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What should I pick for sportswear if synthetics are bad (microplastics)? It's not a pleasant experience to sweat in cotton clothes (whether organic or not).

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Use a fine-mesh bag when washing your sportswear

The first goal of sustainability is to goods for as long as possible. Microplastics are a real concern, but we don't need to throw our synthetic textiles into the trash. Instead, make sure to put your synthetics in a fine-mesh bag (like the Guppyfriend*) when doing your washing. This will trap at least 90% of the fibres that break off, substantially decreasing the amount of microplastics that end up in the ocean.
*I have no affiliation or connection with this brand, I just know of them as a good solution to this problem.

Consider natural fibres

Natural fibres like wool (from animals) and hemp (from plants) can be woven to produce fabrics and textiles with desirable properties for sportswear. Merino wool is moisture-wicking and retains its insulating properties even when damp, making it a good choice for activewear. Vegans may prefer to avoid animal-based products, so they should look toward hemp-based apparel as one of the most sustainable fibres for producing textiles.

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    I wonder where those microplastics from fine-mesh bags go. Do you collect the plastic dust from it and put it in the trash after every washing? Or do they accumulate in the bag until it's time to throw the bag away? Or do they just stay on your clothes? Sep 6 '21 at 8:40
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Nic
    Sep 7 '21 at 17:15
  • @nic it's a pitty you effectively deleted those comments. They were helpful, to an extent Dec 27 '21 at 5:00
  • @SergeyZolotarev The comments are still readable in the chat room that I linked to above. Stack Exchange is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. As a site moderator, I aim to uphold the norms of the Stack Exchange network, including those about commenting. If you want to discuss further, join the chat room and send me a message.
    – Nic
    Dec 27 '21 at 16:55
  • @nic I see the message that the page was deleted Dec 28 '21 at 1:57
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A couple of further suggestions, that don't involve buying new products (though a similar bag could be made from an old pillowcase):

Use a gentle wash cycle, to reduce the agitation that releases microplastics. I've seen conflicting advice on the effects of soaking and whether we should prefer a cycle that uses a lot of water or a little.

Save the synthetics for when they're needed: If you're outdoors all day in all weathers, carrying all your kit, choose stuff that's lightweight, wicking, quick-drying, etc. If you're just going to the gym, or for a short run in nice weather, a cotton T-shirt might not be so bad after all - probably not your best ones as they can end up less than fresh even after a good wash if you have to save up your washing to make a load. If you exercise frequently, this can reduce the amount you need to own, and prolong the life of synthetic garments.

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The sustainability of synthetic fibers cannot be reduced to microplastic shedding. In general, polyester (and other synthetic fibers) use much less water during production, no pesticides and have other environmentally positive aspects like their recyclability (at least to some extent) as well as longer life cycles. So while swapping polyester sports clothing for wollen or cotton ones might reduce microplastics, the swap might bring about other detrimental effects.

Buying as little clothin as possible with the highest possible quality (that lasts the longest), washing less often and on a gentle cycle and environmentally friendly detergent (while still making sure that the clothing gets sufficiently cleanded, increasing its usability duration) and repairing existing clothing is the way to go for environmentally concious clothing consumption.

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  • +1 but note that "washing less often" probably doesn't apply in this (sportswear) case. It may even be counterproductive as kit that's been sweated in repeatedly without washing can end up being thrown out for being permanently stinky (as well as being offensive to those around you).
    – Chris H
    Oct 21 '21 at 13:30

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