Exel® microfibre cloth tests prove low microplastic shedding

Monday, October 14, 2019

We’ve all heard about the growing concern around oceans polluted with plastic waste - War on Plastic’s Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall vividly showed how the equivalent of a truckload of plastic waste is dumped into the world’s oceans every minute.

Attention is now firmly on consumers, supermarkets and fast food chains, amongst others, to come up with ways to solve this global problem. That’s why our attention recently turned to making sure our range of microfibre products do not significantly contribute to microplastics building up in the oceans.

Robert Scott’s quality manager Paul Seddon explains our findings.

Microfibre, as the name implies, is a very thin thread largely made out of plastic, much thinner than a human hair, and it’s used to make a wide range of textile products like clothing – your fleece jacket is likely to be made out of this stuff for example – even some luxury tea bag brands, and also cleaning cloths as it has fantastic cleaning properties.

So, what’s the problem?
When our cloths are washed, they can shed tiny microfibres, which are so small they aren’t removed by waste water plants and end up being washed out to sea. Unlike natural fibres like cotton and wool, synthetic fibres don’t biodegrade and so stick around for a very long time. And studies have shown that these synthetic fibres make up a large proportion of microplastics found in oceans, and can potentially enter the food chain.

Why is microfibre used to clean?
Microfibre technology has in many ways surpassed the performance of traditional cleaning as it does a fantastic job at effectively removing dirt, grease and bacteria from a wide range of surfaces.

It’s made from split synthetic fibres, often polyester based, which are much finer than other textiles so have more fibres per cloth. In addition, microfibres have a very large surface area and are naturally charged so that they have a strong suction effect.

Trials carried out have indicated that microfibre consistently outperform traditional cloths in terms of their ability to remove dirt, grease and bacteria from a variety of surfaces, making them an excellent product for both commercial and domestic cleaning. They also reduce the need for synthetic and potentially harmless cleaning chemicals.

You can use them dry when dusting and the fibres create static, which attracts dust leaving a smear-free finish. When cleaning, wet with water and ring out thoroughly, then the fibre’s capillary action helps scrape the surface, lifting and capturing dirt and bacteria.

But are they harmful to the environment?
We wanted to make sure that the microfibre used in our leading cloth, the Exel microfibre cloth, minimised any harmful effects on the planet and didn’t outweigh the positives of using less chemicals.

To do this we sent samples to an independent laboratory in Germany that specialises in testing the shedding of microfibre laundry conditions. Here they simulated 100 washes at 50oC and measured the filtration of shredded microplastics after each cycle. This is based on what they call the MLC Index, which is the amount of microparticle loss per cleaning cycle of one square metre of textile.

The lab then rates its findings much in the same way as the energy efficiency rating method used for electronic products and light bulbs, but with an A rating meaning low emission, B medium emission and C high emission.

We’re really pleased when the test results came back with Exel® being awarded an A, placing it firmly in the low emission band. This means the cloth is proven to shed less than many products.

What else can we do?
But there are things you can still do to help reduce the risk of plastic pollution. Some of these are suggestions from friends of the Earth and are definitely worth trying:
  1. Wash at low temperatures.
  2. Put your washing in a special bag like the Guppy bag.
  3. Fill the washing machine, which creates less friction and possible less shredding.
  4. Reduce spin cycles, which has a similar effect to the above.
  5. Use normal settings rather than delicate wash as more water sheds more fibres.
  6. Air dry rather than tumble dry.
  7. And use good quality cloths, like the Exel, so they can be repeatedly reused and kept for longer.
Top tips when considering microfibre products
And finally, what else should we consider when deciding to use microfibre cloths to clean?
  • Make sure they are low linting and short pile reduce shedding. This also means they’re less likely to leave fluffy deposits while you clean on high gloss surfaces such as metal and mirrors.
  • Microfibre requires less water and chemicals making it cost effective and beneficial to the environment.
  • It absorbs around seven times its own weight in liquid, which is perfect for cleaning up spills.
  • They are easy to clean, quick to dry and can be washed many times over.
  • Though microfibre doesn’t kill bacteria, it effectively lifts and removes 99.9% of anything that is on a surface.