Toxic Chemicals Found In Clothing

Have you ever come across a piece of clothing you'd bought recently or had in your closet for a while that just never smelt right?  Well...

Have you ever come across a piece of clothing you'd bought recently or had in your closet for a while that just never smelt right?  Well, that's what happened to me recently which prompted me to research what kinds of chemicals go into making clothing and the information blew me away.

The Spray

When we shop for clothing, not many of us consider the toxic burden we are putting on our bodies and the environment. Most fabrics used to make our clothing are highly processed using several chemicals.

Even fabrics including natural fibers like cotton go through extreme processing that involves dioxin-producing bleach, detergents, volatile organic compounds, petrochemical dyes and (you guessed it) one of the top carcinogens that seems to hide in every product these days: formaldehyde (which is used to prevent molding when shipping clothing overseas and shrinkage). These chemicals are often toxic to the human body and contain chemicals that pollute the environment.

Formaldehyde usage in most clothing is not strictly regulated in countries like China where the majority of clothing sold in the US are made because these countries have no regulations on the use of these carcinogenic chemicals.

And beware of clothing and blankets that advertise being static resistant, permanent press, stain or moth proof. Many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon.

Beware of baby clothing and other items (like blankets) made for babies, especially if they advertise that they are "non-flammable" as they are often pre-treated with toxic flame retardants.

The Touch

Not so long ago, our fabric choices were limited to natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, linen, hemp and cashmere but today we have newer fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylics and how they're created is something definitely cringe-worthy.

Polyester is formed from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid.

Nylon is created from petroleum and its permanent chemical finish can be toxic.

Rayon is basically recycled wood pulp that has to be treated with chemicals like sulfuric acid, ammonia, caustic soda and acetone.

Acetate and Triacetate are also made from cellulose (wood fibers) and sustains extensive chemical processing before they're finished.

Acrylics are polycrylonitriles and (according to the EPA) may cause cancer.

Honestly, are any of these chemicals things you would slather on your body on a daily basis?  Acetone? Petroleum? Ammonia?  Formaldehyde? No, thanks. Yet we're doing this on a daily basis with the clothing we wear without  knowing.


If you're worried about your new clothing retaining traces of formaldehyde or other harsh chemicals they've most likely been sprayed with, try washing them a few times with plant-based, natural laundry detergents before wearing to lessen your exposure. Many people have also suggested giving new clothing or bedding a good soak in vinegar or baking soda before washing in the hopes of drawing out some of the chemicals.

When doing your shopping, search for natural fibers in your clothing fabrics (and bedding, too!) like cotton, wool, silk, linen, hemp, or cashmere.  If you can, try implementing clothing made with organic fabrics into your wardrobe.

If you're feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of going organic in your wardrobe, start with replacing the garments that are closest to your skin, e.g., underwear, socks, bras and undershirts and allow your more organic wardrobe to grow from there. Lean towards wearing pieces in your closet that are made from natural fibers like cotton.

It's always important to wash newly purchased garments (even organic garments) because they still may need to be processed to some extent.  However, they are still considered a healthier option than their synthetic counterparts.

I have found that organic styles and garments are more expensive than "regular" caustically treated synthetic fabrics (and for good reason). Change your outlook by reminding yourself that it is better to have few, very good quality pieces than a closet full of synthetics that are cheaply made and are toxic.

But don't freak out if it takes you forever to get there. If you do a little with good intent, it's better than doing too much with no good intent at all.

And, finally, here are a bunch of resources for you to shop for your organic clothing, bedding and bath needs.  Good luck! :)

  • PACT: Organic undergarments for men and women. They also sell baby clothing.
  • Cottonique: Chemical Free clothing for men, women, children and babies.
  • Fair Indigo: Organic clothing for men, women, baby and kids, gifts and home and garden products.
  • Indigenous: Men and women's organic, fair-trade clothing.
  • Blue Canoe Organic: Women's organic tops, bottoms, dresses, lingerie and scarves.
  • Synergy Organic Clothing: Women's organic dresses, tops, bottoms, yoga apparel, outerwear and accessories.
  • Burt's Bees Baby: Yup, the same Burt's Bees that make the lip balms, body washes, etc. Organic clothing for babies and children for affordable prices! (I highly recommend them, bought several pieces of clothing for my 19 month old during one of their great sales and am impressed with the quality!)
  • Coyuchi: For all of your stylish, organic bed, bath, kitchen and nursery needs!
  • Believe it or not, you can sometimes find some great deals on organic clothing if you search for them on Amazon.

(Article Sources: -1-  -2-  -3- -4- )

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