Make a Laundry Filter

To remove plastics from the oceans the best solution is to not put plastics into the oceans in the first place. The biggest source of micro-plastics being our washing machines it makes sense to remove these plastics from the wastewater coming out of our washing machines.

We experimented with many different filtering materials from wire screens to cloth cut out from used clothing. One wants to catch as many fibres as possible, but one also don’t want to change the filter after every wash. It’s best to find a balance between catching the most fibres and changing the filter at intervals that is convenient for you.

Fine or dense filter materials trap a lot of fibres, but that also means they can clog up quickly. Dense fabrics such as ones used for clothing or bed sheets can clog up in less than one load.

Several layers of course filter material with openings approx. one millimetre wide works the best. When layered together each layer may not catch very much, but multiple layers of course material work as well as one layer of fine material. This setup lasts longer, meaning you don’t have to change the filter all the time. The three kinds of filter material that we’ve found to work well are pre-made washing machine lint traps, filters made from plastic luffas, and cheesecloth.

The first thing you need to determine is whether your washing machine empties into a laundry tub or directly into a drain pipe. If it empties into a tub then the solutions are very simple and are outlined below. The first two solutions are filters that clamp onto the end of the washing machine hose and the third one lets the water drain into a filter container. If the hose from your washing machine connects directly into a drain pipe or a laundry box in the wall then it’s a little more complicated. A contained filter unit has to be made which goes in between the machine drain hose and the drain pipe. This unit has to be watertight for obvious reasons. The design for this filter unit is outlined last, but the filter that goes inside it is the same as the first two below-the lint trap or the plastic luffa.

Pre-made Washing Machine Lint Traps

These can be bought in bulk for about $1 per piece. These are made for people who have septic tanks. As plastic is bad for septic tanks, these are meant to remove plastic lint from laundry wastewater. These are merely attached to the end of the drain hose with a reusable plastic tie. We’ve found that one can easily nest three of these inside the other, increasing the effectiveness. You’ll have to monitor this to make sure you change it before it clogs completely and possibly causing damage to the washer. One of these can last for one to two weeks. Your mileage may vary.

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Three lint traps attached to drain hose with plastic tie.

 

Plastic Luffas

The idea here is the same as that of the lint traps mentioned above, but you make these ones yourself. Instead of throwing out old luffas you can put them to use! Plus they’re very cheap. One luffa can yield a tube of filter material more than three meters long, enough to make about ten triple layered filters.

In the middle of every plastic luffa is a plastic tie that holds it together. Simply cut this and you’ll find that the luffa is made up of one long sleeve of plastic weaving. To make the filter, reverse one end of the tube back onto itself by about six inches(15cm). Use a twist tie or plastic tie to cinch the tube where the original end is now. Reverse the new open end over the sleeve. The cinched end is now the closed end of the filter. Cut the top end from the rest of the tube. Now you have a three-layered filter that you can tie onto the washing machine hose.

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Plastic luffa after being cutting centre tie string
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Luffa filter clamped onto drain hose

Cheesecloth

This is the simplest design and is our favourite. It also uses a cotton material that theoretically will decompose over time. The idea is that water from the washing machine will drain into a container that is covered with a filtering material. Water goes through the filter and out of drain holes in the bottom of the container.

Use a plastic flower pot or small pail with drain holes cut into the bottom. Form a bowl with about six layers of cheesecloth and clip it to the container with plastic clips. The drain hose drains directly into the container. With this setup, if the filter clogs completely the water merely overflows, avoiding back pressure and possible damage to the machine. Make sure the end of the hose is above the rim of the container to prevent possible syphoning of wastewater back into the machine.

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Cheesecloth filter using a flower pot
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Lint trapped in a cheesecloth filter after one wash

Filter Unit Made From Whole House Water Filter

This solution is for those whose washing machine drain hose goes directly into a drain pipe or wall box. There’s no laundry tub or the wastewater bypasses the laundry tub. This setup will cost about $80 worth of materials from your hardware store. The materials are a whole house water filter, a rubber washing machine drain hose, two 3/4″ thread to half-inch pipe adapters, two hose clamps, and whatever hardware you may need to mount the filter unit to the wall.

First, find a place on the wall in between the machine and the drain pipe for mounting the unit, the closer to the drain pipe the better. Mount the filter unit onto the wall with the “in” opening close to the drain pipe. The filter unit will work in reverse as the wastewater will be entering the unit through the middle opening of the inside. Screw in the two threaded adaptors.

The curved end of the rubber drain hose is designed to hook into drain pipes. Determine how much is need to reach the unit while the curved end is inserted into the drain pipe and cut there. Attach the cut end to the pipe adapter with a hose clamp. Make sure the clamp is right at the end as close to the adaptor as possible as the there’s not a lot of material to clamp to.

From what is left of the rubber hose cut off approx three inches(8cm). This will act as a way to attach the filter onto the water outlet inside the filter.

Use the leftover section of the rubber hose to attach to the washing machine water outlet. The flared end is designed to fit the attachment point on the back of the machine. Clamp the other end to the adapter on the filter unit. This in point should normally be the “out’ of the filter as we’re reversing the flow of the water filter.

Using one of the filter designs mentioned above and attach it to the short rubber hose section with a plastic tie. Slip the hose end onto the water outlet in the middle of the top section of the water filter unit. I choose to not insert this too tight so that if the filter becomes too clogged then the hose can merely pop off with the pressure, avoiding damage to the machine. I also do not clamp the filter to the short rubber hose section tightly for this reason.

With the unit assembled do a test for water tightness. The rinse cycle is handy for this purpose.

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Filter unit parts

 

 

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Filter unit assembled

Please Give Feedback

We’ve tested these designs to make sure they work, but extensive testing is beyond our abilities. So please tell us how well these designs work for you and whether you have any suggestions. You might even have better designs of your own to share!

Remember that while filtering is one solution the other solutions outlined in the previous blog can be done concurrently and are easy to do.

We might not be able to completely remove all of the plastic lint from our washing machines, but if we all do a little, it will make a significant difference.

How You Can Reduce Ocean Plastics

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The Invisible Mess

You’ll be able to easily reduce your contribution to ocean plastics once you know this one fact: the biggest source of ocean micro-plastics is coming from your laundry. Everyone knows of the issue of micro-plastic beads in toothpaste and facial cleaners. It tends to get the bulk of media attention when it comes to micro-plastics, but that source only contributes 2% of ocean micro-plastics. Your laundry? 35%! The good news is, you can do some very simple things to reduce this problem at the source.

Plastic fibres are very durable but they do break down. Over time, wear and tear break individual fibres and they break off. Just cleaning out the lint trap in our dryers shows how much of this stuff comes off. That source is at least easy to clean up and we can throw that stuff in the garbage where they’ll be contained in a landfill. What is out of mind is the lint coming out during the wash. That stuff goes down the drain pipe and eventually into our lakes and oceans. And if you’re like most people, about half of those fibres are synthetic. But why should we be concerned?

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Being synthetic, plastic molecules are not recognized by nature and the carbon to carbon chains within the molecules are very strong, requiring a lot of energy to break. With no natural processes to break them down plastics stay in the environment for hundreds of years. But the worse part is they are breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. Most of the plastics in our oceans are invisible, at least for us. They’re visible to marine life that feeds on plankton. Micro-plastics look like plankton, and even smells like food to marine life. As plankton is at the bottom of the marine food chain that plastic makes its way up the chain and into the flesh of the fishes that we eat.

Studies have also shown that micro-plastics is in our drinking water. Most of the bottled water tested had bits of plastics in them. But is it bad? There’re reasons to believe these plastic bits are not benign. Plastic molecules are organic compounds, and as such, they absorb other organic compounds such as all those other toxins that we release into the ocean. Plastics are like sponges for toxins.

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Slow The Breakdown of Plastics

So what can you do? Take care of your garments. Two main things break down fabrics–heat and agitation. The ways clothes are cleaned are also the main ways in which they wear out. So the simple thing to do is to be gentle on your clothing by washing and drying on lower heat settings and gentler cycles. Many people are already using only cold water and delicate cycles for both the washer and dryer. The bonus is that your clothes will last longer, saving you money.

If you want to go further, line-dry instead of using the dryer. There’s no tumbling and no high heat involved. Plus you’ll save energy and your clothes will smell great naturally. What about the winter time? Most people on this earth do not use dryers– it’s mostly a North American thing. In the winter they hang their clothes indoors.

Avoid Plastic Fabrics Altogether

The best way to avoid any problem is to avoid it altogether. Remember, the first R of the Three Rs is Reduce. Simply check the label of the clothes you buy. Avoid clothing that contains: polyester, nylon, rayon, polypropylene, lycra, etc.–basically poly-anything. Of course, sometimes artificial clothing is unavoidable such as for high-performance athletic clothing. While there are issues even with natural fibres they’re a relatively shorter term or can be manageable. Natural fibres do eventually break down in the environment.

And the best way to avoid plastic clothing is to just buy less clothing. A lot of our environmental problems stems from our over-consumption. Clothes quickly go out of fashion and are relatively cheap. We dump tonnes of the stuff into third world countries where they devastate the local clothing industry and much of it ends up in the landfill. Just say no.

Make a Laundry Filter

This step may be a little harder but not by much. That hose that comes out of your washer is where that plastic is coming out of, so it’s not too hard to capture those fibres. If you have an older house and your washing machine empties into a laundry tub you can make a very simple container that filters out most of those fibres. If you have a more modern setup where the hose drains right into a pipe it’s a little more complicated. In the next article, we show you step by step how to make your own laundry filter.

So, this is one environmental problem that you have power over. No doubt there will be people out there who will provide even better solutions for this. In the meantime join the many people who are taking simple steps to tackle ocean plastics.

Lint Sanity at Makers Festival 2018

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Soledad Migone at the Toronto Maker Festival

 

Lint Sanity made its debut at the Maker Festival in Toronto July 7th, 2018 and the response was enthusiastic! After a year of experimenting and lots of trial and error, it was time to bring the idea to the public. It was an important step for sensing the level of knowledge and interest out there.

The emphasis from the start of this project was to make the process of removing plastic lint from our laundry water to be as simple and assessable as possible. Maker Festival was the ideal place where people explore taking the processes of making and creating back into their own hands. As such we did not go there trying to sell any product. Rather, we went there first to inform the public of the problem of plastic lint going into our lakes and oceans and second to suggest ideas in how they can tackle this problem themselves.

The attendee response was surprising to us all. Everyone was shocked to learn that 35% of the micro-plastics in our oceans is from our laundry. They’ve all heard of the problem of micro-beads, the issue that’s received all the headlines and political attention. No one knew that the problem of laundry plastics is many times bigger. It was very encouraging that most people saw it as a problem that they want to take personal responsibility for, and many took away information on how to make a laundry filter for themselves.

For those of you who missed the festival, we will post information on this site on the laundry lint problem and how you can take part in the solution.

We will most likely return next year to Maker Festival. The work of spreading the word is a protracted one. In the meantime, we’ll be working with some the groups that we’d met at the festival to do more research and explore ways to bring this project to the next step.

Until next year please give us any feedback and suggestions you might have. We can’t do this without you!