How To Avoid Microplastics at Home

Scientists estimate we consume a half pound of plastic a year. Here's how to reduce your exposure to microplastics.

Microplastics are everywhere, from the tops of mountains to the bottoms of our coffee mugs. They’re in the air we breathe and the food we eat. We still know little about the harms these tiny particles of plastic may be causing, but scientists are concerned their dangers will be increasingly significant as they accumulate in our air, water, soil and bodies.

Even before all the research unfolds, limiting our exposure to microplastics is prudent according to Fay Couceiro, Ph.D., professor of environmental pollution at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.

“Another way to look at it is we are unlikely to ever be stating the health benefits of eating and breathing microplastics,” Couceiro says, “so reducing their numbers can only benefit us.”

Although it’s impossible to remove microplastics from our lives completely, there are ways to reduce the number that get into our bodies. Here are some top tactics for avoiding microplastics at home.

Choose Natural Materials

When buying household items, opt for nontoxic, multi-use materials like stainless steel, ceramic and glass. They’re good green-living choices that are easier to reuse, refill, repair and share.

“When you must choose single-use,” says Erica Cirino, communications manager of Plastic Pollution Coalition, “be sure to use items that are more likely to be recycled, like aluminum and paper, or are nontoxic and compostable, such as wooden cutlery, mycelium [mushroom] packaging or algae straws.”

Ditch Bottled Water

Swap out single-use plastic bottles with a reusable stainless steel one. “If you drink bottled water, you’re consuming at least twice as many plastic particles in your water as those who drink only tap water,” says Cirino.

Vacuum-insulated models are also great for job sites and offices because they keep your drinks cold or hot for most of the day.

Filter Your Tap Water

Reverse osmosis systems are the most effective type for removing microplastics. Whole-home, sink-mount and under-sink units all do the job. Granular activated carbon filters, including some water pitcher and portable models, can also remove a large number of microplastics.

“Some of the more inexpensive filters may not be effective though, as they were not designed to remove microplastics,” says Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. Refer to the manufacturer’s specs for an individual product’s capabilities.

Proactively Practice Prevention

Plants and animals are harmed by microplastics. That’s a problem for us, because those microplastics get passed on when we eat them. It’s also a problem because we rely on the healthy ecosystems they create.

Because microplastics are nearly impossible to remove once they’re unleashed, practice prevention by cutting down on single-use plastics and picking up plastic garbage when you see it.

Up Your Laundry Game

A lot of fibers from our synthetic clothes break off in the wash and go down the drain. Most water treatment plants don’t filter them out, which means they end up downstream in nature.

Using a filter in the washing machine that catches microplastics might prevent some of that, but it’s better to simply cut down on clothing that contains microplastic fibers. Also, line dry your clothes instead of running them through the dryer, reducing the number of microplastics scattered in the air.

Regularly dusting and vacuuming around the house also keeps particles out of the air.

Eat Healthier

“Generally, trying to eat more fresh food instead of plastic packaged and processed foods is better,” says Stoiber. Also, steer away from plastic-wrapped produce when you can. And choose canned goods with BPA-free linings, because any food that comes in contact with plastic can be contaminated by microplastics.

It’s doubly healthy to avoid foods wrapped in plastic. “Ironically, the plastic packages used to protect food are also a source of chemical contamination to the food,” says Melissa Valliant, communications director of Beyond Plastics.

Swap Out Kitchen Tools

Use a wood cutting board. Store and re-heat food in glass containers. Switch to wooden spoons and metal spatulas.

Also, when eating out, avoid single-use plastic cups and cutlery (bring your own if the restaurant only offers those). And bring glass containers for leftovers.

Buy Natural Clothing and Bedding

Check the labels and opt for cloth made from natural fibers like cotton and wool. “If that t-shirt is polyester, do we need it?” says Couceiro. “This can reduce how many microplastics we breathe in and how many we eat.”

Don’t forget: Microplastics lurk in baby and pet toys, too!

Unplasticize Your Personal Care

Plastic microbeads are in many brands of personal care products, including toothpaste, body wash, facial scrubs, sunscreen, deodorant, makeup and nail polish. Do a little research to find brands that don’t use them.

Try the Plastic Free July Challenge

Join the 100 million-plus people trying to nix plastics for a month. Sign up for emails with tips, tricks and motivational ideas.

Spread The Word

Tell your elected leaders you want them to reduce the production and use of unnecessary single-use plastic, and encourage industries to turn to safer and more sustainable packaging.

“In a wider view of this, this problem can’t be solved by consumer behavior alone,” says Stoiber. “Governments need to work together to shift commerce away from plastic.”

Karuna Eberl
A freelance writer and indie film producer, Karuna Eberl covers the outdoors and nature side of DIY, exploring wildlife, green living, travel and gardening for Family Handyman. She also writes FH’s Eleven Percent column, about dynamic women in the construction workforce. Some of her other credits include the March cover of Readers Digest, National Parks, National Geographic Channel and Atlas Obscura. Karuna and her husband are also on the final stretch of renovating an abandoned house in a near-ghost town in rural Colorado. When they’re not working, you can find them hiking and traveling the backroads, camping in their self-converted van.