Clothes last longer with cooler washing

New research into the impact of washing machine cycle times has shown that shorter, cooler washes can help clothes last longer and make a positive environmental impact.

Scientists from Leeds University and specialists from detergent maker Procter & Gamble (P&G), have conducted research into wash cycle duration to gain insight into how laundering clothing affects both the garment and the levels of microfibre release – something that accounts for around a third of all plastics reaching the oceans. 

Lead author Lucy Cotton, from the university’s School of Design, worked with Leeds colleague Dr Richard Blackburn, as well as Drs Adam Hayward and Neil Lant from P&G’s Newcastle Innovation Centre, using both laboratory and consumer testing to validate results.

The scientists washed 12 dark and eight brightly-coloured t-shirts along with white fabric squares and compared 30-minute cycles at 25°C, and 85-minute cycles at 40°C, for 16 cycles each. The research was then repeated using authentic loads of dirty laundry from UK consumers. 

Analysis of the washing machine wastewater and microfibre weight showed a reduction in the amount of microfibre release into the environment by up to 52 per cent, and up to 74 per cent in dye release, by using the cooler, quicker cycle.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, washing clothes at 20°C rather than 40°C has also been shown to save approximately 66% of the energy used per load and can play an important part in reducing CO2 emissions and energy use. 

Cotton said: “We are increasingly familiar with the environmental threat posed by throwaway fast fashion, but we also know that consumers claim their clothes can lose their fit, softness and colour after fewer than five washes — this means it’s more likely they will ditch them long before they are worn out.

Using shorter, cooler washes is a simple way everyone can make their clothes last longer and keep them out of landfill

– Lucy Cotton, lead research author, Leeds University School of Design
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