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How Washing Clothes Is Polluting Our Oceans.

How Washing Clothes Is Polluting Our Oceans.

How Washing Clothes Is Polluting Our Oceans

 Plastic dwindling in the ocean

That polyester clothing is highly polluting is nothing new to many people. Polyester is made from a chemical process similar to the production of plastic. Yet the pollution of our climate does not stop after the production of clothing. Pollution also continues during washing, and even while wearing the clothes.


Today we will take a closer look at how washing clothes is actually destroying our environment. This article is written based on several scientific articles that we have fully analyzed and we will summarize the most important, and interesting findings in this article.


35% of the plastic in our ocean comes from clothing


First, let’s begin with a quote that will completely change your view of clothing.


"Plastic particles washed off from products made with synthetic materials contribute up to 35% of the primary plastic polluting our oceans. Every time we do laundry, an average of 9 million microfibers end up in wastewater treatment plants that cannot filter them."

- Ocean Clean Wash

So polyester is one of the most polluting textiles one can use to make clothing. Yet cotton is also responsible for a lot of chemicals that have found their way into our water. This is due to the chemical dyeing process that many factories use to give their clothes the desired color.

Therefore, if no pesticides and other chemicals were used during the growing process, the clothing would be 100% sustainable and no toxins enter our water during the washing process. We made sure that our clothing leaves no chemical trace when washing.


The Research

To create a clear picture about this subject, we studied an article called "Release of polyester and cotton fibers from textiles in machine washes" released in August 2017.

The following is said about microplastics from polyester and chemical fibers of cotton garments.

Plastics are synthetic polymers composed of many repeated subunits, i.e., monomers. In addition, plastics typically contain additives such as fillers, plasticizers, UV blockers, and colorants. For the environmental studies, small plastic litters are called microplastics that generally refer to the solid, water-insoluble, and persistent particles smaller than 5 mm (JRC 2013). The shape of microplastic particles varied from fibers and spheres to irregular fragments depending on their origin. Cotton, a natural fiber, has also a polymeric structure comprised mainly of cellulose. Since cotton requires several steps of chemical treatments prior to the manufacturing of cotton textiles, the cotton fibers contain some residues of chemicals.


In this article, 5 different polyester garments and 2 different cotton garments were washed in a brand-new washing machine to see how much microfiber was left behind during different wash cycles.




The mass of released microplastic fibers varied between 0.12 and 0.33% w/win the first wash. The highest fiber mass discharged was from Tech sport followed by Softshell, Fleece-nAP, and Fleece-AP (Fig. 2a). The corresponding mass was 0.17% w/w for Jeans-cotton and0.26% w/w for Shirts-cotton (Fig. 2b). In the second wash, the masses of released polyester fibers were only one third or less compared to the first wash. This level remained for Fleece-AP and Fleece-nAP in the third to fifth washes, whereas it dropped down to one-tenth for Softshell and Tech sport in the fifth wash. The mass of released cotton fibers from the first to the fifth wash showed a relatively even decrease being approximately 40% in the last wash.



So the result is that at the first wash, there is already about 0.12 to 0.33% polyester released from the garment. In other words, plastic that ends up in the water drain. At first glance, this may sound like very minuscule amounts, but the study also indicates the following:

Microplastics are of special concern, since their bioaccumulation potential increases with decreasing size. They may be ingested by organisms ranging from zooplankton to fish and birds, and there are several alternative routes to transfer in food webs.

To get a clearer picture of the ultimate amount of microplastics and microfibers that end up in our drinking water, pollution levels in Finland were investigated. The following is said:

The annual fiber emissions from domestic textile washes in Finland are estimated on a basis of values given in “Estimate of fiber emission” and the means of fibers released in the fifth washes of the present study. The means of released fibers from polyester textiles were 340 mg and 2.23 × 105 per washing machine effluent. The corresponding means for the two cotton textiles were 809 mg and 9.73 × 105. Thus, the annual mass of polyester fibers released in washing machine effluents is 154,000 kg, which is roughly one-third of the load of cotton fibers (411,000 kg). The total number of polyester fibers is annually approximately 110 trillion which is approximately 20% of the annual fiber number discharged from cotton textiles(4.9 × 1014).


In other words, annually the mass of polyester fibers released into washing machine wastewater is 154,000 kg. For cotton fibers, this number is 411,000 kg. So here it should be made clear that the polyester fibers consist entirely of plastic and other chemicals. The cotton fibers are natural fibers with a lot of residual chemical agents used throughout the production process.

Finland has a population of 5.5 million people. So this means that pollution in countries with larger populations is also much more extreme.


And Finally

If you have read the whole article then you have probably noticed that this is article is a lot of information to take in, but we hope that this article gave you a better understanding of how bad washing polyester clothes is to the environment! Finally, we would like to share the following with you. Our goal at OPS. is to give consumers a better understanding of how polluting the apparel industry really is and also provide a solution. Feel free to take a look on our website to see what true high-quality and sustainable clothing looks like!

We would like to thank the members of our community tremendously for supporting us and we promise to continue to provide every person with a choice to wear true sustainable and high-quality clothes!



(Ocean Clean Wash, 2021)

(Sillanpää, 2017)


Ocean Clean Wash. (2021, Juli 5). Microfiber Polution Through Washing & Wearing. Opgehaald van Ocean Clean Wash:,-through%20washing%20%26%20wearing&text=Every%20time%20we%20do%20our,being%20released%20in%20the%20air.


Sillanpää, M. (2017, Februari 13). Release of polyester and cotton fibers from textilesin machine washings. Opgehaald van ResearchGate:


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