Clothes washing machine microfibres pollution Werayuth Tes

Stop Ocean Threads

4 minute read

Our clothes are made of millions of tiny fibres, many of which are plastic. With every wash, microfibres shed from our clothes and can end up in the environment. That's why we want to #StopOceanThreads and get filters fitted in washing machines.

Help us to #stopoceanthreads - sign our petition

Add your voice to our petition calling for washing machine manufacturers to fit microfibre filters in all new domestic and commercial machines, by law, by 2023 and retrofitted in commercial machines by 2024.

The problem

Washing synthetic clothes accounts for 35% of primary microplastics found in the environment. An estimated 9.4 trillion fibres are released from washes every week in the UK, so it’s not surprising that billions of them end up in the ocean.

Worryingly, fish eat these fibres, which means they’re heading for our plates. 63% of shrimp in the North Sea contain synthetic fibres! Mussels also ingest them … You wouldn’t eat your shirt, but you would eat some shellfish.

63

%

of shrimp in the North Sea contain synthetic fibres

9.4

trillion

microfibres are released every week from clothes washes in the UK

The solution

Ocean waves foam birdseye view Sergey Bogomyako

Credit: Sergey Bogomyako via Shutterstock

The best way to stop the flow of microfibres to our ocean is to fit filters in washing machines. The filters would be internally fitted in domestic and commercial washing machines and would capture microfibres in the same way lint is caught in tumble driers, catching fibres before they journey into our seas.

Show your support by signing our petition. We're asking UK Governments to bring in legislation that requires washing machine manufacturers to fit microfibre filters in all new domestic and commercial machines, by law, by 2023 and that all commercial machines are retrofitted with microfibre filters by 2024.

In light of the current situation regarding COVID-19, we will not be bringing this petition to government until the timing is appropriate.

Top tips

We all wear clothes! Which means we have the power to stop microfibres getting into the ocean, just by doing some simple things at home.

Label alert:

The worst microplastic shedding culprit is polyester fleece, but nylon and polyester fabric are also high shedders. Microfibres are lost into the environment during the production process as well as by washing and wearing. Choose clothes made from as near to 100% natural items as possible.

Wash your clothes less

Especially items made from synthetic fabrics. Only put them in the wash when they’re dirty. If you’re wearing a top for a few hours or a fleece for a few days, they probably don’t need a wash… just hang them up to air.

Swap from washing powder to liquid

Powders are abrasive and therefore loosen more microfibres compared to a gentler liquid detergent. Use a fabric softener.

Wash at 30 

High temperatures can damage clothes resulting in more microfibre shedding.

Wash a full load

Only wash when the machine is full as less friction between the clothes will result in fewer fibres being shed.

Tumble dry less

Constant tumbling can make clothes more fragile and loosen fibres that will then shed in the next wash.

Buy a bag

Independent research has shown that in-machine filters are the most effective way of reducing microfibre loss, found to be 78% efficient at reducing microfibres in waste water. The research showed that a Guppy Bag reduces “microfibre release to wastewater by around 54%…by reducing microfibre shedding from the clothing during the washing cycle.” Whilst we campaign for filters in washing machines, it’s worth doing your research before you buy in-drum solutions.

Help us to #stopoceanthreads - sign our petition

Add your voice to our petition calling for washing machine manufacturers to fit microfibre filters in all new domestic and commercial machines, by law, by 2023 and retrofitted in commercial machines by 2024.

FAQs

Are you saying I shouldn’t wash my clothes?

We need to wash our clothes! Take a look at our Top tips for advice on how to care for your clothes and reduce microfibre shedding at the same time – it will also help to increase the lifespan of your clothes too!

Which fabrics are the worst for shedding microfibres?

Research suggests that woven polyester is the worst culprit for releasing microfibres into the marine environment. Own a fleece? That’s woven polyester! The research has found that washing a fleece jacket can release millions of fibres into the wastewater system. Knitted polyester and woven polypropylene release less fibres.

Is it better if I buy second hand clothing? Or is new clothing less likely to shed?

Second hand clothing has lots of advantages over new, not only can you get some different styles and vary your wardrobe, but they have a much lower environmental impact. Production of new clothing has significant environmental impacts due to everything from the carbon and water footprint to the chemicals used, it also tends to shed a lot in the first few washes. As clothes get towards the end of their life, the amount they shed is likely to increase again as fibres get worn out.

Is there anything I can do without needing to buy a new washing machine?

Sign our petition to show your support for microfibre filters and take a look at our Top tips . The use of fabric softener has been found to reduce the number of fibres shed by more than 35%, as well as lower temperatures, shorter wash cycles and softer water.

Will washing machines with microfibre filters be expensive?

The microfibre filter technology isn’t prohibitively expensive and any cost increase is likely to be relatively small. Our YouGov survey found that over half (56%) of respondents were willing to pay an extra £5 or more for a washing machine which had a filter fitted.

Why is it important for commercial washing machines to include filters?

Commercial washing machines are used in manufacturing, laundrettes and hotels but the biggest microfibre losses occur during the first few washes, including any washing done during manufacturing. That's why it’s so important that commercial machines used in clothing manufacturing, as well as professional launderettes, are retrofitted with filters.

Have any other countries made this law?

As of January 2025, all new washing machines in France will have to include a filter to stop synthetic clothes from polluting our waterways.