A team of researchers at the University of Toronto have designed a solution to reduce the amount of microplastic fibres shed when washing synthetic fabrics.
In a world swamped by fast fashion – an industry that produces a high-volume of cheaply made clothing at an immense cost to the environment – more than two thirds of clothes are now made of synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, polyester, acrylic and rayon.
When clothes made from synthetic fabrics go in the washing machine, the friction caused by cleaning cycles produces tiny tears that cause microplastic fibres – measuring less than 500 micrometres in length – to break off and make their way down laundry drains to enter waterways, where the particles can be difficult to remove and take decades or more to fully break down.
But U of T researchers say the slippery solution to this problem could already be in your cabinet: a silicon-based organic polymer coating found in many household products.
Kevin Golovin, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and his team have created a two-layer coating made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) brushes, which are linear, single polymer chains grown from a substrate to form a nanoscale surface layer.
Experiments conducted by the team showed that this coating can significantly reduce microfibre shedding of nylon clothing after repeated laundering, according to findings published in Nature Sustainability.
“My lab has been working with this coating on other surfaces, including glass and metals, for a few years now,” says Golovin. “One of the properties we have observed is that it is quite slippery, meaning it has very low friction.”
PDMS is used in shampoos to make hair shiny and slippery, and is also used as a food additive in oils to