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How Our Dryers Affect Our Environment



A recent study published in the journal PLUS ONE has found that dryers are providing a significant source of plastic pollution.  This has previously been overlooked or ignored.  

Dryers have been found to spray thousands of tiny plastic clothing fragments over distances of up to twenty seven feet every time they are used.

This is the first major study into the environmental effect of clothes washing to look at dryers rather than washing machines and finds that the drying process releases up to forty times more fibres per garment.

These pose a risk to wildlife which can ingest them as they float in the air, settle on the land - and get washed into rivers. And they can potentially end up on the dinner plate as they enter the food chain.

Is this new information?

Well, it was already known that huge amounts of plastic are released into the sewage system and on into rivers and oceans when clothes with synthetic fibers are washed.

Kirsten Kapp of Central Syoming College in Jackson, USA, and lead research of the study goes on to say:

"Our results establish that electric clothes dryers are contributing masses of synthetic and non synthetic microfibers from clothing and home textiles into our environment."

How can this pollution from dryers be resolved?

First and foremost, air dry your laundry as much as possible.  But before you do that, try to buy and use a washing machine that has a good spin function - one that will remove water more quickly and efficiently setting - you up to dry your laundry faster.

No matter which method you choose, there are some key tips for drying your clothes.

Firstly, if you’re buying a washing machine, and as we have said earlier try and find one with a good spin function. A good spin will remove more water more quickly and efficiently than drying, setting you up to get dry clothes faster.

Secondly, line drying outside has some strong benefits. Sunlight is naturally antibacterial with UV light killing off any bacteria that may survive the wash, including those that cause clothes to smell and those which might have a health impact.  In addition, sunlight can gently bleach clothes too. If you’re looking to keep your whites white, hanging on a line can help with that.

Opt for an indoor drying rack too. Many of these fold up and store flat to save space while there are others are specifically designed to be space efficient. Placing a dehumidifier next to the rack when drying indoors will speed up the process and prevent the risk of damp and mold in the home.  Dehumidifiers are electronical appliances that suck moisture out of indoor air, commonly used in areas of the home with high levels of humidity.

However, if you have to use a dryer, remember that the air used in tumble drying typically passes through a duct, or tube, and is vented directly outdoors.  Researchers are working with manufacturers to develop and install a filter that can cut down on the release of plastic microfibres during this process.

In the meantime, households should try to dry polyester and other synthetic clothing on washing lines or indoor racks instead as these materials dry more easily than natural fibres like cotton and wool.

If you do have to dry synthetic garments, do them in small loads as the volume of microplastics released per garment increases with load size because the levels of friction between garments rises sharply the fuller the machine is.

The future for dryers 

Kai Zhang, Kenneth Leung and colleagues from the American Chemical Society (ACS) in their research counted the microfibers generated by cotton and polyester clothing in a dryer to estimate the amount potentially being released into the outdoor air from a household’s laundry each year.

For both fabrics, the dryer released between 1.4 - 40 times more microscopic fragments than were generated by washing machines in previous studies for the same amount of clothing. They also found that the release of polyester microfibers increases with more clothes in the dryer, whereas the release of cotton microfibers remains constant regardless of the load size. The researchers suggest this occurs because some cotton microfibers aggregate and cannot stay airborne, a process that doesn’t happen for polyester.

To control the release of these airborne microfibers, additional filtration systems should be adapted for dryer vents and should be legislated.  And then, the public will need to be educated on the best way to dispose of the contents of those filters otherwise the microfibers and more will end up back in the environment once more...



 The improvement on efficiency and drying performance of a domestic venting tumble clothes dryer by using a heat pipe heat recovery heat exchanger - ScienceDirect

Trace elements in laundry dryer lint: A proxy for household contamination and discharges to waste water - ScienceDirect

The impact of fabric conditioning products and lint filter pore size on airborne microfiber pollution arising from tumble drying - PubMed (nih.gov)