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Microfibres: The Tiny Threads causing Huge Problems

Microfibres: The Tiny Threads causing Huge Problems

Microfibres: The Tiny Threads causing Huge Problems

The clothes we wear can make a huge statement about who we are. Our styles could be minimal yet classy or colourful and spunky. You could be punk, goth, emo, posh or barbie – here’s something out there for each and every one of us. And with the huge malls dotted around every city and town, it’s not hard to find something that defines you.

While being able to make a statement with your clothes is wonderful – and clothes aren’t going anywhere for a long time to come – it’s important to acknowledge that style can come with a price.

Synthetic clothing is found everywhere. It’s cheap to produce and so cheap to sell. Most of the clothes that we buy have now are a blend of synthetic fibres like polyester, nylon, acrylic, spandex or rayon, and natural fibres. In fact, Greenpeace found that polyester is now used in about 60 percent of our clothes. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that consumers in developing countries buy a larger proportion (68 percent) of synthetic fabrics than those in developed countries.  

What are Microfibres anyway?

Microfibres are miniscule synthetic fibres that are extremely small in diameter – about 1/100 of the diameter of human hair. Fabrics made from these fibres are called microfibre fabrics or microsuedes. With such tiny diameters, it takes hundreds of thousands of these fibres to make up just one square inch of cloth. One benefit of these fibre-dense fabrics is that they are highly absorbent which is why they are used in a variety of cleaning products like wipes or make-up removers.

Why are microfibres a problem?

Synthetic fabrics are made from petroleum derivatives i.e., plastics. So, microfibres are essentially teeny-tiny, microscopic pieces of plastic. When these clothes are washed, they release microfibres. A 2011 study found that just one item of synthetic clothing can release more than 1900 fibres per wash. The microfibres released are too small to be caught by sewage treatment plants and they eventually end up in rivers and oceans. The IUCN states that 35 percent of the microplastics in the ocean today comes from the washing of synthetic clothing.

Apart from polluting our oceans, microfibres are bad for us too. These microfabrics are then consumed by marine life like fish which are in turn consumed by humans. The processes used to make these fibres are harmful to humans too. Carcinogens like ammonia and formaldehyde are used to make synthetic fabrics soft. They are also often treated with Teflon – a highly toxic blood contaminant – to make them resistant to stains, odours, oil and water.

Simply wearing synthetic clothes can release microfibres into the air too reports the Plastic Soup Foundation. They report that while this may not cause too many issues at home, textile workers producing these fabrics could potentially face reproductive problems, cancer, and DNA damage.

How can we help reduce the microfibres we shed?

I’d love to say it’s all right, microfibres aren’t a huge problem. Unfortunately, they are an issue that needs to be dealt with. Thankfully though, there are plenty of things we can do to reduce the number of microfibres we send out into the universe as individuals. Here are a few tips:

  1. Try going down the slow fashion
  2. Wash your clothes only when necessary – basically you don’t need to wash a Tee that you’ve only worn for half an hour or your jeans after every use. In fact, Levis recommends washing your jeans after 10 wears or more!
  3. Wash your clothes in cold water. Hot water tends to increase the release of microfibres.
  4. Use liquid detergents instead of powder – this reduces the friction caused by detergents and so fewer microfibres are shed.
  5. Wash full loads of laundry – the clothes have less space to move, and therefore less friction.
  6. Line dry your clothes – you’ll save energy, your clothes, and release fewer microfibres.
  7. Invest in a washing machine filter to capture microfibres.
  8. Wash your clothes by hand whenever possible.
  9. Read the label while buying clothes – try to avoid synthetic clothing.
  10. Opt for natural fabrics like cotton, linen or hemp instead of synthetics or blends.

Remember that we can be a part of the solution. Every decision we make individually for the environment matters – so treat yourself to some lovely eco-friendly clothing, it’s good for the environment and you!

Until next time,

Your eco-friendly storyteller,


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