Lint is the common name for visible accumulations of textile fibers and other materials, usually found on and around clothing. Certain materials used in the manufacture of clothing, such as cotton, linen, and wool, contain numerous, very short fibers bundled together. During the course of normal wear, these fibers may either detach or be jostled out of the weave of which they are part. This is the reason that heavily used articles like shirts and towels become thin over time, and why these particles collect in the lint screen of a clothes dryer. Because of their low surface area, static cling causes fibers that have detached from an article of clothing to continue to stick to one another and to that article or other surfaces with which they come in contact. Other small fibers or particles also accumulate with these clothing fibers, including human and animal hair and skin cells, plant fibers, and pollen, dust, and microorganisms. The etymology of the modern word "lint" is related to "linting", the term used for the cultivation of the shorter fibers from the cotton plant (Gossypium), also called "lint", from which lower-quality cotton products are manufactured. Lint is composed of threads of all colors, which blend hues and may appear to be a uniform grey.
Varieties of lint
Dryer lint is lint generated by the drying of clothes in a clothes dryer; it typically accumulates on a dryer screen. Underwriters Laboratories recommends cleaning the lint filter after every cycle for safety and energy efficiency.
Navel lint (also known by names such as navel fluff, belly button lint, belly button fluff, and dip lint) is an accumulation of fluffy fibers in the navel cavity. Many people find that, at the beginning and end of the day, a small lump of fluff has appeared in the navel cavity. This lint is an accumulation of cloth fibers that are scraped by body hair. The reasons for its accumulation in the navel are a subject of speculation. A likely hypothesis is that rubbing of navel hairs and clothing contributes to a build-up of static electricity, resulting in the collection of clothing fibers and to a lesser extent, dead skin cells.
Georg Steinhauser, a chemist writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, said that small pieces of fluff first form in the hair and then end up in the navel at the end of the day. He further said that abdominal hair often seems to grow in concentric circles around the navel; the scaly structure of the hair enhances the abrasion of minuscule fibres from the shirt and directs the lint towards the belly button. Steinhauser established that shaving one's belly will result in a fluff-free navel but only until the hairs grow back. His other suggestions include wearing old clothes, which tend to shed less lint than newer garments, which can lose up to one-thousandth of their weight to the belly button over the course of a year. A body piercing can also be used, with belly button rings particularly effective at sweeping away fibres before they lodge. Another method, not noted by Steinhauser, is to wear denim jeans with a belt holding them up perpendicular to the navel.
Pocket lint is debris including bits of fabric as well as small shreds of paper and tissue that are often found in pockets. It may be caused by running the clothing through a washing machine one or more times, causing the pocket lining or contents to compact and shred.
As pocket lint is an amalgamation of the contents of the pockets, pocket lint can be helpful when determining if drugs have been previously stored in the pockets, by testing it with various drug tests. In a survival situation, pocket lint can be used as kindling for starting a fire.
Inhalation of excessive amounts of lint, as observed in early textile workers, may lead to diseases of the lungs, such as byssinosis. Lint shed from clothing during the course of wear may also carry bacteria and viruses. For this reason, the presence of lint presents a danger during surgery, when it might carry microorganisms into open wounds. It has been demonstrated that due to the abrasive contact between clothing and skin, "a person wearing a standard cotton scrub suit actually sheds more bacteria than without clothing". Lint presents a threat to the environment in spaces that generally do not experience human contact, constituting "one of the primary polluters" in cave exploration.
Lint contamination also presents what may be the most serious threat of damage to delicate mechanical devices. In order to prevent lint contamination, workers entering clean rooms are generally required to wear an outer layer of clothing made from artificial fibers that are longer and thicker, and therefore much less likely to shed any material. Lint-resistant clothing materials include elastic fabrics like spandex (or Lycra), for which the fibers will tend to stretch rather than break, and longer, stronger polyolefin fibers such as Tyvek.
Lint on clothing is generally considered unattractive and unprofessional. Furthermore, lint may be abrasive and may damage the clothing itself. For this reason, visible lint is often removed with a lint roller or clothes brush. The accumulation of lint during clothes cleaning can be reduced with the use of a fabric softener, which reduces the amount of static electricity on clothing surfaces and therefore prevents the lint from sticking to the clothes.
Dryer lint, which collects on the lint screen of a clothes dryer, is highly flammable and therefore presents a fire hazard. However, because of this flammability, dryer lint may be collected for use as kindling, although burning man-made fibres can produce toxic fumes.
Uses of lint
It is possible to compost lint retrieved from the lint screen on a dryer by adding it to other materials being composted. The texture of the material allows the organic matter within it to compost quickly and easily, but depending on the source it may include inorganic fibers and materials which never break down.
Lint is useful to examine in forensic science because it is accumulated over time, and because the fibers shed from clothing not only adhere to that clothing, but also adhere to other particles to which the carrier is exposed. The lint on a person's clothing is therefore likely to contain material transferred from the various environments through which that person has passed, enabling forensic examiners to collect and examine lint to determine the movements and activities of the wearer. Examiners may use various chemicals to isolate lint fibers from different articles of clothing based on differences in color and other characteristics.
As noted above, dryer lint burns readily. Although this may present a hazard in the household, it also means that lint makes excellent tinder for starting fires. It is especially useful for catching sparks from flint and steel, or similar striker-type fire starters in the absence of matches.
Lint has been used as a form of wound treatment for cuts and sores as early as 1500 BC and as recently as the American Civil War. Lint used specifically for treating wounds was sometimes referred to as charpie.
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