When you think of health, some of the most common things that come to mind are the food you eat and how much exercise you get. And these, of course, are extremely important to improve and maintain health. But, have you ever given any thought to the clothes you wear? Think of it, we live in our clothes. We dress for work, play, sleep and everything in between. So, fabrics are around us nearly all the time, but did you know that your material choices could be harming your health?
It used to be that people pretty much stuck to the natural fibers like wool, cashmere, cotton, silk, linen, and hemp. But, I’ll bet if you go in your closet and check out your clothing labels today, you are most likely to find materials like rayon, polyester, acrylic, acetate and nylon. And, did you know that your shirts and slacks might have been treated to be wrinkle-free or stain resistant? And while this helps you escape such mundane tasks as ironing, what is the cost of this convenience?
Synthetic fabrics (and sadly, some naturals ones as well) that are chemically treated are a source of toxins that can adversely affect your health and the health of the planet. Yikes!
Here’s some of the worst offenders to look out for where toxins could be lurking:
Polyester is the end product in a chain of very reactive and toxic compounds, most of which are carcinogens and all are poisonous. And even if none of these chemicals leave remnants in the final polyester garment (which they most likely do), the process to manufacture the garment requires workers and our environment to be exposed to most of the chemicals used.
Acrylic fabrics are polycrylonitriles and, according to the EPA, these chemicals may cause cancer!
Rayon (viscose) doesn’t sound so bad at first, as it is recycled wood pulp. But, it must be treated with chemicals like caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulphuric acid to survive regular washing and wearing. Ugh!
Acetate and Triacetate are made from wood fibers called cellulose. But, like Rayon they also undergo extensive chemical processing to produce the finished product.
Nylon is made from petroleum and is often given a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful and its manufacturing process creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide!
Be on the lookout for anything static resistant, stain resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof or moth repellant, as these features are an indication that chemicals are present. And it gets better, many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon. The US actually has laws in place to protect us from much of this. But there is a loophole: imports! Other countries do not necessarily hold to the same standards of environmental and human health protection. By the way, some synthetic fabrics are not bad. Fibers like Tencel have come into use in recent years. Tencel is a sustainable form of wood pulp and non-toxic chemicals and solvents are used in its manufacture.
So what do you do to try to avoid all of this badness?
- Buy clothes made of natural fibers from companies that do not use toxic manufacturing practices.
- Shop organic whenever possible.
- Look for natural (vegetable) or non-toxic dye use.
- Support companies that produce garments made with a transparent supply chain.
- Shop at a vintage store and give a gently used garment a new life! Many times you can find items made of natural fibers.
For an eye opening experience on how many of the clothes we purchase are made, CLICK HERE to check out The True Cost movie on Amazon.
To your good health!