryer.


Donate clothing in good condition that you no longer want or need and recycle the rest. Recycling clothing keeps items out of landfills and gives those materials a new use and purpose.

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