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KBzine: the original kitchen and bathroom industry e-newssince 2002
28th January 2021


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When, whilst writing for the cleaning industry, I discovered microfibre, it was marketed as a miracle product. Soon, all types of equipment was manufactured from it - or adapted to incorporate it - and we became convinced that its reusability and ability to clean without chemicals made it kinder to the planet. I hadn't realised that it wasn't just cleaning products which were made from this material, but clothing and throws too... and nor had I realised, that far from being kinder to the planet, the material brought its own problems in as much as the fibres were leaching off in the wash and entering our water systems.

Soon we were encouraged to treat the material gently to reduce this leaching; research suggested that drum spin speed, number of spinning direction changes and length of pauses in the cycle (agitation) was the most important factor. This was overturned by later studies which discovered that delicate wash cycles were more damaging. Later research revealed that the volume of water used, rather than spinning action, was the key factor: the higher the water-volume-to-fabric ratio, the more damaging the process.

Now a new study by the University of Leeds with Proctor & Gamble has found that laundering at 25 degrees C for 30 minutes halves the number of microfibres released compared to an 85 minute, 40-degree cycle. It stops items from fading, too.

Some people think I'm daft when I say we no longer need to separate lights from brights and darks since at 30 degrees colours don't run (there are exceptions, as my red silk blouse proved!) and that it's best economically and environmentally - and personal energy-wise - to wash a full load whenever possible. I also argue that there's no need to boil wash items that have blood on them. A 30-degree wash will do the trick. Putting items in too hot a wash can damage them, causing them to fade, lose their 'stuffing', wear more quickly and lose their shape, often meaning we have to discard them which adds to the landfill problem.

This idea that a 20 degrees wash is even better is all very well, but aren't most washing machines manufactured so that a 30-degree wash is easy to achieve? And aren't most detergents formulated to work best at 30 degrees? While washing at even lower temperatures is better for the environment, surely there comes a time when the environmental costs of the drive to develop such machines and detergents - and have us all start using them, outweighs the benefits achieved?


Jan Hobbs



20th January 2020

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