Should you throw away your polyester fleece?

In Dutch talk show Radar of 7 October, our director Maria Westerbos said to presenter Antoinette Hertsenberg: ‘Fleece? No way, get rid of it.’ And then a discussion began at the Plastic Soup Foundation. After all, what is the most environmentally friendly way to deal with your old fleece sweaters? Not an easy question.

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Should you throw away your polyester fleece?

Fleece or ‘polar fleece’ was invented as a light-weight replacement for wool in the late 1970s, keeping us warm in the winter. But it’s now coming back to haunt us. Why? You may ask. Fleece is commonly made of polyester, and polyester is a synthetic fabric. And synthetic clothes are just one more of the hazards that are threating the environment and, as we have recently learned, human health.

What makes polyester fleece a clothing item of high-risk is the way it’s made: fleece yarn is very weak because the fibers are very short, and they come off easier than from other clothing items. Just by wearing and washing fleece, thousands and millions of these plastic fibers are shed and end up in the environment, including the air around us. More than one-third of the microplastics in the ocean come from synthetic clothing. Plastic microfibers have been found in food, water, and air.

But don’t run to the bin with all your polyester fleece just yet! If you already own a polar fleece, there are other things you can do to protect yourself and the environment.

This is what you can do:

  • Change your washing habits: if you REALLY need to wash your polar fleece, wash it at low temperature, use washing liquid instead of powder, use fabric softener, avoid long washings, and don’t use a dryer. Check out more tips in our website.
  • Use a washing machine filter: stopping the fibers already in your household, before they make their way to the ocean by adding a PlanetCare Microfiber Filter to your washing machine. This filter stops (proven!) 90% of the synthetic fibers.
  • Clothes pollute more the first few times we wash them, so consider buying less new clothing and keep your old for as long as possible.
  • Never buy very cheap fleece products. The fibers of these are extra vulnerable.
  • Consider donating old fleece, as well as other old clothing. If you donate your old fleece, you prevent other people from buying new one.
  • Find recycling initiatives for textiles in your area: there are some projects where old clothing is recycled into new material for new clothing.

Laura Díaz Sánchez – Microfiber campaigner


For more information about microfibers go to our campaign website Ocean Clean Wash.