Study: Clothes Last Longer, Shed Fewer Fibers in Colder + Shorter Wash Cycles

LEEDS, United Kingdom — As businesses reopen after the coronavirus pandemic, one popular place many people are heading to is their local laundromat. When they do, scientists say try the cold cycle, it’s better for the environment and your favorite shirt.

Researchers from the University of Leeds say using a colder and shorter wash cycle to clean your clothes will keep the colors from running and also stop their fibers from breaking apart. The study adds that hundreds of thousands of tiny microfibers break off your clothes every time they’re washed. Those fibers end up in the waste water, which gets flushed, and can find their way to local beaches and oceans.

“Synthetic microfibers are released every time textiles are washed and account for more than a third of all plastic reaching the ocean,” says co-author Dr. Richard Blackburn in a statement. “Microfibers from cotton and other natural sources are found in even greater numbers in the sea, and we’re worried about their impact too.”

Saving Your Wardrobe

The researchers washed a dozen dark shirts and eight brightly-colored t-shirts together in the same machine; along with white fabric squares to measure how much color ran off. The experiment was also copied using “authentic loads of dirty laundry” from British volunteers.

After 16 washes, the study found that a 30-minute cycle at 68 degrees Fahrenheit was significantly better for your clothes than an 85-minute cycle at 104 degrees. The quicker, colder washes cut the amount of microfibers released by 52 percent. The shirts tested also lost 74 percent less dye in the cooler laundry cycles.

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“Consumers claim their clothes can lose their fit, softness and color after fewer than five washes – this means it’s more likely they will ditch them long before they are worn out,” lead author Lucy Cotton. “Using shorter, cooler washes is a simple way everyone can make their clothes last longer and keep them out of landfill.”

‘A Real Win Win Win’ — For You, Your Clothes, The Environment

The study, published in the journal Dyes and Pigments, adds that colder washes have an even greater environmental benefit besides cutting microfiber pollution. Researchers say dropping the temperature to 68 degrees saves about 66 percent of the energy used in every load. All that energy saved cuts down on your laundry’s CO2 emission.

“It’s well known that these cycles reduce our energy bills and carbon footprint,” notes Dr. Neil Lant from Procter & Gamble. “The University of Leeds is helping us understand how they also slow down the aging of clothes – keeping us looking smart, saving us money replacing garments and helping the environment. It’s a real win win win.”

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