Plastic clothes. A frayed disaster.

Vanessa Koch — — 5 minutes

Did you know that 35% of the microplastics arriving in the sea comes from the laundry in our washing machines? No wonder, because many of the clothes in our wardrobes and textiles in our households are made of mixed fabric or consistently 100% plastic.

Sag nein zu Kleidung aus Plastik
Say no to plastic in your clothes (Photo: Cleyton Ewerton from Pexels)

This means that every time we take our clothes off, wash or shake them, the smallest fibres are released into the environment. But it is not only our clothes that give off microplastics. Also our home textiles. When we wash the fleece blanket or the great practical microfibre cloth, thousands of tiny fibres are released.

A few numbers on that:

According to a study by the British "Plymouth University", in an average wash, about 138,000 fibres from polyester-cotton blended fabrics and about 496,000 fibres from polyester end up in the wastewater. Acrylic fabric beats everything. Here it is even about 730,000 fibres per wash that evaporate into the waste water. These fibres, or rather particles, cannot be filtered out by sewage treatment plants. They are simply too small and eventually end up in rivers, in groundwater and, of course, in the oceans.

An idea: special wash bags, they should prevent the fibres from getting into the waste water. But where to put the leftovers? How are they disposed of? At the moment they clearly belong in the residual waste.

How clothing affects our health.

Articles of clothing made of plastic, especially sportswear, are suspected of being unhealthy. This is because direct contact with the skin during perspiration can cause chemical substances produced during manufacture to be released from the clothing and absorbed into the body through the skin. Many of these are softeners which the body perceives as hormones. This makes the hormone balance crazy. Diabetes, thyroid diseases and also infertility can be the consequences. And, of course, it is above all the products that are often chemically contaminated that are cheap and mass-produced in countries where there are hardly any controls.

The marketing departments and industry react promptly: "Let's use recycled plastics. Preferably from the sea!" No kidding. Who knows if these plastics bring toxic substances from the sea. In order for the "new" clothes to be stable and last, new raw materials must be added. Sure, less plastic in the sea sounds great. But it is only a fraction that is fished out of the sea and "recycled". But the effect for the brand is all the greater. Classic greenwashing, but the environment doesn't get much out of it.

One question remains: What happens after the clothes are washed? So far, hardly any company has managed to establish a functioning closed loop recycling management or recycling system. And even if they do, the vicious circle simply continues.

Here is a list of the plastics that hang in an average wardrobe:

T-shirts and sweaters:

Elastane and Lycra (EL): make fabrics stretch and make your sweater fit tight.

Thicker sweaters:

Polyacrylonitrile (PAN), polyamide (PA) or polyester (PES).


Nylon (PES) and acrylic (PAN) to prevent the wool from getting nodules. 100% polyester (PES), viscose (CV) if the knitwear is to be for sensitive people, grooms and vegans.

Dresses and skirts:

Elasthane and other flexible synthetic fibres such as viscose (CV), lyocell (CLY), polyester (PES) or cupro (CUP) are mainly used for light summer dresses that fall smoothly or stretchy pieces.


Even the good old jeans are no longer just made of cotton. Elastane (EL) and polyester (PES) are added for body accentuation.

Sports- and swimwear:

These clothes must be particularly fit: Swim trunks, bikini, sports bra, leggings, yoga pants are therefore mostly made of polyamide (PA) and elastane (EL).


Bras and panties must keep their shape and be easy to care for. Without elastane or lycra (EL) there is hardly anything possible. Polyamide (PA) and Lyocell (CLY) are also used.


They should also dry quickly and keep their shape and must not slip on the foot. That is why there are various blended fabrics with TENCEL/Lyocell, elastane, lycra, polyester, polyamide or acrylic.

By the way: Only Lyocell, which is produced in the EU, is viscose made of wood or bamboo without any chemicals. Bamboo is also viscose and therefore a chemical fiber. A lot of chemicals are used until bamboo is as soft as cotton.


Jackets contain most synthetic fibers. For microfibres, which are particularly thin, a whole range of synthetic materials are used: polyamide (PA), polyacrylic (PAN) and polyester (PES). If it has to be waterproof, it is coated with polyacrylic or worked with microporous membranes made of polyurethanes or copolymers. Also the inner lining often consists of a mixture of plastics, especially viscose (CV), cellulose acetate and nylon (PES).

Fleece, woven furs and synthetic skins:

This is where microfibre is at home. Quasi the El Dorado of plastics, plastics wherever you look.


Again, there is only one solution. And it is short and painless. Do not wear garments made of plastic or with plastic components. Buy less and instead consciously from natural materials.