PROBLEM: Artificial Fabrics
Synthetic fibers, such as nylon, polyester, and acrylic, are made from thermoplastics, which off-gas plastic molecules whenever they are heated.1 Every time you wear your favorite wrinkle-free shirt, you’re breathing in plastic.
Perfluorochemicals (PFCs), including the nonstick additive Teflon®, are often added to synthetic fabrics for durability, stain resistance, and wrinkle resistance. PFCs are very persistent in the environment—they have been found in the blood of animals and human beings all over the world.2 Like many other toxins in the home, PFCs accumulate in your body over time in concentrations that are far higher than you would experience in a single encounter with a stain-resistant fabric.
If anything in your closet is a polyester-cotton blend, it was likely treated with formaldehyde and there is a good chance it was softened with chemicals such as ammonia.3 Almost all polyester is manufactured with antimony, a carcinogen that is toxic to the heart, lungs, liver, and skin.4 And next time you’re trying to decide which color looks best on you, remember that many textile dyes and bleaches contain toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), widely regarded as the most dangerous of all plastics, is often made more flexible with the use of toxic plasticizers—typically phthalates, which are known endocrine disruptors—to be used as a substitute for leather.
SOLUTION: Natural Fabrics
Stay away from these fabrics:
Instead, try these more natural alternatives:
Textiles treated with formaldehyde are not required to be labeled, but it was likely used in anything labeled “wrinkle resistant,” “permanent press,” “no iron,” or “water repellant.” The exception is “no iron flannel,” which is wrinkle resistant only because of the weave of the fabric, not because of any chemicals used. If you’re really worried about wrinkles, take the time to iron your clothes.
Just because a fabric is natural doesn’t mean it is free of chemicals. The cotton industry is one of the top five herbicide users in the United States,5 and uses more than a quarter of all applied insecticides and pesticides in the world.6 The EPA considers all of the top nine pesticides used to grow cotton to be Category I or II in toxicity, or the most hazardous.7 Not only are these chemicals in your clothing next to your skin, but they’re leeching into the soil anywhere traditional cotton is grown. Organic cotton is growing in popularity—it shouldn’t be too difficult to find. At the very least, seek it out for your sheets and pajamas that you come in contact with for a third of your day.
When buying wool, make sure it is not labeled “moth-repellant,” as this means it has been chemically treated. Use a natural moth repellant in your closet instead, such as cedar.
Don’t feel overwhelmed. It might be impossible for you to change your entire wardrobe over to natural fabrics in one day, but you can favor the natural clothing you already have, and next time you go shopping, look for something flattering in organic cotton. If you do feel the need to buy synthetic fabrics, be sure to wash them before wearing them to remove a little of the excess finishing and dye.
1 Debra Lynn Dadd, Home Safe Home, (New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2004).
2 EPA, “Research Highlights,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/news/102009/news102009.html (accessed November 18, 2010)
3 Gretel H. Schueller,”From Hippie to Hip,” Audubon Magazine,http://www.audubonmagazine.org/audubonliving/audubonliving0911.html (accessed November 18, 2010).
4 William McDonough, Michael Braungart, “Transforming the Textile Industry: Victor Innovatex, Eco-Intelligent Polyester and the Next Industrial Revolution,” green@work, May-June 2002.
5 Croplife Foundation, “Pesticide Use in U.S. Crop Production: 2002,”http://www.croplifefoundation.org/Documents/... (accessed November 18, 2010).
6 Gretel H. Schueller,”From Hippie to Hip,” Audubon Magazine,http://www.audubonmagazine.org/audubonliving/audubonliving0911.html (accessed November 18, 2010).