All clothes dryers release significant amounts of microfibers into the environment, research has found, putting further pressure on manufacturers to redesign their appliances.
When clothes are washed and dried, they release tiny particles of clothing fibers. Studies have already shown that vented dryers, which release warm, moist air to the outside through a vent pipe, pump out large amounts of airborne microfibers.
Now, a new study suggests that condenser dryers, which condense moist air into water and store it in a chamber inside the appliance, produce similar amounts of microfiber pollution, which ends up in the waterways.
“They both generate similar amounts of fiber, but the consequences are very different,” explains Neil Lant at Procter & Gamble in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. “Vented ones go to air and condenser ones go to sewer.”
Lant and his colleagues assessed the performance of condenser dryers, which are popular in the UK and Europe thanks to their low energy demand, by testing how much microfibre was shed from test loads of new clothes and clean and dirty laundry from volunteer households in Newcastle.
They found that about 340 milligrams of fiber – a mixture of plastic and cotton strands – were released per kilogram of dried fabric. Some of the fibers are captured by the lint filter, while others end up in the condensed water and the condenser itself.
If these results are scaled to reflect the use of tumble dryers in the UK and the rest of Europe, this means that at least 600 tonnes of microfibers are thrown into yards each year. water from the dryers. If consumers wash their lint filters under running water, as some manufacturers require, that number could increase by 90 percent, Lant warns.
Washing machines not equipped with special fiber-trapping filters are still a much larger source of fiber pollution than dryers. Lant estimates that the waterborne pollution of a condenser dryer is 25% of the level of the washing machine, per wash load. And because only 15% of wash loads are tumble dried, the total pollution from washing machines is far greater, estimated at around 13,000 tonnes of microfiber pollution per year across Europe. “We have our priorities by targeting washing machines first,” says Lant.
In France, all new washing machines must be fitted with microfiber filters from 2025. Lant says similar legislation “may well be needed” to force the design of dryers to change. “The spotlight has to turn to dryers at some point because it’s a big deal,” he says.
In the meantime, the best thing consumers can do if they’re worried about microfiber pollution is to use their dryers less, says John Dean at Northumbria University, UK, who also worked on the study. Lint traps should also be cleaned with a vacuum cleaner, with the collected lint thrown into the trash, he adds.