Indelicate
September 26, 2019 5:16 AM   Subscribe

Washing machine delicate cycles put more microfibers into the environment than regular ones. (SLTG) Studies have now shown that using the delicate setting on your washing machine may be nicer for your clothes, but it is worse for the planet.

It’s tough to keep up with everything you need to know in order to live your best life these days.
posted by kinnakeet (59 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
It’s tough to keep up with everything you need to know in order to live your best life these days.

You're right. I also think it's important though to sort of know how many spoons you have to give on any given day towards these types of everyday decisions/choices.

Like I can make certain small decisions that have positive environmental impacts but I also realize that I'm not someone that can make my entire life about this, it's just too demanding and if I thought about it ALL the god damn time, it'd overwhelm me. Maybe that sounds like an excuse, but it's the honest truth. I'm trying to be a good person, about all I can do.
posted by Fizz at 5:28 AM on September 26, 2019 [31 favorites]


Why is this couched as "stop using the delicates cycle" instead of "stop buying throwaway polyester clothes"? What possible benefit is there to this other than generating a few clicks and generating more pointless anxiety?
posted by phooky at 5:34 AM on September 26, 2019 [87 favorites]


Not everyone can be Doug Forcett. We’d all be miserable all the time trying to see the unforeseen consequences.

You have to design systems for collective correction and economic incentives for people to move to them.
posted by jmauro at 5:35 AM on September 26, 2019 [34 favorites]


So how many microfibers do hairshirts shed?
posted by zabuni at 5:54 AM on September 26, 2019 [30 favorites]


Why is this couched as "stop using the delicates cycle" instead of "stop buying throwaway polyester clothes"?

Easy! Because "stop buying throwaway polyester clothes" is bad for the economy, because we'll buy less shit and also people's response will largely be "fuck off I can't afford not to". "Destroy your clothes faster to protect the environment, because you care!" is good for the economy, because then we buy more shit.
posted by Caduceus at 6:01 AM on September 26, 2019 [14 favorites]


Why is this couched as "stop using the delicates cycle" instead of "stop buying throwaway polyester clothes"?

Because we already own synthetic clothes, and there is also an environmental impact to throwing those away and purchasing a new wardrobe?
posted by hydropsyche at 6:11 AM on September 26, 2019 [16 favorites]


So how many microfibers do hairshirts shed?

Or potato sacks?
posted by NoMich at 6:18 AM on September 26, 2019


A couple of points:

Throwing an entire item of clothing away doesn't have a directly comparable environmental impact to regularly washing that item of clothing. How you balance one against the other is going to be extremely complex. One probably is worse than the other; I just wouldn't bank on it being throwing the item away. Polyester is a recyclable material though, and it doesn't have to be recycled as fibres, so it's not an either-or anyway. Not that recycling plastic is a perfect solution for anything.

I may be wrong, but I believe that polyester fleece is the main offender in terms of shedding microfibres, so maybe there's a way to replace it in products, and at least substantially reduce the problem.
posted by pipeski at 6:27 AM on September 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Wait until you find out that the drain pump hidden in the back of the washer is also made of plastic and slowly tears itself apart as the unit ages....
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:56 AM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


So can I still hand-wash things? Because I really can't afford to replace my clothes every year, and it sometimes starts to feel like I'm being whipsawed by competing imperatives. Like: I'm supposed to look polished and professional and not smell bad, and I'm not supposed to buy fast fashion, and I don't make a ton of money but could get in trouble if I did crime to raise wardrobe funds, and apparently I'm not supposed to wash my clothes in the way that makes them last the longest. How exactly is a person supposed to accomplish this?

If someone tells me that drying clothes on a clothes line is bad for the environment, I'm going to be really mad.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:58 AM on September 26, 2019 [15 favorites]


Why is this couched as "stop using the delicates cycle" instead of "stop buying throwaway polyester clothes"?

Because the latter is even less practical for those of us who need to wear supportive undergarments that have a relatively short life cycle, by design?

(Bras. I'm talking about bras.)
posted by Anita Bath at 6:58 AM on September 26, 2019 [18 favorites]


What we know about the sources and causes of these particulates are still changing every day. We don't know yet a lot about their fate and behaviours let alone their impacts. History tells us this putting anything that doesn't degrade quickly into the natural environment in large quantities never ends well. I think the basic assumption, the precautionary principle, has to be that we need to do limit and eliminate these emissions, even without knowing perfectly where they come from or what damage they might do.

I also don't know at this stage if changing individual behaviours are going to be important to manage and rectify the problem. It seems to me more that we need to find alternatives to many things: car tires, synthetic fabrics, urban waste, that do a better job of removing at source and containing upon release. IOW, like acid rain, I suspect that plastic micro/nanoparticles will need better choices and controls at source: how tires are made, what gets made into clothing, perhaps even in municipal water treatment.
posted by bonehead at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Throwing an entire item of clothing away doesn't have a directly comparable environmental impact to regularly washing that item of clothing.

Especially if you also include the environmental impact of manufacturing, transporting, and purchasing new items. I know, I could buy used, but if everyone in the country has to immediately throw away their synthetic clothes and purchase only natural fibers, there will not be enough used clothes to go around.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:22 AM on September 26, 2019


Wow, it's almost like trying to attack systemic problems from the vantage of individual responsibility is simplistic and doomed to failure.
posted by dame at 7:32 AM on September 26, 2019 [110 favorites]


Polyester clothing isn't going away for a host of cultural and economic reasons, so perhaps not using the delicate cycle coupled with better on-the-washer filters are the best short-term response for individuals? I was disappointed they didn't address how better perhaps retro-fitted filters might make a difference in the Guardian piece.

It's one more instance of the satanic bargain with oil. In the near term we get amazing economic growth from cheap energy and *incredibly* useful and varied manufacturing materials. Standards of living generally rises, and many get wealthy. But later on the true cost emerges. What we lose is, if not our souls, then our well-being and that of our children, perhaps into eternity.
posted by conscious matter at 7:35 AM on September 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


Not that I'm immediately committing to rolling coal or gorging myself on meat, but I've taken to reflexively ignoring any individualist call to action.

Me changing my washing habits of my garments won't do a whole lot compared to the garment industry being regulated to tax synthetics to offset their environmental impact. Or washing machines being required to be more water-efficient (oh wait, they already are, nice).

This is an important study, but the take-away should be changes to industry and regulation, not to consumer behavior. The companies want us stressed and overwhelmed so that we just give up. The proper solution is not to be "better people," but to shape systems that allows us to make less of an environmental impact without additional effort.

It's just work smarter, not harder. Always be suspicious of the source of a claim that we the consumers need to change our behaviors rather than they the manufacturers need to change their products.
posted by explosion at 7:37 AM on September 26, 2019 [43 favorites]


Why is this couched as "stop using the delicates cycle" instead of "stop buying throwaway polyester clothes"? What possible benefit is there to this other than generating a few clicks and generating more pointless anxiety?

In my industry I get to don the Official Polo for every working day...which is made of polyester 'sports' technology.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:39 AM on September 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Perhaps the next movement in ecological sustainability will be a renewed acceptance of people smelling. The idea that one wears an item of clothing only once between washes is a fairly recent one, as is the idea that only derelicts have a noticeable odour.
posted by acb at 7:41 AM on September 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


Why is this couched as "stop using the delicates cycle" instead of "stop buying throwaway polyester clothes"?

Because clothes from natural fibers are expensive, hard to find, and very often require extra care to be presentable, especially in conservative workplaces.

I did not know that most t-shirts sold now are a cotton-poly blend. My teen blows glass. Polyester fibers melt when too close to the heat source (great story from their teacher), and so far, we've had no melted clothes. On vacation, we booked a glass blowing session at a studio in Vermont, and made sure to pack at least one 100% cotton t-shirt to wear in the studio. All but one or two of the kid's shirts were at least 25% poly (and they have A LOT of t-shirts). Wool instead of poly pants? I'm lucky to find wool blend, and that lining is definitely poly. Jeans don't come without spandex. A lot of women's cotton shirts have a bit of spandex for a better fit.

There are a lot of people who don't have the money to buy clothes completely made from all-natural fibers, and don't have the time or money to wash and iron, or take them to the organic dry cleaners.

Polyester is ubiquitous because it is durable, cheap, and easy to care for. Microfibers make it look less like the leisure suits of the 70s.
posted by JawnBigboote at 7:49 AM on September 26, 2019 [18 favorites]


So it's the volume of water used that makes the difference? Lucky for me that my old-ass top-loading dumb washer uses the same amount of water no matter what cycle is chosen.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:08 AM on September 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Most people around the world don't routinely use a clothes dryer; many households don't own a dryer. Line-drying uses no electricity, and clothing lasts much longer, especially spandex, which degrades with heat. I use my dryer to de-wrinkle clothes that need it, maybe if I'm in a hurry. Clothing generally doesn't need to be washed every time it's worn, with some obvious exceptions, and frequent washing wears clothing out faster. You can afford nicer clothes if you take care of them and they last longer. The fashion industry wants you to stop wearing last year's colors and styles, but you can make your own choices.
posted by theora55 at 8:23 AM on September 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


You can afford nicer clothes if you take care of them and they last longer. The fashion industry wants you to stop wearing last year's colors and styles, but you can make your own choices.

So, this is actually, not, you know, a universal truth. If you are a fairly stably employed salaried worker, sure, you can make the trade off of $100 for a shirt now, vs $20 for five shirts over the next five years. If you are a person precariously employed, or variably paid (think tipped workers and hourly wage workers whose hours are not guaranteed), then what you're preoccupied with is CASH FLOW. You literally don't HAVE that $100. What you HAVE is $20 and what you NEED is to not be naked.

This has been this month's edition of "Oh shit, I have become my father."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:37 AM on September 26, 2019 [50 favorites]


I mean, I air dry woollen items and delicates as it is, but that takes days instead of an hour to dry, and I don't have the space to do that for my whole wardrobe. I'm certainly not in an area where I can reliably air dry outside for more than a few weeks out of the year, due to either rainstorms or freezing temperatures.

Also, I'm trying to imagine taking this advice if I were raising young children and it's giving me hives.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:47 AM on September 26, 2019 [8 favorites]


You can afford nicer clothes if you take care of them and they last longer. The fashion industry wants you to stop wearing last year's colors and styles, but you can make your own choices.

I agree with the line drying and perhaps with the washing, depending. (Not the case in my current job.) I also prefer natural fibers.

But I think there's a lot of classist thinking going on in this thread about being able to afford nicer clothes that will suit many workplaces. Even if you can afford them up front, maintaining them is expensive in time/money, and any stains -- like those small children produce -- have a much bigger impact.

I've worked in fashion forward, business formal, sports-uniform, and non-profit environments. I did look for ethically sourced clothing in all those environments/bought second-hand, have worn bamboo tights, etc., and...it's a lot of money and effort to keep clothing in almost all those environments looking good enough to stay professional. I lost a wool blazer sleeve to a harp case once, true story. I'm a size that's easy to find used, too.

And, as I said, in my current workplace as in so many, there may be a dress code that requires synthetics. I guess the good news is that you can get 100% cotton scrubs.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:49 AM on September 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


Also, I don't disparage the general notion of less and more judicious consumption, which is a net positive probably for most people, but again, this is why any purely individual change is counterproductive.

Theora55 is saying to buy fewer clothing items and replace them less often, but are they going to tell my boss to get off my ass about my wardrobe, which is "not a good culture fit"? Are they going to replace my salary when I get fired? No, of course not. Multiple systems of culture have to change before "everyone quit buying new clothes and wear your dirty clothes more often" becomes even remotely plausible for the majority of people.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:55 AM on September 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


There are a variety of items you can buy to trap microfibers. Some are balls that go in the machine with your laundry. Some are trap additions that you add to your hose thingy.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:01 AM on September 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


The real problem is that washing machines do not have microfiber filters.

We should be lobbying washing machine manufacturers to add filters instead of condemning people for washing their clothes.
posted by monotreme at 9:03 AM on September 26, 2019 [31 favorites]


This shit drives me mad. If something is bad and wrong then it shouldn't be on sale as an option. I've felt this way ever since seeing regular tuna and dolphin-friendly tuna on supermarket shelves years ago. Passing off that decision on to the consumer is abrogating responsibility. The consequence is that people are made to make a choice between being moral and being frugal. Same goes for caged/free-range eggs, fairtrade bananas, and any number of other examples. Either it's acceptable and we stop judging people, or we legislate to ban it. Poor people are already guilt-ridden enough without this additional layer of guilt-tripping. I despise shopping as it is, please stop making it harder than it has to be. Thanks.
posted by Acey at 9:22 AM on September 26, 2019 [30 favorites]


I can filter the air in my apartment down to HEPA levels, I filter my water to drink, but the outgoing wash water--my washer does not have a filter that I can change or clean. There's nothing. They are literally holding up filters in that picture showing a thing that was used to capture these particles out of a washing machine. It is possible to block these fibers, or they wouldn't have been able to measure them. It would not be an undue burden on poor people if people just replaced their washers with the new required-to-be-filtered ones as they get upgraded, if we had any kind of reasonable environmental regulation going on.

The idea that I could dress for work or even casually as a middle class approximately-female-presenting fat person in all natural fibers is, at this point, just plain silly. And let's not forget that non-organic cotton farming, for example, has its own environmental impact problems. These are things that need to be worked on at the industry level, not in my shopping cart.
posted by Sequence at 9:35 AM on September 26, 2019 [20 favorites]


There is a long history of externalizing the moral costs of resource extraction and pollution onto "the market", meaning poor people. Long history.

So, if you just can't with this right now I am with you. Here's my 3 point plan to save the planet.

1.) Vote.
2.) Support MASSIVE infrastructure change away from carbon in some visible way (letter writing, marches, money). Even though it could very well lower my standard of living in the short term. (Cars, I'm talking about cars.)
3.) Eat less meat.

We can circle back and address microfibers and mountain-topping and electronic waste after we're not DOOMED. Because right now they're a distraction, and fodder for right wing whataboutism that tries to muddy the waters with "what, are you going to give up your IPHONE? Huh, smart guy!?"
posted by Horkus at 9:39 AM on September 26, 2019 [17 favorites]


Perhaps the next movement in ecological sustainability will be a renewed acceptance of people smelling.

I had some friends in college who thought this was the way to go. They never had dates.
posted by SoberHighland at 9:44 AM on September 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Wow, it's almost like trying to attack systemic problems from the vantage of individual responsibility is simplistic and doomed to failure.

Industry loves this sort of approach because it puts all the externalities, all the responsability on consumers. Consumers are often the least capable of dealing with the problem. Can you buy only clothes that have natural fibres? Can you choose a method of transportation that doesn't have composite rubber tires? At what cost? How economically privileged do you have to be to be able to make those choices?

Like the solutions for Acid Rain, going after the end-users was relatively ineffectual. Consumers couldn't use market choices to move manufacturers and power producers off of sulphuric and nitric acid-producing processes. It took regulation to do that.

What citizens could do in the case of acid rain emissions was keep the pressure on politicians and industrial producers to eliminate the problem. I think that's going to be the most successful approach for micro/nano plastics too: the ballot box, not the cash-register.
posted by bonehead at 10:01 AM on September 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


All my jobs in fast food had plastic uniforms. Rax Roast Beef: plastic uniform. Mister Donut: plastic uniform. Taco Viva: plastic uniform. Fortunately for the planet, I sucked at fast food and either quit or was fired from all these jobs. Did you know that there is plastic in rainwater? I don't think any washer filter is going to get rid of that shit, you know? If it's in RAIN?

Anyway, when I get tired of ruminating on how stupid it is that I'm forever micromanaging my housekeeping processes and my clothes and groceries purchases to be all "green" while also once or twice a year flying across the country in jets and driving to work nearly every day, sometimes I like to give myself a little break and instead think about how parts of my old work uniforms rained down upon the streets of my city in the 1980s and washed into the creeks and later rained on the Keys and the Everglades and in time will fall on Paris. Or where Paris was. When you say taco, say viva.

This morning I heard on Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids that the guy who invented nylon for Dupont many years later discovered nylon wrapped around the necks of dead baby birds in the bird sanctuary he founded.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:08 AM on September 26, 2019 [8 favorites]


I know this isn't really possible for some people, especially those with families or very busy lifestyles or certain sorts of clothes, but I've started washing all of my clothes by hand with a plastic scrub board and a laundry soap bar that lasts a month. Honestly, it gets them a lot cleaner than a washer (especially the collars of my work clothes, which are often stained with foundation which a washer can't seem to put a dent in unless I put them in the heavy cycle) and I don't have to bother with technology that harms the environment/ruins my clothes or dealing with the public at laundromats. I still use the latter for my big items, like towels and comforter and such, but I've saved a decent amount just taking 15-45 minutes scrubbing at home. There is also something very, IDK, fulfilling about washing your own clothes this way, even if some people would consider it a chore. It makes me feel more...autonomous? Self-sustainable?
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:57 AM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


I know this isn't really possible for some people, especially those with families or very busy lifestyles or certain sorts of clothes

or the disabled, aka the people who get left out of every "live better bc it's your individual responsibility to save the world" lifestyle calculation i've ever seen, which always makes me wonder what everyone's plans are for the disabled. the feeling i get sometimes is that more people than i'd like have assessed their reading of a situation and concluded that items shouldn't be disposable but it's okay if people are.

i'm sorry to use your comment as the impetus for this observation. i don't think you're a disability eugenicist. just no more or less aware than anyone else fully abled of the fact that the vast majority of the suggestions to individually save the planet somehow wholly dismiss the existence of an ever-increasing class of people who are traditionally extremely vulnerable to sweeping societal changes that are presented as being "for the good of mankind".
posted by poffin boffin at 11:37 AM on September 26, 2019 [24 favorites]


I suspect that hand washing clothes with a scrubbing board uses more water and soap than a modern washing machine does. It also doesn't mitigate the micro fiber in the waste water problem.
posted by monotreme at 11:41 AM on September 26, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm certainly not in an area where I can reliably air dry outside for more than a few weeks out of the year, due to either rainstorms or freezing temperatures.

My parents had a drying rack in the laundry room, plus strung a wall-to-wall clothesline in the kids' bath across the hall. Putting things on hangers, rather than clothespins, greatly increases the number of garments that will fit on the line. The only things that went outside were large items, like bedsheets or beach towels.

I still air dry everything indoors to this day, in my guest bathroom. Thinner clothes like socks, underwear, T-shirts, are ready within a few hours and certainly by the next day. Heavy stuff (e.g. winter sweaters) takes a couple days longer, but it's manageable. Bonus, I never have to fold laundry -- I just walk over to the drying rack/clothesline and grab what I want.
posted by basalganglia at 12:20 PM on September 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I don't live in a house large enough to have a guest bathroom, which was the first part of that comment you quoted. Honestly, I feel like I'm living large having my own washer and dryer that I only have to share with one other person, Only having room for one drying rack indoors is pretty typical, I think. Especially if the drying rack essentially can never come down (mine can, but I'm lazy).
posted by dinty_moore at 12:33 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


When I visited family in Scotland, every kitchen had drying racks with a clever arrangement of pullies to lift them up over our heads, out of the way. But the housing was different there - those kitchens had ten foot ceilings instead of the eight foot ceilings more common in the USA.

The clothes often smelled like food and were always a bit stiffer than I am used to. This was not unpleasant, just odd.
posted by elizilla at 1:45 PM on September 26, 2019


This is intriguing but poorly reported. I mean, what does "releases on average 800,000 more microfibers than less water-hungry cycles" even mean?

- 800,000 microfibers per what?
- How much more is this than a regular wash would remove?

The underlying article is here. From the abstract, 800,000 fibers is per load (no surprise). I dug into the linked PDF but couldn't really interpret data since I couldn't find a legend to interpret their symbols. But if I understood one table correctly, doubling water could (more or less) double fiber release in some cases. Which is significant, if true.

The article would done well to have quoted the final sentence of the abstract:

Therefore, consumers can reduce MF release by avoiding high water-volume washes (delicate cycles), transitioning to appliances that use a lower water-volume (North American high-efficiency washing machines), and ensuring that full wash loads are used.

That's information you can use... or may already be using.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


(You might want to avoid extra rinse cycles too.)
posted by sjswitzer at 1:57 PM on September 26, 2019


Microplastics and synthetic particles ingested by deep-sea amphipods in six of the deepest marine ecosystems on Earth, Royal Society Open Science, February 27, 2019:
Abstract

While there is now an established recognition of microplastic pollution in the oceans, and the detrimental effects this may have on marine animals, the ocean depth at which such contamination is ingested by organisms has still not been established.

Here, we detect the presence of ingested microplastics in the hindguts of Lysianassoidea amphipod populations, in six deep ocean trenches from around the Pacific Rim (Japan, Izu-Bonin, Mariana, Kermadec, New Hebrides and the Peru-Chile trenches), at depths ranging from 7000 m to 10 890 m. This illustrates that microplastic contaminants occur in the very deepest reaches of the oceans.

Over 72% of individuals examined (65 of 90) contained at least one microparticle. The number of microparticles ingested per individual across all trenches ranged from 1 to 8. The mean and standard error of microparticles varied per trench, from 0.9 ± 0.4 (New Hebrides Trench) to 3.3 ± 0.7 (Mariana Trench). A subsample of microfibres and fragments analysed using FTIR were found to be a collection of plastic and synthetic materials (Nylon, polyethylene, polyamide, polyvinyl alcohol, polyvinylchloride, often with inorganic filler material), semi-synthetic (rayon and lyocell) and natural fibre (ramie).

Notwithstanding, this study reports the deepest record of microplastic ingestion, indicating that anthropogenic debris is bioavailable to organisms at some of the deepest locations in the Earth's oceans.
...full research article follows.

Genesis 1:28 (KJV) – And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

We’re working on it.
posted by cenoxo at 3:08 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


There's a lot we don't know about microfibers from clothing. How much fiber is shed between washes when the garment is being worn? Does this change if you get caught in a rainstorm? Is clothing the most significant source of micro plastic pollution, or should we be trying to reduce some other sources? What ill effects have been discovered to be due to micro plastic pollution?

There are so many terrible things being done to our environment right now that it is important to spend our remediation efforts on the most pressing problems. I suspect that worrying about micro plastic pollution might be like cleaning all the dog shit from a trail in a burning forest.
posted by monotreme at 3:24 PM on September 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


If we weren't creating throw-away clothes, and then actually throwing them away, we would have enough natural fibers to go around. Then just find a way to distribute them well - price well, make them durable and donate/resell them, make plain clothes in a cost effective way and let people provide the decoration themselves. Oh -- and wash them in a way that doesn't wear out the clothes.

Yes it would be complicated! Hard to do everything at once! Requiring creative solutions and communication! Allow me to introduce you to the marvelous invention known as the computer -- maybe it could help?
posted by amtho at 6:02 PM on September 26, 2019


A frightful amount of fiber ends up in my dryer filter; I judge it to be mostly cotton felt but maybe not. It appears to be much more than the washer produces. Should we be concerned with the proper disposal of dryer lint? What would that even be? And similarly, assuming a good filter for drain water fiber, what would be the best way to dispose of it? I suppose the landfill is better than the ocean, assuming it stays there. Does it?
posted by sjswitzer at 6:14 PM on September 26, 2019


Did they account for water temperature as well? I didn't see it, but I'm curious. All of my laundry is in cold water because there's no hot water hookup for it, and I think I've changed the lint filter once half a year ago; it's still not full again yet. (I realize microfibers are different from larger pieces of lint)
posted by lesser weasel at 11:26 PM on September 26, 2019


Sure, you need space, creativity, or time to air dry indoors. When I was living in a studio apartment I had to wash more often, about once a week, so that everything would fit on the drying rack and small clothesrack (about the size of a metal detector) I'd set up in one corner of my space. I did have in-building laundry which made it easier than schlepping everything to/from a laundromat. Most of my family outside the US has ceiling height clotheslines in a section of their house or apartment, similar to the Scottish system described above, though usually not in the kitchen. This is in ~500-800 sqft living space housing 2-5 people, so it's not like they are living large, especially compared to the average American. They all do have washing machines, but they are basic models without things like a delicate cycle anyway. The fanciest you can get is setting water temperature.

Frankly, I regret buying the dryer that came with my washing machine. It was cheap as a set, and I thought maybe I'd need it one day, but it's been a year and honestly I'd rather have the floor space for storage (or another drying rack).
posted by basalganglia at 12:12 AM on September 27, 2019


I only wear "natural" fibers, but I'm pretty sure sheep are also environmentally horrid.

Also using an appliance to wash and dry your clothes is pretty wasteful compared to using your hands and a stream and the sun and wind, but I don't see that genie going back in the bottle.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:50 AM on September 27, 2019


I've been buying my own clothes here in the UK for 30 years, and I don't think I've ever had a problem buying 100% cotton (or near enough), and it's always been at the cheap end of the price range. I used to buy cotton clothing when I was very poor. Poor people often don't have the option of ethical consumption, but I'm not not convinced that the same is try of natural fibres.

Having said that, I've noticed a clear increase in the use of 'stretch' fabrics in recent years, and they're getting harder to avoid. Also, I'm sure there's a gender factor. My wife's half of the laundry does seem to feature a massive amount of synthetic fibre compared to my male stuff. Wool I know nothing about, as we both find it irritating, so don't use it.

Any move to phase out synthetic fibres in clothing is going to have be driven by a combination of (i) the fashion industry, (ii) manufacturers, (iii) retailers, and (iv) legislation. You can't put this responsibility onto the consumer. A lot of us do our best, but that's just not a viable way to tackle any global problem.
posted by pipeski at 5:13 AM on September 27, 2019


I just discovered how to dispose of dryer lint! Here is the process:

Pull the lint off the filter screen as usual.
Press the lint flat between your hands.
Run a few drops of water over the center of the lint and press it between your hands to get it all wet.
Roll the sodden lint into a tube.
Fold the tube in half and squish it between your fingers to squeeze out the water.
Unfold, then unroll the tube.
Put the lint pancake on the counter to dry.
Tada, "paper!"
Make a small stack of lintpaper somewhere near the sink or dishwasher and use it to wipe oil and grease and various junk off pans and dishes before you wash them or put them into the dishwasher, keeping your pipes clear of grease and not adding to the giant fatberg no doubt growing in your city's sewer. Throw the used lintpaper in the trash. Do not try to compost it because god knows what microplastics are in it.
Book a flight somewhere exotic: you've earned it!
posted by Don Pepino at 11:46 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you liked microfibers in your washwater, you'll love microplastics in your tea (New Scientist, Discover).
Tea drinkers have been urged to avoid plastic tea bags after tests found that a single bag sheds billions of particles of microplastic into each cup.

A Canadian team found that steeping a plastic tea bag at a brewing temperature of 95°C releases around 11.6 billion microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic between 100 nanometres and 5 millimetres in size – into a single cup. That is several orders of magnitude higher than other foods and drinks.

“We think that it is a lot when compared to other foods that contain microplastics,” says Nathalie Tufenkji at McGill University. “Table salt, which has a relatively high microplastic content, has been reported to contain approximately 0.005 micrograms plastic per gram salt. A cup of tea contains thousands of times greater mass of plastic, at 16 micrograms per cup.”

…To test the potential toxicity of the particles released by plastic tea bags, Tufenkji and her colleagues exposed water fleas to the contaminated water.

“The particles did not kill the water fleas, but did cause significant behavioural effects and developmental malformations,” she says.
“There’s been very, very, very little research done on human health and toxicity of microplastics,” says Tufenkji. “Especially [of] ingesting, and at these levels.”
From a new study published Wednesday.
posted by Syllepsis at 3:29 PM on September 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


i'm sorry to use your comment as the impetus for this observation. i don't think you're a disability eugenicist. just no more or less aware than anyone else fully abled of the fact that the vast majority of the suggestions to individually save the planet somehow wholly dismiss the existence of an ever-increasing class of people who are traditionally extremely vulnerable to sweeping societal changes that are presented as being "for the good of mankind".

Ah woah. Yeah no, I wasn’t even suggesting everyone do this. It was just a “what works for me” comment not “my way of washing clothes is superior and better” comment. My apologies for writing it framed as such.
posted by Young Kullervo at 4:35 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


I have a high-efficiency washer precisely so I will never have to scrub my clothes on a washboard with a bar of laundry soap. As did my mother, and probably her mother before her. Okay, they didn't have HE machines. But no, that's not for me, and it definitely wasn't for them, either.

Also, I agree with the above posters that this is a systemic problem and not something easily fixed or even fixable at the individual level. I attempt to make conscious choices in all areas of my life, but at a certain point you have to just get your stuff done and not worry yourself to death about it.
posted by 41swans at 6:39 PM on September 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have a septic tank, so I guess my microfibers are being returned to the soil. Not sure how that pans out long term though.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:36 AM on September 28, 2019


Also using an appliance to wash and dry your clothes is pretty wasteful compared to using your hands and a stream and the sun and wind, but I don't see that genie going back in the bottle.

Please don't wash clothing (or your dishes or yourself) directly in a stream. The stream does not need the direct addition of your soap, germs, and microfibers. If you find yourself needing to use only a stream to wash your clothes, please wash in a bucket and dispose of the wastewater on soil well away from the stream. The soil is much better able to process your waste than the stream is.

If you don't care about the stream, think about the people who live downstream and how they'd rather not deal with your soap suds.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:03 AM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Non automatic washing machines were one of the very first home appliances, they were commonly gas powered (IE: 2-stroke engine) in the early days because they were available before electricity in most areas. Laundry before that used to take up a full day every week. In part the washing machine enabled women to enter the workforce because it freed up an entire day of labour for most families.

Of course it wasn't all good. Washer woman was a common job for single women and mothers and practically all those jobs disappeared.

Also I don't know if hand washing would save water over all. It requires a large amount of rinsing to clean actual dirty clothes and unless you have several wash tubs and the space to set them up you end up using a lot of water for that purpose. Modern front loading HE washers use very little water per load and much less detergent than hand washing.
posted by Mitheral at 9:58 AM on September 29, 2019


Yeah, my mother scrubbed clothes in a fountain until she graduated to scrubbing clothes in a bath tub. She only got a washing machine in the damn 90s.

Fuck that, we don’t need more female labor guilted upon us. The way to save the world is to hold corporations accountable for their environmental pollution, not individuals using products as intended.
posted by lydhre at 12:40 PM on September 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Hand-washing synthetic clothes on a huge scale is not the solution. It's just an extra, unrelated set of problems.
posted by pipeski at 3:22 PM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Please don't wash clothing (or your dishes or yourself) directly in a stream.
my mother scrubbed clothes in a fountain

Ha! There was once in our town this superb apex coolguy named Freddy. In addition to being a music promoter, he was a manager at Rex, home of cheap scratch'n'dent appliances. He was searingly cool. Tippity top of the foodchain. Once I won the coolness lottery and ended up next to him smoking at one of the picnic tables outside the coolbar and I, a musical naif then and now, racked my brains for something to say. Finally I asked him if as a Rex professional he could help me figure out my laundry situation in my sweatbox hovel apartment. He said, "Of course! What size you need? Where are your hookups?" I had to tell him the apartment didn't have hookups. He told me try rocks and water.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:34 PM on September 30, 2019


« Older Who promotes "scientific" racism?   |   Time, Space and Causality Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments