Sustainable Fashion

Everything you want to know about the sustainability of the textile and fashion industry

Microfiber Shedding – Environmental Concerns and Proposed Solutions

Microfibers are small fragments that are actively shed from textiles throughout their lifecycle.1 Most often, these fragments are composed of plastic and derived from synthetic clothing. Microfiber shedding is of cause for serious environmental concern, with the release of primary synthetic fiber fragments from textiles estimated to be 500,000 metric tonnes annually.2 In addition to this, natural fibers are also increasingly coming into focus as well due to the ability of these plant-based microfibers acting as holding vessels for the transmission of chemicals into the environment.1,2

The fragmentation of fibers into microfibers occur based on a variety of factors and processes, such as textile construction, finishing processes, washing methods, the age of the textile(s) as well as the fiber types.2 In a study conducted by the Ocean Wise Conservation Association, it was found that polyester textile samples shed the most through laundering.3 Similarly, plant-based fibers such as cotton and wool textiles were also found to shed significant amounts of microfibers.3

In order to address microfiber pollution, solutions that reduce microfiber shedding and prevent the release of these fragments into the environment are essential; once microfibers enter the environmental ecosystem, they are very difficult to remove and can remain unchanged and persist for years.2,3

There are a variety of global initiatives underway that are working to provide innovative solutions to this ongoing problem within the textile industry. Examples include The Microfiber Consortium (TMC), which is striving to reduce microfiber shedding within textile manufacturing and product lifecycles, and the Cross Industry Agreement (CIA), which is seeking to address microplastic release during laundering.2

While international collaboration is an essential step in reducing microfiber pollution at the industry and associated levels, the need for individual, at-home solutions are also vital since the shedding of textiles in home laundry washing machines is a significant source of aquatic microfiber contamination.3 For instance, a single clothing item in just one laundry cycle has the potential to release as many as 120,000 to 730,000 microfibers, much of which ends up in large bodies of water.3

To reduce microfiber shedding at home, the National Environmental Education Foundation recommends solutions such as switching to cold water washing cycles, decreasing the frequency of washing and also installing a microfiber filter into washing machines.1

Source: National Environmental Education Foundation. (2021). What you should know about microfiber pollution. Retrieved from: 

Unfortunately, microfiber pollution is not limited to the aquatic environments; fiber fragments can also contaminate terrestrial environments such as soil and land as well as airborne fragment emissions in factories which can lead to adverse health impacts such as chronic lung disease in workers.2

In conclusion, the importance of reducing microfiber shedding cannot be overstated. Action is required at the individual, organizational and policy levels in order to take action towards the necessary changes in order to eliminate the issue of microfiber shedding within the textile industry and protect human and environmental health.


  1. National Environmental Education Foundation. (2021). What you should know about microfiber pollution. Retrieved from: 
  2. Opperskalski, S., Siew, S., Tan, E., & Truscott, L. (2020). Preferred fiber & materials market report 2020. Textile Exchange. Retrieved from: 
  3. Vassilenko, K., Watkins, M., Chastain, S., Posacka, A., & Ross, P.S. (2019). Me, my clothes and the ocean: The role of textiles in microfiber pollution. Science Feature. Ocean Wise Conservation Association. Retrieved from: