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Tumble drying your clothes doing serious harm to the environment

After the experiment, the team was able to estimate that between 90 and 120 million microfibers are produced and released into the air by the average single household's dryer every year.

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By Georgia Lambert via SWNS

Tumble dryers are worse than washing machines for the environment - producing up to 120 MILLION harmful microfibers each every year, according to a new study.

It is well known that washing machines release microplastics into wastewater, but it was previously unclear how drying clothes impacts the environment.

Microfibers are found in natural fabrics like cotton and synthetic ones, such as polyester, which are also considered to be microplastics.

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Releasing these fibers into the environment is a concern because they absorb and transport pollutants across long distances.

Particle pollution has also long been known to damage delicate lung tissue if they are ingested or inhaled.

Previous research has shown that when microfibers are released from washing machines, the laundry water is treated and most of the harmful particles are removed before the waste is discharged into rivers or streams.

Whereas with dryers, whose air passes through a duct and is vented directly to the outside world, little has been understood about their effect on the environment.

To understand just how important of a source they are for producing airborne microfibers and contamination in nature, researchers Kai Zhang, Kenneth Leung, and colleagues set out to count the microfibers generated by cotton and polyester clothing from a dryer.

They did this to estimate the amount released into the outdoor air from a single Canadian household's laundry each year.

The team started out by separately drying clothes made of polyester and those made of cotton in a tumble dryer that had a vent pipe to the outdoors.

As the machine ran for 15 minutes, they collected and counted the airborne particles that exited the vent.

The results showed that both types of clothing produced microfibers, which the team suggested came from the friction of the clothes rubbing together as they were being dried.

For both fabrics, the dryer released between 1.4 and 40 times more microscopic fragments than were generated by washing machines.

They also found that when more polyester clothes were put loaded inside, more microplastics were released.

However, when more cotton clothes were put inside, the number of microfibers stayed the same regardless of the load size.

This occurred because cotton microfibers aggregate and cannot stay airborne, unlike polyester.

After the experiment, the team was able to estimate that between 90 and 120 million microfibers are produced and released into the air by the average single household's dryer every year.

To control the release of these airborne microfibers, the researchers suggested that additional filtration systems should be adapted for dryer vents.

The study was published in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology Letters journal.

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