You try your best to avoid toxins in your food, water, and beauty products, but have you ever wondered if the same chemicals lurk in the clothes you wear? Some clothing materials that come in contact with your skin have proven to be rife with toxins of which you’d otherwise steer clear. The production of toxic materials in clothing also may have a hand in some disappointing environmental effects, such as impure public water supplies.
Invisible Toxins and Visible Reactions
Allergic reactions and contact dermatitis are more common when you wear synthetic clothing materials. And when chemical dyes, glues, and resins are added to a fabric, its toxicity levels increase. If you’re sensitive to these additives, it may be best to avoid clothing not labeled as hypoallergenic, organic, or sustainable.
Wrinkle-resistant fabrics are also a red flag that chemicals like formaldehyde were used in its production. Some synthetic clothing can produce asthma symptoms as well. A simple tip? Often you can tell if the blouse you’re about to buy used toxic materials is by smelling it. If it has a strong or offensive, unnatural odor, ditch it for that bamboo tunic on the next rack.
The Eco Bandwagon
You’ve undoubtedly seen labels touting organic cotton, bamboo, or even hemp fabric, and wondered if these materials are actually better for you. Some manufacturers simply hop on the eco-friendly bandwagon. But is this bandwagon going anywhere—or at least, anywhere helpful?
Yep. In fact, eco-friendly business is booming not just because people want to follow the hype, but because you’re more keen to the dangers of the chemicals that are so prevalent in the things you buy. Nontoxic clothing materials like industrial hemp and bamboo actually use less water than crops like cotton and don’t require the use of pesticides.
Bamboo and Organic Cotton
Bamboo fabric is among the most environmentally friendly clothing materials you can buy. Because bamboo is biodegradable, highly sustainable, and in no need of pesticides, it’s a wonderful alternative to typical cotton fabrics. Clothing produced with bamboo is breathable, antibacterial, and comfortably soft on your skin. Industrial hemp fabric is a great resource for eco-friendly clothing as well, and for similar reasons: It requires no pesticides, and its production requires less energy than that of cotton. Hemp fabric is also known to block the sun better than cotton.
Keep in mind organic cotton is becoming more widely available, too—especially as people awaken to the damage pesticides cause, not only by ingesting conventional produce but by wearing clothes laden with this common ingredient. Buying organic cotton not only reduces the number of toxins you breathe and expose your skin to, but can lessen the amount of pesticide chemicals released into the water supply when washing your clothes. Other good fabric alternatives to look for are silk, flax, wool, and tencel (made from sustainable wood pulp).
Clothing Materials to Avoid
Although cotton is the most common fabric, conventional cotton crops require heavy pesticides and chemicals. Of course the bleach and dyes that cotton fabric manufacturers use in its production only add to its toxicity. If you do buy conventional cotton, purchase items that don’t sit so close to your skin for most of the day, and wash before you wear them. Therefore, fitted garments like underwear and sleepwear are best when organic or natural.
To avoid the toxic fabrics used for materials in clothing, look for what’s listed on the manufacturer’s tag or label. Here is what to avoid:
- Polyester, which is made from petrochemicals)
- Vague tags that tout “wrinkle-free,” “antimicrobial,” “cling-proof,” “waterproof,” or “easy care”
- Rayon, which is not sustainable, as the wood pulp rayon uses is treated with irritants like sulfuric acid
- Nylon and acrylic fabrics, which can be carcinogenic
- Acetate and tri-acetate fabrics, both produced with environmental contaminants that could cause hormone disruption
- Vinyl, PVC, or artificial leather, which can create toxic pollution
With the fabrics to avoid in mind, it’s easy to change to a more eco-friendly wardrobe. Even clearing your closet of just a few of these materials can make a difference.
What materials do you like to avoid in your wardrobe? Let us know on Twitter.
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.
Why It’s Good
All fabrics may have an environmental impact no matter how safe and nontoxic a fabric may be. Water, energy, and land are all affected in the production of materials used in clothing. Adding more eco-friendly choices to your wardrobe will support sustainable clothing manufacturers who care about what touches your skin. The more you avoid clothing materials made with toxins, the safer and more comfortable your family will be.