Save the planet by washing your clothes less often

With each wash, synthetic fabrics shed thousands of plastic particles, leading to broad-scale contamination of waterways.
With each wash, synthetic fabrics shed thousands of plastic particles, leading to broad-scale contamination of waterways.PHOTO: ST FILE

LONDON (Guardian) - The clothes you wash and wear each week might seem unconnected to the growing plastic pollution crisis in oceans but a sobering truth is emerging.

With each wash, synthetic fabrics shed thousands of plastic particles, leading to broad-scale contamination of waterways.

Doing the laundry has other environmental implications, too, from the water and power used to the harmful substances hidden in common detergents.

A more natural approach to laundry is crucial for the health of humans and the planet, so consider practical steps on how to make the switch.

When buying new clothing, avoid petroleum-based synthetics including polyester and nylon, which are plastics that shed thousands of microfibres when washed.

Too small to be trapped by wastewater treatment plants, these microfibres pollute rivers and oceans - as University of New South Wales ecologist Mark Browne discovered in a landmark 2011 report.

One easy solution is doing less laundry less often. Obviously, items such as undies and socks need washing after each wear, but clothes that do not sit directly on skin - such as jackets, coats and jeans - can be worn five or more times before needing a wash.

Laundry detergents, bleaches and softeners need careful selection, too. Many products contain sodium laurel sulphate and optical brighteners, both skin irritants, as well as artificial fragrances, usually derived from petrochemicals - all of which act as toxins once flushed into waterways.

Gravity is your friend when it comes to low-impact laundry. Front-loading washing machines, which continually tumble clothing upwards before gravity pulls the lot back down into wash water, use far less energy and water while more effectively cleaning clothes.

For heavily soiled or delicate clothes, think twice about dry cleaning. The usual process involves soaking clothes in a harsh solvent that is a probable carcinogen.

And clothes will be returned to you wrapped in plastic.