Hidden Toxins in Clothing and Fabrics

Fabric may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about living a healthier lifestyle, but it definitely should be considered. Even many health nuts don’t realize that synthetic fabrics are teeming with chemicals and dyes that cannot be washed out, making them a potential health hazard.  Organic cotton, wool, and linen are the safest options when it comes to health.

Toxins in Your Textiles

Most synthetic fabrics, from towels to dress shirts to bed linens, are treated with chemicals during and after processing. These chemicals not only leach into the environment, leaving an impact on groundwater, wildlife, air and soil, but they also may be absorbed or inhaled directly.

The use of man-made chemicals is increasing, and at the same time we have warning signals that a variety of wildlife and human health problems are becoming more prevalent,” says Dr. Richard Dixon, Head of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) Scotland. “It is reckless to suggest there is no link between the two and give chemicals the benefit of the doubt. Urgent action is needed to replace hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives especially in clothing and other consumer products.

Teflon in Your Trousers

Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are increasingly being added to clothing because it makes them last longer and also can make them wrinkle-free. Most clothing labeled “no-iron” contains PFCs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that PFCs are cancer-causing compounds. However, “no-iron” and “wrinkle-free” pants have become a popular part of many schools’ compulsory uniforms. Hardly the thing you’d like to send your child off to school in, but other options usually aren’t provided.  Without knowing it, parents are exposing their children to toxic chemicals with unforeseen health and environmental consequences.

Your Clothing’s Chemical Cocktail

Man-made fabrics are complex, and getting a soft pullover out of raw materials takes some measure of chemical manipulation. For instance:

  • Chemicals are used to make fibers suitable for spinning and weaving.
  • A formaldehyde product is often applied to prevent shrinkage. This product is applied with heat so it is trapped in the fiber permanently.
  • Petrochemical dyes, which pollute waterways, are used for color.
  • Chemicals are added to make clothing softer, wrinkle-free, fire-retardant, moth-repellant and stain-resistant.
  • Commonly used chemicals include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and dioxin-producing bleach.
  • Nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals, whose production creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that’s 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
  • Rayon is made from wood pulp that has been treated with chemicals, including caustic soda and sulphuric acid.
  • Dye fixatives used in fabrics often come from heavy metals and pollute water systems.
  • Acrylic fabrics are polycrylonitriles, which may be carcinogenic.
  • Clothing and fabric that is treated with flame-retardant chemicals, such as children’s pajamas, emit formaldehyde gas.

Avoid dry cleaning your clothing.  Perchloroethylene, the chemical most widely used in dry cleaning, is a VOC known to cause cancer in animals and note that chemicals used manufacturing for fabrics like those listed below have been linked to health problems (cancer, immune system damage, behavioral problems and hormone disruption.

Acrylic Or anything labeled:
Polyester static-resistant
Rayon wrinkle-resistant
Acetate permanent-press
Triacetate no-iron
Nylon stain-proof

The natural fabrics listed below breathe and naturally wick moisture away from the body.  Don’t forget that unless something is labeled organic it may have been treated with pesticides while growing, and some of those pesticides will remain in the fibers.

Cotton Cashmere
Linen Silk
Wool Hemp

Additional Clothing Tips

Use unscented, homemade, oil-based soaps.  Check out my video.

Do not use conventional dryer sheets; they are loaded with toxic chemicals. An excellent alternative is a dryer ball.  Check out my video on how to make them.

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