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Domestic clothes dryers can pollute the air with microplastics

February 08, 2022
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Domestic clothes dryers can pollute the air with microplastics

It is important to keep the environments in which we live clean and healthy as well as to protect the quality of the air in our homes. We often think of the pollution that comes from the outside or of the harmful substances released from furniture or stoves, yet a potential risk to the air we breathe can also be represented by the clothes dryer, especially when synthetic clothes are dried. But let's get a better understanding based on a very recent study published in the journal ACS Environmental Science & Technology Letters by a team of scientists from Hong Kong (Tao et al, Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., 2022).

Microfibers in clothes

Previous studies had already observed that the washing machine releases microfibers taken from clothes fabrics into its waste water. These microfibers are tiny pieces of clothing, they can be natural, when the dress is made of cotton, or synthetic, when the dress is made, for example, of polyester. In this case we are talking about microplastics that can potentially pollute our seas. However, these waters are treated and filtered in order to remove a good part of these microfibers to prevent them from flowing into rivers and seas. But what happens when the dryers are used? These machines are certainly comfortable, because wet laundry that does not dry can be very unpleasant. But can they be polluting?

The clothes dryer releases microplastics, even more than the washing machine

To answer this question, the scientists tried to dry clothing items with a domestic dryer, analyzing with separate tests clothes made of cotton and synthetics, in particular made of polyester. After fifteen minutes of running the machine, the scientists collected samples of the air coming out of the dryer. What emerged is that in both cases microfibers are released, probably generated by the friction of clothes rubbing together. This amount was 1.4 to 40 times higher than the amount of microfibers produced by a washing machine when working with the same items of clothing. Not only that, it has also been observed that the more synthetic clothes are added to the dryer, the more it releases microplastics into the air. However, this does not happen when the clothes are made of cotton. The researchers explained this fact considering that it is easier for cotton fibers to aggregate without remaining in the air. The estimate made by the researchers is that a single household dryer can release between 90 and 120 million microfibers into the air each year. The problem with microfibers in the air is that they can absorb pollutants and transport them over long distances. Not only that, if inhaled or ingested they can cause allergies, irritation but also diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a respiratory disease, generated by chronic inflammation of the airways, which causes great difficulty in breathing.


The researchers of the study propose, to solve the problem, to insert an additional filter to the dryers in order to prevent many of the microplastics from spilling into the air of the house and from there being breathed or ingested. While waiting for such precautions to be taken, it is good to be aware of this fact so that you can decide on the use of these machines in your own homes.

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