Shedding off-the-grid: The role of garment manufacturing and textile care in global microfibre pollution

Publication Name

Journal of Cleaner Production


Textile fibres are abundant anthropogenic pollutants. These fibres enter aquatic, terrestrial, and atmospheric environments, and biota. Textile fibres pose biological and chemical threats to the environments they pollute. Laundry is a primary source of synthetic and natural textile fibres. Fibre shed from laundry performed in electric washing machines is well characterised. However, over 50% of the global population does not have regular access to an electric washing machine. Without regular access to an electric washing machine, people launder ‘off-the-grid’ with locally specific methods. Their variable laundry methods present a significant challenge to quantifying microfibre shed. This study makes an original contribution to studies of fibre shedding. First, it details laundry protocols in a Global South community. Second, it assesses how textile structure influences fibre shedding independent of laundry practices. To do this, we deploy a hand laundry protocol learned during ethnographic fieldwork. We show that hand-washed garments shed fibres in numbers comparable to machine-washed garments. We show how garment construction (knit and weave) influences fibre shedding. We find fibre type (cotton or polyester) does not. People who hand wash clothing cannot change practices contributing to textile fibre pollution. Thus, industry must act to minimise fibreshed from laundry at the global scale. This entails transforming the design, manufacture, and sale of textiles.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access



Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Illinois State University



Link to publisher version (DOI)