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Is Microfiber Harming the Planet? The Environmental Impact of Microfibers

Are microfiber products harmful to the planet? Here's everything you should know about the environmental impact of microfibers.

Written by
Angelica Pizza

Microfiber is a synthetic material that's used in numerous products, from cleaning cloths to clothing. While some consider it an eco-alternative to single-use paper towels, there are some major downsides that keep it from being a sustainable swap. Cue in microfibers.

As the name suggests, microfibers are extremely small synthetic fibers—usually made from polyester and nylon—that make up microfiber products. While microfiber material is versatile and durable, microfibers are essentially teeny-tiny pieces of plastic. And every time you wash microfiber products, microplastics make their way into the environment.

While it may be hard to avoid microfibers and microplastics, it's not impossible. Here's everything you need to know about microfibers—plus what to look for instead.

The Environmental Impact of Microfibers

Microplastics are extremely small. According to National Geographic, they're usually less than 5 millimeters in diameter: That's only 0.2 inches! So while your microfiber towels or sheets may be a lot bigger than this measurement, the fibers themselves are minuscule. And despite their small size, they come with a massive impact.

Plastic may never fully decompose. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller particles over time, polluting our oceans and the atmosphere in the meantime. And microplastics spwasecifically are too small to decompose, so they remain the same size and continue to pollute waterways.

In fact, plastic particles from synthetic clothes contribute up to 35% of the plastic that pollutes our oceans. About 14 million tons of microplastic are currently living on the ocean floor.

Plastic pollution in oceans has a multifaceted impact on the environment. First, the pollution impacts marine life, causing diseases and putting marine life at risk. Think of coral reefs. Coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate—we've lost half our coral reefs in just 30 to 35 years. And when we lose coral reefs, other marine animals are negatively impacted.

Plus, coral reefs aren't the only organism impacted by microplastic pollution. Our beloved, but endangered, blue whales are also impacted—they can ingest these microplastics. Currently, over 240 wildlife species are known to have ingested plastic pollution.

However, the problem with microfiber isn't just the decomposition process that occurs at the end of a product's life. The problem occurs throughout the object's life. Doing just one load of laundry can release an average of 9 million microfibers, sending them straight to wastewater treatment plants that are unable to filter these tiny plastics.

In other words, simply owning and using microfiber products increases your environmental impact. However, it's not too late to make some sustainable swaps. If you're looking to avoid microfibers, but you're not sure what to look for instead, here's your guide.

What You Can Do

1. Avoid Synthetic Fibers

One of the best ways to reduce your microplastic and microfiber consumption is to avoid consuming items made from synthetic fibers. That means opting for 100% organic fibers, like organic cotton or organic bamboo. To find the most sustainable organic fibers while shopping, it's best to check the labels.

If you're not sure where to begin, and you're interested in making the switch to microfiber-free products, check out the Microfiber-Free Hair Towel in the Brightly Shop. The towel is lightweight and made from organic cotton and bamboo. It's even chemical-free and biodegradable.

2. Do Less Laundry

Yes, you can do less laundry. According to our research, you can wear your clothes between two to four times before washing. And if you work from home, you can get three or four wears out of some clothing items!

Check out our guide for how often you should be washing all your garments, including underwear and sleepwear. You'll reduce your water footprint, and you'll greatly decrease the number of microfibers your laundry routine will release.

3. Use a Microfiber-Catching Laundry Ball

Speaking of laundry, you can also use a laundry ball that collects microfibers into a fuzz we can see. That way, you can dispose of them the right way.

This ball also helps prevent microfibers from breaking off your clothes. All you need to do is toss it in the washer. The rest of the work is done by the ball! Grab one for yourself right here.

4. Keep Textiles Out of the Landfill

This step can be done in a number of ways. First, you can donate old clothes made from synthetic fibers if you no longer want them. Local thrift stores or charities are always looking for donations. However, if your clothes are too worn to donate, be sure to look into textile recycling (or mend the holes before you do!).

You can also utilize your textiles for a creative DIY project. Upcycling textiles and turning them into reusable towels or hair scrunchies are a great way to lengthen the life of your previously unsustainable materials. And doing this prevents your textiles from getting sent to the landfill where they'll release greenhouse gases and pollute the atmosphere.