Rate of Dryer Lint Accumulation or: How Fast Do My Clothes Disappear?
December 9, 2015 6:52 AM   Subscribe

I pull a little handful of dryer lint out of the dryer every time I dry my clothes. What is the percentage of clothing lost to lint from drying per dry? How long until my clothes turn completely into lint?

I'm thinking of figuring this out experimentally, but I figured I would ask you guys first.
posted by gregr to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think it plateaus after a while. New clothes shed lint a lot, older clothes just lose a few crumbs of lint with each drying. The clothes will likely fall apart structurally before becoming a lint ball a la dandelions.
posted by jet_pack_in_a_can at 6:56 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

You would also have to figure out what percentage of the lint was from the clothing. There's some nonzero amount of body hair, skin, sweat, soap, etc. in there.
posted by Etrigan at 7:07 AM on December 9, 2015

You could also do it by weight -- weight of one shirt before washer/dryer, weight of one shirt before dryer (optional), weight of one shirt after dryer + weight of all captured lint. Repeat. The first time through the wash/dryer cycle, yes, there would be hair, sweat, crumbs, etc washed off and potentially captured as a part of the lint. In the following washings (if the shirt is washed "clean") less of the lint should be non-shirt based.

Difficult things to measure: Some of the shirt/detritus will also be consumed in the washing machine process and carried away with the dirty water. Some of the lint will not be captured by the lint trap and will be sucked through the dryer vent and/or turned into such fine lint that it coats the interior of the lint collection area. Some of the lint production might be a by-product of wear -- wearing sweaters for example "loosens" the fibers and makes them more likely to become lint. If the shirt isn't worn between experimental washings/dryings, then the lint produced may be smaller than real life lint. Also there will still be shirt "remnants" at the end of the shirt cycle that are fabric & producing lint but the item is no longer really "shirt". At the point at which the fabric begins to break apart, more pieces of "fray" are exposed which may spike the lint curve at end of life.

And yes, as others have noted, the lint production is likely to decrease as the shirt fabric ages. You'll probably end up with a sort of curve to track degradation over time which may not accurately predict when the shirt fully becomes lint.
posted by countrymod at 7:16 AM on December 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think one thing to think about is that doing these experiments will yield an average rate for the diminishing of all of your clothes in aggregate. I know that my clothes wear at tremendously variable rates. Some tshirts may last a year, while I have others that I bought 10 years ago and are still pretty well intact.
posted by incolorinred at 7:22 AM on December 9, 2015

There may be some useful insights to be gained by consulting the results of K. Kruszelnicki's 2002 BBL Survey.
posted by zamboni at 7:43 AM on December 9, 2015

i can't imagine the lint weight more than a few grammes. a typical load of washing is probably 5kg. so the lint is around 1/1000 the mass of the washing. so you'd need to wash things about 1000x times for them to "disappear".

even my favourite clothes get washed no more than once a week. 1000 weeks is approximately 20 years. i don't have any clothes that old. so i don't think you need to worry.
posted by andrewcooke at 7:53 AM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

The clothes will likely fall apart structurally before becoming a lint ball a la dandelions.

This. I had the weirdest thing happen the other day: after drying my 15-year-old cotton pants for the 1000th time, I put them on and they were absolutely huge on me. Not just the dead elastic waist band, but the whole thing; the legs were wider, the crotch falling to the floor. I realized that the whole fiber structure of the thing had given away, RIP my favorite pants.
posted by Melismata at 7:55 AM on December 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think a lot depends on both the type of fiber, the weight of the fiber, and the structure of the fabric. I had a nice heavy Land's End cotton t-shirt that lasted for a decade and then suddenly blew out like Melismata describes, and I have a cheapo no-name cotton t-shirt I bought earlier this year that's already pilly and sort of "sprung" feeling.

I definitely observed the plateau effect with an L.L. Bean chamois cloth shirt that I had for abotu 12 years; most of the soft, fuzzy, brushed fibers all came out during the first third of the shirt's life, and by the time I retired it (the ) the fabric looked more like light canvas... not much lint in the trap. And that one was bright red, so there was no missing the lint.
posted by usonian at 9:28 AM on December 9, 2015

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