Laundry Care Regimes: Do the Practices of Keeping Clothes Clean Have Different Environmental Impacts Based on the Fibre Content?

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Roy Kettlewell & Stephen Wiedemann

Abstract

Clothing maintenance is necessary for keeping clothing and textiles functional and socially acceptable, but it has environmental consequences due to the use of energy, water and chemicals. This article discusses whether clothes made of different materials are cleaned in different ways and have different environmental impacts. It fills a knowledge gap needed in environmental assessments that evaluate the impacts based on the function of a garment by giving detailed information on the use phase. The article is based on a quantitative wardrobe survey and qualitative laundry diary data from China, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA.

The largest potential for environmental improvement exists in reducing laundering frequency and in the selection of washing and drying processes, and through a transition to fibres that are washed less frequently, such as wool. Adopting best practice garment care would give larger benefits in countries like the US where the consumption values were the highest, mainly due to extensive use of clothes dryers and less efficient washing machines combined with frequent cleaning. These variations should be considered in environmenta assessments of clothing and when forming sustainability policies. The results indicate the benefits of focusing future environmental work on consumer habits and culture and not only technologies.

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Microfibres from apparel and home textiles: Prospects for including microplastics in environmental sustainability assessment

Beverly Henry, Kirsi Laitala & Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Abstract

Textiles release fibres to the environment during production, use, and at end-of-life disposal. Approximately two-thirds of all textile items are now synthetic, dominated by petroleum-based organic polymers such as polyester,polyamide and acrylic. Plastic microfibres (b5 mm) and nanofibres (b100 nm) have been identified in ecosystems in all regions of the globe and have been estimated to comprise up to 35% of primary microplastics in marine environments, a major proportion of microplastics on coastal shorelines and to persist for decades in soils treated with sludge from waste water treatment plants.

In this paper we present a critical review of factors affecting the release from fabrics of microfibres, and of the risks for impacts on ecological systems and potentially on human health. This review is used as a basis for exploring the potential to include a metric for microplastic pollution in tools that have been developed to quantify the environmental performance of apparel and home textiles. We conclude that the simple metric of mass or number of microfibres released combined with data on their persistence in the environment, could provide a useful interim mid-point indicator in sustainability assessment tools to support monitoring and mitigation strategies for microplastic pollution. Identified priority research areas include: (1) Standardised analytical methods for textile microfibres and nanofibres; (2) Ecotoxicological studies using environmentally realistic concentrations; (3) Studies tracking the fate of microplastics in complex food webs; and (4) Refined indicators for microfibre impacts in apparel and home textile sustainability assessment tools.

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Use phase of apparel: A Literature review for Life Cycle Assessment with focus on wool.

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Beverley Henry

Summary

This report presents a literature review of clothing use phase. The purpose is to support improved methodological development for accounting for the use phase in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of apparel. All relevant textile fibres are included in the review. However, the main focus is on wool. We ask whether the use of wool has different environmental impacts than clothes in other fibres. The report builds on a review of literature from the past 20 years. The review showed that clothing made from different materials are used, and reused in different ways. Wool is washed differently as it has about ten degrees lower washing temperature than the average laundry in Europe. Wool is also more likely to be either dry-cleaned or washed by hand than other textiles. Moreover, when dried, it is less likely to be tumble-dried.

When comparing the number of days between the washes of different types of clothes, we found that respondents were likely to use their woollen products about twice as long between washes compared to their equivalent cotton products. We also found that woollen products had a longer average lifespan and were more likely to be reused or recycled. There is a lot of research-based information available concerning the use and re-use of clothing, and we believe there are sufficient results available on which to base LCA studies. Furthermore, we believe that environmental tools that compare different fibres but exclude use phase provide misleading results. Including the use phase in fibre ranking benchmark tools will improve the rigour and accuracy of these tools for all fibres, compared to reporting results for fibre production only. However, we have also shown that there are several methodological, conceptual and empirical knowledge gaps in existing literature.

Click here to read the full report (researchgate.net)

Global laundering practices: Alternatives to machine washing

Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp & Beverly Henry

Abstract

This article discusses laundering practices around the world including alternative methods such as washing by hand, airing, steaming, and dry-cleaning. These methods, which have received little attention in research, are often more suited toproducts made of wool, silk or other materials able to be cleaned using gentler techniques than more commonly used fibers such as cotton and synthetics. The material is based on extensive literature review from the past 20 years and reanalysis of previously unpublished survey data.The results show that washing by hand is common and that is the main laundering method in most rural areas of developing countries, but also significant for smaller portion of laundry in developed countries. Dry cleaning is less common, and mainly used for specific clothing items. Simple method such as airing can reduce the washing frequency, and thus reduce the environmental impacts resulting from the cleaning of clothes.

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What’s the Problem? Odor-control and the Smell of Sweat in Sportswear

Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Madeline Buck, Kirsi Laitala & Marit Kjeldsberg

Abstract

Sport and fitness are increasing in popularity, and so is awareness of body odor. Both are aspects people wish to gain control over, as promised by the marketing of sportswear with odor-controlling properties. This article discusses how the heightened awareness of body odor has developed, and how unpleasant odor varies between textiles made of different materials. A sensory analysis by a consumer panel was used to evaluate the odor intensity of 13 different fabric samples taken mainly from sportswear.

The so-called odor-control textiles smelled less intense than similar polyester samples without such treatment. Wool and cotton smelled significantly less intense than both odor-control and polyester when the samples were sweaty or aired. After washing, the odor-control textiles had a level of odor intensity that was in between that of the cotton and woolen samples. The odor-control treatment reduced the smell, but not enough to make a difference on laundering frequency, and the textiles smelled still more strongly than wool.

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Patched, Louse-ridden, Tattered: Clean and Dirty Clothes

Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Abstract

“Patched, louse-ridden, tattered—clean, beautiful, gem.” As children we recited this rhyme in Norwegian: “Lappete, lusete, fillete—ren, pen, edelsten,” as we picked petal after petal from a daisy. All the words can be understood as descriptions of the child’s future clothes. Clean is the turning point in the rhyme. Clean is thus seen as the first step on the way towards the gem, and it conveys here the same meaning as in the saying “whole and clean is the greatest finery.” Both emphasize clean clothes as crucial to the judgment of a person’s appearance. In the world of fashion it has been alleged that “anything goes.” This is probably true if we restrict “anything” to small variations in the look, decor, color, and style of clothes. However, our way of dressing also depends on more absolute norms.

This article explores the norms that deal with the relationship between clean and dirty clothes. Despite the fact that there is abundant research on cleanliness and laundering on the one hand, and clothes and clothes habits on the other, there are few points of intersection between the two fields. The article is an attempt at seeing these two themes in conjunction. It investigates how clothes, by being kept clean, make bodies socially acceptable. The article looks at how the demand for cleanliness varies in relation to age, gender, and class, and compares these demands to what we know about decency.

Click here to read the full article (tandfonline.com)

Lukten av svette: luktutvikling i ulike tekstiler

Marit Kjeldsberg, Kjersti Eilertsen, Madeline Buck & Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Sammendrag

Det er utviklet en metode for å samle opp svette og bedømme lukt i tekstilprøver for å undersøke hvordan forskjellige materialer lukter etter bruk, lufting og vask. Følgende tester er også utført: Varevekt metode i henhold til standard NS-EN 12127:1997. Vannopptaksprosent i henhold til modifisert metode basert på standard NF G 07- 166: 1993. 13 ulike tekstiler delt inn i kategoriene antilukt, ull, bomull og syntetisk ble testet. Alle tekstilene ble vasket fem ganger før testing. Videre ble effekten av tøymyker på lukt undersøkt. Prøvene ble evaluert av et forbrukerpanel med 12 SIFO ansatte. Resulatene er basert på vel 3200 observasjoner og beregningene er utført ved hjelp av Exel og SPSS. Testen ble utført i samarbeid med Myren Sportssenter i tidsrommet 12.-26. september 2011.

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Potential for environmental improvements in laundering

Kirsi Laitala, Casper Boks & Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Sammendrag

Life cycle assessment studies on clothes, detergents and washing machines show that the use period is usually the most energy-demanding period during these products’ life cycle, even higher than production or transportation phases. Laundering practices are constantly changing and influenced by social, cultural and moral norms. Even though the technologies in clothes cleaning have improved greatly, the length of time that consumers use for washing clothes has not been reduced. We own more clothing and wash it more frequently. This increased amount of washing counteracts the technological improvements in laundry.

This paper discussed the options of changing consumer habits in clothing maintenance to a more environmentally friendly direction and attempts to evaluate which changes would be the most feasible and efficient. Laboratory trial results on washing were compared with earlier research on consumers’ washing habits. Laboratory-based tests measuring cleaning effect, energy and water consumption were performed in order to evaluate the consequences of changing the washing temperature, filling grade, detergent dosage or drying method. The cleaning effect tests showed that today’s detergents are suitable for low temperature washing, and by selecting an efficient detergent, the cleaning result can be better at 30°C than with a less efficient detergent at 40°C. When washing only slightly soiled textiles or small loads of laundry, the detergent amount can be reduced. Many textiles changed more in colour or strength if they were washed at higher temperature(60°C) than at lower temperature (40°C or below). Tumble-dried textiles shrank more than line dried. These facts can be used to motivate consumers to change behaviour in order to reduce the environmental impacts of textile maintenance.

Click here to read the full article (wiley.com)

Fra rent til nyvasket: Skittent og rent tøy

Ingun Grimstad Klepp

Summary

This report is an enquiry into why we wash clothes. What is it we expect when we place clothes in the washing machine? The most immediate reply must be that we want to have clean clothes. This is certainly part of the answer. But this alone does not explain either why we wash more than ever, or the manner in which we wash – and neither does it explain what is implied in the concept of ‘clean’. So what is ‘clean’ when “There is no such thing as absolute dirt” (Douglas 1997).

The material used to answer this question is drawn from various types of literature: handbooks, textbooks, surveys of washing customs, and guides on how to wash clothes. Another important source is the questionnaires sent out by Norwegian Ethnographic Surveys. A central assumption in answering this question is to look at what has been washed. Previously, washing clothes has been studied as a change in technology and time-use. But dirty and clean clothes have not formed part of these studies – with one exception: Eilert Sundt’s book on cleanliness in Norway For this reason, the following report commences with a history of soiled clothes! Here, we trace the history of different types of dirty linen from Sundt’s study of Norway in the 1860s until the present day.

The report has given an answer to why we wash clothes, but it has not answered the question why it is we women who continue to undertake this task. The project From clean to newly-washed has not yet been completed. In subsequent work we will investigate why clothes-washing is one of the most women-dominated areas within the housework arena.

This article is written in Norwegian and you will find a link to it below.

Sammendrag

Rapporten undersøker hvorfor vi vasker. Hva ønsker vi å oppnå ved å legge tøyet i vaskemaskinen? Det mest nærliggende svaret er at vi ønsker å få tøyet rent. Og sikkert er dette en del av svaret. Men det forklarer verken at vi vasker mer enn før, eller at vi vasker annerledes – og det forklarer slett ikke hva som ligger i begrepet rent. For hva er rent når, som Mary Douglas uttrykte det, «there is no such thing as absolute dirt» (Douglas 1997:2).

Det materialet som brukes for å besvare spørsmålet er ulike typer litteratur: skikk og bruk- bøker, lærebøker, vaskevaneundersøkelser og litteratur med råd for klesvask. En annen viktig kilde er spørrelister sendt ut av Norsk Etnologisk Granskning (NEG). En helt sentral forutsetning for å svare på spørsmålet er å se på hva vi har vasket. Klesvask har tidligere vært studert som endringer i teknologi og tidsbruk. De skitne og rene klærne er ikke skrevet inn i denne historien, med ett unntak; Eilert Sundts bok om renslighetsstellet i Norge (Sundt 1975). Derfor starter rapporten med en skittentøyshistorie. I den forfølger vi ulike tekstiler som skittentøy fra hans beskrivelser av Norge på 1860-tallet og frem til i dag.

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