Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:04 pm

If you want your clothes to last longer and help protect the environment, opt for cooler, shorter washing cycles…

Scientists researching the impact that washing machines have on clothes and the environment found that, compared to warmer, longer cycles, shorter, cooler washes:

  • Helps clothes keep their colour and last longer
  • Releases significantly fewer microfibres into wastewater
  • Significantly reduces colour transfer, which is a major cause of lights and whites becoming duller

Every load of washing releases hundreds of thousands of microfibres – tiny strands that are flushed down the drain. Many reach beaches and oceans where they can remain for many years and be swallowed by sea creatures.

Reducing both washing cycle length and water temperature reduces the number of microfibres shed into the environment and can significantly extend the life of clothes.

Keeping clothes out of landfills

“We are increasingly familiar with the environmental threat posed by throwaway fast fashion, but we also know that consumers claim that their clothes can lose their fit, softness and colour after fewer than five washes.This means that it’s more likely they will ditch them long before they are worn out, says report lead author Lucy Cotton, from the University’s School of Design.

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“Using shorter, cooler washes is a simple way everyone can make their clothes last longer and keep them out of the landfill.”

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Testing washing cycles

Dr Cotton worked with Dr Adam Hayward and Dr Neil Lant from P&G’s Newcastle Innovation Centre, as well as Leeds colleague Dr Richard Blackburn.

Mimicking average household loads, the researcher washed 12 dark and eight brightly-coloured T-shirts, together with white fabric squares to test colour-fastness.

Conventional domestic washing machines and Ariel pods of biological detergent were used, comparing 30-minute cycles at 25°C, and 85-minute cycles at 40°C (both with 1,600rpm spins) for 16 cycles each. The research was repeated and validated with authentic loads of dirty laundry provided by UK consumers.

A series of tests were carried out on the garments and fabric squares, and the washing machine waste water analysed. Chemical analysis distinguished individual dyes washed out of the clothing, and microfibres were collected and weighed.

The tests established:

  • There was significantly less colour loss in the T-shirts that were washed using the cooler, quicker cycle
  • Quicker, cooler washes decreased dye transfer from coloured washing
  • Significantly less microfibres were released into wastewater during the quicker, cooler wash
  • The researchers found that washing with a quicker, cooler cycle reduced the amount of microfibre release into the environment by up to 52%, and cut dye release by up to 74%.

What is more, washing clothes at 20°C rather than 40°C saves approximately 66% of the energy used per load – according to the Energy Saving Trust, providing even more reason to use quicker, cooler cycles to reduce energy use and CO2 emissions.

Source: University of Leeds via

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